Holiday Aftermath

After any family gathering, I am left with an empty feeling, a deep ache that is difficult to explain. It is part regret. It is part sadness. It is largely grief. Each time I see them. I must remember that my parents don’t love me, not really, not the way they should.

I survived 2 dinners at my Mom’s house this year – Thanksgiving and Christmas. I requested that for the first time ever, we don’t invite my Dad, the one who molested me nearly daily from ages 3-16. I never thought I was worth the trouble to make different plans. I never loved myself enough to care about the pain it caused me to sit and eat face to face with a man I both feared and loathed.

So this year, that one element was removed, but the remnants of our dysfunctional family are a sad substitute for love.  My eldest brother insists on walks down memory lane every time I see him. I have told him that I don’t have any memories that are not somehow skewed by Mother’s narcissistic tendencies and my Dad’s straight up emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse. I don’t enjoy that walk of nostalgia, and instead end up with PTSD triggers that take days of recovery. My Mom flits about from person to person seeking attention, approval and affection and proving to everyone that she is in charge and loved. My other brother is the gentle, peace-making clown. He exists only to make others smile and deny reality. He is the one that allowed my ill, feeble Dad to move in with him. Avoid conflict at all costs. He gets panic attacks, GERD, migraines, and chest pain bad enough to land him in the ER on more than one occasion last year. His conflict is attacking his own body, but all he does is smile and make goofy jokes to the outside world. My other brother live with my Mom, and has Schizophrenia. He lives in a world that walk the line between reality and a horrible, gruesome fantasy world that he can’t escape. Mom takes care of him, and makes sure we all know what she has sacrificed to take care of him. So we know how good of  a Mom she is. See – she feels so guilty for never helping me all those years, just standing by and ignoring my abuse, that she either has to prove her worth now, or feel worthless.

Angel with mobile phone

phone calls with Mom often make feel on edge (Photo credit: Akbar Sim)

So, being the good daughter that I am, and playing the perfect daughter role that I still can’t quite shake – I called to comfort my Mom the day after my visit with her. I F-ing called her to apologize for being so late and distant while there. I wanted her to know that it was my anxiety and panic attacks that delayed me, so she would understand and forgive me. Here’s a bit of our phone conversation. It lasted about 3 hours, so only putting a few bits here that stand out to me.


Me: Hey Mom, just wanted to thank you for throwing a nice dinner for us all and let you know I’m sorry for being so late.

Mom: I know it was terrible. I’m done with Christmas. We have no family any more. Just no point to trying to do this any more, no one ever talks to me, or helps me, and I work so hard and my fibro (myalgia) will flare for days but I do all this so you kids have a place to get together, and no one cares.

Me: (pause – shock – huh? ) Umm, well I just wanted you to know the reason I was so late. Dealing with everything and all the stress has me very anxious and I had to wait for the panic to settle down.

Mom: I just thought you were having a good time without me and didn’t want to come.

Me: Nooo, it literally took me 4 hours to stop the panic, Mom. I was shaking and could hardly breathe. I came as soon as I could.

Mom: Well we just shouldn’t even try to get together any more then if it is so terrible.

~~~~~~~~ another part of conversation~~~~~~~

Mom: Work has been so terrible, so busy and the shoppers are so nasty and I get so tired and the pain is almost too much each day from being on my feet. I shouldn’t have to work at my age, and I don’t see a day when I can stop. No retirement for me. I have to support your brother. I’m proud that I can get up each day and go to work, even with the pain, but it is all too much lately. Life is too hard.

Me: Sorry to hear that Mom. I know it must be hard working there.

Mom: (endless stories of how terrible work is for the next hour? They all blend together. She never waited for my input. Just talked and talked about how miserable she is even though I was initially calling her to reach out to say I was suffering)

