I'm pretty sure I've got what Mr. Moon has, but it's just in the beginning phase and so I've felt under the weather, as we say, but not horrible and so one of the things I have done is to get out in that poor excuse of a garden in this perfect weather to do some weeding if for no other reason than to create the illusion that the carrots and the greens are larger than the weeds.
And of course while I weed, I have to be listening to something and I've been listening to Barbara Kingsolver's Unsheltered which I am enjoying although not captivated by. But while I was weeding, I decided to listen to the Mormon Stories podcast of two interviews with Tara Westover, the author of Educated which is truly one of the best books I've read in forever. It's a book that makes a strong argument for the incredible resilience and strength of the human spirit under crushing circumstances (and that's a bit of a pun for anyone who has read the book) and it's one of those books that captures you enough so that you really do want more. More of the story, more of the author.
So. The podcast interviews.
And as I was listening, I heard her say something that completely blew away a great many of the clouds which fog my mind about the abuse I suffered as a child and how I still suffer, despite years of therapy and self-examination and way too much thinking and reading and more thinking.
A lot of what fucks with my mind is how I feel about my mother who was not my abuser. At least in the sexual abuse. It is eight days away from the six-year anniversary of her death and I have been thinking of her far more than normal. I have also been having dream after dream of my stepfather and in those dreams, I have been left alone with him and I am terrified and of course this speaks to my feelings about my mother because there is part of me which is never going to get over the fact that she did not protect me, just as she did not protect my brothers from terrible things her husband said and did to them.
In Westover's story, it was her brother who mostly abused her and not sexually, but physically although there was most definitely a sexual element to it which one could argue amounted to sexual abuse, but she was also abused by her father who was probably bi-polar and by her mother, too, who always stuck up for and defended her brother along with her husband. And although Westover does spend many, many words on both her father and her mother, it is her father and his mental illness which she credits with allowing what happened to happen in her childhood.
But I keep wondering why she doesn't ask the question of why her mother, who does not have bi-polar (or so it would seem) was (and still is) so intent on defending and supporting her husband? She did, once, apologize to Westover for not protecting her.
"You were my child," she wrote her. "I should have protected you."
These words gave Westover a great deal of peace and even now, long after her mother has denied that what happened was abuse and gone back to the family story that Westover is possessed or crazy or whatever, those words still comfort her.
My mother never said those words. The closest she got was saying, "I'm sorry this happened to you."
Although in my heart of hearts, I am not sure at all she ever believed me. Not really. And if she did she was completely adament in her position that she had never, ever suspected a thing and therefore, was absolved of any guilt in the situation.
There is a lot more I could say about this and I have and this isn't the time to say more.
But it has certainly contributed to the massive amount of guilt and confusion and anger and hurt that I still feel.
My thoughts about her swing from knowing that she had her own problems which were not being addressed and as such, she truly did the best she could and that yes, she did really love me, to wondering if perhaps she wasn't a classic narcissist and not really able to love me.
And just about everything in between.
These thoughts can be torturous. No one wants to believe that their mother did not love them. Everyone wants to know from the very first moment of birth that their mother is someone who will love them no matter what. Who will always be there for them. Who thinks they are special and wonderful and important and worthy of love and attention. This is just basic human nature.
And so when I feel anger or pain about my mother I feel tremendous guilt because surely, I have made up the behaviors I attribute to her. Right? Of course she loved me. She was my mother.
My brother tells me that our mother was nothing like the woman I remember her as. His anger when I have spoken about these things is towering and frightening. He will defend her unto death and I am quite aware that the mother one child has in a family is not necessarily the same mother another sibling had at all.
This too is human nature.
And Tara Westover went through years and years of doubting herself and feeling guilty about separating herself from her family which she finally had to do but she said something in one of these podcasts that gave me another place to stand upon from which to view all of these things.
What she said was that when she finally took the focus off her father and put it on herself, her feelings of guilt were so eased, her thinking became more clear. No longer did she have to make internal lists of all of the ways her father had mistreated her in order to rationalize her separation from him because it wasn't about him.
It was about her.
And for her own sanity, her own well-being, she simply had to separate from him and the family who supports him and denies her version of events, even though they witnessed most of it themselves. One sister, who was also abused by the same brother who abused Westover and who admitted that to her and confronted her mother and father, later came back and denied it all and accepted her father's blessing in order to be a part of the family again.
So. That's what I'm thinking about right now and I'm also thinking about how much I appreciate the honesty and courage of each and every person who tells his or her own story because even though each of those stories is vastly different in some ways, there are elements which are true to all of them. And sometimes, we can help each other by offering our own stories, not just of the abuse but of the ways we have coped and not coped, of the ways the abuse has affected us or not affected us, how tangled and seemingly endless our thoughts can get and remain even after years and years of trying in so many ways to unpick the knots to get at the very core of it all, the truth of it all.
