I think I’ve been in denial about something that’s glaringly obvious to Dr K. Not only that, but another fellow blogger, the lovely BDLheart ( http://bdlheart.com/ ), can also see it. I mean, gods, even J can see it.
In floods of tears last week, I told Dr K about how dreadfully ill and run down I was feeling. She listened as I described my mothers head-buried-in-sand attitude to my mental health crisis, and she said, ‘I knew there was trouble at home.’
Since I’ve met her, I have always denied any sort of upset at home. I always said I had a wonderful childhood, which wasn’t wrong. The problem is that along with the lovely things, like trips out and long summer afternoons playing with my dog and sister in the garden, I had always buried the not so nice things.
Things like when my mum realised we had not picked up my cousin for gymnastics and she was left waiting at school, my sensible plan to be dropped off at gym first (we were literally within walking distance when she remembered) and for my mum to zoom off to get her was met with a smack across the back of my hand.
Things like being screamed at for the fact I couldn’t remember in the slightest how to do fractions.
Things like accidentally saying a rude word and then having the silent treatment all afternoon.
Things like that.
BDLheart told me this:
“Take care of yourself. Your mom sounds a lot like mine. They can sufficate us if we’re not careful. I get stressed regarding work when I sleep poorly because of dreams, etc. Just rest and write.”
I went on to read a post of hers, and instead of feeling the usual ‘oh no, that’s not quite like my mum, she can just be a little difficult,’ I felt like someone finally got me. I read the story about painting a duck, in all its visceral realism, and remembered all the time my mum spent tutoring me to get into the local private school. Often I had to write stories, and often I was set a time limit and I was left to write alone. I hated this because I felt like my literary efforts were being mocked. My mum would get very sharp with me if I forgot paragraph rules, or misspelled something. It always felt like I could do better and it was always my fault when it wasn’t better.
I’ve denied that my mum can be cruel my whole life. I have negated incidents such as those above and others with alarming finality. No, it was my fault she did that because I was annoying and not concentrating. It was my fault that she screamed at me at home after ballet because I was being too chatty in class. It was all my fault and I was a bad kid sometimes.
Thing is, I’m sure Dr K would tell me to imagine this being ME and a child I know in place of my mother and I. I’m picturing now this sweet, adorable, cheeky monkey of a six year old who is the child of a close friend of mine. I’m trying to picture slapping him on the hand, or screaming at him for messing around in class, or even getting snippy with him for no reason…
Every time I try, I can see his sweet, mischievous face crease up in pain and shock, and tears pour down his face. Of course I pull away from that horrible image as though burned.
How can you scream at a six year old like that? I know they are frustrating and irritating, and can be smartasses and rude to boot. Thing is, they’re only children and quite often just need something explaining to them to make it click, or a firm but fair word in their ears. The only way I could ever condone screaming at a child like that is… never. I can’t picture it or do it so why should it happen?
I remember being really small and accidentally insulting an auntie. I didn’t mean to- I found her long, beautiful white teeth rather fascinating, and I remembered that horses had the same long, beautiful white teeth. Predictably enough, mum was horrified and shocked when I informed my auntie she had horse teeth, and sternly told me to apologise immediately when I had no clue what for. However my auntie was seized by a fit of giggles, which caught me too, and she averted a tense situation with her hysterical giggles. I remember that as being something a little revolutionary- if you made an honest mistake, it was ok not to be shouted at.
For years I never went to my mum if there was a problem. I’m pretty certain that’s because I was terrified of the legendary cold shoulder and the wrath that would come with me making a mistake. It’s three in the morning and eight-year-old me is feeling really sick. I wouldn’t wake mum up- I’d take myself to the bathroom, throw up horribly, and then go back to bed like nothing had happened and tell her in the morning. Sometimes, she’d wake up and hear me, but the response when she found out I’d been sick was always the same.
“Why didn’t you come and tell me?!”
After years and years of utter mystery, I know why.
Because I was too scared.