~~~~~~~~ another part of conversation~~~~~~~

Mom: You know, your niece M____ asked when Grandpa was coming. I told her he wasn’t coming this year. She asked if he was sick, and I told her he wasn’t invited. She asked why, and I told her he did the same things to you that her Grandpa tried to do to her. (In the amazing mind-blowing way that my life seems to work out, my Sis-in-Law was also molested by her father. Difference is, they chose to believe that Grandpa was safe and caught him grooming/fondling a few of their girls. Nothing criminal had happened yet, just on the edge of creepy, but she made the decision to cut him out of their life just 2 years ago)

Me: (OK, breathe. this is actually good, right? Everyone knows. This shame I am feeling is not mine. I did nothing wrong. ) Wow. I don’t know what to say. I guess I’m glad you were able to speak openly. But how sad that she has a similar experience. All this innocence lost.

~~~~~~~~ another part of conversation~~~~~~~

Mom: No one wants to be with me. None of my kids want to be with me. (I had established some boundaries with her last year, some distance that I am still enforcing to protect myself) Brother 2 said he was going to get me another season pass to the amusement park. I said, No, Don’t bother. He has his new girlfriend now, he doesn’t need me any more. (Mom had been babysitting for him when his wife took off and left him with the boys all on his own over 2 years ago. She liked being needed by him and now feels jealous I think) And Brother 1 never calls or invites me over. I hardly hear from you and you barely make it to our dinners. (once – one time I was late, because I was looking out for me for once) And then Brother 3, even though he lives with me he never talks to me either. He always chooses to go out to dinner and casinos with your Dad, but if I ask him to go to dinner with me he always says No. Just like when you chose to live with dad when we got divorced. It just hurts too much and I don’t want to try any more if no one wants me.

Me: (Did I just get slapped? Why does it feel like an elephant is sitting on me? What did she just say?) I did not CHOOSE to live with him. He made me. Surely you know that. I was a child. He made me sign those papers just like he made me do everything else. I will never forget that day. He picked me up from school, took me to his lawyer’s andmade me sign the papers.  [the whole story as I recall but did not tell anyone ever –  (I usually took a bus, and he should have been at work) I got in his car, because he was my dad. He took me on a long drive, to the big downtown city. I was familiar with this city from my back doctor. The orthopedic surgeon was near here. He took me in this huge (and I had time to think – awesome and beautiful) stone, marble, granite oversized building near the courthouse. (sign said Courthouse – never seen it before) A secretary led us to an office, where a youngish man for a lawyer, but very old looking to me with dark hair shook hands with me while staring in my eyes, then putting both hands over my hands to stay a bit, and said, “Wow you were right, she really is a looker.” And then he winked at me and asked me to sit down at a huge desk. (yes he really said that – will NEVER forget that. Apparently my dad told him I was pretty? I always wondered what else that creepy lawyer knew about) On the desk were several documents. The lawyer sat on the edge of the desk, so his rear was nearly on the documents. He said something like “Your daddy wants you to be safe, so we need you to sign your name here and everything will be OK. OK?” So I read the document quickly, and saw that it was a custody agreement. It said I the undersigned choose to live with my father blah blah blah. He F-ing made me sign a legal document saying I belong exclusively to him. I’m angry now, but back then, it didn’t really phase me that much. I just signed it because he told me to. I didn’t feel or care much about anything then. I was 12. In our state, the marvelous legal system thinks the age is 12 is considered mature enough to make a decision like this – to forever say to one parent, I did not choose you. I hated my Mom at that point in my life, and so was not too concerned about how she would take the news. )

Mom: Well I didn’t know he made you

Me: Of course he did. I was a child.

Mom: I guess. It just proves my point though that no one ever tells me anything. I don’t matter to anyone. It’s like I don’t have a family.

Me: No Mom, you do have a family. All those Moms in Connecticut? They had no one to hug this Christmas. All of our cousins fighting overseas? They had no one to hug this Christmas. We were all there, in person, to hug you. All my Christmases as a child? I never got to hug a grandparent. Maybe our family isn’t perfect, but you can NOT say you don’t have a family.


