I grew up afraid of my own mom.
Alone, commitment-phobic, distrustful, chameleon-like, follower, runner, transient: this is the girl I was groomed to be.
I was raised in a somewhat “upper-class” world with a part-time, non-working mom who couldn’t bear to be without a man. I learned at a very young age that no person in life was permanent and that men were interchangeable.
I never stayed in one place for any significant length of time. Friends came and went or, rather, I did. The only constants in my life were nannies, housekeepers, and a couple of stepfathers. “Constant” was anything that lasted beyond one year.
I had an older brother who was rescued by my uncle, and went to live with him and my aunt when I was twelve. I say rescued because he and my mother were sharing drugs and my uncle was compelled to come and get him before he totaled another car and/or killed someone.
After my brother left, I was fortunate to be sent off to boarding school. Boarding school is where I got my first consistent taste of normalcy. It was a stable place: everyday was calm; I was a good student and genuinely happy.
I loved that there was no conflict. For the first time in my life I was forming and expressing my own opinions. I was becoming secure due to the simplicity of being in a safe place, the kind of place a child’s home should be.
No one was screaming at me. Even when I misbehaved, no one yelled at me. The worst punishment I could receive was detention and I was never in a position to be sent there. I liked to stay under the radar. Getting in trouble never came easily to me, so life was very smooth.
My mother hated when I was happy. She’d do anything to throw me off kilter. Even as safe as I felt in boarding school, she’d ensure I knew my time there could be temporary.
Fortunately, one of the highly-developed skills I picked up while living with my mother was the ability to compartmentalize and deny. Out of sight, out of mind. That gift allowed me to be where I was, rather than where she threatened I would be.
In boarding school I learned that the things taking place in my Mother’s residence were beyond dysfunctional. In my dorm no one was destroying my room for being “untidy.” My Mother had a full-time housekeeper and my room was never untidy.
My mother AKA “Mommie Dearest” would literally go into my closet, wrinkle a shirt over, and tear everything in my room apart whilst in a screaming rage. It — she — was petrifying.
She looked and acted as if she were possessed by the soul of a rabid dog. This was her weekly entertainment. I was the one thing she could rule over; I was the one thing in her world she could control.
In the midst of her tirades, I’d stand quietly, eyes to the floor, and wait for the storm to pass. She’d leave screaming, slamming the door behind her. I’d immediately begin cleaning up the chaos left in her wake.
She could control me on the surface. I’d pick up the clothes, re-hang them facing in the same direction, dark to light, sleeves to sleeveless, jackets, shirts with the top button done, dresses, skirts, and finally pants.
All the while I wished her dead and imagined her murder, tears burning like a forest fire in my eyes that dared not flow. I pushed it all down.
This was the girl I was groomed to be: beauty on the outside, turmoil within. I weep for that child.
In my Mother’s house I spent much of my time on my own. I wasn’t allowed to have friends over, which was fine with me given that I never knew when my Mother would erupt.
I was never a true loner but I didn’t make friends easily because I didn’t believe I was likeable, let alone loveable. I had no idea what a sweet kid I was.
My mother told me I talked too much, I had a fat ass (I was tiny), I was stupid, a loser, a user. And the pièce de résistance: a tramp at the age of nine.
I was always told I was boy-crazy. She wrote me a postcard when I was in summer camp, the only one in all my years there. She asked one question: “Do you have a boyfriend?” I was eleven.
Most kids received care packages and letters once a week saying, “I miss you,” “I hope you’re having a blast,” “Love, Mom and Dad.” I received one postcard telling me not to get a boyfriend like Robert, a neighbor boy I had a crush on.
I was terrified of my mother yet I would run away with regularity. It was my rebellion; it was my way of bringing a shining spotlight into her darkness; it was how I “outed” her on some level.
Her wrath after-the-fact was awful or she would go in the opposite direction and become almost human for a few days. One never knew why; this was just the way it was.
It’s a wonder I am who I am today. Her words haunted me for what seemed like a hundred years.
My Mother still has the ability to reduce me to a nine-year old — but only for a millisecond. I don’t see or speak to her anymore. Not because of her ability to make me feel like a child, but because she’s truly toxic.
It took me years to come to terms with the voices she buried so deep inside my being and even longer to separate from her. My entire family on my Mother’s side doesn’t speak to me. I lost everyone on the process.
I knew that was the risk I was taking. I knew no one would want to take responsibility for leaving me in her “care.” It’s easier to walk away and live in denial than to take ownership.
My Mother’s voice doesn’t echo so much anymore, but some of the traits she forced into me are still alive. I still compartmentalize, but I’m the same person in each space.
I’m confident in my opinions and I embrace the fact that disagreements don’t lead to death. I’m no longer alone in the world; my friends are my family.
My children are my greatest achievement and proof that what you’re raised by isn’t necessarily who you become. They’re evidence that I’m a good and loving person.
Somehow, I’ve learned to be trustful. I think it’s based on the fact that I always want to focus on the best in people. I do get burned from time to time, but I always heal.
It took many years, but I now recognize that I raised myself. I groomed myself into the woman that I am: strong, loving, kind, trustful, outgoing, opinionated, confident.
Originally written by Marnie Grundman on YourTango
Photo by Arif Riyanto on Unsplash