Almost six months after my mother’s death I offer this to those who may see themselves in this essay. I know my mother suffered with mental/emotional illness and unhealed traumas for which I hold much compassion. She exhibited the capacity to love and show kindness with her students, colleagues, and other family members. As the scapegoat or split all-bad child, I had a very different experience from which I continue to glean rich and enduring lessons. I honor the life my mother (and father) gifted me by creating a beautiful one, by breaking the cycle of wounding ways.
We become free by transforming ourselves from unaware victims of the past into responsible individuals in the present, who are aware of our past and are thus able to live with it.
~Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
Surviving a household with a mother who shape-shifted from a queen to a witch to a waif required cunning and skill. Gaining mastery inside this unpredictable chaos and cruelty, to survive and transcend, I became a ninja. Developing keen sensitivity to the moves of my tortured soul mother, I became hypervigilant to the physical, emotional, facial, body movement, tone of voice cues coming from her ever-morphing, tumultuous ways.
My mother consistently answered the phone with a sweet, syrupy voice of fake kindness. She’d hang up the phone and in a blink shift into a witch in a full-blown annihilating rage storm or a rat-a-tat-tat attack of the pecking to death variety of my appearance, posture, behavior, facial expression, hairstyle, body size, demeanor, character, and the very essence of my being. As a child and as an adult, if I did not comply or complied completely (it didn’t matter-rock in a hard place) with the ever-changing expectations and demands of the controlling queen, the ice queen often, unexpectedly, removed herself completely from my presence. This character seemed like it would create relief, but it did not because the silence persisted, cold and haughty.
Her waif self suddenly appeared needing me, wanting me, fake adoring, luring me back with a package of junk wrapped in brand new colorful, crinkling, candy wrapper paper with helium balloons attached. Handwritten notes including the words, “I love you.” scribbled on a recycled greeting card showed up.
Walking outside the house, her waif self deftly showed the world the Loving Parent she needed everyone to see. “Oh, I Loooove my daughter!” she gushed, which masterfully confirmed what people easily accepted because they lived outside the perimeter of this bold lie.
This message wafted out into the world as propaganda to be believed, trusted, and accepted as truth. As a child, I kept wanting these words she spoke to other people to be true. Plus, all these other seemingly intelligent adults kept telling me what a loving mother I had or how much they loved my mother. They believed her lie about loving me. Desperately yearning for the lie to be true, I often cautiously jumped up and down, then wiggled like an excited puppy thinking I would finally get some peanut butter treats and a genuine hug.
This trickery worked like worm bait for a very hungry baby fish; a vacuum system that sucked me right back in to being rat-a-tat attacked or raged at for being a kid, for cleaning my room, for practicing the piano, for unknowingly cleaning the bathroom the wrong way, for crying, for laughing. I simply never ever figured out what I did that triggered all these different characters to appear in my energy field. I felt owned even into my adulthood.
As a child, I believed myself to be a flawed, worthless being. I knew I had to earn my right to exist. A tension formed inside me of feeling powerless, chronically terrified, and ever hopeful. I worked diligently, vigilantly, fiercely to become a child she could love, to sort of hold it together, which I failed miserably at doing. My hands weren’t that strong.
These dynamics persisted for years into my adulthood until I chose to break the trauma bond and heal from inside of myself with the support of healthy, wise people.
I learned a great deal from the shape-shifting ways of my mother and for all of this wisdom, I’m forever grateful. She remains my most tormented and brilliant of spiritual teachers. No one will ever hold a candle to her.
I learned to stop yearning for empathy or compassion from my mother. I grieved the difficult truth that she lacked the capacity to ever see, hear, or value me for me. This hard truth was heartbreaking because we’re constantly told that parents/caregivers unconditionally love their children, but this is not true for many of us raised by tortured soul parents. This was my hardest lesson ever. No amount of turning inside out or transforming myself ever altered her ability to become fully self-aware, to shift her ways of interacting with me-even her tearful apologies during our brief détente-of a few years ago- felt like manipulation because she quickly morphed into a cruel witch with me one last time before I relocated to NC.
My work continues to be with me and all the younger versions of myself because I am the only person I can heal and transform.
I learned boundaries-how to create them and hold firm to them-no matter what the blowback and there was intense blowback. My mother violated boundaries all the time. This is the part of the dynamic that made me believe that she thought she owned me. I learned not to open the door, the mail, or return the phone calls. I chose silence and non-responsiveness.
I learned to trust my gut that even when someone other than my mother told me a hot stove didn’t exist let alone burned my hand to not believe this when my hand burned, once again. I finally stopped placing my hand on a hot stove because I knew the stove actually exists and when it is hot, I must keep my hands far away. I learned to trust my own senses-all nine of them!!
I learned to cultivate my senses of taste, touch, sight, smell, sound, inner body cues such as hunger, body awareness of posture, gesture and closeness to physical objects, inner body sensations such as warmth, chills, belly expanding during an inhale, contracting while exhaling, and intuition aka as an inner GPS.
I grew in an ability to become unconditionally loving towards myself, to make peace internally, to shed the inner critic/bully because that voice wasn’t ever mine. I continue to expand the ability to be deeply compassionate with myself and other people-sometimes from a vast distance of space and time.
I learned to be introspective, imaginative, creative in playful and life-giving ways, in love and contribution to myself and others.
I continue to cultivate an Inner Fly on the Wall or Inner Knowing or Witness Consciousness or Essential Self –that part of me that watches me do and be me, that notices thoughts, feelings, and body sensations. I now know that I am not my body sensations, my personality, or face lines. I am an Experiencer of life experiences.
I knew what it felt like to be stalked-to know that others have felt stalked-that I am not alone in this scary experience. I learned how to get away-to seek safe havens inside of myself and outside in nature, lovely buildings, inside homes of friends or beloved ones.