The last connection

After my escape, I was still financially tied to my family. They had a few of my credit cards (it was too much of a risk to take them back before I left). I wasn’t overly concerned about that. I had been paying my family’s debts for years, and it wouldn’t be much of a difference. Credit cards can always be cancelled. But there was a bigger connection, one I couldn’t quite run away from; I had a vehicle I left behind.

Let me start off by saying, I don’t even have a license. I never did. Driving was a privilege I was not worthy of having. But my family needed a vehicle. The minivan they had was 14 years old at that point, and doing what old vehicles always do — it was falling apart. My family never had money saved. My father was out of work and in a nursing home at that time, my mother was working part-time as she had been for years, and my brother worked full-time and blew every paycheck on video games.

They knew I had money. I had no choice. I could spend all of my savings buying them a car (and in turn sparing myself some infliction of pain), or I could tell them no and experience the horrible backlash. The guilt trip started before I even made a decision. I was told I had to pull my weight in the family. Realistically, I already was, but it was never enough.

I had to do it. I couldn’t take any more guilt. I couldn’t take any more threats. I spent all of my savings and paid for the down payment. The Jeep was in my name. No one in my family had any credit — I was the only one with good credit history. Because I didn’t have a license, my brother had to be secondary; it was the only way to get the rest of the balance on the vehicle financed. I put everything I had into that vehicle.

I didn’t think my family would pick up the payments after I ran away, but they did. They had no choice, really. My brother needed a vehicle. My mother hated that my name was on the papers. She tried to commit fraud by asking others to forge my signature to take my name off the title and the loan, but no one gave in. I didn’t know how to get my name off, so I’ve spent the last 14 months sitting on this last connection I had to my family, with no way of severing it.

Then on Friday afternoon, I received two phone calls from a number I didn’t know. There was a voicemail, so I sneaked away to the bathroom and listened to it.

“Hello, this is (whoever) from (wherever), and I’m here with your brother.”

My heart sank. Before I even heard the rest of the message, just hearing my brother’s name sent me into tears. I had to replay the message multiple times before I could understand it. My brother was trying to trade in the Jeep for a new truck, and they needed authorization from me since I was the primary.

I sat on the toilet for 10 minutes trying to compose myself. Thoughts were running through my mind. I couldn’t stop crying. It wasn’t just about the truck. It was about everything.

One of the many stories my mother and brother told people was that I changed my number after I left, so they were unable to contact me. I never changed my number. They never contacted me. But yet, by some miracle, my brother was able to give the dealership my phone number and they were able to get in contact with me. How could that be since I supposedly changed my number?

The only point of contact since I ran away was this phone call from a middle man car dealer, because my family once again needed something from me. I only matter when they need something from me. And that still hurts.

It bothers me that I poured all of my money into a vehicle that my brother was now trading in for a brand new (and a much more expensive) truck.

It bothers me that even though I had a choice to say no, it really wasn’t much of a choice at all. And I wanted to say no. My family doesn’t deserve these things. But if I say no, I’m the one that loses out. I’m the one that gets fucked over, because everything is in my name. Even though they can afford to pay off the loan and get my name off that way, they wouldn’t do that. They would never do the right thing.

So I had to be the bigger person and give my okay. I severed the last connection I had with my family. I had to make the most logical decision, even though it hurt (and still does hurt). I had to keep my emotions out of it. But part of me felt like I was in my mother’s control again. Here she was, controlling me from afar, without even needing to look at me. It makes me sick.

It makes me sick that I am struggling to stay afloat. It makes me sick that those thousands of dollars I put into that Jeep are the thousands of dollars I could be using right now to put food on the table that isn’t just rice and cheap chicken, thousands of dollars I could have used to pay off my mother’s credit debts that I am struggling to pay down.

My mother and brother don’t have to struggle. They now have a brand new truck, in addition to other vehicles that they don’t even need. They are blowing through my father’s life insurance payout like they’ve won the lottery, profiting from the death of a man who my mother hated and told to go and die. They have everything, and they don’t deserve any of it. Where is the fairness? Where is the justice?

