Making choices

You’re making a choice.

I hear those words a lot lately, but I’m not sure I understand them. I’m not sure I know how to make choices. I’m not sure I ever had the chance to.

My mother decided everything for me: what I wore, who I spoke to, when I bathed, what I ate, when I ate, where I worked, what I used, where I went to college, what I bought (really, what she bought with my money), where I went. I never had the opportunity to have choices. My entire life had been chosen for me. I was not a human being; I was a system running my mother’s commands.

And now, in my mother’s absence, I have no idea what I’m doing. In some ways, I feel lost without her. She has done everything for me for 29 years. Who will make my decisions now?

I just want someone to tell me what to do. Tell me what buy. Tell me what to eat. Tell me everything I need to do.

Don’t ask if I am thirsty. Just tell me I need to drink.

Don’t ask if I need a break. Just tell me to stop what I’m doing.

I can’t answer questions, but I can respond to commands. I’ve done that my whole life.

You’re making a choice.

My mother used to say  I had choices. She’d tell other people that, too. She’d tell them that I could have friends, but that I chose not to have any. She’d say I could leave the house at any time, but I chose not to go. She’d tell them I could do whatever I want with my money, and I chose to support her. She wanted people to believe I had choices, but they were never choices. I couldn’t have friends because I couldn’t talk to anyone. I couldn’t leave the house at any time because I didn’t have house keys. I couldn’t keep my money because she would take it.

My mother ruined choice for me. She made me believe for so long that I had choices when I never really had choices at all. Now, I don’t know how to differentiate reality from my mother’s warped sense of reality. Now, every choice I make is complicated, even when it’s supposed to be easy.

You’re making a choice.

It doesn’t feel like a choice. It feels like what I have to do. You say I have the power, but where did it come from? It didn’t fall from the sky. It didn’t arrive in the mail. If I really have power, then that means I always had power. I always had choices.

And once I arrive at that point, my thinking goes to shit. I turn the ability to choose into the need to self-blame. If I am making a choice now, I must have made a choice back then. I must have chosen to be abused. It was my choice to let it happen. It was my choice to keep letting it happen. It was my choice not to tell anymore. It was my choice not to fight back. It was my choice to shut down. It was my choice to self-destruct. It was my choice to stay. It was my choice not to say no.

But were those all really choices, or were they acts of self-preservation?

It’s exactly how my mother wanted me to think. She wanted me to think everything I did was a choice that I made, and not a decision she had imposed on me. My mother wanted me to think that everything was my fault, when the reality was that she was the one to blame.

If I really had choices then, I would not have chosen to be abused. I would not have chosen to be hurt. I would not have chosen to remain in that prison for as long as I did. I would have chosen none of those things.

I did not choose to be abused. My mother chose to abuse me.

I did not choose to be hurt. My mother chose to hurt me.

I did not choose to stay in prison. My mother chose to take away my freedom.

It may have taken me 29 years, but I finally made a choice. I chose to take my freedom back.

And while the initial act may have very well been an act of self-preservation — a choice between living or dying — it isn’t any more. My choices are different now. Complicated, but different. I choose to speak. I choose to feel. I choose to write. I choose to heal. I am choosing to do things I couldn’t do before.

I just wish other choices came so easily, too.

4 Miles of Freedom

Something I saw on Facebook inadvertently triggered a memory.

It wasn’t a bad memory. I would have liked it better if I had the memory at a time other than 3 o’clock in the morning, but I guess some things are just out of my control.

I went to a private high school in another town. It was another way my mother distanced me from people. My father would always drive me to school. For some reason, I don’t remember what exactly, my father couldn’t drive me to school for a few weeks (I think it was work-related). So I had to take the bus. The first few times, my mother went with me. Then she would just walk with me to the bus stop (about 6 blocks) and stay until I got on the bus.

One day, I was feeling rather rebellious. I didn’t want to take the bus. I just wanted to experience freedom. So I took a chance. I told my mother I was going to be okay and she could go. The bus was right down the avenue. And by some miracle, it worked. I had my chance. She turned away and as the bus came to a stop, I ran around the corner.

