I’ve never been a very secretive person. I’ve always worn my heart on my sleeve and spoken at length about my experiences. I readily share my feelings and sometimes alarm myself with how freely I open up. More than once I’ve found myself in situations where I’ve given personal accounts where they weren’t really safe. More than once it has been used against me. Even still, I find myself willing to answer questions that are perhaps too bold. I’ve learned not to answer as in depth as I once would have, but a great deal of personal information is readily available to anyone who asks.
I’ve started choking up. This is part of why I haven’t been writing that much. There have been things that I have wanted very much to express, but the ability to do so has been fleeting. In order to keep my close friends up to date on the things that have been happening to me lately, I’ve felt intensely that I need them nearby for the sporadic moments that I felt comfortable talking about it. I’ve been lucky enough to have this luxury. They have been patient as I’ve cried, sworn, muttered, and very suddenly announced a need to change the subject. During my silences I feel physically unable to speak about the matter at hand. My everything aches. I honestly feel like this particular subject may be the only thing that can stun my normally-articulate tongue. It is my mother.
To be clear, I have no loss of words for that woman. The problem here is that as I’ve grown, I have begun to understand more and more how unwell she is. I look back at our interactions and her behaviors and I am so overwhelmed by sadness and disgust that I am rendered wordless. I watch in horror as I see my sister’s experiences mirror my own and I am left feeling ill. What I wish, more than anything, is that I had someone to hold my hand and to just know my past and save me from having to give one more tour through my adolescence that will make my voice crack as I try not to betray too much emotion. If only.
On Monday I spoke to someone regarding the home life of my sister, mother, and my mother’s new ward. Days before, concerns had been raised about my mother’s mental health. After a mere 48 hours things were plastic-grinned and scotch-taped back to normal. I know better. I have seen these phases and these routines countless times. Urgently, I tried to express the gravity of the situation to a teacher who had been made aware of the situation. I spilled as much as I possibly could in 3o minutes: I detailed my mother’s past and current substance abuse; her hypochondria and obsession with doctor’s visits; her steps in trying to isolate both me and my sister from our peers and support systems; her blatant disregard of my sister’s well-being, as demonstrated by a list of things that is sickeningly long; her forcing me to take psychiatric medication and overriding anything I told my doctor that had to do with its negative effects; the way she has refused to work for the last decade despite having no truly debilitating ailment; the way she and my biological family had turned against me when I was only 15 and the way she continues to vilify me now.
Once we had gotten off the phone I lay down on my bed and took a deep breath. I felt that I may at any moment begin screaming or become filled with uncontrollable choking sobs. I whimpered and held my forehead in my hand, my hair, dirtied with the greasy air of the diner, falling in my face. Without warning, I remembered sitting across the table from a concerned-looking man with a dark beard and thinning hair. He peered at me through black-framed glasses as he wrote short notes on the paper in front of him, his eyes attentive and concerned. How could I have forgotten? I had done this before.
When my sister was six years old she was prescribed Prozac, much to my dismay. I had been living away from home for nearly a year and had weened myself off of my unnecessary and potentially damaging mood stabilizers months before. I was sorry to see that my mother’s attention had turned to my little sister, who robotically cited her “anger problems” as the cause for her script. More disturbing though, was that my mother had taken to doling out her own Prozac to Michelle, and telling her so. Granted, I later found out that the pills were the same dosage, but there is little more terrifying to me than my six year old sister thinking that it is okay to take Mommy’s Medicine. Because of my mother’s various il/legitimate illnesses, she was on a wide variety of anxiety medication, antidepressants, painkillers, and god knows what else. Furious and scared, I confronted my mother. We shouted at each other while Michelle waited silently in the car. I was stunned by her carelessness. She couldn’t understand my point. Somebody told somebody to go to hell. I sobbed to my father on the phone for the first and only time in my life.
I sought counsel from my guardian, and after a long talk, decided to speak with the psychologist my sister saw at her elementary school. I rested my head on the table, exhausted. My bubblegum pink hair fell to my face and became matted with tears.
