I have recently started listening to the audiobook of “What My Mother And I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break The Silence”. I haven’t got very far yet but the few stories I have listened to are extremely moving. Some of these stories are about things that caused a complete breakdown between mother and (adult) child and some are about the wonderful close bond between them.
It got me thinking, like most things I see or read about the relationship between mother and adult children. I could relate to a lot of things in one of the stories in particular and so the last few days I’ve been thinking. What would my “essay” say in this book? What would my story be about me and my mother? What “theme” would I go with? What particular element of “our story” would I focus on? I mean, for everyone who’s essay appears in this book, they have had to focus in on one element haven’t they. In every family and every relationship there are many, many things which either make or break it – not just one thing.
Would I focus on how I felt as a young child with a mother who was so disinterested and neglectful? Or would I focus on her narcissism and enmeshment of me as an 18 plus year old? Perhaps I would focus on her reaction to finding out I had been sexually abused by one of her boyfriends?
The thing is, SO many things have led to where we are now. Where are we now? That is what I ask myself, where are we now? I don’t really know the answer to that either. Trying not to say where I am, with it all but where WE are is difficult and one of the reasons it is so difficult is, as the book says, we don’t talk about it!!
My mother’s speciality is to sweep things under the rug. Anything uncomfortable, anything that is in any way difficult or might result in feeling anything is a no-go area. I never even realised this until a few years into therapy. She is a rug-sweeper and so she does not want to talk about anything.
One of the writers in this book says something similar about her mother and said that her family were so good at sweeping everything under the rug… until they wasn’t and they fell over it and I can relate to that in so many ways.
Somehow (probably due to all the therapy) I don’t like doing this and I want, need even, to talk about things. If I look back to about 2 years ago I was still seeing my mother and drinking with her (bad idea) despite also really realising and feeling(!) a lot in therapy to do with her and my childhood and I was trying desperately to hold both at the same time. A recipe for disaster.
I admit that I went through a phase of going to her house and trying to prove to someone – possibly myself – that I was above it all. Above her perhaps. That somehow I could learn all of the things I was learning about all of the ways she hurt me and still sit and drink with her. I found myself starting to question things she said, starting to correct her or ask her to repeat herself or to answer a question she was clearly avoiding. It was like I could suddenly see some of the dysfunction and I wasn’t going to let her get away with it anymore. Looking back, I was being hugely passive aggressive. I sat there smiling sweetly but I was ready for a fight. I was almost secretly willing her to say something abusive, something nasty, just so I could respond in a way I had never responded before. Just so I could scream in her face that I wasn’t going to take it anymore. That I was DONE.
At the time, I told myself I was being mature by being able to handle her in a different way. I didn’t realise how angry I was. I think I was trying to show myself, my husband and my therapist that I was strong now. Perhaps I was kidding myself because deep down I knew that the alternative was to not see her or to continue being treated badly. I didn’t want either of those things. Maybe this was a bit of the bargaining phase at play.
Anyway one day I got my chance and I took it. An argument erupted which ended horribly. She said some unforgivable things to me that night which I will never be able to forget. One of them being that I was mentally unstable and needed to be sectioned. I called her “an evil bitch”. Then she phoned her husband who was upstairs asleep and he came downstairs ready to fight me, got all up in my face and started to shout and swear at me and then kicked me out of their house.
As I left their house I was shaking like a leaf. I was crying uncontrollably in fits and starts. I felt so empowered and yet so devastated in equal measure. What had I done? What had I said? But also, I felt so proud of myself. I had finally spoken a lifetime of pain. I had stood up to her in a way that neither of us thought I ever could. It was a night that I’m sure neither of us will ever forget.
In my mother’s true form I didn’t hear anything from her for about a week. Then she sent a text to say she was “so upset” and wanted us to make it up. The problem is that my mother’s idea of “making up” or “sorting things out” is for me to apologise TO HER, or for us to pretend nothing ever happened and that nothing was ever said. We do not TALK about it.
I refused to go along with this for the first time in my life and that resulted in 6 months of no contact. In those 6 months she sent 2 or 3 text messages, 2 of them being sent on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. Her messages said that she loved and missed me. Her messages made me feel awful. They tapped into the child in me who desperately missed her mother and wished her mother did love and miss her. But I held firm because I just couldn’t do any more of this rug-sweeping. I mean, I had told her that I grew up feeling completely unloved; a burden (amongst many other things) – those were not things I could just put back in a box and lock up forever more. They were out now. I had said them out loud.
