As part of my therapy, Anna has encouraged me to process what we’re working on through my art. To draw what I can’t talk about or what hurts. To draw to make sense of things. To draw to help me communicate with Anna. It has been a huge upward curve in my therapy, the drawing. It has helped so much and I now have a folder of about 50 drawings all of which have helped me understand myself a bit better and helped different parts of myself come through.
I drew this a while ago when we started on the grief work of my ‘mother wound’… it’s been like dipping my toe into the cool, lapping waters by the coast. The waves are raging towards the horizon but the edges are gentle and come and go. They reach me, then they recede. They do say grief comes in waves. The fear that I will be swallowed whole by the enormous body of water has had me frozen in a numb state of not knowing. Not really even looking… back to the sea, afraid I will lose myself if I let it touch me. But there came a point where the disconnection was too hard to live with and so it started to come out in therapy. The up until now silent longing, the quiet acknowledgements of things that should never have been… the little voice inside me saying, ‘but this didn’t feel okay…’ Recently the feelings have resurfaced, so I’m looking at this drawing again, this time considering sharing it with Anna. I don’t know what’s stopped me showing her up until this point. I think it has something to do with how personal it feels and how deep the pain goes. I don’t want her to gloss over any of it. But I also don’t want her to feel the gravity of it all either… I’m stuck between two very strong feelings. The familiar contradictory internal dialogue.
I recently found all my school reports. They were stuffed in a box that my mother was chucking out when she chucked me out at 17… up until this point I believed all my teachers hated me, that I was pretty thick, that I was messy and unlikeable. What I read was the complete opposite. I had a higher than average reading age (probably from reading all of the books in the school library that were accessible to me), I was described as ‘friendly’, ‘helpful’, ‘kind’, ‘likeable’… I cried when I read the descriptions of this child that I didn’t know I was. The teachers saw a girl who tried her best, was articulate, thoughtful, artistic, eager to please. I always thought they despised me. Who put those ideas in my head?
When I think about my childhood, especially primary years, my memories are disjointed. I feel as if I am following myself around just a few inches behind and above my head. Never completely in my body. In a haze of ‘nearly there but not quite’… I never knew how to ask for help so I got really good at cheating. I didn’t know how to make friends so I befriended all the boundary pushers, the hurt kids, the angry kids… I was the punch bag for the bullies, an easy target. I noticed other kids who wouldn’t put up with that kind of ‘friendship’ but I knew I wasn’t like them. I don’t know why or how, I just knew. I didn’t even try to be friends with the kids who seemed healthy. I knew I couldn’t match up with them.
At home, I was a parentified child who looked to please everyone all the time. If I take a step back and really look objectively at my relationships with the wider (dysfunctional) family, I was always told that I was mature, clever, caring, helpful etc (though I never really believed them in my soul… I always had a sense that people said these things to me when they wanted something). The most important person to me (my mother) fed me a different story, secretly. She would lavish me with compliments in front of people but between us she told me ‘the truth’. That I was difficult, unlovable, disgusting, fat… my young brain made sense of this by believing the negatives and thinking that my mother was protecting me by lying to other people so I wouldn’t have to suffer being hated by EVERYONE. Only she and I knew the real truth of how utterly repulsive I was. I was grateful to her. After my mum and dads explosive fights or whenever I had an argument with my dad, my mother would come into my room and quietly inform me that if only I could learn to be better, less argumentative, more agreeable, less difficult… then the arguments would stop. I was glad she could be honest with me and let me know all the changes I could make to improve things. Every second of every day I worked on improving. I tried with all my might, with every cell in my body I tried to be better. So the badness would stop.
I thought she was the most amazing mum ever. As I write that I am struck with this sense that inside I still do believe it. There is a part of me, desperately clinging on to the shadow of who I dreamed her to be. A part of me seems to need her to be perfect. I don’t fully understand why. It wasn’t just me who had this delusion though, everyone who met her thought she was amazing too. My friends wished she was their mum. She was cool, generous, fun loving, young hearted… to everyone else and to me in front of people. I was so grateful to her for tolerating me and not sending me to the children’s home (like she often threatened). The more I learn about childhood abuse and the more I look closely with fresh adult eyes at what things were really like, the more I realise the abuse was insidious. Camouflaged so carefully that I didn’t even know it was happening. It’s so hard to heal from something that I understood to be love. So hard to find anger where there is hopeless gratitude. It is a complicated web of confusion. What my head knows, my heart is yet to feel. I guess not all abuse feels like abuse when it’s happening. When she sat with me, telling me these things, I felt mature and loved and seen. I think that’s one of the reasons why I worry so much that I’m fucking up my kids. Because I didn’t recognise the behaviour as abuse at the time. So what if I don’t know that what I’m doing is abusive..? I’ve not been able to explain that feeling to Anna or a close friend… so I don’t know if I’m explaining it right here. It’s a big confusing mess inside. This fear that I’m just like her. My mother tricked everyone into believing she was a great mum, she tricked me… what if I’m tricking myself and everyone into believing I’m a good mum… when really I’m just like her.
Despite all of this, I love her still. I have a strong desire to protect her. All that I have written above is true yet I want to say it’s all lies. I don’t want you, reader, to hate her. I want to say, ‘she has good qualities… her smile lights up a room, she’s beautiful, she is creative and practical, she’s great in an emergency… she’s… she’s my mum and I need to love her and I need you to love her’… Why?? Is it to do with enmeshment? Is my sense of self painfully stitched to her like a voodoo doll… hurt her and you hurt me? Is that it? Or is it similar to how people can fall in love with their kidnapper…? I have a very complicated attachment with her. I hate her and I love her.
I’m going to need to wade deeper into this ocean if I’m to figure it all out. I’m hoping Anna can take me by the hand, offer me a life raft and wade in with me.