The fact is, there may be no way. There may come a time when we have unraveled all that we can and it is time to just put that tangled web away. Not to deny it's there or to try and ignore the confusion and pain and problems it has caused. These things are undeniable. But to admit that we cannot know the what's and the why's of another person's actions or thoughts. Not really. Not ever.
And it isn't about them anyway, as Westover said so casually, a cough drop in her mouth as she spoke. It is about us and it has to be about us because we cannot go back and fix things and make it all right and straight and true the way we wish it had been.
And so we have do what we have to do to save ourselves.
And if that means we have to finally admit that a rift was created for whatever reason and that trying to build a bridge across it always has been and always will be fruitless, then so be it.
I think it is natural that as I get older and my children have grown into adults, I often feel horrified at the fact that none of Mother's children wanted to take her into our own homes when she could not take care of herself. That none of us even visited her the way we should have. And if you don't think that makes me feel guilty then you don't know me.
But. It was the way it was for whatever reasons and it is not my job to try and figure it out. There is no reason to anyway. That time has passed.
All I can do is to try to live my life in such a way that my children know that I love them, to know that I respect and cherish them, each as they are in their own unique and beautiful differences. I have tried to do that their entire lives, not because I have been worried about whether or not they'll pick out a good nursing home for me, but because I wanted them, I WANT them, to never have one doubt that they have been the blessings of my life and that for as long as I am able, I am there for them.
Wondering why my relationship with my mother was the way it was serves no purpose in my life anymore. Neither does torturing myself with thoughts of my own responsibility in all of that.
It happened. It is done.
I am still here and so are my children and my grandchildren and my husband and as I get older, I would wish that the flame of love I have inside of me only burns brighter, unhindered by anything at all.
That's what I want to think about and I am grateful for Tara Westover for helping me to define this.
She is an amazing human being and the flame within her burns so true and strong that it can illuminate the most inner heart of other humans.
I wish her well in her journey forward as I wish all of us.
Makes me want to cry.ReplyDelete
Oh, I'm sorry!Delete
I would hate for my children to have to nurse me in my aged infirmity. Or whatever the future holds for me, however long.ReplyDelete
I want them to run out in the world, guilt free.
And I want to learn to embrace aloneness, and be happy with maybe a dog and an internet connection.
It seems like you spent a lot of your life looking after your mother, or trying to. I also take heart from the idea that the dead, in whatever form they exist, are no longer hampered by messy chemical emotions, resentments, grudges or regrets.
Six years - it goes so fast.
I'm glad you found Tara Westover and her perspective.
I was listening to NPR today and the program was about the care that children provide aging parents and how difficult it is, especially the medical parts and I just had to turn it off.Delete
Denial. The last thing I heard was some expert saying that most of us can more easily imagine being dead than having to be taken care of.
I think this is true for me.
I think maybe we should just envision a very good old age and a timely, happy death and not worry about denial. I mean, do all the self care you do, of course, but no need to listen to awful radio about it. Imagine being dead, in a good way, and I believe you will move in that positive direction, instead of the other. Don't feed the fearful version.Delete
We all need to feel that our parents will protect us. Your mother didn't, whether she was aware of the abuse (which is probably the case) or not. You didn't take her in because you didn't want to. There should be no guilt there. You have definitely not wallowed in your abuse....instead you have given life to wonderful children, raised them with love (and I bet a fierce protectiveness!), a love so sweet that they chose partners in life that helped give you wonderful grandkids, who are being raised with the same love their parents were. You broke the cycle, Mary! If I could take away the guilt and bad dreams, I'd do it in a heartbeat. You have created a loving family (that we all love to read about), and I think you deserve a freakin' award!!!ReplyDelete
I remember when I was in therapy and going to a group for survivors of sexual abuse, I just kept thinking, "The buck stops here." My greatest fear has always been that history would repeat itself. I still crumple at the thought.Delete
every single word of this post resonates with me. will have to look into the book. i know walking away from it all definitely saved me.ReplyDelete
Well you, Mrs. M, the last time I saw my mother alive which was just a few days before her death, I came home and wrote in a journal, "I can never see my mother again."Delete
That visit still haunts me.
I am glad that you had the courage and foresight to step away.
It happened. It is done. I will embrace this. Thank you for writing what you did today. You have helped me, and many more, I'm sure. Let's put it where it belongs: away. It happened. It is done.ReplyDelete
Exactly. Maybe, if we repeatedly tell ourselves this, it will happen.Delete
This resonates with me too, though for the most part I have put my mother and most of my life prior to adulthood very far behind me. It is to your credit that you've had the resilience to raise a wonderful family and show your kids and others an example of a loving, protective parent, grandparent and friend. Death anniversaries are always hard. I hope you do something nice for yourself on that day.ReplyDelete
Death anniversaries are hard, aren't they? And I find that the body remembers them when the mind does not. Weird.Delete
I have not marked the death anniversary in the past years and I really had no idea it had been six years until I looked it up on my blog.