A year ago I made contact with her in order for her to attend my wedding. That took a LOT of debating. For all the reasons I wanted her there; I didn’t. I worried what it would mean for us going forwards? Would it be seen as yet more rug-sweeping? At the same time I felt too guilty to exclude her from the biggest day of my life and I worried I would live to regret it and so she came to my wedding.
Whether I regret inviting her or not I can’t really decide. My wedding was 9 months ago now and I still can’t decide. Her presence didn’t add anything good to my special day, in fact I tried (and mostly succeeded) to block her and her husband out because they were both so disinterested and angry-looking all day, BUT perhaps her absence would have been harder and perhaps her absence would have allowed all sorts of perfect fantasy scenarios to fill my head which may have taken up more room than her presence did.
The morning after my wedding everyone was meeting for breakfast at 9am. I woke up as a newlywed and stared at my new husband and our wedding rings and felt the happiest and safest I had EVER felt in my life. I felt like I had a home now. Something I had never felt. We reminisced about our Big Day and got ready in our bridal-suite, stopping to smile and kiss each other. Everything was heaven. And then I got a text message from her, it was early, maybe 7am and it said that they had left my wedding venue and had gone home…….to pick up their dog.
I blocked the feelings in that moment and didn’t really care. My husband reacted to it more than I did. He was pissed. I didn’t really care and even felt glad because I didn’t want the awkwardness of seeing her and her husband after seeing their miserable faces all day the day before and I had been anxious about having them in a small room with my Dad’s family. I focussed on that relief and I focused on all the good, loving and kind people around me.
About 2 days later I was sat at home as my husband napped on the sofa, I was looking on social media at all the lovely comments and “likes” on our wedding snaps and I noticed a distinct and obvious lack of anything from her. Not one. Nada. She had however put up a post about her new car (and a photo of her posing with it). She had also commented and “liked” other people’s photos taken at my wedding; for example one of my sister and her boyfriend and another family member. She commented “beautiful!” on one photo. But not on a single one of my wedding photos.
I snuck out into the garden so my husband didn’t wake and I cried so much. I was so hurt. Not just, as it might seem on the surface, because of the photos on social media, but because of the whole thing. It had finally caught up with me and it hurt so much. So bloody much. It’s also a hard time to feel like your heart is breaking because you’ve just got your happy-ever-after and you want to focus on THAT feeling, not this one and obviously well-meaning friends and family tell you not to worry about the ONE person who isn’t happy for you when so many others are. That is easier said than done when that ONE person is your mother.
I saw my mother about 6 weeks after my wedding day which was about the soonest I could tolerate seeing her after it all and she did not mention my wedding AT ALL. Nothing. No mention of how I looked or my dress, no mention of the venue or the flowers or the bridesmaid’s dresses, the speeches.. nothing. I still remember however I took real pleasure in booking the table under my new married name and telling the waiter loudly as she looked confused for a nano-second. It was my little “fuck you” moment.
As I write this, it has been about 9 months since my wedding day and just over a year and a half since “that” night where it all came out and I told her what I really felt. She still tries to rug-sweep even now. Every now and again she will send me a text message as though everything is just lovey between us. Sometimes she will invite me to something which I think we both know I won’t be accepting; for example a few months ago she invited me and my husband to her house to have drinks with her and her husband. I declined and told her the truth why. It is too late for that. We cannot just sweep everything under the rug and pretend nothing has ever happened. I dared to say it – again. Her response? Okay – sad face emoji.
She may as well have typed “how dare you refuse to rug-sweep!!”.
It has taken a lot of therapy, a lot of time and a LOT of confusion and tears to get to this stage but now I have given up the hope that anything will ever be different. It used to hurt me so deeply that she didn’t love me enough to want to talk about it properly – to try to sort it out. To apologise and to move on. Slowly I am coming to the realisation that it isn’t really about me at all, she just cannot tolerate feelings and she cannot believe or admit to herself that she has ever done anything wrong or caused any pain.
The relationship between my mother and I now is pretty empty. It is superficial. Sometimes this brings great pain, but mostly I accept it and time is a great healer. The more time passes, the more I am adjusting to this. It has been one hell of a process going from neglected, unloved child to enmeshed young adult to this – whatever “this” is, but I am doing fine.
The message I would want to get across in my “essay” if I could, would be this: sweeping everything under the rug does not work. It might be uncomfortable talking about things, but is it any less uncomfortable than losing someone you love completely? I don’t think so. But also, you cannot force someone to talk – or to listen – who does not want to and sometimes you have to let them go – if only emotionally. And that you will be okay in the end.