It seems like the worst people continue to be rewarded, while the good people continue to struggle. My mother should be in jail. Instead, I’m the one living behind the bars she created in me.

My good friend told me “you got what you wanted, you have your freedom.”

And I know that. But I want justice, too.

Emotionally Illiterate

There is an enormous amount of learning that occurs in the first years of life. I’m not just talking about the usual: learning how to talk, learning how to feed, and learning how to the use the potty. I’m talking about the things that people don’t realize: how children learn emotions.

Infants emulate their parents, including facial expressions. As they grow, they learn to associate emotion words with their expressions, with the help of their caretakers. Toddlers learn to identity emotions, and children learn to regulate emotions in the early years of schooling.

But what happens when a child’s caretakers are emotionally empty?

An infant can’t emulate emotions she doesn’t see. A mother who is never happy or joyful cannot show her baby how to show happiness or joy. This hinders the development of emotional literacy. Children can learn about emotions in school, but when there is no emotional learning going on at home from an early age, the child misses out considerably, and the effects are long-lasting.

My mother was (and still is) a sociopath. She cannot express genuine emotion. She never has. The only emotion she ever expresses is anger. She is void of happiness (and a lot of other things, but we won’t go there right now). It is no surprise, then, that I grew up emotionally illiterate.

Of course, as a child, I didn’t know what emotional literacy was or what it entailed. I remember people defining their emotions: happy, sad, surprised, mad. I knew they were emotions, but I didn’t really comprehend anything beyond that. I never felt them, or at least understood that I felt them. I knew what anger was, because I experienced it through my mother and father regularly. And as a result of their anger, I knew fear like it was my best friend. The rest was a mystery.

My facial expression has been consistently “muted anger” since I was a child. Many people accused me of being angry, and I didn’t understand because I wasn’t feeling angry at all. But my natural facial expression was typically angry. Because that is the only facial expression I experienced as an infant. It’s the only facial expression I was able to emulate, and I carried that with me through life.

I learned quite a bit about emotions when I was around my peers in school. I finally started to identify feelings within myself, only to have them trampled upon by both of my parents.

I remember one time, I had an About Me project in elementary school. I chose to write with the marker colored bittersweet, because I said my life made me feel bitter. My mother became enraged when she heard, and I was punished severely. She told me I had no reason to feel bitter, and that I should be grateful for the life she was giving me. A 9(ish) year-old who identifies feeling bitter about life should be a red flag for anybody. But of course, my mother believed she did no wrong, so she just burned that flag to the ground.

Then there was the incident when I was a teenager. My high school guidance counselor called my parents, concerned that I was significantly depressed. I was. But feeling depressed was not allowed in our family. Feelings in general were not allowed. And I was punished severely for it. For years after that incident, I became emotionally constipated. I made myself numb to protect myself from my parents. I showed or felt no emotion because I did not want to experience the pain I felt that night ever again. The little bit of emotional knowledge I had was buried deep inside of me, never wanting to be dug up.

My issues are complex (!). First, I had a rough start in life being raised by a sociopath, so I spent a good portion of my childhood emotionally illiterate. Second, what little emotional knowledge I did have became muddled in my adolescence, and pushed down into the crevices of my semi-conscious mind.

So now, at the age of 30, I find myself needing to learn emotions all over again. And yes, sometimes I feel like a five year-old. I read children’s books on feelings. I have charts with emotion words and flashcards with feelings on them. My therapist draws faces depicting different emotions that I try to guess.

Whenever I correctly identify a feeling in myself, my therapist praises me like you would praise a small child. Because that’s what I need. Because I am so emotionally inept. I am an emotional illiterate.

But I’m learning what it means to have feelings again.

Hold on, let go

I’ve still been struggling with the reality that I am without a family. Which is weird, because on some level, I know I never had a family to begin with.

Did I have a mother? Sure. Half of my DNA comes from her. She gave birth to me. But that’s where her mother-ness ends.