Days later, I was seated in the somewhat untidy room that I had always wondered about while I was attending elementary school. There were stacks of paper scattered among various desks and crayons littered a child-sized table. This was the psychologist’s office. I spoke in earnest, trying desperately to relate my own experiences with my mother to this man to whom I had never before spoken. I detailed things that had happened while I lived with her that I knew could not be normal or right. I slammed my sister’s antidepressant prescription as premature and defended the legitimacy of her emotional reaction to witnessing the problems I had had with my mother. I lamented the irresponsibility in teaching a six year old to taking her parent’s medication and I warned of my mother’s typical phony attitude when addressing doctors and figures of authority. He sighed and seemed to take me seriously.
I do not know what bearing the words of a 16 year old had on a child psychologist who was well into his career, but I do know that there were severe consequences in store for me. As a result of my eagerness to save my sister from the kind of childhood I had endured, my mother embarked on a vindictive spiral with my entire biological family’s support. My grandparents were quick to stop me at the door the next time I came to visit. My grandmother shouted at me while I stood in the doorway and told me I wasn’t welcome or allowed in their home. My mother attempted to have DSS investigate the home of my guardian, her two children, and myself. She went to the local police station and attempted to file a restraining order. When it became clear my mother had no reason for the order, she settled for the next best thing. One day after school I was greeted by a local officer, serving me a No Trespass Order.
Things blew over eventually. For a little while, anyway. My sister isn’t six anymore and I’ve grown into someone who is smart and sure. But things like this break me. Over the last few months my mother has found her way back to the sickest and most destructive part of her Borderline loop. I think that both my mother and I know well that I have become someone who poses a threat to her manipulative and emotionally abusive form of parenting. As a result, she has spared no opportunity to tell my sister that I am a liar, that I’m selfish, and that I have emotional problems. She has ordered Michelle not to tell me things, even if they’re perfectly benign. A clear line has been drawn and it’s not easy to tiptoe around the traps and avoid the pitfalls. My sister is already moving past this weekend’s turmoil, shrugging and saying that Mom was just angry and why dwell on it? All I can do is shout to her as she turns away: “This isn’t normal! Mom’s not normal! She’s wrong, she’s wrong, she’s wrong!” But then she has to eat dinner and she gets offline. “Love you, sis.” My heart hurts.
My mother knows that I spoke to someone about last weekend’s crisis. She doesn’t know what I said, but it almost doesn’t matter. I’m pretty sure this knowledge may be contributing to her sudden cheery attitude and the resumption of her household tasks. I am not the 16 year old I once was, and I do not bend to her bullying and manipulation. She knows this. Even still, I am bracing myself for whatever it is she decides to throw my way. I am on the lookout for biting emails, another No Trespass Order, and a sudden lack of contact from my sister. When my entire biological family shunned me after I spoke to my sister’s psychologist, my guardian told me, “That was your crime, Marie: caring. That’s what you’re being punished for.” I don’t believe that this time I will get away without a sentence.
Today a close friend of mine wrote a very open blog post that shed light on some parts of her recently-ended relationship that she has kept hidden for years. Although the circumstances are very different, the bravery with which my friend detailed her story struck me. I can’t help but feel that it is critical for people to start speaking about the terrible things they have undergone in abusive relationships. I get so choked up when I talk about the things I dealt with while I lived with my mother, but I know that I have to keep talking about it.
As a teenager, I was taught over and over again that what I said did not matter because my mother always had the ultimate power, and she reminded me of this every chance she had. I was continuously told that my I was wrong and needed to be fixed. Maybe this is part of why I stopped talking. It’s absolutely the reason I second guess myself as much as I do. But I can’t let myself stop talking. When my sister calls to tell me that my mother told her she hates her, or that she called her a cunt, or that my sister is being blamed for my mother’s lack of friends, I can barely stifle the scream that wells up in my throat. But why stifle it at all? I am going to scream and scream and scream and someone better fucking listen to me this time.