I Had to Forget

“In five years’ time I had nearly forgotten home. I had to forget it. I couldn’t carry it with me.”

Tennessee Williams

Growing up with a mother who was prone to unpredictable violent episodes, I did my best to accommodate her. She craved attention; so sometimes listening to her saved me from her wrath. Her frequent lectures on the importance of family probably originated from a good place. However, she veered into the absurd and took her “family first” sermons to another level. She would get enraged anytime she thought I was growing closer to anyone. I learned to keep my social life hidden. Nothing was safe. A friend sent me a birthday present one year and she went on a confusing and vicious tirade questioning my loyalty to her. When I mentioned that I visited old family friends, she screamed saying they were neither my family nor my friends. At one point, I thought cousins would be a safer topic (they do fall into the family territory), but eventually she grew threatened by those relationships too.

“They will never be there for you, they’re just using you!”

She planted the idea that she was the only person who would truly care about me. She would press this point until she got a reaction out of me. It was also a particularly horrific time when my brother announced he was getting married. My mother was furious. My sister-in-law is a nice person, so my mother had to work extra hard to find something to hate and criticize. She couldn’t find it so she made something up. My mom talked about her non-existent horrible character to anyone who would listen.

Even though I knew something with my mother was never right, I still believed what she said. The time we spent together did brainwash me on some level. I looked to my family for constant approval. I focused all my energy on what they thought of my choices. I put my true interests on the back burner and focused on conforming. I needed their validation and praise. I grew up in a family where I was valued for what I accomplished.  But it was never right. It was never enough. I was defective. No one would ever genuinely want to be in my life. If they did, it’s because they were trying to get something. This is what I believed about myself.

Through treatment, I have learned what was causing those rage filled times. Her insecurity, fear of abandonment, and jealousy all came to the surface. It seems so obvious now. Secure parents aren’t threatened by their children’s friendships. There’s room for everyone at the party.

While I understand where some of her behavior comes from, I still have a lot of anger. I have a lot of work to do. I can’t excuse her behavior or forgive the years of her exhausting and terrifying behavior. I wish I could just forget.

I think a lot of us put up with bad behavior and poor treatment from family because we look up to them in some way. We think that they have our best interests at heart. But in reality they are shaped by their own flawed and confusing past. They are just as fallible and messed up as you and me.