Mother’s Day

It seems fitting that on today, Mother’s Day, I write a post about my mother. Mother’s Day is one of the many days throughout the year, meant to bring family together in celebration – even if that family spends most of the time on social media or squaring off in heated or silent family squabbles. Yes, yes, I acknowledge that some holidays were created by greeting card companies for the sole purpose of monetary gain. That doesn’t erase the fact that on these days, families regularly make pilgrimage to come together to honor, thank or celebrate the person(s) who mothered and fathered them.

While both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are painful for me, Mother’s Day is markedly the most painful. There is something almost sacred about the relationship between mothers and daughters. Mother’s Day is an annual reminder that my mother dishonored that bond, almost as soon as I was born. More importantly, the day is a constant reminder that I didn’t have the kind of mother I deserved. I deserved better.

I wasn’t the only child my mother failed. My older sister and I share both parents.  We lived together less than a year before our dad petitioned the court for separation from our mother. The [actual] petition to the court, claims that our mother failed to fulfill her wifely duties, including sewing and keeping house. It goes on to say that neighbors told our dad that she was entertaining another man during the day, while he was away working. And when he confronted her, she said she wasn’t going to stop and there wasn’t anything he could do about it. When a divorce was finally granted – it was done so in his favor. Our mother got custody of me, our dad got custody of my sister, and they both had unstructured, shared cross-visitation. What I’ve read in these documents, provided entirely by my sister, is not the story I got when I was growing up.

When I was 6 our mother remarried. She and her new husband moved to Dallas, with me in tow. She told everyone in Dallas that she had one daughter, me. I corrected her the first few times I heard the error. But quickly learned that it’s ok to lie, if it benefits you and doesn’t hurt others. We saw each other less than ~6 times during our childhood school days.  As a consequence, my sister and I never bonded. Hurt and resentment developed; my mother, her dad, our step-dad. The grass is always greener, isn’t it?

I was ~31 when I entered Trauma Therapy. As the Therapist and I walked through my life in a chronological fashion, I began to see events, but most importantly – people, more objectively. I didn’t know what a ‘normal’ family was. But I suspected mine didn’t qualify. I wasn’t wrong.

As a child, I spent thousands of hours observing my mother’s behavior. Trying to predict, trying to avoid, trying to stop the next eruption of hurtfulness. I did occasionally see glimpses of hope, usually in the form of special gifts or outings. But I quickly learned that these things came with strings. They solidified alliances and assured compliance. As I aged, my mother used IOUs as leverage and control over my life. They gave her the right to say and do anything to me and my children – without penalty.

There’s a difference between being a mother and mothering. My mother gave birth to me. My mother harmed me and put me in harm’s way. She either didn’t notice or she looked the other way. And when I tried to tell her, she wouldn’t acknowledge anything. She made no effort to put me first. To her, if she wasn’t the one being harmed, it didn’t happen or it shouldn’t be worried about. And if it wasn’t about her it wasn’t worth remembering.

What I never saw or felt was true warmth, unconditional love, and acceptance. I never felt like she had my back. Not even once.  It’s not that she didn’t try. It just wasn’t in her. So my mother clearly didn’t mother. Her lack of mothering has had a major impact on my life and my emotional health. The same truth holds true for my sister. I’ve been officially diagnosed (3 times) with Complex-PTSD from Childhood Trauma.  That trauma extended until the time I went NO CONTACT with my mother. I was 46 years old. It’s no secret where my issues come from. My sister is Bipolar. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like for my sister to be repeatedly left behind by my mother, and then not mothered at all.

Oh wait, I can.

On Mother’s Day, I mourn the idea of the mother I deserved to have – but didn’t. I mourn for my mother, who will never truly experience what it’s like to be selfless for either of her daughters, her grand-daughters, and her great-grand-daughters. But I do not mourn her absence in my life. These last 8 years have given me the opportunity to truly define who I am as a person and as a woman. I celebrate and thank her for that. And I thank her for giving me life.

On Mother’s Day, I honor my mother-in-law. June was the closest thing to a mother I’ve ever had. She gave me a hard time about the difficult relationship I had with my mother. But 5 minutes after she actually met my mother, June pulled me aside and quietly said, “You poor thing. I’m so sorry about your mother. I’ll be your mother from now on”. And she truly was my mother from that day forward. She mothered me and my children. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her, celebrate her love, and mourn her passing.

Happy Mother’s Day Dr. June Ross

I Used To Be Big

I used to be big. Really big. 399# big. My fat was created over several decades, after a lifetime of abuse and hurts. And there were plenty of hurts: emotional, physical, and verbal. And neglect. The violence included rapes, threats at gunpoint, strong-arming,  and screaming. Lots of screaming. Neglect was medical, emotional, and physical. There were silent treatments, cruel and sadistic “jokes”, always at my expense. And there was purposeful devaluation of my feelings, strengths, looks, and worth to myself and others. The very people who I should have been able to count on to protect me, were the people who did all these things (but the rapes).