When I read the last word of Tara Westover’s book I too wanted more—I wanted to know how she was doing now, I read interviews and profiles of her, I wanted to understand her resilience, the thing that had saved her. Of course, it was not just one thing. But what struck me again and again was her decision to accept and live with duality, that the family that broke her also created her, and her making peace with her history and the fact that no matter how she wished it, she could not change what was. She could possibly learn as much from you as you from her. Sometimes the healing comes not from looking backward but from walking forward and giving to others what you wish had been given to you. The paradox: whatever you need, give that. You have done that so richly with your own children, and that is a kind of healing. Generational healing. You did that.ReplyDelete
Absolute truth and beautifully written.Delete
Lulu- you are right. Our Rosemarie is just an amazing woman and she is a writer by trade and by talent.Delete
I have always known, dear Rosemarie, that in parenting my children, I was parenting myself. I am not sure when that realization struck me, but it was pretty early on. And now, watching my daughters and their husbands tend and nurture their own children so beautifully, it gives me too much joy to even describe.
Wow. My life has been recently impacted by my upbringing with my relationship with my sister. My mother did not love me and she hurt me. I took care of her when she had to move into nursing care. I never left her to fend for herself. I pretended I was helping a poor, old woman who was not related to me. I could never have brought her into my home. I don’t remember the date of her death or even recall how many years she’s been gone. Even though I feel I’ve “gotten over it,” I feel like it STILL breathes inside me when I feel most vulnerable. It is a deep-seated distrust and fear and when some people repeatedly disappoint me or hurt me, it feels like I am so alone. I agree with Rosemarie that I’ve done best when I give to others what I wish for myself. You’ve done that with all your family members and their loves. You seem to do that with your readers. You broke the cycle and you are blessed with powerful love. Love and health are all that matter to me now.ReplyDelete
Joanne, this is beautiful and wise. And honestly, we never entirely "get over it." That's what I think. We learn to live with it all, as one has to do with grief. And it IS a sort of grief, not to have had the sort of love we all need and want and deserve. Thank you for those sage and well-thought out words.Delete
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I had the exact same reaction as yours to Tara Westover's book and struggle. Thank you for your incredible writing.ReplyDelete
Thank you for saying that, Theresa. Tara has touched many of us, hasn't she? Probably millions around the world. Isn't that amazing?Delete
we've talked about our mothers and our similar feelings, my mother's inability to be the kind of mother I wanted and needed. and my brother who was the object of her attention who also has a different view of life in our house. mine did, though, invite the old woman to come live with him but she was too far gone by then and he found a family home for her. interesting though, that your brother who defends her so mightily did not and did not visit. must be plenty of repressed memories there that he is afraid to unpack. you are right though, the constant nit-picking, trying to unravel the why of it all, is an exercise in futility. they were who they were, whatever their upbringing or their nature made them. I had to separate myself physically for a few years from my parents and emotionally for mostly the rest of her life though I sort of reconciled with my father in the last decade of his life. but as I wrote, the last time I dreamed about them I was screaming at them that they were dead.ReplyDelete
Ellen, we are alike in so many ways. I suppose you and I have found similar ways to cope and live with what happened to us as children. And what didn't happen.Delete
I have had way too many dreams about my mother and me telling her, "But you're dead." In this, too, we are alike.
We go on. And sometimes, we even thrive.
"All I can do is to try to live my life in such a way that my children know that I love them, to know that I respect and cherish them, each as they are in their own unique and beautiful differences."ReplyDelete
Wow. What an incredible post. I thank you for sharing your story and the wisdom gained. I will think about it long after this day ends. My book club will discuss Educated on Thursday and I will bring a copy of your post if that is okay. While reading the book, I was struck by how the siblings all had different views of the situation. People handle life in their own ways. Denial often the leader. Even after the train wreck. I know that my siblings see things differently in my household, recalling events completely opposite of my recollections.
A very poignant post. I thank you and will look for the podcast before our Thursday discussion.
I would be honored for you to take your post into your reading group. Did you find the podcasts? Just google Mormon Stories podcast and when you get there, do a search for Tara Westover. You'll find them. There are three.ReplyDelete
I sure would love to be in attendance at that particular book club meeting. I am sure there will be a very intense discussion and perhaps even a few tears of recognition.
And isn't it the weirdest thing how siblings remember events so very differently? Or do not remember them at all. It's just incredible.
I've had been able to keep up with reading blog posts this past week but I'm so thankful I have time now.ReplyDelete
I think you're right. I think you did parent yourself as you raised your children. You gave your children what you did not have instead of simply repeating the cycle of abuse that so often happens.
I still doubt myself as a mother and the missteps I made as my children were growing up. I've even made amends to them ala 12 step style. But I can tell you, I have NEVER abandoned them by disowning them the way my mother did. When I tell friends what happened to me, they are appalled. And I definitely 'reparented' myself when I was raising my kids. I told them they could NEVER do anything that would make me not love and support them. Nothing. Now as adults, we share love and kindness abundantly. I am so grateful...that I didn't repeat the fear and anger that my mother felt for me.