Mothering my mother (killing the Narcissist within)

This blog has been edited to respect the names and places of people in my family. I have no authority spreading stories I have not investigated myself. Though I talk about my mother, this is my story. Thank you for reading it.

Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed, and rare.

-Brene Brown

In the spring of 2012 I sent an email to my mother. It was the last time I communicated with her to any great extent. Don’t worry, she hasn’t died yet. This isn’t that kind of blog post. Often, I wish she was dead.

Her eventual demise is something all my siblings are pretty ambivalent about. I am definitely the least ambivalent of the bunch. Though my younger sister and I are often neck-and-neck in that race. The email ordered my mother out of my life and the life of my children. It was a drastic and painful decision but my life is conclusively better for it.

There are many websites that deal with the issues I grew up with. Here is a very good one.  Websites like this are not common reading to the average person so many people gave me grief and I stopped communicating with them. Eventually some people in my family shared with me that they have become better people just because I had the courage to do what I did. Their growth is neither here nor there for me.  They still don’t fully understand.

Ultimately, cutting my mother out is a very lonely decision. But my life is defined by my loneliness. Having a depressive father, and a mother with multiple personality disorders is tough on a kid. My life is punctuated by increasingly painful and confusing circumstances culminating in decisions that led to my being drugged and anally raped, dealing with addiction as well as later being in a severely abusive relationship.

And every now and then I remember a moment in my life.  I was very little.  And I want to know what I was doing naked in my closet in the first place.

I have an empty place in my memory for the moments leading up to it. I am almost positive I took off my own clothes. I just don’t remember why I was in my dark bedroom closet sitting on the floor crying at the age of . . . four. Or was it five?  It’s possible I was younger. It was the closet of the room that eventually became my little sister’s room in our first house. The room was still mine, so I could not have been more than 5. Eventually, I laid myself out on my bed.

I still remember the feeling of the air on my skin and how my legs dangled off the side of the bed. Little and naked I felt like a human and not the unloved, horrid animal who belonged in the dark and quiet closet.

I was hiding from my mother. In the closet. I was escaping.

What is the prequel to this little film? It’s not the time I defecated on a dare, in the alley between the townhouses in front of all the neighbourhood kids. I remember that punishment. The shame and heat in my face and the length and severity of the lecture. I am actually smiling about it as I write this. One piece of poop got her so enflamed. The family dignity that was lost by showing my shit to the neighbours’ kids was beyond measure.  (Naturally, the lecture was all about her.) The best part of the actual event being that no one even asked me to. One of the older boys had made a general comment, looking for a sucker, and as a portent of future bad decisions, I volunteered happily. Sigh, those were the days when things were fun. But this isn’t the story I’m looking for.  I was almost six-years-old then, already sharing a room with my older sister.

So, was this moment related to the story my mother turned into family lore? About little Ilana who was mad at her mommy and peed on the carpet in the basement? I was alone. I am not sure if I really was mad. But the story goes that I was alone in the basement after having been yelled at. I had been asking for some company.  “Mommy, (always “mommy”) will you play with me?” As usual, the answer was shame and rage.

The carpet was brand new and hadn’t been unrolled yet.  I sat on the roll and peed through multiple layers of carpet at once.  I can recall how deeply satisfying it was to do such a thing, despite my fear.  Knowing I was bad and doing it anyway and yet still innocent.  I was feeling the pee spread out under me as a new feeling.  Warm, wet security in lieu of love.  I was 3 or 4 years old if that is the case.

So then what? Let’s assume it is the carpet peeing incident. I come upstairs triumph and fear battling it out in my little brain and hope that my mother will change my wet clothes. What did she do? Anger, definitely. Maybe she spanked me, but that wasn’t it. She must have shamed me out of my own existence. Her eyes burning holes into my soul. Every feeling of safety disappearing completely until I was left outside my own body.

And I reacted first in fear.  I froze through her rage and then was banished to my room. I hide. I cry. And then. .  .My child-strength shines through. I took off my clothes. But in my memory they are dry as I remove them. I wait. Silence answers and I turn up a knob somewhere deep within me where the human spirit refuses to believe it is unloved and I stand up. I’m still in my closet.  Little me and a little light coming through between the doors before they burst open from within and I parade around my room naked, announcing my presence; presenting myself to the world, refusing to retreat anymore.  I may have been singing, but either way I was Emceeing my own emergence.  I fight a battle, my body dodging and parrying and then, heart beating, light within, I flop onto my bed. Little feet dangling. Suddenly, I realize I am naked and check the door. No one is watching. I am still safe. This is the end of the memory. Like Harry Potter in a pensieve I emerge from an old, curious dream that was my reality.