Did I have a father? I guess. It’s questionable where I share his DNA, but he was a man who identified himself as my father, so I guess he was. He provided financially for the family. And that’s where his father-ness ends.

Was I a member of that family? No. I was an involuntary member of my mother’s cult. I was a pawn in my mother’s chess game. I was a servant to the almighty queen. But I was never a real part of that family.

Yet for some reason, I am still holding on to the emotional connection to that family. In the absence of my mother, I have taken on her criticisms and her hatred and continue to punish myself, just as she would do when she was there next to me.

I give in to the voice inside of me that tells me I am nothing without her. I listen as she tells me I am worthless, that I will never amount to anything, that I can’t do anything right. I believe her when she says I will never survive without her.

It doesn’t matter that she is no longer with me, because her voice is still inside of me, programmed into my brain, telling me all of the things I’ve heard all of my life, continuing to poison my thoughts, continuing to destroy my sense of self.

So why do I keep listening? Why do I keep holding on to something so toxic and so damaging? Because it’s all that remains of what I knew to be my family. That toxicity is all I have left. In a sick way, I keep my family alive by continuing to act on my mother’s toxic legacy.

I find comfort in familiarity. I find validation for my mother’s truths in my current life circumstances. When something doesn’t work out, when I’m struggling financially, when I can’t handle my life, I tell myself “See, my mother was right. I can’t live without her.”

I’m so afraid of losing that last connection. As damaging as it is, I keep holding on. I keep giving in.

My therapist showed me this meme in session today. She said it reminded her of me. At first, the person is holding on to the rope, as it tears and cuts into his hand. Then, as he starts to let go of the rope, his hand starts to get better. When he lets go completely, his hand is no longer being damaged by the rope at all; he is free from harm.

therapymeme

I’m still holding on to that rope, so very tightly. I’m holding on to all the shit my mother programmed into me, even though it’s hurting me and causing me pain. My therapist is trying to pull me away from that rope, telling me I don’t need to hold on to that anymore, trying to stop the emotional bleeding I am putting myself through. But I pull away from her and instead keep holding on to the rope.

I need to let go.

Compliments

I have a hard time accepting compliments.

When I say I have a hard time, I mean I have a really, really hard time.

The topic came up in therapy on Thursday. My therapist gave me a compliment and I just started deflecting it in any way I could. I had just done the same to a friend earlier that day. I told my therapist about it, and of course she wanted to delve deeper into why I had so much trouble with them.

It’s not that I’m not used to receiving compliments. I’ve received them all of my life, for varying reasons. It was something else entirely.

As my therapist started questioning, I started thinking back and connecting the dots. I started remembering things I thought I had pushed down deep and far away. Things I did not want to remember.

So much was going on in my mind, and it must have shown on the outside. My therapist asked what was going on; my whole demeanor had changed. I didn’t want to talk. I didn’t want to say all of the shit that was going on in my head. I wanted to feel, but I didn’t even know what to feel.

“My mother gets mad when people say nice things about me. She yells a lot.”

It’s something I dealt with my whole life. If it was something she couldn’t take credit for, or if it was something that took the attention off of her, my mother would get angry and I would end up in trouble. When someone would compliment my hair or my looks, my mother did what she could to make me ugly. When someone pointed out how smart I was, I was accused of thinking I was smarter and better than her, and I’d get knocked back into place.

As I sat there, muddling through the shit going on in my head, I started to dig my nail into the skin between my thumb and forefinger. I didn’t even realize I was doing it at first. After a few minutes, my therapist noticed and asked me to stop. But I couldn’t. I had the strongest urge to hurt. I needed to feel pain.

Eventually I pried my hands apart and sat on them, hoping it would stop the urge. I told my therapist that I needed to hurt. It was almost instinctive.

I sat there, awkwardly sitting on my hands, half listening to my therapist and half talking to myself in my head. I couldn’t focus. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. I wanted to hurt something.

I tried to listen as my therapist talked about why I could have been needing to hurt. But nothing she said was making sense. I didn’t need to hurt because I felt like I deserved it. I needed to hurt because that’s what I associated with compliments. I needed to hurt because that’s what my mother did to me.

