My mother left my abusive father when I was 13 months old. She had gained 100 lbs. during her pregnancy with me due to depression and binge eating. My father beat her regularly, sometimes punching in her the stomach in attempt to make her miscarry. When she left him, she invited my grandmother (her mother) to live with us to help while she went back to school. Both my mother and grandmother had narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and borderline personality disorder (BPD). I grew up in the house with both of them.
*it should be noted that while BPD and NPD have many similar criteria overlaps, they are different personality disorders that have comorbidity between 25-37%. My mother and grandmother presented with traits of both disorders. My therapist and psychiatrist had me focus on learning about BPD, however, when I read books and joined discussions in groups of adult children raised by mothers with NPD, I feel right at home as well.
At a young age, I remember my mother telling me how being affectionate towards me didn’t come naturally to her. She would tell me stories of how the psychiatrists at the hospital would visit her when I was born because she didn’t want to hold me or bond with me. Even as she would tell this story, she would scoff, act perplexed by the doctors’ reactions and state bluntly, “I was fucking tired. I wanted to sleep.” She also told me that she would try to hold me when I was an infant because she knew that it was what she was supposed to do. I remember going to her as a child because I needed her, and her putting up her hand up and saying, “go away.” I spent a lot of time in my bedroom, often praying for a sibling because I didn’t want to be alone.
I’m not sure if it was just my mere existence that irritated her or the fact that I was the reason she couldn’t get away from my father who constantly tormented her with lawyers and crossing boundaries. However, what was obvious to me was that she resented me and enjoyed doing things to scare and harm me. I blocked out parts of my childhood, huge chunks of it actually. I didn’t go into the blocked out parts until I experienced it in an ayahuasca ceremony. (I discuss my experience with ayahuasca in another article).
When I was 6 years old, my mother met a man with whom she decided to start a business. He moved into our spare bedroom/office. Although he was gay, they played the part and pretended they were a couple. Together they had a very successful training center in Manhattan for computers. He would get dressed up with me and take me to Broadway plays and fancy dinners. He would take me to the Jersey shore boardwalk, put me on his shoulders and take me on the rides. He paid attention to me, listened to me and loved me like I was his own. He was truly a hero in my eyes. I will refer to him in my writing as my stepfather, however, to me he was the only consistent father I ever had. He would eventually become an alcoholic and die at the age of 50. I will talk more about this later.
My father, the man she divorced for beating her, had custody of me every weekend. I would eventually develop PTSD from the abuse I was subjected to in his hands. While I will discuss both my father’s abuse and my symptoms of my PTSD in different articles, I briefly mention it here simply because she did not protect me from it. By the time I was 7 years old, I was waking up in the night with anxiety attacks, night terrors and vomiting spells as a result of his abuse. One day I came home from a weekend alone with him and I locked myself in my bedroom. I passed a note under my door, which initiated dialogue between she and I about the abuse. I told her all about what was happening when I was with him. I think I was 9 years old. She made no effort to protect me from him or go to the courts to revoke his custody. In fact when I told her what he was doing to me, she told me to go tell someone else.
While I do recall some incidents of abuse by my mother, what’s interesting is that my mother would reminisce with me about the times she did things to hurt me, like it was so incredibly entertaining or enjoyable to her she needed to revisit it and laugh about it. I’m just going to list some examples of the abuse here:
The smoke alarm noise used to scare me as a baby and I would cry. She would take the smoke alarm off of the ceiling and try to get me to push the button that set it off.
When I was in elementary school, she sat me down to watch the film “Faces of Death” series, a series of films that show scenes of people and animals dying. One scene shows a small monkey being placed in the middle of a table with only his head sticking out the top. The people at the table hit him in the head while he screams in fear and pain. When he finally dies, the people open up his head and eat his brain. Another scene shows clubbing of seals by poachers. I remember crying through the part where they slaughtered and mutilated dolphins. The series also shows a beheading, footage of an autopsy, a suicide and a cannibal orgy. You get the idea.
Another time when I was quite young (probably kinder or early elementary), I was playing in the ball pit at McDonalds. The pit was surrounded by a rope fence and there was a ledge on the inside of the fence. I had climbed on top of the ledge and was holding onto the rope fence as she stood on the other side of fence. From the other side, she began to pull my fingers off of the ropes. I began to scream because I was scared to fall. She laughed and continued doing it. When she completely pried my grip from the ropes, I fell, hit my chin on the ledge on which I was standing on the way down. I bit through my tongue.
At 6 years old, she brought me to see “Poltergeist III”, a horror movie about a little girl who has an evil spirit following her. I don’t think I have to say much more here.
