Archive for March, 2008

Looking out over ocean (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Nothing gets my blood boiling faster than to hear people make sweeping generalizations about the overall “goodness” of mothers. Fathers can be piles of manure, but all mothers are presumed to have “done the best they could.” That is a bunch of BS, and I cannot help but rise to the bait whenever this is said around me.

This most recently happened at a book club meeting last week. We were discussing the book The Glass Castle, which is a memoir about Jeannette Walls’ childhood while being raised by an alcoholic father and a mentally ill mother. While the children were digging through dumpsters in order to find something to eat, the mother was gaining weight eating chocolate bars that she hid in the house. Both parents did numerous things that were extremely neglectful to the children, and yet people seemed to have more sympathy for the mom because “she did the best she could.”

No, she did not.

Even with the limitations of mental illness, she could have left her children in the care of her mother (the children’s grandmother), who had plenty of money and food to meet the children’s basic physical needs. She could have shared her chocolate bars with her four children instead of stuffing her own face while her children starved. She could have done whatever it took to provide food for her children or put the children into foster care, where they would have had food to eat and a bed not made out of cardboard.

Whenever people say, “She did the best she could,” I think about all of the things that my mother did. People want to excuse her because of her mental illness, but there is no excuse. When I started recovering memories of the abuse and realized that I had amnesia about much of my life, I feared that I could have harmed my then-two-year old child and not remembered. I told my therapist that if I recovered any memories of harming my son, I would kill myself to save him from me. I meant it. That would have been doing the best that I could. My therapist assured me that I would never harm my son, and he is correct. I would do whatever it took to keep him safe, even if it meant taking my own life.

Instead, I take comfort from this saying:

Just because someone doesn’t love you with all that you need, doesn’t mean she isn’t loving you with all that she has. – Author unknown

I do believe that my mother loved me with all that she had. Unfortunately, she was very limited. However, I will never agree that she did the best she could because she did not.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Plant (c) Lynda BernhardtIn my last post, No Big “Bomb” in Letter from Mother/Abuser, I shared that my mother/abuser wrote me a letter in the hopes of getting us to reconcile. That is not going to happen until she takes responsibility for the pain she inflicted and allowed others to inflict upon me. She was the common denominator to all of the abuses that I suffered. My most severe abuses never would have happened if she had not provided my abusers access to me. She has a lot to take responsibility for, and she has made no effort to do so.

I really do not believe that my mother has a conscious memory of the abuse. I sort of confronted her once when I was in my early twenties. She did something that really upset me. I screamed at her, “You already f@#$ed me as a child. I am not going to let you f@#$ me as an adult.” She hung up the phone and grabbed a gun, intending to blow her brains out. She pulled through her initial reaction and (obviously) did not kill herself. To this day, she has blocked out what we were arguing about. (I remember every detail.) Her version is that I called her on the phone and “was nasty to her.” I was so mean that she wanted to kill herself, but then she decided not to.

My therapist strongly believes that confronting my mother would accomplish nothing other than causing her to have a psychotic breakdown requiring institutionalization. I believe he is correct. I do not want to feel responsible for whom she might harm during such a breakdown. So, my choice not to confront her is a kindness both to her and anyone with whom she might come into contact.

All of this is hard. I hear my friends talk about spending time with their mothers and relying on their mothers, and I feel an emptiness inside of myself. I have found ways to be okay because I had to be, but there will always be a part of myself that wishes I had a mother – not the woman who gave birth to me but an actual mother.

I will sometimes have dreams about women who are nurturing to others in real life, and they will be my mother in my dreams. I do not necessarily want them to fill this role in real life. I know that it is too late for another person to enter into my life and nurture me the way that I needed. This is more about grieving my losses.

I have no parents. My father is dead, and my mother is as good as dead to me. I feel like an orphan, although unlike orphans, I do not have much to miss. I do not grieve the loss of my parents. Instead, I grieve the absence of parenting that I needed. I needed to know unconditional love as a child, and I never knew it other than through what my baby sister provided. I needed to have a safe place to fall, but I was never safe – neither physically nor emotionally. And yet, somehow, I have found a way to be okay.

Grief is not something you “get over.” Instead, it is something you “get through.” You find a way to be okay despite the holes in your heart. However, even after grieving, the holes are still there. Sometimes I wonder if my heart looks like Swiss cheese.

