I am going to try to write and process something that is rather difficult for me.
Yesterday, I finally had a chance to do another EMDR session. Once again, I concentrated on my fear of abandonment, and the chronic belief that I am unworthy of love.
The session began with the same triggering moment that always seems to surface–the day, right before 3rd grade–that my grandmother gave my brother and I “back” to my mom. The day she left us…the day that I panicked, and experienced what must have been my very first panic attack.
It is familiar. I have written and written and written about it.
I know that it is a moment. And I have been desperate to dig deeper and try to understand why I am so anxious about losing important relationships. Why I spiral down into a dark hole when I fear I’ve messed up. Why I need reassurance that things are okay.
I have experienced so much frustration at my inability to pinpoint exactly why. Exactly what happened.
It has felt like more than one single, individual moment.
…Because it was.
Yesterday, I realized something.
As I held the EMDR buzzers in my hands and started working my way through tunnels of memory, I began to connect the dots…the emotions…in a new way.
It surrounded my MOM.
It is a word that has a lot of heavy meaning in my life.
In a perfect world, children are born and warmly welcomed into their mother’s arms. Maternal attachment is the basis of so much–and, most importantly–it is the basis of the growing child’s sense of self. In a perfect world, the mother is warm, caring, responsive. She gives her child an adequate amount of independence, allowing the child to grow, but continues to provide the child with a safe base…a place to come back to when things seem scary or unsure.
I did not grow up in a perfect world–and neither did a lot of other people on this earth.
I cannot attest to my mother’s relationship with me as an infant…I have no stories, no real pictures, and no memory of this time.
I do, however, remember things quite well from 1st grade on.
In 1st grade, we were removed from mom’s home after her drug dealing boyfriend beat her in front of us. She did not–or could not–find the strength to leave this man, the father of one of her children.
So, my sibling and I moved in with our grandparents. Here…here, I experienced stability. A person who would read me books. Who was home when I got off the bus. Who did my hair. Who tucked me in at night. Who cooked and bought my favorite foods.
I felt safe.
And then, a year and a half later, it changed.
We went back to our mom. Grandma left us.
My anxiety. My fear. My separation anxiety. It all went through the roof.
My mom though?
My mom was not responsive. She was not predictable.
To her, I was a nuisance. My fear, my worry, my emotions?
They were too much to handle. They made me annoying. They needed to be punished.
I did not learn, at the age of 8, that any of these scary feelings were normal responses to the upheaval that was going on in my life. I learned, instead, that feelings were bad, and I needed to pretend to be okay.
I wanted my mom’s approval. I wanted to be held and hugged by her. Sometimes…sometimes, I could get it. Sometimes, my mom would be in a good mood. She would promise me that she would come to Thanksgiving dinner at school and she would excitedly talk about what I should wear and what we would eat.
That day, I headed to lunch, eagerly watching for her. She wasn’t there. But she would be. I got a tray and sat down, making sure to keep a spot open next to me. She was coming!
…But she didn’t.
I was mad. She told me I was being dramatic. She got busy.
Another time, my sibling and I left the water on outside and flooded the lawn. No one would confess. She tried many tactics. Love, anger. She settled on beating us with a wire hanger…until, out of fear and desperation, we both confessed. (To this day, I don’t remember who really turned the water on.). She then hugged us and told us she loved us.
I could never trust my mother. Not early on, and not later…or now. One minute, love was there, because I had done something RIGHT.
The next, it was gone. Because I had done something WRONG.
I learned how to read a room. How to change who I was to fit the situation…to try to be RIGHT enough that she could love me.
…At least, a little bit.
But, sadly, I discovered, over time, that I was never enough.
At least, not for her.
Love was her ultimate weapon. When she needed a favor, or needed to feel better about herself, she loved me.
When she was wrong or I spoke up about something that happened? It was removed. I was ignored. I made things up. I was a liar…according to her.
It made me question so much about myself.
