This post is rough and unedited and may lose you at some points, but it is one of the most important things I have to say. - I usually speak about my struggles with my own mental illness. But, lately, I've been feeling the strong need to address those who have friends, family, or other loved ones who have an illness, and to speak from the perspective of someone who is surrounded by others who deal with various struggles. This post is dedicated to six simple words that come together to make one serious statement that everyone should know – whether you suffer from mental illness or know someone who does (or even someone who doesn't). I hope that these words stick with you and that you know that nothing can make them false. They are as follows:
You have the RIGHT to SAFETY.
Physically. Verbally. Emotionally. Sexually. You have the right to be safe. No matter what.
Never listen to anyone who tells you or makes you feel otherwise – even if the person making you feel otherwise is yourself.
Never be guilted to enter into or to stay in a situation where you are unsafe.
For twenty-three years, the words 'they're trying their best' have haunted me and invalidated my pain. The worst part is that those words hold true with some members of my family. Others, no so much. My mother, a woman undiagnosed with something, uses her mental health as an excuse to take advantage of those around her. (Note: This is NOT always the case when it comes to other people. Most people who struggle with mental illness do NOT use their poor health to take advantage of other people. Mental illness is a disease, and living with it is akin to living in Hell. People like my mother are simply a special kind of awful.) By remaining undiagnosed and insisting that she is sick, but not sick enough to need help, she has found how simple it is to manipulate others – especially her own children.
Now let me take a step back to bring my family as a whole into the picture, because I want to briefly speak about several of the situations I have come to deal with.
In 1991, I was born into a situation that still occasionally blows my mind. My father, a gay man with Bipolar Disorder who chose (and still chooses) to self medicate with alcohol, and my mother, a manipulative woman who victimizes herself in order to draw in the attention of others, a match made in Hell, had a baby. That would be me. Despite that I was planned, to start off their life as parents, they never made a mental note about which day I was born – spending the next eighteen years convinced that I had been born on the 8th while my birth certificate (which they must have never looked at) says the 9th. But I was born. And seven years later, so was my brother, to the same parents.
Both of my parents spent their childhoods in less than ideal situations. I don't know much about my grandparents on my mother's side, even though I did grow up knowing them. My grandfather had an alcohol problem – and at some point, he divorced my grandmother and moved back in with his mother – where he lived for the rest of his life. My grandmother remarried a man with leather belts that weren't just for holding up his pants. He was still probably a more suitable parent than she ever was. She spent her life struggling with anorexia and an alcohol addiction, and at one point, she attempted to run over her three children with a car. She has since tried to make amends with her children, though has no desire to get help for her issues.
My grandparents on my father's side, who I lived with after being abandoned by my own parents at the age of seven, were a whole different level of complicated. Though recovered now, my grandfather had an alcohol addiction while raising his children. He continues to struggle with extreme anxiety. My grandmother is a controller with a hot and cold switch that turns automatically. I am not a doctor, though if I had to guess, I would say my grandmother is a poster child for Borderline Personality Disorder. One day, you can be her perfect little angel, and the next she is standing outside of your bedroom door rattling off every single reason she thinks you should be completely ashamed of yourself for at the top of her lungs. There is no warning which woman you will see from day to day, and stability is non-existent.
My entire life spent in turmoil, I was told to believe that because they were trying their best, I was a bad person if I voiced that I did not feel safe. I was unappreciative if I voiced when my needs were not met. And I was a liar if I brought to light the terrible things that happened behind closed doors. I learned to feel guilty for having needs, for wanting stability, and for not feeling safe around people who emotionally tore me to shreds. Because they were trying their best, even though their best hurt me, I had to deal with it. Even as I type this, there is something inside of me that tells me I am wrong. Even though I know that my mother is not one of the people who tried their best, I struggle with guilt as I finally break away from the pain that she causes and cut her completely out of my life.
