When I started therapy last January, I did it because the anxiety had grown too difficult to bear. I wasn’t sleeping, I had painful muscle spasms in my back, I felt high strung, always on alert and I was ready to walk away from my job. I found a therapist who specialized in mindfulness techniques because I didn’t just want someone to throw me on a drug right away. I knew that I had been struggling with anxiety in some form for years and I was also keenly aware that my childhood was likely a driving force behind the anxiety. What I didn’t expect was to discover that there were things well beyond having an unstable alcoholic and drug abusing father that had impacted me. While that was a tremendous part of it, I’ve had to face some very difficult realities about my mother, as well. I’ve already talked about some of this in a post about broken boundaries, but it goes even beyond that.
It’s tough to talk about mom, I can write about dad all day long because he’s been gone for nearly 25 years. But mom is still around and I tend to do what I’ve always done with her, and that is protect her. I try to shield her from the truth that might be painful because she never seemed to be able to handle the tough stuff. She is a big part of why I’ve chosen to keep this blog incognito. I also hate that I’m doing it this way because I want to own every part of my story and while I do, the fact that I’m not putting my real name behind it yet is a struggle for me. I think one day I will be able to go there, but if I do that now, I’ll hold back on what I write out of fear that she’ll find it.
Mom has always been a snoop when it comes to anything I’m doing. I may be partly to blame for that as I’ve kept much hidden away from her over the years, but I’ve never felt that I could trust her with my feelings or experiences. Ever since I was old enough to start writing, she would secretly read any diaries or poetry that I had written. I always found out because she would end up admitting it when she would blow up at me for anything she discovered that she didn’t care for. Now, I’m not a parent, so I’m probably not qualified to make this judgement, but even though parents should have a right to pry to some extent, it feels that there should be a legitimate reason behind it. I was always such a good kid, never in trouble and usually afraid to do much of anything. Because we were Jehovah’s Witnesses, I wasn’t allowed to have associations with children outside of the religion (they call these worldly people). I couldn’t partake in any extracurricular activities or sports where these worldly kids would be. I could only be involved in the absolute minimum required when it came to school. Needless to say, as I entered high school, that only made me more awkward and isolated than ever.
At age 15, I was a sophomore in high school and had just changed schools after getting through my freshman year. (I was the perpetual new kid, I’ll share a post on this another time.) When I was in a class, I at least had something to keep me busy and could deal with the lack of social interaction, but it was lunch time that became stressful. I grew tired of trying to find my way amid the tightly formed social groups scattered across the lunch room, always worried that I looked just as out of place and lonely as I felt. Instead, I turned to eating alone in the library each day where I found solace in writing. The kind of writing I did during that period was so sad and is almost difficult to admit to even 28 years later, but I wrote letters to made-up friends to get through that time. I would write about things that I imagined other kids around me were sharing in as if I was experiencing it first-hand. I suppose it gave me a bit of a fantasy to cling to and the feelings I so desperately wanted in my life but wasn’t in a position to have as my own. In one of these letters, I even wrote to a pretend boyfriend and I can actually remember that his name was John Hopkins. This was a real kid that I had known from my prior school, someone who smiled at and talked to me occasionally in our freshman English class. There was nothing at all scandalous in the letter, it was just made-up communication with a pretend someone who loved me. I usually threw the letters out as soon as I was done with them, but this one made its way into my school bag instead of the trash. I didn’t even realize I had it with me until the next evening when mom came tearing down the hallway with the letter in her hand. She was shaking it in her fist, her face was red and she screamed “Who is John Hopkins?” at me. I was terrified but mostly embarrassed. She continued to shout at me and I knew that I had to tell the truth, as mortifying as it was. I was in tears trying to explain that none of it was real, that it was all phony, but she wasn’t buying it. I pleaded with her to understand but her anger just continued. I can’t remember her exact words to me, but she was out of control. She tore the letter up and threw it in the trash, grabbed her car keys and stormed out the door. I watched her pull the car frantically out of the driveway and speed down the street, which made me scared for her safety.