I finally found the strength to mutter out the words “mom hurts.” My therapist asked if I meant what I meant, that my mother hurt me, and I told her yes. I told her some of what happened. And then I started to cry, because I realized just how much the shit my mother had done had affected me.

Of all the things my mother had already taken away from me as a child, she took away the good words people had offered me. She took away any opportunity I had to take in others’ positivity. She turned what should have been happiness into pain.

Pain became a conditioned response. I experienced my mother’s narcissistic rage so often that I just automatically associated compliments and positive comments with the pain and hurt that she inflicted on me. Even in her absence, I am continuing the same response I’ve always had. Except now I am the one inflicting the pain.

I tried to pull myself back together and stop crying. I felt ashamed for crying over something I should have known better about. But I wasn’t crying entirely because of that. I was crying out of grief. Just when I thought my mother couldn’t take any more from me than she already had, she struck again.

I was crying for the little girl who couldn’t feel good about anything. I was crying for the little girl who had to shy away and not be noticed for fear that she would be hurt.

I was crying for me.

Cake

I was going to bake a cake today, just to do something nice for myself and to detract from Father’s Day emotional turmoil.

I used to love baking. I could bake anything: brownies, cookies, pies, cupcakes. I was especially known for my pineapple upside-down cake. People would over me money just to bake things for them. I did it for free because I was more than satisfied just seeing other people happy. I was good at baking, and I was good at making people smile.

But as I started baking more, my mother became more angry. She’d yell at me for using up all of her electricity. She’d yell at me for using her oven (it wasn’t even hers – we rented). She’d yell at me for making the house hot. She’d yell at me for taking up space in the kitchen.

A task I once enjoyed now became another cause for punishment. I started baking less and less. People would ask me to bake them something and I would come up with excuses. I was afraid to anger my mother any more than my existence already had.

One day, against my what-should-have-been better judgment, I decided to bake a cake for a really good friend and coworker of mine. It was just one cake, I didn’t think it would be a big deal. I wouldn’t take up much space or get in anyone’s way. This should be just fine.

Then, as I was sitting at my corner of the table, putting the finishing touches of icing on the cake, my mother came in and started questioning me. I reluctantly told her who it was for. Big mistake.

You never do anything for me. You treat your coworkers better than your own mother. They don’t do anything for you. I gave you life and I get nothing! Not even a cake! It’s always about everyone else, never about your own family. I deserve better and I can’t even get a cake.

The cake ended up on the floor and I retreated to my room, crying. I was so ashamed walking into work the next day without the cake I had been so excited about making.

Just to please my mother, I started baking things for her, thinking it would earn me some sort of respect or a shred of kindness. But it didn’t. Baking wasn’t fun anymore. It didn’t give me any pleasure. My mother sucked all of the positive out of it, just as she had done with everything else in my life.

Today, as I stood in the baking aisle of the grocery store, staring at the baking supplies, I remembered that night my cake was ruined. I remembered the anger and rage my mother had. I remembered how scared I had become whenever I’d bake something. And I walked away from the aisle empty-handed.

She won today.

The return home, Part 3

I think my head-banging and a large iced coffee may have ended up saving my life.

By the time I got on the train, my headache was excruciating. I just sat there the whole time, looking at the seat ahead of me. I couldn’t read. I couldn’t listen to music. I couldn’t think of any of the ways I could have fucked myself up by knocking on my mother’s door. I couldn’t do anything.

By the time I arrived and my friend picked me up, I was exhausted. I took a pill, which helped a little bit with the pain in my head, but it was still very much there. I decided to pick up some food and just stay in while my friend went out for a few hours. I was still processing my emotions from earlier in the day. I wrote for a little, trying to get out some of my feelings. Then I just laid on the couch and stared at the ceiling, in some sort of numb state.