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Mother-Daughter Sexual Abuse

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Spider web (c) Lynda BernhardtI have written quite a bit about mother-daughter sexual abuse and specifically about my confused feelings toward my mother. I have neither seen nor talked to my mother since December 2003 (by my choice). My mother would like to change this, but I am not ready. Honestly, I don’t know if I will ever be ready.

I have worked out a system where my mother may write to me monthly as long as she keeps the subject about day-to-day stuff and not about the past. I don’t want to have to read yet another apology for not being my Brownie scout leader when that is insignificant compared to the massive abuses she inflicted and allowed others to inflict upon me. Until she “gets” how badly she damaged me, I really do not think I can invest any energy into a relationship with her.

I am also at a loss as to why I would want to other than that “she’s my mom.” So what? Her being my mom did not make her protect me or nurture me. So, of what value would it be to bring her back into my life? I get that she would feel better about herself and less like a “bad mom,” but I fail to see the value that this would bring into my life. I am doing well without her in my life, so why would I want to change this?

Anyhow, my sister is still in touch with our mother, even though she suffered the same abuses that I did. My sister’s opinion is that nothing should drive a child away from a mother and that no person, not even our mother, deserves to be alone. My estrangement from my mother can be uncomfortable for my sister at times, but that is her issue, not mine.

My mother told my sister that she wanted to see me again. My mother has tried different tactics, including ceasing to write in the hopes that I will pick up the phone and call her. She has telephoned me one time regarding a medical question. Thank goodness I was not home and only heard the message on the answering machine because her call triggered a food binge. She periodically writes to ask if we can talk things through. The answer is no – not until she takes responsibility for her actions. Until she does this, there is no point in talking about stuff that doesn’t matter.

So, a few weeks ago, my mother told my sister that she was going to try something else. She was going to write a letter that would compel me to call her. Good luck with that. So, it was with trepidation that I opened her latest letter. I know that she cannot “force” me to do anything any more, but I still revert back to that scared little girl whenever I have any form of contact with her, even in a letter. Fortunately, there was nothing significant in the letter. Whew. She told me that she disconnected her phone but sent me her cell number and invited me to call her sometime. I can handle a message like that.

So, I feel like I have dodged a bullet for now. I know that something else will be coming in the future, but I can breathe easy for the moment.

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Mother-Daughter Sexual Abuse

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Green plant (c) Lynda BernhardtHub found an old mixed tape of mine in his car. Technically, it is a “mixed CD,” but I don’t think people actually call it that. Anyhow, my sister burned this CD for me of songs I selected back in the early aughts (Is that what we call this time period?? Or early 00’s?? Let’s say around 2002.) The point is that I chose these songs before I started healing from my history of child abuse.

As I listened to the CD, I was struck by the melancholy undertone of most of the songs. I was also struck by the repeating messages throughout the songs. Most of the songs talked about yearning for understanding and a safe place to fall when the rest of the world is not there for you. I used to listen to this CD all the time, and it felt “right” because I was always so melancholy. Now it no longer fits because I am no longer in that place. I still like many of the songs, but listening to them back-to-back was too much. I don’t want to be that bummed out any longer.

So, I guess that is further proof of how much I have grown and changed over the past several years. I tend to focus on how far I have to go and forget to look back and acknowledge how far I have come.

Another way I can see amazing progress is by looking at my driver’s license. I am due to renew it this year, so the picture is old. It was taken back in 2003, soon after I started recovering memories of the abuse. I have changed so much since then that one person who saw my driver’s license asked if I was in the witness protection program. My hair was much longer, with fuller bangs that hid my face. But the real difference is in my eyes. You can see the fear there, and that fear is now gone.

Sometimes we need to look back to recognize just how far we have come.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Cave (c) Lynda Bernhardt Over the weekend, my family sat for a family portrait. Our church updates its pictorial directory every five years or so. If we will sit for a family portrait, then we receive a free church directory and a free 8 x 10 photo of our family. Considering that we never have family pictures taken, we can thank our church for getting us to actually sit and do this as a family.

I used to hate to get my picture taken. I was always so critical, especially of my weight. I was very self-conscious and felt an enormous amount of self-hate whenever I looked at a picture of myself. I thought I would have these issues again.

When we first signed up for our time slot, I remember calculating how many pounds I could lose before picture day. I do not diet because doing so only fuels my eating disorder. I also do not weigh myself for the same reason. Instead, I try to be loving to my body, which includes maintaining my weight to continue fitting into the same sized clothing.