Mom running away in her car in a mad fit wasn’t unusual. She would do this many times over the years during states of rage, finally returning home when she regained control. Every time she would drive off, I would sit in fear that she would get into an accident and wait for her return by the window. She usually walked in apologizing to me, sometimes bringing a present as if that would make it all better. On this particular day she returned as usual, calm and collected but with no apology. She instead gave me the silent treatment, choosing not to speak to me or even look at me no matter how much I begged her for a reaction. This went on until the next morning when she simply said that she was watching me and if she ever found out that I actually had a boyfriend there were going to be big consequences. I never wrote another fake letter again.
This was the same year that I was allowed to get my first real job. I was a hostess at a Bennigan’s restaurant and it felt like such an adventure for this otherwise sheltered girl. The only reason mom agreed to it was that we needed the money and in this situation she felt more comfortable that a friend who went to the Kingdom Hall with us also worked there and could keep an eye on me. (For those of you who aren’t familiar, the Kingdom Hall is the meeting place for Jehovah’s Witnesses, they don’t call them churches.) Long story short, I loved my job and the experiences and exposure that it gave me. I started to break out of my crippling shyness and became much more at ease with other people, I was finally spreading my wings a bit. My friend from the Kingdom Hall decided to warn me about a boy, Scott, that worked with us who apparently had a bit of a crush on me. She wanted to let me know so that I could keep my guard up because he was worldly, which could be dangerous.
I only saw Scott once a week when our shifts lined up and it was completely innocent. He would flirt with me a little, but it never went beyond that. It was just a casual word here and there that me feel like I was on top of the world because someone was actually showing me some attention. One night, I was released early and had to wait for my friend from the Kingdom Hall to finish her shift because she was my driver. There was a common table for employees to sit at during breaks and while I waited, Scott took his break and joined me. I caught my friend shoot me a glare from across the room, but I wasn’t doing anything wrong, so I ignored her. What was I supposed to do, get up and run away from him? We sat across from each other and started to have a real conversation. I was so nervous because I’d never really had any one-on-one time with any boy, let alone a worldly one, but it also felt like a dream to be in that moment with him. I can even remember what was playing on the sound system, Elvis Presley’s Are You Lonesome Tonight. Talk about cheesy, but I was 15 and it was perfect. About 20 minutes into what felt like the conversation of my life, one of the employees came up to let me know my mom was there and that’s when I saw her storming down the aisle towards my seat. I had no idea what she was doing there and she was obviously furious. Right there in the middle of the restaurant she yelled for me to get up and get to the car all while staring Scott down. I wanted to shrink down and hide under the table, I wanted to believe that this wasn’t actually happening, but more than anything I wanted to cry.
During the terrifying ride home while she sped and swerved, I learned that the Kingdom Hall friend had called my mother from the restaurant to tell her that I was with Scott at that table. This is what prompted the angry response from her. Let me remind you that I was sitting at a designated employee table in a public restaurant with a fellow employee who happened to be a boy. Granted, I liked him, but we were just sitting there talking. This drove my mother to behave as though I was making out with him right there on top of that table. I was obviously a fornicator and headed down a dangerous path, so she had no choice but to make me quit that job. I never went back after that day. I was betrayed by a friend, I was belittled by my mother, and I was again pushed into a state of isolation.
I know that mom never intended any harm to me and she would probably be miserable to think that she ever put me through this, but the fact is that these things did happen and they did impact me. It’s easy to try to brush these things off as childhood stories, something to be forgotten, but the truth is that this is a part of what shaped me. Beyond all the awfulness that I went through with my father and my grandfather, it was behavior like this from my mother that also hurt me. As much as I put on the strong front and pretended like I was fine, this hurt has been stuck inside of me my entire life.
I started writing this almost two weeks ago after I recognized that my mother was a trigger for my wanting to drink. It wasn’t even anything related to these particular stories that brought that trigger on, but when I sat down with this page afterwards, this is what came up. It’s an interesting process for me, the writing and contemplating and of course, the feeling. Being alcohol-free is certainly more helpful, but in many ways it’s also more painful as I am definitely feeling more. It takes a lot of practice to face the feelings and let them move through me so that I don’t keep shoving them back in. Old habits are very hard to break, but I’m getting there, one moment at a time.
On another note, I’m now 21 days sober and I’m feeling oh-so-good about that.