The great advantage of living in a large family is that early lesson of life’s essential unfairness. ~Nancy Mitford
The theme of fairness has come up for me several times in the last few days. I even made a joke of it Friday night when we were watching Labyrinth in Second Life with some friends. “Every time she says, ‘It’s not fair!’ take a shot.” Not that I took a shot or anyone else did, it was just a joke since that line comes up a lot in that movie. I am the oldest of 4 children. I have 1 brother and 2 sisters. Then I have a host of aunties, uncles, and cousins. My dad’s brothers and sisters are fairly close to me in age and I look to them as older brothers and sisters. So, “It’s not fair” was used a lot when I was growing up.
I’ve struggled all day with how to share this and what exactly I should share. I am always try to stay positive and show that positivity to others. Otherwise, I find myself stuck in the mire of negativity that I can get out of. I’ve also been one to not be an open book for everyone to read. My friends and family that I am close to know how strong I am and what I’ve overcome in my life to get to where I am and to be who I am. I don’t readily show my weaknesses or my secrets. Honoring my father and mother was a commandment drilled into me from childhood. Respect for elders is a huge part of many Asian cultures and I’ve been a dutiful daughter and respected them even when I’m not shown respect in return. I’m sure my mother would have many things to say if she ever read this, namely things about not airing dirty laundry in public. However, my years of working in mental health has taught me the value of sharing your story for others who have gone through something similar or are currently. I can’t keep it secret any longer, because all it does is eat away at me from the inside. I know this isn’t about health or food or anything else I normally blog about. Instead, this is about mental wellness and for those that might be going through similar circumstances.
I have a toxic mother. Most of my teenage and young adult years were spent arguing with her. While still living at home, she’d take us to a store and ask my brother and sisters what they wanted right in front me, but would exclude me from the question. I pretty much did all the cooking and cleaning in the house before I moved out. Sure my brother and sisters had chores, but they never did them. If they didn’t get done, I was the one that was in trouble because I was “responsible” for them while my parents worked. I wound up doing them just to stay out of trouble. Who wants to be grounded for something your brother or sister was supposed to do, but didn’t? Most of my social life in high school centered around my extra-curricular activities like band, Job’s Daughters, and Girl Scouts. I knew even if I got grounded for something ridiculous, I still got to go to practices and meetings. It got me out of the house and away from the depression I suffered within those walls. A friend once asked my best friend at school why I was smiling all the time and she told him, “It’s the only place she can be happy.” She knows me so well.
Dad was someone I always feared. He had a mean temper and when he got angry, it wasn’t pretty. He was by no means abusive in the way some of the boys I worked with were. But, he easily lost his temper with me numerous times and I found myself on the receiving end of some blows and near blows. I’m thankful that this wasn’t a daily thing. I’ve made my peace with this part of my history. I was able to get it out and move on.
I look back at the poetry I wrote in high school and I can’t believe how depressed, but still functional I was. In the moment, I didn’t realize it. Not at least until I had a difficult and stubborn fight with my mother. It was my sophomore year and I can’t even remember what the fight was about. Usually the fights were about my plans for moving out or how I felt I was treated unfairly. After this horrible fight, my mother left my room and I was curled up on my bed sobbing and feeling the walls closing in on me. I just wanted the pain to end right there and then. I couldn’t take living in hell anymore. I started looking around my room and thinking about all the things in my room that could be used to end my life. Scissors. I started to move to get the scissors, but I couldn’t move a muscle. I was held there and heard a very firm, “No.” Divine intervention. I’m not joking in the least. He started to remind me about my plans for the future. He showed me the light at the end of the tunnel. After that moment, I kept my focus on that light no matter how much my parents fought me on my plans.
My parents did not come to band tournaments or football games to see me marching. They went to one of the parades we were in for the city of Encinitas. They did go to my brother’s basketball and soccer games. I know teenagers become more independent from their parents. I think my problem was that I was forced to grow up early and fast in taking care of my brother and sisters. I still wanted to know they cared, that they loved me through their actions rather than their words. Sure, they said they loved me all the time, but they never showed it. I always felt like I was free help for them. There is a joke that Disney movies give women unrealistic expectations of men. However, Cinderella was always my favorite story because I identified with her situation of being stuck with all the grunt work.