Despite my exhaustion, I couldn’t sleep well. I ended up passing out after midnight and waking up some time after 3 AM, unable to fall back to sleep. The massive headache was still there. In a few hours, we were out the door and on the way to the test site so I could take my GRE, which ended up being a disaster. I was running on no breakfast, very little sleep, and a massive headache. I think I read each question three or four times and I still didn’t understand half the shit that was being asked. I sat there for four hours completely mentally dead. I couldn’t even answer all of the questions in time. I’m not even sure I really cared.

I walked to a coffee shop to wait for my friend to get out of work and pick me up. I ordered a large iced coffee, because I knew I had to kill a lot of time waiting. I watched dozens of people walk in and out. I saw teenagers come in, by themselves, and walk out, by themselves. Then I thought about how I never had that freedom before. Here I was, sitting by myself, in a coffee shop, completely free to do whatever I wanted to do. There was no one with me. There was no one outside waiting in the car, watching every thing that I did. I was free.

After a couple of hours, my friend picked me up. As he was driving, we passed by the place where I used to live. I froze for a minute, and then I started to cry. There was my prison. The place I spent more than 29 years of my life, 29+ years of pain and hurt. If I were living there, I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy that iced coffee I just drank two hours before, alone, with no one watching over me. I wouldn’t have been free.

So while I made the return to my home city of origin, that ended up being the closest I got to that place that was once called home. In that moment, I realized I couldn’t give up the freedom I finally had. While I may at one point need to return to that same city, I could never return to that building. I would be much better without a home at all, then back in the prison my parents believed home should be.

They were wrong

“I want to hate him, but I can’t.”

Those words I spoke during my therapy session yesterday have continued to stick out in my mind.

I told my therapist what I had been struggling with in relating to my memory, in a very general way because I wanted to avoid a flashback. I don’t understand how someone could do that. I don’t understand how you can reject your own child.

I tried so hard to hold my feelings inside. Anger, hurt, and sadness were swirling around inside of my heart. I tried to hold in the tears, but that wasn’t working as well as I had liked. Even my therapist could tell I was trying to hold back, and told me it was okay to let it out.

My therapist asked what I would say to my father if I could talk to him right then. My mind started going into overdrive. So many questions and statements started running through my head, and without really thinking, the first thing I said was not even a question or a statement to my father. I said “I want to hate him, but I can’t.”

Despite all of the things he has done to me, and now the rejection I am very much aware of, I still have trouble hating him. I want to hate him. I think he more than deserves it. But somehow, despite being raised by two heartless people, I have a kind and compassionate heart. It’s what allowed me to bury my feelings and take care of my father when he got sick so many years ago. He didn’t deserve my care, to be honest. But he got it.

My therapist asked me again. I ran through a list of questions in my mind, quickly playing out what his responses would be. Then I realized that, it wouldn’t even matter what I asked him or what I said to him. “It doesn’t even matter, he doesn’t believe he did anything wrong.”

I thought I was right. Neither my mother nor my father would ever admit fault. I always just assumed that it was because they believed they never did anything wrong. That is how they (especially my mother) played it off.

But then my therapist asked what my father would say if I told him what he did to me. She asked, “Would he say there was nothing wrong with it, or would he say that it never happened?”

I didn’t even have to think for more than a second before I had my answer. “He’d say that it never happened.”

I grew up being told that people on the outside just wouldn’t understand, that’s why we couldn’t tell. But if that were really true, and nothing was wrong with what my parents did, then why would they deny it? If they really believed that they were right, they would say there was nothing wrong with it. They deny it because they know they were wrong.

All of a sudden, it started to make sense to me. I never thought of how contradictory their line of thinking was.

For so many years, I’ve been blaming myself for what happened. I have been carrying that guilt within my heart. Something must have been wrong with me, a child rejected by her own parents. The only reason that made sense to me was that something was inherently wrong with me. I was the wrong one.

Part of me still believes that. That is why it’s so difficult to work through shit in therapy. I hold a lot of shame because I still believe it was my fault. I need to stop carrying the guilt and the blame. I need to keep telling myself that they were wrong.

My father was wrong. My mother was wrong. They were wrong.