Like I said above, I was seven when my mother abandoned me. My brother had just been born and our father had just left to go live his own life. It finally seemed to sink in for both of them that having children meant giving up a large portion of their lives, and neither of them were ready to do that. So they left my brother and I with our father's parents. My father moved around from state to state, and my mother moved just down the street from where I lived. Being away from her left me with complicated feelings that I couldn't really manage to express. On one hand, I missed living with my mom. I felt unwanted and unloved. On the other hand, my earliest memories involved hiding under a bed while she and my dad fought, so getting away from both of them was a relief. It didn't make things any easier that she lived just three blocks away.
I visited my mother often during the day – even though for some reason, I was afraid to stay the night with her. While visiting her, I spent most of my time utterly alone. I don't remember if this was common in my early childhood or if this was a new development. It became common knowledge that if I wanted her to stay awake, I shouldn't talk to her though. Saying 'Mom' could lead to an explosion of yelling about how she didn't want to deal with whatever 'it' was or didn't care about what I wanted to say. So I took care of my brother and watched The Care Bears Movie and Clifford on repeat all day. On days when I was particularly in need of attention, even if it was negative, she yelled at me for awhile then shut herself in her room to sleep – and I was alone again. As I grew older and my brother threw tantrums so he wouldn't be made to visit her, it was almost like having an apartment to myself – as long as I didn't make a mess or too much noise, which would cause her to send me back to my grandparents' house. While I was there, she slept all day long.
I was told that even though she either yelled at me or ignored me completely, I had to visit her. She was my mother after all. She loved me. I should feel ashamed of myself for not wanting to be around her.
The neglect wore on for years. She would make plans to spend time with me then break them because she didn't feel like it. If I was sick, she would drive me to the ER if my grandparents couldn't then wait in the waiting room because she didn't want to deal with a crying child – she would spend her time angry that I was such a burden and tell the nurses that I 'always acted like this'. If we went shopping, she would give me $10 to go buy myself a toy and stay in the toy aisle so she didn't have to keep an eye on me. She stayed in the car during my ballet practices. As I got older, I needed to see a therapist, but she stopped taking me after only a few appointments because waiting on me while I was with the doctor made her bored. She showed little interest in my life – only acknowledging me when she was bragging to her friends and family about what a great mother she was. During those times, she would let me sit on her lap, do my hair, and speak to me. She was good at convincing those around her that she was the perfect mother, and if I acted out to try to bring light to the truth, it was simply because I had behavior problems – something she used to gain sympathy from others. To those around us, it was a shame that my mother 'tried so hard' and I was so unappreciative.
Those who knew the truth still continued with their mantra. I should feel ashamed of myself for not wanting to be around her. She was my mother. She loved me. She just didn't know how to show it.
I was about ten when she finally found a reason to take interest in me – or, well, convince me to take interest in her. My grandfather, her father, gave me his old computer – and the only place there happened to be room for it was in my bedroom. I discovered Neopets and became perfectly content playing it 100% of the time my grandparents sent me to visit her. I actually started to want to be at her apartment, just to play on Neopets. I even began to stay the night – as I didn't have a bedtime and could play all night long. During the time I wasn't at her apartment, she discovered Yahoo Instant Messenger's chat rooms on the computer. It soon became a battle over whose turn it was the play on the computer. More often than not – she won, and I played with toys on my bedroom floor while she sat beside me virtually playing with men. All I could think was, 'At least she isn't yelling or sleeping'.
The first time she wanted me to 'read something' online, I was confused. At a certain point, I became no stranger to how she spent her time on the internet. She bought a mic and spoke to men who had webcams. Their conversations were weird and disgusting, and didn't really hold my interest. I began to lose interest in her. But it was sparked again when she wanted me to read something online with her. I remember the first conversation between her and a guy that she had me read. She wanted me to give her 'suggestions' on what to type to him as he spoke about wanting to lick her face and various other parts of her body. The conversations multiplied – and often, she was talking to more than one man at a time. I soon was not only giving her suggestions, but typing to them as she got up to use the bathroom or check on laundry. Sometimes she would want me to pretend to be her. Other times, I would talk to them as me. I helped her spell words and began to type what she wanted to say for her once I started typing faster than she could. I hated talking to them, but talking to them made me feel as though I was finally behaved and wanted. I was finally pleasing her. In school, I had learned that sexual abuse was if an adult touched you or another person touched you without your permission, but had been taught nothing about this kind of thing. So I shoved how dirty I felt away and tried to forget about it.