But in my memory, the clothes are dry as I remove them.

I have two ideas as to why this is. The first idea I am sharing is the newest thought. This idea is that the shame and fear came from my mother taking my wet clothes from my body and putting dry clothes on me while she was angry and lecturing. Memory is an incredible, fickle thing. And for various reasons I don’t think this actually happened. While I remember my mom tantruming and being physically forceful, she was too clever to resort to physicality generally and I was too clever to make her resort to it. As far as I can tell, aside from one or two spankings in a lifetime, a shove, yank or firm poke was all I ever needed to fall in line. Also, if I was old enough to remove my own pee-soaked clothes I probably did. Mommy generally freaked out over bodily fluids. She didn’t like the messy stuff.

The second idea is a strange one.  I am sitting on the stairs and there is a man at the door. He is no one I know and he is no one my mother knows. And one of us is flirting with him. This blends with another memory, of another man at the door. This is all I remember.

And now, at almost forty years old with three children of my own and no relationship with my Borderline Personality Disordered, Narcissistic mother, and almost a decade of therapy, I have to wonder why my consciousness keeps playing this tape for me. It is my psyche’s equivalent to the Wrigley’s Double-Mint Gum song. The questions that society’s after-school specials inform my mind of have me wondering if I was sexually abused. Truthfully, I want to believe I was because one big traumatic event is far easier for me to piece together than a thousand little ones. And it would explain the sexual predators I fell prey to later in my life more directly, more easily. Yet, all signs point to a thousand little traumas.  And this one  was a little one too.  Little, yet unresolved.   Unresolved, yet defining.

So I am going to blend every memory from that house into one and create a giant metaphor for my experience under this Hansel and Gretl witch of a woman who raised me.

And from this story a beautiful thing will arise.

Have you seen the Laurie Anderson film, Heart of a Dog?  She refers to her mother’s love in that movie.  I have spent my life looking for an incident similar to hers, where she recalls a moment of love.  I have wracked my brain over and over again and come up empty.  But here, here is something.  Wait for it.

Did a salesman’s comment toward me raise my mother’s ire because I was threatening her ego by stealing his attention? This is possible. Later in life, my older sister would dutifully be sure to bring home boyfriends that would let my mom flirt with them.  My mom sat on my husband’s lap once.  Jeez, awkward.  It’s why my incredible little sister’s awesome husband never got along with my mom.  He never put up with that shit. My mother’s Narcissism is deeply tied to her vanity. But I suspect this incident went deeper than that for my mom.FullSizeRender copy 2

I remember my mother often referred to something that happened to her.  As a group, they did something to her.  She used child-like language to define it.  I can still hear her voice saying ‘yuck’ when referring to it.  And she was vague in what happened. They were boys she knew.  They were a few years older than her. They lifted her up.  They were rough.  And she wasn’t speaking in this way because I was a child, her language was defined by her age when this happened to her. She had been a child, pre-pubescent at least. She had been hurt and no one listened when she said stop and it seemed to have happened multiple times. Or maybe she just mentioned it multiple times. Hoping each time someone would hear her. Eventually, it stopped coming up.  I don’t remember ever hearing about it by the time I was in our ‘new house’ at the age of 9. It’s difficult to know what really happened to a woman who as an adult refuses to lose a friendly game of cards without trying to cheat. The only source of information I have is from her. But as a sexual abuse survivor myself. I believe every word of her story. These are the defining moments in a woman’s life. I have many. My mother may have many as well, but I know she has this. This moment of being hurt is hers.

And that was a bad moment but it was also just one moment for my mother too. Remembered because it was different but really no worse than any other moment. One unresolved, defining, painful moment in an unending stream of a thousand unseen pains.

I’m the daughter of multi-generational Narcissists. The matriarchs in my family all stink of personality disorders. The line retreats back to Poland to at least when my great-grandmother was forced to marry Herschel the genius at 16 years old. An unbroken chain of mommie dearests as far back as our collective spirit can stretch.

I hate the fact that fixing myself for my children meant leaving my children with no grandmother and also, my mother without me.

I don’t want to not have a mother.  But I would rather have a household of children in all their anger and wide emotional range, than a household of Narcissistic-Borderline ghosts. Today, my children can cry, naked if they choose, anywhere but the closet. And yet, if they feel it is their only option, I will sit there with them until they are ready to emerge and I will dance their dance of identity and power with them again and again until my mistakes as a mother wash away with the movement of love in real time. It’s something my mother was and will never be able to do.