She had me watch “Mommie Dearest,” and had me act out scenes with her from the movie. What’s truly sick about this is that the film is about a woman with BPD, played by Joan Crawford, who adopts two children, Christina and Christopher. You can observe throughout the film how Christina is clearly the target of Joan’s wrath and Christopher is the golden child. Joan Crawford, who has a preoccupation with cleanliness, makes Christina call her “Mommy Dearest” in the movie. In one scene, she completely destroys Christina’s room and beats Christina with a wire hanger for hanging her expensive clothes on cheap hangers. While she does this, she screams, “No more wire hangers.” During Joan’s episode with the hangers, she asks Christina if she scrubbed the bathroom floor, and Christina replies, “Yes Mommy.” Joan says, “Mommy what?” Christina replies, “Mommy Dearest.” If I called my mother “Mommy”, she would say, “Mommy what?” and I would have to reply, “Mommy dearest.” I can still hear my mother now saying no more wire hangers to me while cackling.
These uncontrollable, exaggerated fits of rage depicted in the movie occurred in my experience as well. One of her triggers was my high-pitched (child) voice. I remember being in the backseat of her car with her friend as the front passenger and her driving. She was taking deep breaths with her eyes closed and, through her teeth, telling her friend how much the sound of my voice irritated her. I remember her friend trying to talk her and discourage her from saying this in front of me.
My mother would typically return from work after I got home from school in the afternoon. My grandmother would pick me up from school and take me home. One day I remember I came home from school and I went to the bathroom. When I opened the door, my mother jumped out at me wearing a mask and screamed. I passed out. I don’t remember how old I was here but I was definitely in early elementary school.
As I mentioned earlier, I was living with narc mom and grandma. I won’t speak too much about my experience with grandma because once I reached middle school age, I completely stopped acknowledging her existence. I do recall some incidents of her abuse in my younger years, however. I used to love to sing. One day I sang a song for her and she told me that she’s heard better and she really wasn’t impressed. When she would get angry at me (which was pretty often), she would call me by my biological father’s first name as if to insinuate that I was just like him. One time I was one of the last two participants in a spelling bee and I lost because I spelled the word sheriff wrong. She would bring this up often, “why don’t you learn how to spell sheriff.” So funny, as I’m typing this right now I’m still spelling I wrong. I also remember her accusing me of lying all the time when I wasn’t. This would make me so infuriated and I would cry. I remember her calling my stepfather a narcissist, something that he certainly was not. She was so obviously projecting her own personality traits onto him. When I was 30, my therapist had me read Christine Ann Lawson’s book, “Understanding the Borderline Mother: Helping Her Children Transcend the Intense, Unpredictable and Volatile Relationship.” The book identifies the four major types of borderlines. Believe it or not, I concluded while reading this book that my grandmother was more extreme than my mother in her evil ways. My grandmother’s mother had left her and my grandmother was raised by her aunt who resented having to take care of her and made her sleep on the floor, among other things. It’s so apparent how these patterns of abuse create more patterns of abuse in lineages.
I was in kindergarten and getting ready to go to a birthday party. I had gotten into my mother’s makeup. She went into a rage and started telling me how “fucking stupid” I was. She punched me in the stomach. This knocked the wind out of me. I remember walking into my room and looking down on the floor at the way I had arranged my shoes. I couldn’t inhale at all. I thought I was going to die and she was still screaming at me. I actually revisited this incident the one time while I was undergoing hypnosis and EFT tapping treatments. I believe this incident of not being able to breathe was the catalyst of the nightmares that I would experience about suffocating and drowning. I didn’t realise how much this particular incident affected me until later on in life when I was able to put the pieces back together and make connections.
When I was middle school aged, she would describe to me how she would sexually seduce her boyfriend on our living room floor. (This was a boyfriend she had when I was in preschool). She would talk about how my biological father wasn’t good in bed. Wildly inappropriate.
My mother had gastric bypass surgery when I was 11 years old. Almost immediately she replaced food with alcohol. From this point forward, she was a fall down, slurring, cross-eyed drunk. I resented her for this of course, but looking back on this as an adult, it was probably better that she was drunk and passed out her chair all the time rather than actively tormenting me.
By the time I was in middle school, I was convinced that God didn’t exist. I would write poetry about how empty I felt and spent most of my time in my bed when I wasn’t at school. While I had been placed in gifted classes as a youngster, I no longer got good grades. By the time I was 14, I was a runaway, hanging out with people who were much older than me, and experimenting with drugs and sex.
My high school years were a joke. She had developed a raging jealousy of me because I was skinnier than her. She would talk inappropriately with my friends and boyfriends about topics such as sex and drugs. She would get drunk and with one eye closed because she was so shitfaced, she would call me a “fucking bitch” over and over. While she was drunk from the moment she came home from work until the night, this didn’t deter her from waking me up every morning in with her rage fits. By this time, my anger and rage was also apparent. My tongue was sharper than hers, if not sharper. I would be so enraged when she would wake me up screaming and breaking shit. One time I threw a mug at her. It hit the wall next to her head and shattered. She called the psychologist at my school and acted like I was the aggressor in the fight. This was when I first observed her victimizing herself. It was apparent that she could dish it but couldn’t take it. I would see a lot more of her victimizing herself as I got older, held her accountable for her actions, refused to accept her abuse and became the scapegoat of our family.
My stepfather had gotten much heavier into drinking during these years and he had a tendency to be violent when he drank. One night he was escalating, and my friend and I locked ourselves in my bedroom. We heard a loud crash but waited for it to be silent for a while before coming out because we didn’t want him to hurt us. When we came of the room, there were droplets of blood everywhere. He had fallen and knocked out his front teeth. He stayed drunk for three days in the house before he went to the dentist to have his teeth fixed. When episodes like this happened in the house, I would wake up with a check next to my bed or some other sort of monetary compensation. The incidents were certainly never discussed or resolved. Because my mother was also an alcoholic, they never demanded or expected from one other for the other to seek help. They also looked the other way when I developed clinical depression in my teen years.
In November of my senior year in high school, my boyfriend, Joseph, came over. My stepfather was drunk in the living room watching gay porn when he arrived. It made him angry that Joseph was there and, to be honest, he was probably angrier at the fact that he got caught watching porn. I heard my stepfather saying something about me being a whore because I had a guy over, meanwhile I was always with Joseph and this was nothing new. I knew this was going to escalate between the two men so I asked Joseph to leave. After Joseph left, my stepfather continued to call me names like whore and fat. I came out of the bedroom and started mouthing off to him. He got up and grabbed me. He held me by my hair with and started beating me in the face and head with his other fist. I screamed for my mother. It took a good while of me screaming but she eventually came downstairs and pulled him. His robe had come undone and he was nude. I was bloody. That night I took her car and went to Joseph’s. The next day I came home to find my mother in bed. She said she couldn’t live without him. I told her to tell him to come home. When he did I left the house. I never returned.
I recall a few times talking to my mother about her drinking. I would approach her and ask her to stop drinking because it was hurting me. She would cry and tell me that what I was saying was so hurtful to her. That would be the end of the discussion. Pulling the victim card was something she was really good at.
I remained in little contact with my mother throughout early 20s. If I visited, she would ask me when I was going to leave so she could drink. Eventually I stopped visiting all together. I had gotten a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and was about to graduate with a Master’s degree. I was really proud of this accomplishment and invited her and my stepfather to the ceremony. My boyfriend, Justin, at the time would also be joining them at the ceremony. A little side note here – Justin and I were living together for two years before she met him at my great aunt’s funeral. When I introduced them, she smiled at him, shook his hand and called him by the wrong name. She snickered and added, “Sorry, I can’t keep track.” Anyway, back to graduation day… The morning of the ceremony I received a phone call from her. She was extremely agitated and told me that they were having car trouble (they were about 1.5 hours away from me). I was already running late and I certainly couldn’t pick them up. I think she expected me to tell her not to worry about coming because when I asked her how she would get to the graduation she became enraged. She told me that the only reason she was going was because I wanted her to and asked why she had to go… “weren’t Justin’s parents going?” I hung up on her. Her and my stepfather didn’t show up. I cried through the whole ceremony. Several months went by and still I hadn’t heard from her. We began emailing each other at one point and she was angry with ME – for not saying, “I love you” when I hung up on her. In her email she wrote that it “wasn’t OK that I didn’t say ‘I love you’ when we hung up that day” and that it “hurt her to the core.”
My response to that email, the first time I ever really stood up for myself:
You know what’s “NOT OK”? You know what “hurt ME to the core”? The fact that you have disregarded ME and MY NEEDS for years. It hurt when you would get drunk and hit on my boyfriends (yes, 2 of them actually). It hurt when you would get so drunk that I was mortified to have friends over because you were cross-eyed and slurring, that I would leave the house and cry because I was worried about you. It hurt when you would fall and I would have to pick you up off the floor and you didn’t even know I was there. It hurt when I would come home and you had gotten into Charlie’s scotch and you would cry and I would rock you in my arms as you sobbed and told me how depressed you were, and then wake me up picking fights with me in the morning. It hurt when you would get drunk and look at me with one eye open and say “you fucking bitch” over and over and over, until I left the room. It hurt when you let other people hurt me and you didn’t protect me, but instead turned the other way because it was too “deep” for you to get involved because it was too hard for you to look at your own tendencies and imperfections. It hurt when Charlie got drunk and beat the shit out of me and I was screaming your name to help me and you were passed out and didn’t wake up right away.. then you looked the other way when I moved into Joe’s house because you were too depressed without Charlie and I wanted you to be happy so he came back and I left. It hurt when you would drink all night and then wake up in the early hours and pour yourself more wine, I used to spill out the bottles and hide the rest of the liquor in the house so you wouldn’t die in the chair from alcohol poisoning. It hurt when I used to come home from being out and wake you up to hug you and tell you how much I loved you and never let you go even though you were buckling at the knees because you were so drunk.