Dealing with vomiting by myself was easier than getting her out of bed. She doesn’t sleep well, so I thought that it was probably a bad idea to wake her if she was sleeping and I’d probably get in trouble for it. Of course, I don’t think I would have, but better to be safe than sorry, hey? I’d get up, throw up, and go back to bed. Same used to go for periods. Oh dear, in agony at four in the morning? That’s fine. Go downstairs, sort out pills and microwave a heat pad and go back to bed yourself, making sure to set and unset the alarm as needs be. My first period was at eleven, so I’d do this regularly from then. Same logic appeared in my child mind: if you wake your mum, you don’t know if she will be angry or not, so why risk it?
I fear conflict because it’s terrifying to have someone at least twice your height screaming at you about chatting in class. Yes, she was under stress because she was losing her auntie to cancer. Yes, her sister had started down the anorexia pathway again. Yes, my dad was at work a lot and basically on a terrible, exploitative contract. But there was no real excuse to chew my ear off so badly about one incident that she had me in tears begging not to have to leave the family dance school. She had threatened to kick me out of the school I don’t know how many times as a young girl, and every time was as devastating as the last.
I used to believe that this was just all ordinary childhood trauma, but I actually don’t think it is all that ordinary now. Dad was working a lot so he couldn’t be with my sister and I as much as mum, but I remember that he would only raise his voice if truly necessary. Mostly, his disappointment in us was sufficient for the two of us to apologise and get on with it. I’d always go to dad if I wanted to see a friend at the weekend because mum would always say no, regardless of whether or not we were free. It seemed when I was little, there was little room for negotiation and her word was always the last.
I thought she had mellowed a lot as I got older, and she has done for sure, but the problem then was that there were things I clashed with her about. We had some almighty rows about my Advanced ballet exam. I was under the thrall of my ex then too, but I continually felt like I was between a rock and a hard place with the two of them. She wanted me in the studio permanently, with what felt like no breaks: he wanted me permanently with him and wasn’t afraid to let my mum know that. So, of course, when he sent her rude texts, I was the one to blame because I’d let him say that to her. Did I have nothing to say? Was I as bad as him? How dare I!?
I don’t think any of this really constitutes as abuse, but I think it does constitute my mum re-enacting her own trauma onto me. Her mother was very emotionally unavailable throughout a lot of my mum’s life and she has been damaged through that. When I feel a messy, complicated emotion, my mum goes to pieces because she was never adequately taught how to deal with that emotion when she felt it, so how could she have the tools to teach me? So instead, work goes on top of it to mask it all and bury it deep, and I’m denied the acknowledgement of my emotion because that’s not possible. There’s not rulebook for that.
I was talking to her about my ex again. I do it a lot- she needs to know what I’m suffering, and she has no idea really what’s happening in a daily basis in my head. I know she didn’t mean this to hurt, but it did.
“Don’t get me wrong,” she said, “but I’m going to be so glad when you don’t talk about your ex any more. It means you will have moved on.”
Oh gods, where do I even begin with that one?!
I will NEVER stop talking about my ex. NEVER. Does she expect her sister to stop talking about the man who she was married to who abused her? At the time, I said that I understood her comment, but now I know that what she really means is that when I stop talking about my ex, I’ll be that smiley smiley always happy girl who wouldn’t say boo to a goose, and I’ll be TOTALLY BETTER and COMPLETELY OVER HIM.
Newsflash- this is forever, and the reason I will not stop talking about his myriad cruelties is to EDUCATE.
Now the denial has faded, I’m beginning to understand so much more about why I have felt so horrible for so long. I was trying to protect myself from a mother who can only be emotionally available about certain things, and is too frightened to be emotionally available about so many others. It’s a scary place to be and I now understand why my ex got his hooks into me- I needed that emotional availability from someone else.
Thank gods I have my friends and J. They will never ask me to stop speaking out.
I’m going to ask if anyone else has any advice for me on this subject, please post me a comment. I feel like I need a little guidance on this as it’s left me feeling scared again.