But, most of all, it made my sense of belonging, my sense of love, reliant on the reaction of others.
And that, still, is so much of my core problem.
Today, I continue to struggle.
I can now see my mom for what she is: a pretty unhealthy person who can never love me the way I wish a mom could have loved me.
The thing is…I am having trouble letting go of the grief in that.
It feels so very, very unfair.
When I get anxious and depressed, I fall into a dark hole. Always, in this hole, I am sitting with my arms wrapped around my knees, hiding my face.
But feeling terrible and alone. I feel like that scared third grader who just wants to be held and hugged by her mother. With no strings attached.
But that can’t happen.
…Except, I can’t stop looking for it.
I want a mom. A role model. I want someone to just love me for who I am. I don’t want to feel ashamed to admit that.
…But I do.
Today, I am a mom.
And ya’ll. I am absolutely terrified of being my mother.
Absolutely terrified of messing up my own girl the way my mother messed up me.
I find myself holding back. Questioning. Not connecting out of fear of connecting the wrong way.
…Which is everything that I don’t want.
I am so stuck here.
I am so stuck in the fact that, what is normal for me is unpredictability.
I believe, if I mess up–if I disappoint, or say something wrong, or show the wrong emotion–that the love… the relationship… will disappear.
That is what feels normal to me.
And that also feels very scary when I think I’ve connected in an honest and true way.
That is not normal.
It is incredibly difficult to trust that people who love me will continue to love me because that is how normal people love. (There are obvious exceptions, of course, but I’m speaking in generalities about stable, healthy relationships.).
It is incredibly difficult to believe that I can be me. That I am not TOO MUCH.
And, because it is incredibly difficult to believe, I hang on tight to what I know.
I hang on to the pain. To the awareness of WHY and the identity I’ve developed as a child of trauma.
Letting go of it would mean freedom. And dammit, I want to let go so badly.
But where’s the reassurance in letting go? What if I let go and people still leave? What if I let go and nothing changes?
What if, no matter how much I want to let go, I can’t? What if I can’t ever convince my heart that it is okay to trust stability?
Right now? Right now it is easy to feel the grief. It is easy to hold on to the injustice of all of it.
It is much harder to fathom letting that go and being okay without it.
I hear you. I have similar issues, although what I struggled with growing up was quite different and not as serious. It’s hard to unlearn the lessons I learnt as a child, even when intellectually I know they don’t apply any more.
I don’t believe you would do to your children what your mother did to you. Reading this, it actually reminds me of the mother of a friend of mine who has borderline personality disorder – she also flips between being affectionate and being critical and angry and is completely unpredictable and unreliable.
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Hugs. I have my own version of this, different but also leading to “Mom” not being someone who provided stability and comfort, and my own run in ins with trauma. I read a book – Parenting with PTSD – recently as part of trying to get over my own issues to think about kids someday. It was surprisingly comforting (and currently on sale on Amazon.) It talks about the fear of passing on a trauma legacy – it’s common to fear but doesn’t mean you will.
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I, too, have had family/parent trauma. As an adult, it’s easier to live what we know rather than strive for the unknown, even though we know it’s better on the other side. In my backwards brain, it’s easier to deal with the hurt I already know versus failing and dealing with more hurt. It’s so backwards yet we (I) keep doing it. I say press on and don’t over think the parenting thing. We all make mistakes but love trumps any screw-ups. If you show love and forgiveness, your kiddos will do the same. Hugs!
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Thank you for sharing this. I have similar issues with my own mother, so you’re not alone. I don’t have kids, so I can’t give you any feedback about that, but I always thought that if I did have children, I would try so hard not to be like my mother was. Sending you love and light ❤
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My mom is a hot mess, so thank you for sharing. We can’t choose our parents, but we can choose how we deal with them. Thank you for being brave enough to share your story. I also have nominated you for the Liebster Award. Your writing is so inspirational that the entire world should hear your story. Have a great day
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