Today I threw the switch to turn on a 9 kW photovoltaic (solar) power array. I have done something good in the world. I am a proud mother.
Yesterday night I was thinking about my own mother, and what to do about the non-contact I’ve imposed on our relationship. [Spoiler: I like the end of this post the best, so if you get bogged down in me whining about my mother, just skip it.]
My mother was likely aware that my father was sexually abusing me throughout my childhood, and when she ‘officially’ found out when I was 18 declared right away that she believed me. However, she did not leave my father over it. The shame, grief and betrayal I have felt over that fact, that a major crime against her daughter (and really all women and children) wasn’t sufficient for my mother to be willing to endure the hardship of divorce or separation, has been persistent and heavy.
My mother is now separated from my father, which she clearly states was because he was a bad husband, not because he raped me. (Although surely, raping your children makes a man a bad husband?)
My mother is anxious, dependent and scattered. She relies heavily on my younger brother for all her decision making and loves to be waited upon. She connives to be fussed over using the same tactic as some men use when feigning helplessness in the face of laundry or a diaper. She provides steady pressure on me to be a close and affectionate daughter, to visit her, fuss over her, pamper her for mothers’ day etc… She is a paradox, a feminist activist who could not leave her own rapist husband, a woman who can run for city council but could not figure out how to stand on her own.
I cannot stomach it. A mother who condones the rape of her daughter by staying is no mother at all. I will not give her her maternal due. She birthed me and taught me, diapered me and (some of the time) fed me, but this one betrayal, it seems, cancels all those other debts.
However, I used to be a therapist, and know that it is pointless to cut off one’s relatives, for the issues they present will just show up in other ways. My father is a special case, I think. Only someone deep in denial or striving for some kind of misguided sainthood would associate willingly with a man who had raped her. One needs to draw the line somewhere.
Harriet Lerner, the author and family systems therapist, says two things I like. One is that the antidote to shame is being open about what one is ashamed of. I am starting to do that by letting more and more of my friends know that I am a survivor.
The second thing is that distance stores energy. When I am separate from my mother, I feel less anxious, and if I move closer to her, that anxiety stored in the distance will be released and I will feel it. The more anxiety there is, the more energy is released by even a small change in distance, such as moving from not talking at all to writing post cards on a regular basis. This is similar to the energy stored in the electron orbits of an atom, where enormous amounts of heat is released when an electon moves into a closer orbit around the central proton core.
I have decided to write her a letter or two. Lerner says that the way to change an intrenched pattern in a relationship is to state clearly who one is, without blaming, firmly and while staying connected. I don’t know if I can do that. My relationship with my mother confuses me so much it is hard to know where and who I am around her, which is part of what I hate so much about being in her presence. Perhaps I will tell her a bit about how my life was during those 14 years I had no family, between the time I ‘came out’ about the abuse and began healing and when she separated from my abuser. Perhaps that will be a way to start.
The Mother I replaced my fragile, weak mother with provided me a support I could not have lived without. When I was 19 and grieving for the theft of my innocence and family by my father, She was the Ocean I stood by witnessing my howls and holding the huge pain while I let it flow. Ocean was the mother I brought my art therapy clay sculptures of parts of the abuse to, for Her to dissolve and purify. Ocean was the place I could go home to, where I could lay and listen to the sound of my Mother’s heartbeat in the waves.
My real Mother was the spruce tree in my elementary school yard with a little hollow underneath where I could sit and look at her green, fragrant branches. Just seeing Her calmed me, allowed me to cope with the teasing from other kids for being teary-eyed, ‘easily’ upset, and different.
My Mother was the grove of poplars at the end of my street I would tell my day to by standing very still and gazing up at them on my way home from high school. I grieved for them when they were cut.
My real Mother was the tall deciduous and ancient trees on the campus of the university I attended, which I could look up to and calm myself, feel heard and understood without saying a word. My mother was the Air between their branches and the roots of these aunties and mothers beneath my feet.
My Mother was the heart of the flowers I looked at every day for weeks one summer after a bad heart break, when I bicycled across town to the beach. I would walk down the stone stairway to the beach from the forest and see a large bed of flowers. Always, every day, one would be gazing it’s petalled face directly at me and I would feel comforted, that there was one being in the world that was looking for me, that saw me. I would walk to the beach and lay on my towel in the sun and let the heat soothe me, till I felt warm and comforted. I would then walk into the ocean and immerse myself, letting the salt water wash my father out of me, wash the psychic and emotional grime from my body and soul. Then I would dry myself in the sun for awhile and immerse myself again, purified by sun and salt and water, fire and earth and water and air.
My Mother now is the trees that surround my house and street. She is in the Crone waiting to accept and transform the dead and dying in the large compost bin I have in my yard. She is my grandmother’s piano, the labrynth-patterned rug I was married on in my living room. My Mother is always with me.
My Mother is my own strong Self who holds me when I face the worst of what happened to me, my self-mother in my therapy sessions who reminds me I am safe, and urges me to do the right thing, to speak truth, to be loyal to myself, to face the grief and pain and let it flow through me and from me.
This woman who insists she is my mother, is no longer my Mother.
She has been replaced.