After posting the piece about the first time I spoke trauma’s name, (see: The Telling) many quietly told me about stories of fear, sadness and even anger towards my mother. You wondered if the world of our relationship had fallen a part.
For most of my life, I felt fairly certain I would not be able to embrace my truth until I had outlived most of my family. I have come to realize I would have cheated myself the opportunity to lean in and continue to grow, even if it did not turn out well……
This past fall, my mother lost her best friend and it led her to circle back to ask the question just one more time as to why our relationship struggled. I tried the typical bull shit, pat-pat answer.
Now that I have become clearer about my values, authenticity beckoned me to not armor up with petty lies and silly magic to distract from the truth. Even then, I did not give her the full answer, in part, because I had become so dishonest with myself I had forgotten the real reason for my lack of trust and distance.
Then as I remembered, I felt free for the first time to tell you about my story, one I had written many years ago. I also began a brand new conversation with her, one that did not attempt to distract or pretend. What continues to astonish me (and you should really wonder why it does) is that I believe I’ve seen around many dark, emotional corners….then, when I breathe, lean in and show up- I mean really show up- light makes its way through my blurry, stumbly darkness.
Rather than a bitter end, my posting the story was a new beginning. One that continues to unfold in meaningful ways. Today, I give gratitude to my mother for reading my letter, telling me she understood and sharing in my sorrow and allowing us to both heal a cancer that I thought would never end. It unfolds every day and I grow towards joy.
Here is what I wrote:
Recently, the loss of your best friend sparked you to ask me a very hard question. One that I honestly was not prepared for. You told me about the underlying feelings of distance and pushing away that you experience in most of our conversations. Although there are many reasons and some are not about me, I stopped and for the first time in our adult lives, answered you.
Our relationship is complicated and it has been since I was a little girl. When you silenced yourself about the sexual abuse I endured, you silenced us both. The shame I experienced was at times insurmountable and I can recall several occasions where I either attempted or wished to take my life. I believe the pain and shame grew rapidly until I left for college and finally got help. A close friend at home had taken his life and my closest friend in college temporarily left after attempting to take his own. He told me then, “Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying.”
In truth, until we had this conversation, there was still a part of me dying. I still wanted to blame you and got some satisfaction out of keeping you the villain in my life. I wanted to discredit all of the beautiful things you do for me, my family and people around you that you love. I have wanted to make you hurt the way you made me hurt when my abuse was buried.
Today, although I will never agree with your past decisions, I understand and I forgive you.
As a therapist, I have witnessed many mothers experience intense grief when they learn of their children’s sexual abuse. The pain seems too excruciating to bear and given their lack of skill in coping with daily life issues, it is no wonder that this type of pain is avoided. Many swim in such denial they are not even able to see how their behavior is impacting their child trying to work through the abuse.
I wish you were there for me then, Mom. I wish I allowed you to be there for me. The abuse has taken away so much of our relationship and I am ready for it to stop now. I am ready to talk with you in a more honest way and let you know how what you say is impacting me, whether negative or positive.
You have the kindest heart and go out of your way to be gentle and kind to people that so many have forgotten. I know sometimes you give of yourself in the hopes of being liked yourself. We have even argued over you giving too much stuff, possibly in the hopes of making me believe that you do love me.
In other words, the unspoken big FAT pink Elephant in the room has been the sexual abuse. I believe there are things that have not been said, by both of us. For me, I am ready to talk about it openly with you in the hopes that it can stop ruining the relationship that we could have with one another. I realize now there are other things in our relationship that I dislike, but I have not clearly told you that I want it to change because I kept the barrier of the abuse between us.
You were not the person who sexually abused me so I imagine, at times, it is confusing that I have worked through the abuse and let go of being angry with my step-brother, but not you. I needed you to be the person that protected me. I still need that now, just in different ways. I need to know that if the shit hits the fan, you will not hide or pretend there’s nothing wrong. I know it is excruciating to remain present when we feel raw and vulnerable. But together- we can do hard things. We just have no idea what life will bring us and I need to be able to share the joy as well as the sorrow.
Mom- I am scared. I am afraid that if I open myself up and it gets scarey for you- you will hide again. I am afraid of being hurt like I was the day I told you about the abuse. Even so, I will tell myself the same thing I have since my early twenties- ‘The worst thing that could ever happen, has already happened.’ Then, I am going to breathe, lean in and be present with you. Sometimes you may not like what I have to say. You may not appreciate me telling you to stop something, but I commit to you that I want the same kind of relationship you want. Right now, in this moment, I am not going to allow the sexual abuse I went through to take anymore time away from our relationship.
In truth, I have blamed many other things on why our relationship has been difficult. Perhaps you do not want to emphasize the abuse either. But, there was the truth- sitting on my tongue the day you asked me about why I am so distant. Even then, all I could tell you that it was “complicated”. The sexual abuse has created a lens in which I view life and I thought I had stopped using it to hurt myself, but I have continued with you and I am ready for that to end now.
Know that I love you and I believe we can change. I hope you will be willing to change with me. I hope you will be patient and remain present. Being vulnerable is our strength.
With Love, Your Daughter.