Soon, the men she was talking to online began to show up in person. She found entertainment in making out with them in front of me or telling me to watch as they touched tongues or licked each others faces. They spoke graphically about sex, having no qualms with describing to me exactly how it was done. My mother, the woman who slept entire days away so she didn't have to speak to me, was suddenly spending hours telling me about the time she forgot she had a tampon in when a man attempted to stick his penis into her. And I did not like it. Partially, because I was a child. Partially, because I knew I was a lesbian since third grade, and if I wanted to know how anything about sex worked, I wanted to know how it worked when you both had the same damn parts. It became my turn to ignore her, to walk away, and to lock myself in rooms so I didn't have to hear her speak.
The tables turned, and she was not having it.
I remember the day that I came to believe no one could ever love me. I was somewhere between 11 and 12. She and one of her boyfriends sat me down to have the 'talk'. It wasn't really the 'talk' as I knew what all of that stuff was and how it worked by then. This talk was about how much disgust I showed toward the topic of sex, and about how I began to adamantly claim that I never wanted to have sex. This talk began with the topic of how good sex felt and how I didn't know what I was missing out on, and that I would change my mind eventually. I would realize how much I liked the male body and how good it would feel with a man inside of me. I had to have sex, according to my mother. And I had to do it with a lot of men. If I didn't, I wouldn't be experienced, and if I wasn't experienced, a man would never fall in love with me. If I was 'bad at it', I wouldn't be enough and the man would leave. It was unacceptable for me to claim that I was completely fine without a man in my life. I had to want a man in my life. Multiple men even. And I had to want to have sex. Especially if someone were to ever love me. It was enforced that they wouldn't be mad at me if I decided to have sex. My disgust only grew. I hated her for her 'talks' and myself for no longer being able to please her, and I began to isolate myself from my mother and from everyone else around me.
I also developed severe anxiety and behavioral problems – which led to no one in my family wanting me around anyway. I 'belonged' in my room. I only caused trouble when I came out.
My mother began to form more serious relationships with men – especially with men who couldn't stand her children. After being locked out of the house by one of these men, barefoot in mid-winter, I finally stopped going to see her almost completely. The same boyfriend would take my brother, a toddler at the time, out of the room my mother was in and mock him for crying and yelling for her. She would return and scold my brother for crying. Her boyfriends didn't want me or my brother around, and she was able to to please them while gaining sympathy from others by telling them her children had abandoned her and didn't want to see her. She began to tell friends and family that my grandparents and father had begun to brainwash me and my brother, convincing us that she was a bad mother and preventing us from visiting her.
I began to have panic attacks whenever my grandparents would make me speak to her on the phone or she would show up at our house. She did not take being ignored well, and would begin to make an effort whenever I stopped vying for her attention. I decided that I did not want to see her or talk to her anymore.
This caused major turmoil in my family.
As a child, I was not allowed to have rights nor privacy nor respect. It did not matter that I had become terrified of even just the thought of my mother. It did not matter even to the people who knew how she treated me. If I locked myself in a room to get away from her, they would take the door off the hinges and physically pry me out of the room. If I didn't want to speak to her on the phone, I would be cornered and the phone would be pressed against my ear until I spoke. It was drilled into my head that she was my mother and to not talk to her was rude. I should be ashamed. I should feel guilty. I should feel like a bad daughter. It did not matter that we had to talk about what she wanted and I was not allowed to talk about anything else (because anything I might want to talk about was boring or stupid); I should feel guilty for not talking to her. (It did not make things easier that my mother soon became my 'punishment'. If I did something wrong, I would have to go stay with her.) My fear and discomfort and anxiety worsened, and I came to learn that I was not important. My feelings did not matter, my interests did not matter, my fears and likes and dislikes did not matter, and I did not matter.
I was thirteen when I was first hospitalized for self-harm and wanting to kill myself. My behavioral problems had worsened due to bullying at school, and I had been sent to stay with my mother for the night. And I couldn't take it anymore. I drew cuts across my arm with a safety pin then stood at the top of the stairs and wondered how much force it would take to kill myself by throwing myself down them. - She drove me to the hospital, claiming that she 'couldn't take me anymore' then called my father to come handle me.
