Happy Survivor’s Day!
“Whether adult children of toxic parents were beaten when little or left alone too much, sexually abused or treated like fools, overprotected or overburdened by shame, they almost all suffer surprisingly similar symptoms: damaged self-esteem, leading to self-destructive behavior. In one way or another, they almost all feel worthless, unlovable, and inadequate.”
~Susan Forward, Toxic Parents
Navigating this day, when mothers are universally canonized and deified, is a particularly painful proposition for me. And I’m sure for a number of others as well.
Spiritually stunted because I haven’t experienced the unconditional love of a biological mother, I struggled with an ironic sense of loss of something that was never there and a persistent feeling of guilt for not genuflecting to my mother, as nearly everyone on the planet is at least professing to be doing.
The endless procession of memes, cards, flowers, dinners, picnics, TV commercials, and Hallmark’s passive aggressive message that if you don’t “love your mom,” you are an unamerican ingrate who refuses to eat apple pie and despises baseball are nearly as ubiquitous as the locusts that descended upon Egypt to break Pharaoh’s will.
It all makes me want to vomit, really.
And then there are the condolences for moms who aren’t getting their propers on “their day” for a variety of reasons.
For a person whose mother was, is, and may continue to be toxic to their being, all of this mom-olatry is EXHAUSTING.
To all of you others who grew up with mothers who damaged you, took no responsibility, and continue to do so when given the opportunity, I say, Happy Survivor’s Day! I love you.
Know that whatever your mother did to harm you, it wasn’t your fault. Read that again. And keep repeating it until you internalize it and believe it.
You were born with innate value as a human being. You are worthy of unconditional love.
Whatever shame your sick mother embedded so deeply into your psyche that it still attacks you as an adult (inflicting withering emotional pain) is not part of your authentic self. It’s a shit stain on your soul which can eventually be scrubbed out.
The love she “gave” you that was conditional and based upon you “performing adequately” was counterfeit and diseased. That’s not love. That’s emotional extortion and it’s incredibly cruel.
The perfection that she demanded of you was her projecting her own insecurities onto an “extension of herself” who/that “would achieve” and make up for her shortcomings.
The martyrdom and incessant reminders of all that she sacrificed for you further emphasize the counterfeit nature of her “love.” One who loves selflessly doesn’t constantly remind the subject of their love of all they have endured for them.
The times she fat shamed you and put you on overly restrictive diets. That wasn’t love. That was a form of abuse.
The times she forced you to do things when you were terrified, or to give up things that made you feel secure before you were ready. That wasn’t love. That was a perversion of her sacred role as a compassionate care-giver.
The times she gaslighted you into believing she was a saint and hissed that she hated a liar and a cheat when she caught you sneaking food during a period of enforced food restriction. Those weren’t instances of motherly love. Those were the tactics of someone with a deformed personality.
The way she gave you the prolonged silent treatment, or cut you off emotionally. Not love. Emotional terrorism.
Failure or refusal to protect you from a verbally abusive, bullying father. Not maternal love. Abandonment.
(Below lyrics compliments of Red Hot Chili Peppers)
This is what our mothers were meant to have done:
I heard a little girl
And what she said
Was something beautiful
To give, your love
No matter what
Yeah, what she said
What they did was hurt us with coldness, hardness, and loneliness:
I love all of you
Hurt by the cold
So hard and lonely too
When you don’t know yourself
On Survivor’s Day, I love all of you who were so severely wounded by your mother (regardless of the means she employed and regardless of whether it was intentional) that it has left you with a lifelong struggle with shame, Addiction, and limited capacity to form secure attachments in relationships.
AA and other modalities of recovery and management of my Bipolar Disorder, Addictions, and emotional wounds inflicted before I had healthy coping skills have taught me that I need to take responsibility for my life and my actions as a mature adult. They have also taught me that I need to forgive my mother, which is an ongoing, daily process so that I am relieved of my resentment. And that I needed to make amends to my mother for the wounds that I inflicted upon her as an adult.
I have done, or am doing, each of these.
Yet forgiving cruelty doesn’t obligate me to be grateful for it. Or to put myself in a position to be wounded in a similar manner again.
And if you are in the same boat as me, you aren’t obligated either.
Happy Survivor’s Day!