Recently a lot of friends of mine have been going through tough times. Many of them have been confessing what’s gone and going on with them in public forums, like blogs and Facebook.
At first, you think, oh, they want sympathy or help or something. But that’s not really the case. My friends, authors all, are doing okay -- they’ve made peace, gotten help, are pulling through. No, they are posting about the terrible times not to help themselves, but in case their words can help someone else. Show someone else suffering that there’s a light at the end of the long tunnel, if you just hold on for one more day.
So, in light of that, and in light of a life event hitting my family, here’s my story.
By the time I post this, the woman who gave birth to me, aka my mother, will be dead. But this is not a request for condolences.
As many who are close to me know, I haven’t willingly spoken to this woman for well over 25 years. Because she was, frankly, a horrible person. She mentally, emotionally, and physically abused me for the first 22 years of my life. There’s literally not a word this woman has ever said that was true. She drove her entire family away from her. She was the embodiment of the entitlement mindset. She was a paranoid schizophrenic with severe OCD and narcissistic tendencies. Untreated. When I was 5 or 6 she left me in the care of an old man, a complete stranger we’d known for 15 minutes, at a rest stop in Northern California. I’m lucky that all he did was molest me -- he could have taken me away and raped and murdered me.
And my mother? She never noticed, never asked why I was acting funny. Just suggested I go spend more time with this man and didn’t question why I refused to leave our car. Yet she loved to accuse people of wanting to molest me, not that those ever so accused did anything negative to me. She also loved to accuse people of being drug addicts or gay. Not that she ever realized who around me actually was a drug addict or was gay, they were just things to use against someone, to try to make everyone else seem less in her warped, vicious mind.
My mother was, at her core, a bully. Most abusers are bullies, after all. All the anti-bullying campaigns make me laugh a bitter laugh -- I was bullied at school and
at home. I know what it’s like, and I also know that bullies don’t change and they don’t shame -- they only stop when their victim is taken away from them or shown to be stronger than they are. I was weaker than my mother until, at 22, I realized I was bigger and stronger. She realized it at the same moment I did -- when she was going to hit me just once again and, for the first time, I was going to hit back, harder, and with 22 years of anger in that hit -- and she backed down.
And even with all that, it still took all I had to get away from her. And people -- people who knew her, people who knew me -- still tried to tell me that she was my mother, so I should forgive all her sins and all the sins she did against me. I stopped speaking to those people.
Because…I can’t, and I won’t. I don’t find strength in forgiving the sinner or the sin. I find strength in fighting the sin and triumphing over the sinner. Revenge is both a dish best served cold and also best achieved by living a happy life, despite what those who sinned against you did to you.
When I first started talking about my mother, I was shocked to discover how many people would suddenly tell me that their mother, father, spouse, or sibling, had done something unforgivable to them. Many of these people had managed to forgive the sinner. But many hadn’t. And yet, I was pretty much the only one who’d cut the abuser completely out of my life. I’m not sure why I was able and willing to do this, I just know it’s the only reason I have any “me” to talk about, the only reason I’m a successful human being.
Of course, that’s only in the physical sense. The damage is there and will be there for the rest of my life. The few good things my mother did are always outweighed by the massive number of things she did to me, and to others, that were terrible.
My nightmares tend to center on her house. My demons are all the demons she gave me. The things about myself that embarrass me come from her as well, usually because she told me I should be embarrassed. My fears come from what she did to me, said to me, said about me.
I’m an adult now -- do I blame her for all of my mistakes? No. But I give her none of the credit for any of my successes, either.
And yet…all this turned me into someone who is empathetic, supports the underdogs, and tries to protect the weak and innocent. I’ve asked “what if” so many times. All of my life, really. But I come back to the conclusion I had even before I saw "Star Trek 5" -- I need my pain; my pain makes me who I am. (Truly William Shatner’s finest dramatic performance, as far as I’m concerned.) And you know what? I’m damned happy with who I am.
I have a successful marriage to a wonderful man who, out of all the people out there, never tried to make me forgive my mother. We have a fantastic daughter who makes us proud and happy every day. My in-laws and extended family are great, I have a Mom in my mother-in-law, and I’ve found surrogate mothers all along my life’s path, including the one I proudly introduce as my Mum to everyone we meet. And I’ve had two successful careers -- one in marketing and one as an author.
And that’s why I’m sharing this. Not to say poor, poor pitiful me, nor to ask for sympathy, condolences, or anything like that. I’m writing because I know that somewhere out there are a lot of people who were like me -- trapped by an abuser, not safe at home, belittled, told they’re worthless and only exist to serve the bully. And I’m here to tell you that it’s a lie -- you are not there for them and you owe them nothing. None of us asked to be born, and we owe people nothing for our births. We owe the world the best of us, but we owe our abusers nothing but our contempt and our success away from them.
You can survive anything they throw at you because the secret they never want you to discover is that you’re stronger than them. If you find strength in forgiveness, then forgive. If, however, you find your strength in the anger and the unwillingness to forgive, then hold onto that. Hold onto whatever helps get you away, makes you strong, keeps you stronger. Don’t let them turn you into a carbon copy of themselves -- forge your own path and keep the demons they gave you right in front of you, so you can recognize them and fight them, instead of turning those demons onto someone else.
Of course, since we’re supposed to not speak ill of the dead (too late) and because no one is completely worthless or evil, I can admit that my mother did give me something. She gave me the storytelling gene. When you’re raised by a woman who lies like she breathes, you learn how to spin a few stories yourself. And learning to lie to a master means that, ultimately, you become a master yourself.
I always thought I’d laugh and cheer the day she died. I knew I wouldn’t cry, unless they were tears of joy and relief. But as this time comes, I find that I’m quoting from one of the few good things she gave me -- tickets to see “A Chorus Line” live.
I feel nothing.
And that, honestly, is the best thing I’ve ever felt about my mother.
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