I was free. My heart was pounding, I was carrying a book bag that probably weighed at least 20 pounds, but I was free. So I walked. My school was over four miles away and up a hill, but I walked. For that hour, I got to experience some normalcy. I was still afraid. Afraid my mother was going to find out what I had done, afraid someone would see me walking and tell my parent. But none of that mattered. I still did it. I broke the rules because I wanted to be free.

By the time I got to school, I was covered in sweat and exhausted from the trek. But I felt empowered. I had done something that in some way I knew was wrong, because I had disobeyed my mother’s rules. But it didn’t feel that wrong to me. It felt right.

I wonder if I channeled that same part that made that brief escape walking to school, when I made that permanent escape from my mother’s prison.

It’s funny, as afraid as I was (and still am, in some ways), there was always a part of me that fought through the fear and moved towards freedom. It’s that part that got me to where I am today. Where would I be now without it?

 

15 weeks

I actually had to check my previous blog posts this time to check which week I’m on.

I’ve gotten myself into a routine here. I no longer need to use Google Maps to figure out where I’m going. I know where all of the bus stops are and what times the buses come each day. I wave to the jogger who passes me by each morning as I walk to the bus stop. I go to a coffee shop every morning before work, order the same coffee (small, iced, black), and read a book (either something by Carl Jung or a book on DID). On days I have therapy, I leave my house a couple of hours before my appointment so I can walk around town. I stop in Dunkin Donuts to pick up my coffee (this time with milk and sugar) and people watch for a half an hour before finally going to therapy. I see many of the same people stopping in week after week, and they see me. A few people have even stopped by my table to talk to me, and I engage in polite conversation.

I walk more now that the weather is cooler. I walk looking ahead of me instead of at the ground. I walk past stores and buildings (the library, the Brazilian market, the craft store) and envision myself going in one day. My anxiety still prevents me from being too spontaneous. I still plan and prepare myself for any new experience, but at least I get myself to the point of letting the experience happen. Before, I was so shut off from everything. But not now.

I’m starting to feel like I belong here. While my living situation isn’t optimal, everything else is more than okay. I haven’t met one person here who hasn’t accepted me for who I am. I don’t have to concern myself with anyone being fed bullshit by my mother because my mother isn’t here. I can finally be myself. And people really seem to like who I am.

It’s almost weird to me to have people think so positively of me. At work, I’ve been receiving outstanding performance reviews. Even on days when I’ve only gotten a couple of hours of sleep the night before or I’m feeling like I want to cry, I still manage to get my work done. I still manage to make my coworkers laugh and smile. I get through it. It’s such a different experience from what I had back home. My therapist suggested that perhaps the difference is because I am not in an environment with my mother. That anxiety and fear are not there. I’m not having to run damage control on any of my coworkers because of something my mother has said about me. I never realized it before, but my therapist was right. Even though I didn’t work side-by-side with my mother, her presence there and her influence on my coworkers affected me. I was always on alert; I had to be.

It’s so difficult to be my own person when up until 15 weeks ago, I wasn’t allowed to be anything. I still think others see more potential in me than I do myself. While I have made some progress, I still find myself stuck in some ways by the effects of my mother’s brainwashing. When I receive compliments, I awkwardly laugh or tell the person they are wrong. My mother’s negative portrayal of me still resides in my head. Compliments feel as if they go against everything I’ve lived with for the last 29 years. But that’s because they do. It’s so fucked up that instead of seeing compliments and positive statements as a normal, acceptable part of life, my mind believes the opposite. Negative comments and criticism are so easily taken in because that has been my norm for so long. Anything else is foreign to me.

Things will get easier in time. Do I wish things were easier now? Sure. I wish I could up and move somewhere I feel safe and secure. But I can’t right now. Do I wish I could work a regular 9-5 job so I could earn more money? Sure. But right now I need to continue my work in therapy, and that requires a decent portion of my time during the week that I can’t give up right now. For once, I have to be the priority in my life. I can’t function in work, in school, or in life without working through all of the shit I’ve dealt with up until 15 weeks ago. I’ve accepted that.