Things continued how they were until I was eighteen and moved in with my father – hours away from her. She began to text and call me continuously at all hours, becoming angry if I didn't answer my phone. Suddenly, now that I was away, she wanted to talk to me non-stop. During points when I was in college, she would purposely call me during class, then let messages in my voicemail about how she was my mother and how she was important enough that I should leave class to answer my phone for her. After I left college, out of nowhere, she began to send pictures of naked men to my phone. After getting word that she was doing the same to my brother, who was about eleven at the time, he and I both had our numbers changed.
I managed to block her out for a number of years, though dealt with unimaginable guilt as people told me I was doing the wrong thing. No matter how she treated me, she was my mother after all. I was required to talk to her and to love her. I shut myself down to the situation, pretended it didn't exist. Or tried to. Being away from her, I finally felt safe from her, but I also felt guilty for that. It was enforced so often that she was my mother, that she carried me for nine months, that she had gone through giving birth to me, and that I owed her for that, that feeling safe from her was just as bad as allowing her into my life. I no longer had to deal with her, but I had to deal with everyone who knew her admonishing me for blocking out my own mother. What kind of daughter was I to do that to my mother?
A year or so ago, I finally caved under the pressure. Though I refused to give her my phone number, I friended her on Facebook and saw her on a visit back home to my grandparents. (It wasn't quite so willingly as my grandparents told me that I had to go see her and drove me to her job despite my protests. Visiting her at her house was impossible, fortunately, since her now fiance banned me from their trailer.) The moment I decided to allow her into my life via social media, a loving mother that I had never seen before jumped into the public's eye. Her Facebook statuses were suddenly nothing but how much she loves her children and would do anything for us. She began to claim that we were stolen from her rather than abandoned by her, that she tries to do so much for us, and that she just wishes we would accept her. I did all that I could do and ignored the messages. For a year, I managed to live peacefully by allowing her to post message after message on Facebook – dealing with her without really dealing with her. The 24/7 messages she sent me begging me to talk to her were a small price to pay compared to years of guilt placed on me for ignoring her.
Outside of Social Media, however, my brother, now 16, became a target for her and her fiance. At some point, my brother gave her his phone number, and suddenly became bombarded by her text messages. He, much more blunt than me, called her out on her words and her actions. This has since turned into our mother attempting to manipulate him with money and sending him threats of violence. She had been insistent he apologize to her fiance for being a bad child, a man that has thrown him against a wall, and is now threatening him, telling him that her fiance is going to show up at our grandparents' house and beat the shit out of him. One day, she will claim that she loves him. The next, she tells him that she is no longer supporting him financially and is going to punch him. She has placed my brother, a child, in a situation where he is no longer safe.
And, suddenly, there is no amount of 'she's your mother's that can justify the pain she causes. Suddenly, from an outside view, I see what I should have seen my entire life. No matter what, my brother has the RIGHT to SAFETY. I have the RIGHT to SAFETY. YOU have the RIGHT to SAFETY. Anyone in an abusive situation, no matter who the abuser is in relation to them, has the right to safety – without guilt, without shame, without consequences. There are people who understand out there. There is support out there. And anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong. It is normal to feel conflicted, guilty, ashamed, and feelings there aren't even words for. It is normal even to feel as though you are betraying your abuser (that is how I feel all the time). But none of those feelings, nothing you may think, nothing other people may tell you, take away your right to be safe, loved, and happy. You are so important. Never let anyone convince you that you have to take being hurt because the person hurting you is family, is sick, has done so much for you, or any other reason. Never let anyone convince you to live your life in pain and guilt. If you're worried about hurting the person who is hurting you (it's a normal feeling, trust me), the best thing you can do for that person is to get help – let someone know about the situation. Call the police. Call a hotline. And, if you can, get out whatever situation you are in.
It is a dark tunnel at first, but there will be light at the end.
And there will be people there waiting to help you develop healthy relationships and to show you what you were really missing all along.
Resources for Help:
Resources for Help: