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The Truth Of What Happened Behind Closed Doors


These are my truths.

I was abused. Verbally. For years. Only once did it get physical and it is a moment which I want to erase from the story of my childhood which in some ways is the story of my life, although by writing down what I remember I am trying to separate the past from the future. I don’t know if I’ll succeed.

Just to note: before we continue, my mother no longer drinks alcohol. I decline to have a relationship with her, and the following is a reflection of my own experience, my own memory.

I don’t remember the first time I figured out what went on inside our apartment wasn’t “normal.” I knew it didn’t seem right, but I didn’t really know anything different. I suffered abuse at the fingertips of my alcoholic mother. I am full of shame writing these words, because although I have thought these things, I have never written them down. I wanted to move on. I wanted to deny this. I thought these were truths that weren’t fit to live on in the world through my writing. I kept thinking I’d get in trouble if I wrote them down here.

My mother and I had ghastly fights. We fought and we yelled and we tried to understand one another and we couldn’t.  I thought I could change the woman who had given birth to me, I thought I could save her and I think she thought she was fine and by the time she realized she wasn’t, she couldn’t stop and it was easier to pretend what was going on was completely normal and that I was wrong. I know the feeling of pointing fingers at the accuser because we recognize what they say, what they plead, what they scream, so clearly that it brushes against the deepest parts of ourselves and we just shut down.

I think about how to tell my story from the beginning and I’ve tried to only tell the parts from my leave for college on wards. I didn’t think the past was important enough to expose the skeletons in the closet, to hurt anyone, especially my mother, by telling the truth publicly.

I don’t like hurting people, ever. I became friends with my rapist before I let her go. It made sense to me. I have let people abuse me physically (girlfriends) and mentally (family and girlfriends).

When I confronted her about her drinking problem, in the kitchen, while she warmed milk on the stove for me because I’d read about a mother doing that for her daughter, so I asked my mother to do the same for me, she screamed at my and slammed her bedroom door in my face. I can still here the door thudding closed behind her. What I care more about is what she was thinking. Did she feel caught? Did she care? Did she think, tomorrow I’ll ask for help, but by tomorrow she’d resolved that nothing was wrong. Nothing could be wrong.

When I first started to talk about my relationship with my mother, I made people uncomfortable, I thought, so I stopped. I became quiet on the subject. I had too much hope. Family told me that life is short, move on. My friends, they didn’t quite understand. My sophomore year of college, my RA took me for walks through the Common. She couldn’t relate, but she could lend comfort, a sense of safety I longed for. I spent most evenings alone in my dorm room, watching the lights flicker outside, thinking about the word home. 

I learned to make my new apartments into homes quickly. Anything was disposable. I didn’t have sacred things. I reveled in the mailbox key. I took pride in putting all the dishes away before I turned off the lights for bed. My mother still texted me, asking me why. Telling me she’d hurt me or sue me or send someone after me. Once, I was at a writing retreat with my favorite author, Chloe Caldwell. I left the session abruptly because my mother was threatening to send the cops to my apartment. She told me I owed her money. I sat, trembling, in the train station, staring at my legs. Struck with fear, I wondered, as with each time this sort of thing happened– would this be the time she’s right? Would the police come take me away? Would I get served papers while having coffee with a friend?

This wasn’t the first or the last time I left events, dates, vacations even, because my mother called me or texted me that she’d hurt me in some way or that I had hurt her and those, those were worst in some ways. Hurting her, hurt me.

I once had a therapist– my first therapist as an adult, the therapist I secretly started to see my junior year in high school because things were that bad– tell me I resented my mother. “I mean, right,” the therapist inquired, pen poised above notepad, waiting for me to confess my ill feelings toward this woman who had brought me into the world.

Oh, I thought. I’m supposed to hate her?

In the Juneau airport, seven years ago, waiting to fly home, I had been texting with an older girl from school named T.  Later, we’d end up at the same college and become very close friends. T asked me the penultimate question that day. The question that shifts the ground below my feet and changes my life thereafter: “Do you think your mom is an alcoholic?” I just wrote this as a question, but since I don’t remember my answer, I think maybe T could have just said, “Your mom is an alcoholic. ” Either way, I  finally had a word to define the behavior I had witnessed for a few months.

I’ve had multiple doctors and therapists hail my survival as a miracle. How did you get by, seems to be the underlying question, and then, unscathed? I’m not, by any means, untouched by the abuse. It follows me every day, how I interact and with who, in my relationship with drugs, and alcohol, and sex. I don’t see that changing either. I also don’t think my survival makes me miraculous in anyway. When faced with persistent danger, I think we all will find a way to push through. After all, we are animals, flight or fright is in our blood. Learning to run, in whatever form that takes, isn’t learned. I spent years running (from school, to home, to havens at friend’s houses), and now I’m learning to stay (in sobriety, in my partnership, in the day).

Someone recommends Mary Karr’s memoir, Lit. I read it in a local cafe, prone to spending long(er) amounts of time outside the household. I read the book for a second time years later. And then, today look back over her words, searching for a sentence, once that makes sense of all this. Karr writes:

“Mother’s particular devils had remained mysterious to me for decades. So had her past. Few born liars ever intentionally embark in truth’s direction, even those who believe that such a journey might axiomatically set them free.”

I recognize myself and my mother in those words. I may not be liar– in fact, it’s my life’s work to tell the truth– but I do know a little bit about the road not taken, and how easy it is to bypass freedom for the ingrained.

I write to be heard and to expose the layers of truth that I’ve piled up around me for years. I write to remember what I’ve experienced, but also what I’ve survived. I believe we become whole, slowly, that freedom is not easily attained, but that only by the unraveling of what was learned and known and accepted, do we hit on the truth.

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