I’ve done a great job at appearing to be alright. A person at work, who knows just a few basic parts of my struggle, told me he would have never known all that I deal with because I seem so normal. While not the best choice of words, I knew exactly what he meant. I don’t want people to know how I am feeling. I even try to hide my emotion from my therapist; I’ve rarely cried in front of her, even though there have been so many times when I just wanted to break down. I have to appear strong and put together. I don’t want people to know my weaknesses. Maybe if I appear strong, I will eventually actually be strong.

I’m taking it one day at a time.

She always knows

Today’s therapy session included quite a bit of discussion about my mother. Fortunately, I was able to stay present through the entire session. Progress.

My therapist asked if I would have ever started this blog while I was still living with my family. I quickly answered no. The risk was too great for my mother finding out, and when she did find out, I would have had nowhere to hide. I knew there was spyware on my computer; that had been an ongoing practice for a long time. I learned to do most things on my phone so she wouldn’t be able to trace anything.

Then mentioning the phone led me to bring up the first time I tried to have my own phone. I was in my 20s, and didn’t want my mother knowing everything I had done and everyone I had contacted on my phone and going through interrogations about it, so I bought a cheap Tracfone and did the majority of my texting and calling on that phone. I thought I hid it well; I actually bought a phone small enough that I could hide it behind my other phone and have them both in one holster case. But then one day, I went with my brother to pick up food after work and he said “we know you have another phone; we found the empty package in your room.” My heart started racing, because I knew this meant trouble. My mother was not going to be happy. I was in for it. What is even more sad is that I became angry with myself for not hiding the package well enough. It was wrapped inside of plastic bags, then put inside of a book bag underneath some other things, which means my mother had to go through several obstacles just to find that empty phone package.

My therapist seemed surprised at first that my mother would go to such lengths. But this was a regular part of my existence. She would inspect my room and my things regularly. My brother participated right alongside her, as if he were her sidekick. I always knew when they were in my room because they could never put anything back right, and it annoyed me just as much as them going through my things. My desk, drawers, bags, and my nightstand. They would even go through the clothes in my dresser, and my laundry hamper; even my trash was inspected. I tried to hide things wherever I could. I’d cut sections out of books to hide cash in. I’d stuff things inside of pillows. I had to get creative. When I wanted to throw something away and needed to avoid interrogation, I’d hide it in my purse and bring it to work to throw away there. It was an exhausting way to live. It was, almost literally, a home prison.

After I disclosed some of my mother’s controlling ways, my therapist seemed to understand where my fears of my mother finding things out came from. My therapist told me that a few of my parts have this intense fear of mother finding out that they’ve talked or that they’ve done something, and now she sees exactly where that stems from. My mother has been that way for as long as I can remember. As an adult, obviously I knew how she found everything out because I knew more and was aware of her ways. As a child, I believed she had some magical power that caused her to know everything I said or did. It’s why I was so fearful. I’m guessing that’s why my parts are fearful, too.

My therapist asked if I see my mother’s seeming ability to know everything differently now than I did as a child. Obviously I don’t think she has magical powers anymore. Looking back, I have to wonder if she just got lucky those times she did find things out. There were so many times she falsely accused me of talking or of doing something that I never actually did. Did she just consistently make accusations and when they happened to be true, they stuck with me? I’ll probably never have a real answer to that question. I’m forever trying to rationalize the irrational.

11 weeks

I am 11 weeks free today.

I wish my mind could embrace that concept. Freedom. But there is still a huge disparity between what intellectually I know to be true and what my mind believes is going to happen.  I still jump at every noise: every creak of the kitchen table, every knock at the door, every honk of a horn. It doesn’t matter where I am or what I’m doing; when it happens, I go into panic mode. My heart races, the nausea kicks in, the crying starts, and the intrusive thoughts flood my mind. It’s an exhausting way to live.

I also wish the people close to me would understand me better. It doesn’t matter where I am.  I could be five miles away or five thousand miles away from my mother, but my brain will always be on constant alert.  I’ll continue to have that fear, even when intellectually I know that it’s not possible that she’s here with me. I also wish some of my friends would stop being so critical. I had enough criticism in my old life. I don’t need criticism in my new life. It bothers me when people ignore every positive step I’ve taken and only point that time I took a sip of alcohol. Just because you don’t agree with a decision I’ve made, doesn’t mean it’s a bad decision. I find myself torn between keeping these people in my circle because my circle is already so small as it is, or ridding myself of them and becoming even more alone.