So, for the first time in … probably ever … I did nothing to prepare for picture day. I fixed my hair and chose a nice shirt, but I did not turn this picture day into something that took on a life of its own. I did not worry about this being the picture that I would be stuck with for the next five years until we have another picture taken.

Instead, I thought about how this picture will be an accurate representation of who I am today. Depending upon where I go tomorrow, the picture could show how much I have improved my body by losing weight, or I might look back and think about how great I looked then compared to now. Regardless of which way it goes, this is who I am today, and I do not need to pretend to be something I am not.

After sitting for the photographer, the three of us got to choose which pose we liked the best. For the first time in … definitely ever … I did not judge my weight. I did not even freak out when the photographer said that we could pay more to touch up our blemishes like our wrinkles. I noticed that I had some crow’s feet in my picture, but I did not care. I told the photographer that we liked our blemishes and would pass on the touch up.

On the drive home, hub was all freaked about how “old” he looked, but I was completely okay. I am still okay, and that is amazing for me. This is one of those moments where I can celebrate how far I have come. What my body looks like is not the same thing as who I am. While I love and care for my body, it is just a body. My body does not define me.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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CandleIn my last couple of posts, I have been talking about the joys of having my own room. Even though I am married, hub and I have our own rooms. I moved into the guest bedroom and then turned it into my own space, not because of marital issues but because of insomnia. Hub snores, and that noise coupled with the presence of another body in the room caused me to struggle with insomnia for over a decade.

When I shared a room with hub, I would go to bed earlier than he did. I did not have much trouble falling asleep initially. However, after he joined me, I would awaken repeatedly throughout the night, every night. I stayed dog-tired during the day because of his. Now that I have my own room, I generally sleep well. However, moving into my own room was only the first step.

I keep a strong scent of vanilla in my room. I do this by burning a vanilla-scented candle for about 30 minutes before I go to bed each night. I generally do yoga and meditation during this time, but I will burn the candle even if I do not do these activities just to help reduce my hypervigilance. According to The Smell Report, the scent of vanilla calms the startle reflex in both people and animals. I have found this to be true for me.

The reason I started doing yoga and meditation before bedtime was to help with my insomnia, and that has been very effective. Doing both activities before bedtime calms my mind and body. The deep breathing is wonderful preparation for sleeping. In most cases, I have no insomnia issues if I do yoga before going to bed.

Having a lock on my bedroom door is also helpful. I do not lock it often because I want my son to be able to reach me if he needs me during the night. However, if I am dealing with flashbacks or have a nightmare, locking the door helps calm my anxiety and enables me to fall back to sleep faster.

Running an air purifier really helps me to stay asleep because it masks the sounds of the night. Even very light “settling” sounds will jolt me awake, so having the white noise from the air purifier helps to mask those noises. I run a humidifier during the winter for the same purpose.

Do you have any tips for how to fight insomnia after child abuse?

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How to Cure Insomnia After Child Abuse

Photo credit: Faith Allen

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BedroomIn my last post, Setting Boundaries in the Bedroom after Child Abuse, I shared that I chose to move into my own bedroom even though I am married. Because of being awakened multiple times to be abused as a child, I had a very hard time sleeping through the night with another person in the room. Carving out my own space where I can be alone at night did wonders toward helping me to heal.

I have found so many benefits to having my own room that I did not think about when I first made the decision to move into my own room. A big one is the ability to sleep in a clutter-free room. As I shared in my post, State of My House = State of My Mind, I feel so much better when I spend my time in a clutter-free environment. Unfortunately, this was not possible as long as I shared a room with hub.

The above picture is a photograph of hub’s room this morning. I made no changes whatsoever. He had already left for work, and this is how he left his room. Notice the huge pile of papers all over the floor beside the bed as well as the piles of stuff toppling over on the bookcase. I cannot live that way, yet he freaks out whenever I “touch” his stuff because he says he knows where everything is.

Meanwhile, take a look at the photo on this blog. That is my bedroom with no changes made. I have no clutter in my room. Everything is always in its place. I need my room to stay clutter-free so I can sleep better and so I have a place of refuge when the rest of my house spins out of control.

Also, my room smells great. I burn a vanilla-scented candle each night before bedtime while I do yoga and meditation in my room. The scent of vanilla calms the startle reflex, so having that scent in my room enables me to sleep much better. I also run either a humidifier or an air purifier at all times (that’s the cord on the right) to provide white noise that masks sounds that would otherwise cause me to jolt awake.

I love having my own room. I love feeling safe and secure in a clean room that is exactly the way I want it.

Photo credit: Faith Allen

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