I was just a child, born to parents who didn’t deserve me. I was not wrong.

PAFPAC blog

I have created a separate blog for PAFPAC: pafpacorg.wordpress.com

From now on, any PAFPAC-related posts will be on that blog, in order to separate my professional identity from my personal story.

I will also be focusing more on posting about female-perpetrated abuse there: facts and figures, research, education, etc.

I would also consider sharing blogs and posts from survivors who would like to be featured on PAFPAC’s blog.

(I will be deleting this post in a few days).

Apologize

There is a song by OneRepublic ft. Timbaland entitled “Apologize”.

My mother used to play it repeatedly. Constantly, really. In the house, on her phone…she even made it her ringtone. It always focused on the chorus:

That it’s too late to apologize.
It’s too late.
I said it’s too late to apologize.
It’s too late.
Too late, oh uh

My mother played it so much that now the song is ruined for me. It was her way of sending a message to the family. She believed we owed her apologies. But for what? What did I do to her?

I didn’t follow her rules closely enough?

I didn’t do everything she wanted?

I went against her a few too many times?

I was better than her, more intelligent than her, more skilled than her?

I existed?

That is the scheming cry of the narcissist. Everything is about them. The world owes them. Everyone bow down. Honor the dishonorable.

My mother is the one that owes the world an apology. My mother is the one that owes me an apology. But the words “I’m sorry” will never once leave her lips. Because she is a narcissistic sociopath. She will never do wrong. Everyone else is wrong.

I’m not sorry.

Runaway

I listen to music every day: while I’m walking to work in the morning, while I’m riding on the bus, while I’m working, while I’m walking about the neighborhood, and even while I’m at home working on other things. Music helps distract me when I need distraction. It helps keep me focused when I need to drown out whatever is going on in my head. Music is a big part of my life.

When I really take time and listen to the lyrics, there are some songs that resonate with me. I was sitting at my desk earlier today with my iTunes on shuffle, and P!nk’s Runaway started playing. I started really paying attention to the lyrics and I realized there were parts of it that so closely related to my earlier life.

I was just trying to be myself
You go your way, I’ll meet you in hell
All these secrets that I shouldn’t tell, I’ve got to run away
It’s hypocritical of you
Do as you say not as you do
I’ll never be your perfect girl
I’ve got to run away

I’m too young to be
Taken seriously
But I’m too old to believe
All this hypocrisy
And I wonder
How long it’ll take them to see my bed is made
And I wonder
If I was a mistake

I might have nowhere left to go
But I know that I cannot go home
These voices trapped inside my head
Tell me to run before I’m dead
Chase the rainbows in my mind
And I will try to stay alive
Maybe the world will know my name
God won’t you help me run away!

-P!nk

Throughout my life, I tried to be a good daughter. It took me some time to realize that no matter what I did, I would never be good enough for my mother. She didn’t want me to be good enough, because that meant that some of the attention was taken from her. Narcissists don’t like that.

Secrets. I was tired of keeping secrets. I got to a point where I wanted to shout to the world exactly what I was going through, exactly the type of person my mother was. I started to, little by little. I was tired of staying silent. And that put me in a dangerous situation, because I was still living with the very person I was starting to speak out against.

When I talk about my journey to freedom, I sometimes (without thinking) refer to my new life in terms of running away from my old life. I’ll say “when I ran away from home”. People don’t really understand what I mean when I say that. I’m an adult. Adults don’t run away from home. They just come and go as they please.

Except I couldn’t. I was living in what was essentially a prison.  When I left on July 10th, I ran away. At 29 years old, I ran away from home. I may have left out the front door, but that’s only because I was three stories up and had no other exit.

I wasn’t really 100% sure where I was going to end up, but I knew at that point that I had to leave. If I had stayed much longer, I would not be sitting here today. And I recognize that reality. So much was going on in the months before my escape. It was dangerous. It was a dangerous place to be. I knew when I ran out the front door that day, I could never go back.

I did not run away from life; I ran towards it. Those first 29 years and four months of my existence were not life.

I ran away so I could live.