I’m physically and emotionally exhausted. Sometimes I feel like I’m running on autopilot, and I don’t know how I make it through the day. Something in me has gotten me out of bed each morning, allowed me to take a shower, gotten me dressed, and pushed me to get to work every morning. But I’m tired. As weird as it sounds, living in my old life wasn’t nearly as exhausting as this. I dealt with the abuse, but I always expected it. Now, even though I’m in a safe place, I am constantly on alert. It’s draining. The human body is not built to handle being under stress 24/7. I’m not superhuman. I can’t be expected to do this much longer. I’ve already been through enough. Sometimes I wonder if this life is really better, because in many ways, it feels worse.

But I’ll keep pushing forward. I don’t really have any other choice. I won’t get to finish telling my story. The world won’t know who my mother really is. I won’t be able to help others fight the good fight. So far, I’ve managed to have just over 450 people read at least part of my story. That’s more than I could have ever imagined. Four-hundred and fifty people now know part of my truth. That’s a powerful thing.

If I give up, my mother wins. I can’t have that. Not now.

After nine weeks, she throws away the keys.

I’ve been free for nine weeks now.

I wish I could say my life is so much easier.  While I am physically out of prison, emotionally, my mind is in a prison of its own.  It’s a lot harder to escape that prison.  I can’t just walk away like I did before.  It doesn’t work that way.  My mind still believes I am in danger.  My mind still believes I am going to be hurt.  It is something I can only hope will heal with time.

I threw out the keys to my old house today.  I don’t even know why I had been holding on to them all this time.  I took them out of my nightstand, held on to them for a few minutes, and then tossed them in the trash.  I don’t need them anymore.  I won’t ever be going back.  I would rather die before subjecting myself to that ever again.

I couldn’t help but think how something as small as a set of keys helped my mother continue her control over me for years.  I wasn’t even allowed to have any keys to the house until I was in my 20s.  Even then, I never had every key.  She’d always make up some nonsense excuse as to why I couldn’t have every key.  I knew the real reason.  If I didn’t have every key, that meant I couldn’t sneak out and get back in without her knowing.  It was her way of keeping me contained.  And it worked.  I never left.  The fear of her finding out was too real.  It also didn’t help that she took up residence five feet away from the door…literally, she slept just feet away from the door.  No one was ever getting past her unnoticed.

A mail key was another thing I never had the privilege of having.  I was never given a key.  I was never allowed to check the mail.  The mail had to be inspected by her first.  Oftentimes, I would be questioned about mail she deemed “suspicious” (from out-of-state, from a name she didn’t know, hand-written addresses, etc.).  A friend from a few states away had mailed me something a few years ago, and my mother interrogated me about it.  “Who is this person?  When did you meet her? What does she do?  What does she know about us?  What did she send you?  Why?” The questions seemed like they never ended.  The interrogations would last over a span of several days.  Eventually I got smart and had “suspicious” mail sent to my job instead.  I could usually intercept it there and avoid any issues altogether.  But even that was a hassle.  I had to turn down a lot of opportunities for mail because I didn’t want to risk my mother finding out about it.

My mother didn’t want me sending out mail, either.  If I wanted something mailed, I had to go through questioning first.  I used to find ways to sneak around her.  I remember in 8th grade, I asked a classmate to bring me a stamp so I could mail a letter to someone.  I ran to the mailbox after school let out and dropped it in before anyone noticed.  My plan failed though, because I didn’t think the person would write back to me.  Sure enough, my mother opened that “suspicious” mail and all hell broke loose.  I broke one of her major rules of talking outside of the family.  I got the shit beaten out of me for days.  I never had the desire to write another letter again.  I should have known better.  She always finds out.

It’s weird how I never really thought about all of this until today when I picked up those keys.  For the longest time, it was just a part of my normal.  I never really thought about how messed up shit really was.  I wonder what drove me to break the rules when I was younger.  There was so much fear there, and for good reason, yet a part of me still wanted a taste of freedom and went for it.  I know I had that desire to break free later in life, but now I can relate some parts of my earlier life to having that same desire.  I just wish it didn’t end up causing me more pain.