I came across the following video via Lives of Women, Facebook page and I thought, I want to address self-care.
Here’s the video: https://www.facebook.com/LivesOfWomen/?fref=mentions
When I say self-care, you might be tempted to think of those precious few moments that are meant to be all about you. Enjoying an uninterrupted half hour of television and ignoring all incoming messages, emails, and the like. Treating yourself to a day out. Having that second glass of wine. And so on.
Self-care, in the larger context, also means making exquisitely difficult decisions that ultimately betters your life, in the short-term and the long-term. These decisions are not easily meted out. Such decisions require struggle, with yourself, with others.
I had briefly mentioned in a previous blog that my mother had quit our family shortly after I came into the world. It was her pattern. When times got hard, she left. When times were good, she wanted to be in the spotlight of family once more. She would abandoned us, her two daughters, repeatedly. And when she came back, it was done casually, as though no one had any reason to protest her absence or challenge her decisions. My sister was forgiving, I was not.
In time, my mother would grow to outwardly despise me for what I could not conceal. I never had a poker face. Every feeling I ever had as a kid showed perfectly. I got better at concealment as I got older, but growing up, I told everyone all too easily what my mother meant to me. My mother praised my sister and openly condemned me. On the few occasions she tried to win me over, her method was to blame everyone else for her not being there. Her absence was always someone else’s fault – always. I sometimes tried to humor her by half-heatedly saying I understood, but I had my father so I didn’t care, also I knew she would leave again. She always did. And it didn’t help that my mother was, and is, an alcoholic.
Fast-forward to my 34 year-old self, my mother would still occasionally hazard by, always at her convenience and always under the influence (a combination of alcohol and pills) and at some point, some how, in some way, she would swing the conversation around to me and my faults in not being a good daughter. The complaints were miles high and loudly spouted in-between gulps of alcohol. I’m not there for her, she accuses. I’m not interested in her, she says. I only humor her presence and treat her like a guest that has to be put up with.
Yes. It was true. The only way I could handle my mother was to keep her at a safe distance. By allowing her to occasionally show up, I thought I was doing my duty – whatever the hell that means. As an adult, I had that rhythm with my mother for years, and then I had a child of my own. Since the birth of my own daughter, the thought of my mother would send me into a quiet rage. The thought would not quit, ‘I am making memories with my kid I know my mother should of have made with me.’ She actively chose not to be in my life. All the things I’m doing, I know my mother didn’t do and I was realizing for the first time that I hated her for it. Before my child, I felt resentment towards my mother but it was manageable. I could put up with the drunken rants and ravings, aimed at me simply because I was there, and then after I became a parent, things changed. I felt my impatience for this person who was my mother, grow. I felt it intensely. She was still drunkenly complaining about the same shit. She was still ruminating over things that had happened years ago, and were her own design!
My mother was a mired-in-the-past, inebriated, selfish creature. Always unhappy and always making the wrong decisions, and always making others pay for her decisions. My allowing her to stay in my life meant allowing her the delusion that she was a half-decent parent, and therefore deserving to be in my life. Fuck that.
I knew then, at 34, I hated my mother. I kept it down for almost all of my life, but the simple truth was, the hate was always there. My father did his best to ensure I had a relationship with her whenever my mother was willing to visit us, but I wished he hadn’t. I wished he had seen how her on again and off again influence did nothing for our delicate self-esteems. We, as kids, saw a fully capable, able-bodied person come in and out our of lives and so my sister and I were left to fester with the thought, ‘Why aren’t we good enough?’ Our father didn’t know how to discuss these things, my sister and I didn’t know how to express our rejection. But that notion, that horrid notion of not being good enough for our mother always lingered. Those are the memories I have of my mother, and at 34, the truth of it came rushing to me all at once.
Self-care, in the larger context, means doing what neither my father OR my mother could do. Self-care means making the hard decisions, for yourself, for your sanity, for your dignity, for the health of your family.
I cut her out of my life and I’ve been at peace since. My mother’s guilt kept her from making the clean break she ought to have done 36 years ago. My father’s sense of obligation kept him from doing the same. I speak for me now. I am also responsible for speaking for my own kid until she’s old enough to do so for herself.
I had struggled with the decision for nearly 6 months, it was in no way whimsical. On one of the few visits my mother made before I cut her out of our lives, she had slammed her car door on my kid’s hand. It was not intentional, it was an accident as I had always known it to be. My mother’s running excuse is that she’s “accident prone.” I can’t tell you how many memories I have of my mother injuring herself and others, not because of being accident prone or absent-minded (another favorite), but because she is simply drunk. She’s injured me in unknown quantities, words and actions, intended and unintended. And now she did it to my kid.
The screams emitting from my 3 year-old that day pierced my heart from that day to this. My daughter was behind, and to the side, of her grandmother as she got something out of her car. My daughter’s little hand got caught in the door as my mother slammed it shut, oblivious to her surroundings (and grandchild) as usual. [To be clear, I was loading some items into my mother’s car and my daughter was in the driveway with us. There was zero chance of my child being in any vehicle my mother was driving.]
My kid’s hand swelled up to an unrecognizable size. I received one unconvincing offer from my mother to accompany us to the ER. Sensing her skittishness for “real” situations, I waived her away. My mother took off, not needing to be told twice. My mother gave no immediate impression of being concerned other than what other people might think of her. She actually said, “So-and-so is going to hate me now,” and generally pitied herself while my kid screamed in pain. I later received one apology text from my mother, with general wishes that everything was ok. No offer to assist with the hefty ER bill. Thankfully, there were no broken bones, just a lot of swelling and bruising and having to answer the question, “Why did grandma hurt me?”
Between securing my child into the car (reassuring her that the doctor would make it all better) I remember looking at my mother’s retreating car and thinking, ‘You do that shit to me, not my kid you fucking bitch. You shoulda known I wouldn’t have put up with that shit – not my kid!’
It was a weird thought I know, but having analyzed the thought from this safe distance, I know what I meant. I was used to her, I had taken her abuse for all of my life, I expected nothing else from her, not as a kid, not as an adult. But somehow, I thought, my kid was off-limits to her bullshit and that my mother ought to know that…but my daughter was not off-limits. Nothing can or will change for my mother, including her ability to hurt others. My kid is no less subject to what I grew up with, not so long as my mother has the opportunity to exist in our world. Hatred, particularly self-hatred, is infectious and it spreads. I can put up with her crap, I had done it for years, but why the hell would I ask that of my kid? And then what followed that logic – why the hell do I put with it? If I am a worthy person, worthy of love and respect, then why do I let this person come around? My mother didn’t love herself enough to stick around and then she made that my problem. I sure as hell wasn’t making that my daughter’s problem.
I’m not letting this mistake pass into another generation, to learn that it’s okay to be mistreated for the sake of family. I know now, family is what you make of it, not what you’re biologically linked to.
I get frustrated when I hear well-intended but misguided people talk about limitless forgiveness, more so where family members are involved. I can only assume these same folks come from a background of a healthy family dynamic and abuse was not part of their existence. Forgiveness is personal, to each their own time and their own way. And forgiveness should not involve stupidity. I can forgive my mother, but that doesn’t mean my welcoming her back into my family, hoping upon hope that everything’s changed. No. It’s on my mother to prove change for the better, to prove her remorse, and I would give her that opportunity if she sought it.
I’ve been here 36 years. My mother’s had 36 years to do right, to make good decisions for herself, but she can’t or won’t. But I can choose for myself. So I choose self-care, and in so doing, provide for myself what she never could.