I think that’s enough. My point here was to share a bit more of my past, and how it still affects my present. But mainly, I wanted to point out my growth. That I was able to have that entire conversation – as me. I never lost myself – never caved in. I hung up feeling the same as when I called, well a bit peeved of course, but not devastated as could have happened. I didn’t fall into any of her guilt traps, and I was even able to offer her some comfort. I felt like I had grown up a bit more.

17 thoughts on “Holiday Aftermath

  1. Wow, R2B, I am impressed with how well you handled that. I see so many of the same traps I fall into with my mother. You really have come a long way.

    I really don’t know how you manage to go at all.

  2. Wow—three hours! High five! I cannot talk on the phone for three hours to anyone, let alone someone who is trying to guilt trip me or undermine me. I seriously do not know how you did it…so brave! Next time, set a timer…1 hour at the most. Let her vent, but do not allow yourself to be flogged, either. Balance, grasshopper 😉 You are doing so well!! Xoxoxo

  3. Wow, some of that is so familiar. It’s why I stopped talking to NM. I was tired of hearing the same thing over and over no matter what I said. I do understand the value of stand up for you, for not backing down. Good for you! In TOXIC PARENTS by Dr. Susan Forward, she said that the healthiest people in these messed up families is the abuse survivor because we see the sickness in the family, the need to get help, and actually do it. Keep fighting for you. You are worth it.

    • It does seem like I am the only one trying to heal. The rest are in some state of denial, or in a different power play it seems. I don’t subject myself to this often any more. I used to accept her multiple daily emails and several times a week phone calls. Mom used to rely on me quite a bit, I see now. She has never told her friends that her family is not perfect, so she saved all her venting for me. Amazing what clarity of thought I have now just by stepping a few steps back from them all.

    • Thank you! Yes, still growing and learning. I wish I didn’t have that initial urge to apologize to her, but see, I do in fact care how others feel. So maybe that isn’t all bad.

  4. Oy. I’m sure your mother will conveniently forget all the positive reinforcement you tried to give her and continue to complain about how she’s been cheated and neglected by everyone.

    Breathe, sweetie. Just breathe. It’s not you.

  5. My conversations with my NM are never more than 5 mins long. I am impressed. I just … can’t do it anymore. In fact, I can’t even text her anymore. And my wife has even stopped taking her calls.

    Seriously, I’ve heard some very similar things as you did during that olympic sized phone call you had.

    big hugs.

    • Thanks for understanding. Yes most of the time I limit any contact. But I have found she makes things difficult for me if I limit too much. Better to have a phone call once in a while than have her unexpectedly drive out here to check on me – always in the guise of concern and worry. But maybe one day we’ll drift even further apart as she sees I won’t be her puppet any longer. Maybe.

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  7. I am a huge fan of avoiding toxic people. I truly appreciate that you’re in a very particular position with your family and past abuse, and I totally understand your need for approval. Is there any way you could ensure that your own kids can get to know their cousins, and that you can see your nieces and nephews…without the toxic adults involved? Could there be play dates on weekends with just the kids? I’m not sure how close you all live to each other, but if that’s possible, it might be a healthier situation for you…at least while you’re healing.

    • I live about 2 hours away from the rest of them. All my brothers live near Mom. So we don’t have an option of dropping off kids and avoiding adults. We are avoiding my Dad completely now, which is new, and going well. I have not decided how toxic Mom is, kind of experimenting with how distance we need there, vs complete removal too. Great suggestion though, and something I will noodle on for future events. But seriously, Thanksgiving and Christmas have been the only times we ever see each other any more. And this is the first Christmas that I stayed entirely with the kids, avoiding the adult conversations. It will all work out, still developing all these boundaries. Some boundaries are physical, as in no contact, and some are mental, as in your words will not hurt me. Ikeep thinking that maybe some day my siblings and I may have a chance to re-connect once our parents have passed. Maybe.

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