I have teetered on the edge of the world of personality disorder. I suffer from depression and am constantly in recovery from a lifetime of a well-learned eating disorder. But peace is my highest value. My vanity, my occupation, my fragile identity are all dangerously low on my value scale. I have played victim too long and can adapt to the needs of my husband’s ego too readily. Even so, my children benefit from having a mother like me instead of who I could be. And I find my own way through the love I learn while raising them. And my husband has become a loving partner to it all.

So, where do these two stories tie in? One story of a mother being molested and daughter being lost. Both these women are me. And both of these women are her. Further back, our grandmothers and great-grandmothers were lost to themselves and then to time. But the stories tie in where all stories unite.  In the present. Within the physical form of my mother mothering the physical form of me, we will not escape our past. We are, whether we like it or not, eternally ourselves. Not only our personal history but our cultural and spiritual history line up despite our will and will clothes-line our children before they are able to see it coming if we don’t wise up and fix ourselves.

I work daily on informing my consciousness to be clear on what is and what is not a loving act.

And now, coming back to the salesman at the door, fantasy and reality are enmeshed. I see a tiny hand reach up and open the door. And I start talking to this stranger. And he starts talking to me. And what happens next in my adult mind is a damaged woman’s way of loving her daughter the best she can. Coming out of the kitchen my mother berates the man for speaking to a strange child, that he should know better. And I believe it is all my fault, because he is handsome and nice and he is paying attention to me. And I sit on the stairs.

And when he leaves mommy turns to me and strikes the fear of strangers into my heart. There is so much fear that I stop existing.

I am annihilated and suffocating

so I remove

my clothes and in my

nakedness

I become holy. Wholly alone

my consciousness rises

up as it will

again

and again

throughout my life and says

you deserve to be here.

And I start to dance.


 

It doesn’t matter any more if it was this event or another that led to the moment in the closet. Writing this has given me the courage to let it go. For the first time in my life I can see how my mother tried to love us. Her and my father bonded together to teach their children fear and survival. It was all they knew how to do. Does it not seem like a natural human reaction to going unheard for too long? Without any tools to tell us otherwise, our bodies begin dictating our responses into yelling and storming our way through everything. It’s what I did when I first became a mother.

I terrified my boys when they were wee. And eventually my son wrote his needs down, and what I could not hear, I saw.

FullSizeRender copy
Stop being mad at us

And I let my rage die. And I stopped yelling. In fact, I started singing every time I wanted to yell. Sing-song voice “put your pjs on” to sing-song voice “I need you to clean that up”. And it drove my kids crazy. But they knew I was changing so they accepted this new weird mom-habit until the need for it passed and I normalized my voice.

The worst part of all of this is that it really doesn’t matter in the least. I still have no intention of allowing my mother back into my life. Truthfully she doesn’t want it anyway. She wants all her children around her, but she doesn’t want the reality of who her children are. This would mean looking at herself. I made it easy for her to continue her story of me being the difficult one.  I am her scapegoat and I set her free with my blessing. She has suffered enough.

We would just be fighting all the time anyway.

This coming spring will be 4 years of actually living after firmly removing my mother from my life and my children’s lives. I want my mommy, yes, but while the mother in me sees how she needs me to grow, the woman in me sees that she will never grow. She has said as much in her own way. All of her children have given her chances and she has turned away from each and every opportunity.

Despite it all, she is wise in her own way, protecting herself and physically beautiful by anyone’s standards. So, I am grateful for the gifts she has given me, as painfully as they have been received. I am sorry she is hurting, sometimes I am more sorry than other times. Right now, I am sorry. But she will never be sorry. Being sorry to her would mean realizing she is a link in a chain of spiritual murder. To see mine at her hand, she would have to see her own at the hands of her mother and grandmother. Too hard. Too much.

I joked to my sister once that my mother wishes she was Hitler. It was a good joke between us. We laughed.

You either get it or you don’t.

I cannot look back. My life is so much better without her, not without mother, but without MY mother. It’s complicated. All I know is my children are better off than I am already and the oldest isn’t even 10 yet. They will have holes to fill that I hope they will let me help them fill but they won’t fall to predators and rapists in silence.  They won’t get beaten by another adult and think it is their fault. I am teaching them not just to never be a bully, but to never be a bystander. Not in this house, not on this planet. I am raising them to be – first and foremost – themselves. Their good, honest, wise, fun, interesting selves. It’s a work in progress but I have broken the chain.


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