I’ve been thinking a lot about trauma – how it affects us and how it’s passed on. Trauma nearly consumed my mother and, unfortunately, it was a major trauma that led to her eventual, slow and painful death.
My mother shared her trauma with me freely. I think it’s because she wanted me to learn from it, but I also think it’s because she had never really had anyone to share her trauma with. I can’t remember how old I was the first time my mother told me she was raped. She had also been stabbed multiple times and so my tiny child brain associated rape with being stabbed. I was certainly too young to know it was a forced sex act. This wasn’t the only trauma my mother suffered but it’s certainly the one that made the largest crater in her spirit. She never got help after her attack. She went to one (maybe a couple) therapy session and walked out after the therapist kept saying “I know.” My mother shouted back, “Have you been raped, stabbed and left for dead? Then you DON’T KNOW” and walked out.
Before her attack she was abused by her first husband, whom she married after high school. It started out just emotionally but then escalated to throwing her against the wall. She eventually left him and lived in her car for 6 months.
Before her marriage she had an alcoholic and womanizing father who would hit on all her friends. He touched her once, on the breast. He said he did that just to see how she would respond, a gross test to make sure his little girl would rebuke the advances of a man.
Before that, as a child, she was molested by a cousin. I don’t know how many times it happened or which cousin it was. I never asked and mama only mentioned it once or twice to me.
After my mother’s attack, a boyfriend broke her jaw. She had to have teeth removed in order to be fed through a tube while her jaw was wired shut.
Needless to say, all of this trauma (and sexual trauma at that) weighed my mother down immensely. She tried to lose herself in drugs, booze and, ironically, men. Thus self loathing led to further self loathing which lead to further self loathing. This makes you easy prey for those looking to exploit damaged women.
I remember when I was about 3 an ex-boyfriend banging on our apartment door in the middle of the night. He was screaming for my mother to open the fucking door. Awakened by this and very rightly frightened, I ran into my mother’s room. She held me in her arms and told me not to worry. That he was just drunk and would eventually leave. I was scared but was comforted in my mother’s arms as she soothed me to sleep.
She had a boyfriend from when I was about 3 to 5 who was constantly being thrown into jail (for drugs I believe). Eventually she left him. The next guy was a closet alcoholic. She found empty alcohol bottles hidden throughout our house. When she found bottles in our car, she threw him out.
After that she mostly gave up on men and focused on me. When she first found out she was pregnant with me she decided that she was ready to be a mother and was delighted to have something she could pour all her love into – and know that that being would love her back, wouldn’t abuse her and leave her to dry. She’d given up cocaine and drinking while she was pregnant with me. She had a couple of slip ups with coke after she had me but as I remember her telling me – when I was about 2 or 3 she did a line, saw me and thought “what the fuck am I doing?” and never touched it again.
My mother always said I was an angel that was sent to save her life. Considering all the trauma she experienced, she could have been a lousy mother too busy with her own pain to ever love me. But I think it’s this pain and trauma that actually made her an incredible mother, and more importantly a resilient, warrior woman. She was living proof that love is the more powerful than anything else. It wasn’t me that saved her life. It was her love for me that saved her life. It was her will to live that saved her life over and over and over again. It was her ability to use her pain and her trauma to teach me that saved her life. It was her wisdom. Her candor. Her laugh. Her tears. Her heartache. All of it.
Now that’s not to say that I haven’t inherited the some of the negative effects of this truma. My mother couldn’t trust people, especially men. So I grew up not able to trust people, especially men. My mother had a saying, “how much is free?” She’d say this when anyone would offer a free sample, or a free gift that usually meant with purchase. But it was more than just special deals and offers. It was also her friends. My mother did hair in a salon for years but had to find more stable work to provide for us, so she then did hair on the side from home – even had a proper salon chair in our kitchen. Friends would come over to visit and then say “oh hey while I’m here, can you cut my hair?” They didn’t treat her like this was a way for her to make money, to take care of us. They treated her like a service. She hated whenever friends did this. So “how much is free” could also translate to “how much is friendship?” How much, how much, how much? Hence I grew up thinking nothing was free and that everything came at a cost.
Needless to say, my mother struggled with depression. I, in turn, learned this behaviour. I used to refer to it as my sadness, this orb-like core that lived in me and told me I was unworthy of everything (this unworthiness was of course also linked to being abandoned by my biological father but that’s another blog post). As I got older and more in control of the sadness (so much so I struggle to even say that I have depression as it’s more like a faint memory of something that once plagued my entire being) I could see how it was still plaguing my mother. I was the only thing that made her happy – that’s a lot of responsibility: the sole reason for joy in another’s life. I’ve thankfully, through the constant love and support of my husband, keep shedding this sadness because I’m determined not to pass it on.
My mother didn’t have many friends. So she relied on me for emotional support a lot. I’d comfort her when she was worried about paying rent. I started working as soon as I was 15 to relieve her of working a night job. We held each other up. And because of our hardships I had to grow up pretty fast.
Now this sounds like my upbringing was entrenched in my mother’s trauma and pain, as well as our poverty. But it wasn’t. What I remember most above all else is laughter. Our tickle fights, staying up late watching movies, making silly home videos, cuddles, camping and skiing, and cooking giant feasts. This joy is what I find most remarkable about my mother. She survived some heavy shit, but I was able to help lighten her load. Not necessarily a task appropriate for a child, but I am proud to have been able to lighten it for her. It has made me strong, resilient, wise and empathetic. I have a tendency of finding other warrior women and drawing them near – perhaps they sense their trauma or pain doesn’t scare me.
I used to tell my mother that she should write a book about her life and parenting. I thought that she could inspire people. I still struggle to fully comprehend how someone who suffered so much abuse could go on to be so loving.
So here I am continually writing about my mother. Because she’s no longer here to tell her own story, so I have to tell it for her. Because her story is my story – because she raised me on her stories. She was honest with me about the rape, the drugs, the abuse, the men, the alcohol, the pain, the anger, the fear, the loathing because she didn’t want me to suffer the same fate.
I promised myself that when my mother died I would let her trauma die with her – something that I’ve found easier said than done. I find myself obsessing over it, trying to remember every little detail that she ever told me because I need to capture all in written form somehow. So maybe her trauma will sit with me awhile longer. I think I’m starting enter a phase where I can still carry the bones of her trauma without the fear of passing it on to my children. Don’t get me wrong they’re going to hear all about their amazing grandma Diane – I’m going to teach them through her wisdom. But that’s all I’m going to give them, because they don’t need to inherit the fear and shame and depression and anxiety. Though I do hope they inherit her warrior spirit… and her laugh.