In college, the fighting with my mother continued off and on. Granny told me once when we were fighting that my mother was refusing to let my brother or sisters call me. I didn’t call the house either because I didn’t want to take the chance of having to talk to her while I was still mad at her. Granny was my eyes and ears about what really happened in my nuclear family after I left. Granny was also my North Star. Granny had an enormous sense of fairness and always tried to right unfairness when she saw it. Her own father favored her over her sister, yet she never took glory in it. She was appalled that her father would openly favor her over her sister. So she always tried to share with her sister, the things her father gave her. In the same vein, she saw the unfairness that went on in the home and tried to do for me, what my parents would not do. I had my aunties and uncles right there for me, too. I don’t know where I’d be without my extended family. I am so thankful for having them as my supports in my life.
My parents did not fly out for my college graduation. My mother and I had fought a lot that year. I remember one of the fights being over her asking me, “Do you think we fought a lot when you were in high school?” She didn’t like my honesty. Heck yeah we fought a lot. I’m not going to re-write history just to make her or anyone else happy. She called me the night before my final finals week started and proceeded to pick a fight with me. I wound up hanging up on her because I couldn’t take it anymore. I was so out of sorts that I couldn’t even study. I called up a friend to see if I could come over to his place and I brought my books with me. I didn’t really study, but I figured I could if I could get back into study mode. That was how it was when we’d fight though. I couldn’t really function for days after.
It was during treatment team one day that I had an epiphany. We were discussing one of the boys and how he would completely decompensate after contact with his mother. All of a sudden I realized, that’s how I feel. That’s me. You see, I always resisted cutting ties with my mother because I had lots of people telling me I shouldn’t, that I needed to just forgive her and keep on. My problem was I always forgave her and she’d come back acting like nothing happened. She never apologized because in her mind, nothing was her fault. Then the next time she’d get mad, it was another stab in the heart for me. I was the one getting hurt over and over and over again. A day or two later, I got a particularly hurtful email from her in which she went through her normal cycle of 1) denying she did anything wrong, 2) blaming someone else for it when they had nothing to do with it, and 3) making me feel guilty for something I shouldn’t feel guilty for. That’s the dance we did. I was tired of the dance.
I cut all contact with her. I told her I wanted nothing from her, I wouldn’t open any more emails and anything she sent me through regular mail would be returned unopened. You see, hers is a conditional love. Everything she “gave” me had strings attached. I couldn’t live with love like that anymore. This was over 7 years ago. She’s now done the same with her sisters, or rather, they’ve done the same with her after she started doing the same thing with them that she did to me. Since then, I was able to build a better relationship with Dad and keep an already tenuous relationship with one of my sisters. My brother and other sister and I would be civil with each other, but any attempt I’ve made to keep a relationship with them isn’t reciprocated.
Now, I’m sitting here hurting all over again because I found out late last night that my parents flew out for my youngest sister’s college graduation. Not to mention that in the last year my relationship with Dad and my other sister have lost their foothold. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is bad mouthing me to Dad, my brother and my sisters. That’s what she does best. If you aren’t with her and do what she wants you to do, you are against her and aren’t worthy.
I’m sorry Mother, I’m not a puppet on a string and I never was, but you couldn’t see past yourself to understand that. I can’t be bought and I can’t be given conditions for love. I was given to you by God as a daughter and despite you apologizing once to me before I moved out, you’ve never apologized again, nor did you learn from that apology. You may dislike that I shut you out, but it is for MY good and MY good alone that I do it. You criticize me and put me down. You do the same to your sisters while damning them to hell. You call yourself a Christian, but is that how Jesus would treat his loved ones? Yes, from you and Dad, but mostly you, I learned how unfair this life can be. But God gave me your parents, your sisters, Dad’s parents, and Dad’s brothers and sisters to love me unconditionally and show me the support I needed. God gave me a best friend and her mother, the only woman on Earth I call “Mom” since you lost the right to be called that by me anymore. Mom may not have much to give, but she gives from her heart unconditionally. I know there is a part of me I can’t feel anymore that loves you despite all the hurt you heap on me, but I can’t keep opening myself up to the pain. I know God tells us to forgive, but do I keep forgiving you and letting you back in my heart at the expense of my own mental well-being?
I’ve been crying a lot since last night. I know eventually the pain will subside. I do envy my friends that are close to their mothers. I wish I knew what that was like, but I never will and I accept that. Whenever I feel that twang of envy coming on I focus on the people I do have. My aunties, uncles, cousins, Mom, and friends. I have so much to be thankful for even though there is so much I’m missing.
I’m living proof that God does bless those that grew up in the midst of dysfunction and turmoil. And I’m determined to let those blessings shine.