You say, “I was a bad mother”.. like motherhood was a thing in the past. YOU ARE A MOTHER AND WILL BE FOREVER! You have pawned motherhood, and me, off to anyone that would make it easier for you, and your speaking of motherhood in past tense further proves that. You thank people for being there for me because you didn’t know how to be, like it’s your “get out of motherhood free card”.. Aunt Millie, Charlie, and now apparently Justin’s parents. You might say “I love you” when you hang up the phone with me but you don’t love me enough to try to be a better mother. You might say it with words, but you don’t say it with actions. I can’t even count how many times I heard the “I was a stupid kid and married an asshole” speech.. Is there some sort of all or nothing policy here? Do you feel as though you made fucked up choices then and it was doomed there after so who cares? What a poor excuse to continue to not learn to do better or be better for your kid. The issue is NOT that you were a stupid kid and married an asshole, it’s that you have been drunk for 15 years (yes you started when I was 11, I remember it like it was yesterday). What you’re letter is REALLY saying is “I’m sorry I am a bad mother, but you still have to tend to my needs”.. That is certainly not what will or should ever happen. You know, I remember being a little girl and you telling me stories about how awful it was being a child of an alcoholic, that it was humiliating, that there was no one to trust, no stability.. That you would sit and eat sandwiches for dinner in the backyard alone because your mother was passed out in the living room and hated YOU. How do you think I fucking feel? You PROMISED ME that you would never do to me what your mother did to you… and that’s EXACTLY what you did. THAT HURTS.
If you see my mother tell her that I miss her and I need her and I want her to be a part of my life more than she could ever imagine. Tell her that if she took a second and stopped hurting herself and me she would see that I’m like her in so many ways… but she doesn’t even know me. Tell her that it’s never too late to make changes for the better, or get help the help that she needs to make those changes. Tell her if she can find the strength to stand, I will be standing right next to her and I will catch her if she falls. I LOVE YOU but the only person you really need to love you is you. Why does this have to be the end if I can be the beginning?
She didn’t talk to me for 3 years after I sent this email. When we did eventually speak, she told me she never read it because she could tell from the beginning that I was attacking her again.
When I was 27, I started having metaphysical experiences and had channeled for the first time. She was very jealous of this. One morning I woke up after having this dream that I said goodbye to her, told her we would have a better relationship from “the other side” and killed myself. When I woke up I called her and told her what I had been experiencing. Through my tears, I asked her if she thought I was special. She scoffed and replied, “everyone is special.”
There were many instances after this where I thought she was capable of being the mother I never had but I learned the hard way that this was untrue. At one point I even convinced myself that she should come to live with me in California and we could “heal together.” My therapist looked at me like I had lost my damn mind, and looking back, I think had done just that. One morning I asked my mother – if she came to live in California, would she be committed to her sobriety? (Again, not acknowledging that her drinking is just a small portion of her personality). She became livid with me and pretty much relayed that I wasn’t entitled for her to answer that question.
After another year of no contact, I tried to revisit the relationship yet again, but it ended up being more of the same.
As I delved further into my spiritual journey and learned about things such as compassion and acceptance, I thought I would be able to have compassion for her and accept her for the damaged person she is because, after all, she was just a victim of her own narcissistic mother and she did her best with what she knew. When I would get hurt, or worse, lose my temper with her, I would hate myself for not being able to rise above it. I would hate her for not changing her behavior. This raging anger inside of myself would take days if not weeks to subside. It is already daily conscious work to not get triggered by every day things when you have PTSD. There is just no reason for me to subject myself to the original source of my triggers.
I believe my mother will always teeter between being a sharp-tongued, ruthless attacker and the helpless, teary-eyed victim. She’s comfortable unpacking in the dark place her own narcissistic mother subjected her to and I believe she will stay in that familiar place. She makes no effort to get help or take accountability for her experience, even the little things that have nothing to do with me. She truly believes she’s the victim and continues to wallow in self-pity. I feel sorry for her and I have a great deal of compassion for her, but I do that from a distance where I can remain safe.
I have come to terms with the fact that will never have a mother and I have let go of the expectation of her ever filling that role. Instead of trying to accept her for who she is, I have accepted myself for who I am: A highly sensitive person who simply can’t and shouldn’t have to tolerate such toxicity. Every fiber of my being literally has a negative physical response when I think about letting her back into my life. Going no contact was one of the biggest steps I’ve taken towards loving myself.