I begin my first blog with a family story. My beloved father passed away in 2009 and left me in charge with the care of a needy mother. As the oldest of four girls, and as one comfortable in the role of boss, I resigned myself to this role but felt a heavy burden laid upon my shoulders. Not only was I a daughter and sister, but now I was the matriarch. My Mother was not equipped with a role that required leadership, organization, or anything like that, for my Father had served in that capacity very capably for over half a century.
The pain in the days following my father’s death was buffeted by some kind of protective shock. We gathered for lunch not long after my Father’s death, and whooped it up. Of course, this strange euphoria would soon subside and we would settle into more of a brutal disbelief. We all held each other close for we had nothing but each other. We each had our role and place in the family. We each contributed our strengths and settled into a comfortable agreement of who did what best. Yet, I began to feel a bit overwhelmed and found myself snapping at my Mother from time to time. Another sister could speak in soothing tones, and yet another internalized and did not speak up for herself. I worked hard to make sure my Mother was comfortable and had everything she needed – both physical and emotional. I wasn’t perfect and if I snapped, I apologized.
One day my Mother did not like the tone of a response I gave her, and she called me “crass”. The look in her eyes as she spit out the words knocked me off my feet a bit. The eyes revealed a darkness that addiction can sadly bestow. I had the wherewithal to reply quickly, “Mom, I have tried to be the best daughter and human being that I can be. GUESS WHAT? I AM OUT OF HERE!” I fled the apartment as quickly as I could and got into my car and didn’t look back. My Mother had tried to follow me and I could hear her calling for me as I hit the gas pedal. “Come back! Come back!” I cried all the way home and called my husband. Even though I could be the strong leader in the family, I still could be an emotional little girl and quite vulnerable. I had always craved my Mother’s love and not having a Mother emotionally present (due to her own wounds) created a wound inside of me. The Mother wound, I suppose. So I personally set out to be the best Mother, daughter, sister, wife that I could be. I would be there for others. But could I be there for myself?
My husband offered some calming words, “You may need to decide that one visit to your Mom per month is all you can do”. In my zeal to try to be a perfectly imperfect daughter, that idea had not occurred to me, so I gave it some thought. It was a novel idea and so different that I was ready to try it, in order to take care of myself. I also decided to look up the word “crass” and I vividly recall the definition I read which included words like vulgar and lacking intelligence. I knew I was none of these things; I might lose my patience from time to time, but I was a rather elegant woman with some degree of poise and intelligence that my upbringing and Catholic school education conferred on me. I didn’t like swearing and I didn’t tell racy or sexualized jokes so I knew I wasn’t vulgar. Sometimes my self confidence wavered, but I really felt in my soul that I was *not* crass. Could I be blunt? Hell, yeah! That comes with the territory of being the bossy older sister.
The moment that I turned my back and walked out on my Mom is the moment something shifted. Once I got home, the phone rang and I saw it was my Mom. I decided to pick up and *face the music*. I wasn’t going to run away or avoid the discomfort. My Mother said, “If I bow to you, you can bow to me, and we can both express our apologies and start anew.” As if she were some Zen monk! I said “Sure Mom, I can do that.”
Humility. Bowing from my heart to the heart of another. Paying respect to their divine light within as they pay respect to mine.
I stood up for myself that day and things have been much better. In fact, I probably could not have done it without the help of a 12 Step program that is geared for people who are affected by the addictions of a loved one or friend.
I continue to work on myself and my relationship with my Mother. It took the death of my Father for something new to emerge and blossom. Before my Father died, he was the center of my Mother’s life and drew all her attention. Her daughters (although I knew she loved us) were actually low on her totem pile. But once my Father died, my Mother realized that all she had were her daughters. My relationship with my 86 year old Mother has never been better.
If you are being verbally abused and feel the need to walk out, walk out! I am not telling you what to do for you need to decide that for yourself, but it worked for me. And if you are lucky, you may end up bowing to each other in reverence and respect.
Life is completely unpredictable and challenges and hazards greet us every single day. Right now I am dealing with sadness, anger, fear, and even enmity over the antics of an estranged family member. She abuses pills and alcohol, and when she does, she terrorizes and torments her family. It has not been pretty. I am feeling all my feelings of anger, shock, hatred, vulnerability, disgust, disappointment, and then I am letting them go.
Despite having to navigate the mine field of the actions by this family member, and finding myself emotionally distressed (though handling it better, thanks to a recovery program), I am going to sleep at night projecting light and forgiveness to her. Her abuse has been going on for 2.5 years and although I have no contact with her, she is relentless with her attempts to cause trouble. Although feeling a bit beleaguered by all of this, I have a soft and calm joy within—a hint of a swooning grace that a Higher Power bestows. I am completely in gratitude about this.
I recently had a dream about the abusive family member that involved me telling her off. This happens a lot in my dreams. I guess one might call it an escape valve. Well this latest dream ended with me patting her gently on the back in a soothing, loving manner. She responded “Oh, you are being so nice to me.”
I don’t know what is going to happen with this particular family situation, and although I don’t anticipate a reconciliation, I can do my part to not hold onto hatred and resentment. I love going to sleep and making it a part of my evening ritual to wish her well and surround her in light. It doesn’t mean I am ready to see her in person. Not time to bow yet, but perhaps I can do it metaphorically in my dreams and prayers. It’s a start.
Wishing you all well,