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.

I can’t be like her

I’ve written before about my fear of being anything like my mother.

That fear comes in all forms.

Whenever someone would comment about how much I looked like my mother, it made me sick. I would respond very calmly, “Please don’t say that.”

But they always continued to say it. Because I did look like her. And I felt the disgust and hatred and fear building up inside of me every time. I would run to the nearest bathroom and cry. I’m just like her. Other people are saying I’m just like her. It has to be true. I would punish myself for looking like her, as if it were something I had control of.

I hid my feminine attributes because I figured it would make me less like her. If I don’t look like a woman, I’ll be okay. I’d squish my breasts flat so I could look more like a boy. I’d wear baggy sweatpants and t-shirts. I changed my hair color and style (which didn’t work, because my mother would soon change her appearance to copy mine). I tried so hard NOT to look like her. I hated myself for being a woman because my mother was a woman. But that was something I don’t ┬áhave the power to change.

Even though now, I don’t have to deal with anyone saying how much I look like her, I am still reminded of our similarities in other ways. And I hate it.

I continue to try my best to be the total opposite of her.

I involve myself in relationships with types of people who I know my mother would never associate with.

I deny myself the privilege of having children because being a mother would make me my mother, and children don’t deserve to be hurt by me.

I have turned away from God because my mother continually paraded as a Christian.

It’s not even just the major things. I avoid her favorite foods and drinks: cookie dough ice cream, Dr. Pepper, Kit Kat bars. While I know eating and drinking those things won’t change who I am, a part of me believes it brings me that much closer to being just like my mother.I avoid things I really enjoy because they are things that my mother enjoyed. It’s not fair.

I was eating a chocolate Poptart the other day, and out of nowhere, realized that my mother also ate them quite frequently. I stopped eating it and threw it away, completely disgusted with myself. We like the same things. I’m destined to be just like her.

A big reason why I have problems with anger is because I associate anger with my mother. She would often fly into rages; it was her normal. So now when I feel angry, I connect that feeling with being like her, and I try to suppress it. Except that suppressing anger rarely works. Instead it builds up inside, and ends up exploding at some point. And then it proves the point. I am just like her now.

My mother: consumer of chocolate, soda drinker, Christian, woman, mother, narcissist, sociopath, child abuser.

Me: a product of my mother.

I don’t want to be like her. I can’t be like her. But I am.

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.