I began to gain weight after exploratory surgery turned into a total hysterectomy. I was 25. My (now) ex-husband, who had no idea the emotional impact such a thing might cause, could only mutter his displeasure concerning the expense. I’d heard the same complaints during two high-risk pregnancies, two c-sections, and the hospital stays that were required to provide him with two children. My health didn’t matter to him, only the bottom line and the avoidance of having an only child. I blamed the weight gain on the sudden hormonal changes, stress from not having the proper support from family, and the fat-laden diet my husband craved. It was cheap and tasted good.

As my marriage crumbled around me, my mother’s marriage did the same. Both men worked in the same office. And both men preferred to go home to other women. Women who also worked in the same office.

My ex-husband blamed the failure of our marriage on me and I blamed it on him. Now that years have passed, I know that it’s much simpler than that: we didn’t have what the other needed. Our marriage was going to fail no matter what. I needed someone who was patient and made me feel safe and secure. He needed someone older and experienced in life (like himself), independent and confident. We weren’t any of those things for one another. And while I wanted to make it work, no matter the cost, he knew enough was enough.

My mother had a different stance on her failed marriage. Despite being a good kid, being constantly controlled by her, marrying because she wanted me married, and doing/feeling/being most everything she ever asked (even if it hurt me), she blamed her failed marriage on me. “If you’d been a better child, the marriage would have lasted longer.” “You were a difficult child.”  “Things would have been better without a child. He didn’t want any.” She said these things and more, as I sat across from her in the booth at a local Furr’s Cafeteria. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I stuffed the fork in my mouth. I stuffed my emotions down as well.

As a child I’d been trained to suppress my feelings (they didn’t count and no one cared about them). Crying only brought punishment, so I tried my best not to do it. Now that my parent’s daily control and enforcement was gone, my emotions were out of control. I didn’t know what to do with them – they were foreign to me. Stuffing them back down was my way of surviving the Thursday mother-daughter lunch my mother demanded of me. My small children and I were a captive audience to a booster shot of weekly vitriol, as she controlled everything, including the transportation. If there was a way to exact more control over me, she took advantage of it. And I had to sit and quietly take it.

As I gained more independence from my parents and ex-husband, more emotions bubbled up, and the numbers on the scale crept upwards. Eventually I began a relationship with my (current) husband and sought counseling. During the following years, my step-father melted away from my life just like butter, reinforcing my mother’s words – he didn’t love or want me. This negative self-talk was my constant companion. It clouded all my relationships and made the process of developing my own sense of self, and trusting others, all the more difficult.

Eventually I was diagnosed with C-PTSD from Childhood Trauma and Ongoing Abuse. This was real abuse. I hadn’t imagined it. I didn’t have unrealistic expectations of my parents at any age. And finally, there wasn’t anything wrong with me that wasn’t a by-product of decades of abusive. But those decades had taken their toll and it would take decades more to disbelieve what had been drilled into my head from the very beginning of my life. “You are unloved.” “No one wants you.” “No one cares about you.” “You are a dummy.” “You are worthless.” Intellectually I knew these things were untrue. But I’d heard them enough that on an emotional level, I believed every word. During therapy we brought painful emotions to the surface to deal with them. Later in the day, I responded by stuffing them back down with food.

I learned a lot during my first decade of therapy. Though I was told my mother wasn’t capable of loving me, I kept trying. Every time she did something terribly egregious, we’d have a cooling off period. But she’d return. She needed to control or verbally batter something and that something was often me. Eventually her abuse turned toward my children and husband. I asked for joint counseling, and she denied the request. “I’ve never done anything, to anyone, EVER, that I need to apologize for.” and “If I go to counseling, they’ll just say it’s all my fault and I don’t need that”.  I loved my mother. But it was when she made these two statements that I realized I needed to finally let her go. It was one of the hardest decisions I’d ever made. I mourned the loss. But not of her. I mourned the loss of the possibility, or idea, of the mother I should I have had. The mother I deserved and didn’t get. Most people don’t get perfect parents. Parents don’t get an instruction manual and their childhood experience often dictates their parenting abilities, or lack thereof. Some parents (including myself) strive to at least raise the bar some. My parents made no such efforts. I weighed 399# when I finally came to accept these truths.

Around the same time I was diagnosed with a progressive neuromuscular disease. For three (3) years I sat around and felt sorry for myself. My career was gone and any self-esteem I had went with it. My  Cardiologist warned that I was heading towards heart failure and would be in a nursing home in the next few years. She suggested gastric bypass surgery. But my Neurologist cautioned that the disease complicated anesthesia – so I should avoid surgery.  I managed to lose a little weight on my own, but not enough. I weighed 354#.

Two and a half years ago my Cardiologist announced that I was in the earliest stage of Congestive Heart Failure and had major Atrial Fibrillation issues and might need a pacemaker. I already had most of the usual co-morbidities that accompany super morbid obesity. I needed to “lose the weight yesterday”. But getting a Surgeon to operate on someone with my condition was challenging – most wouldn’t even see me for a consult. It took six months to finally find someone who accepted the challenge. The Surgeon quickly suggested we do an endoscopy under general anesthesia, to see how my body reacted. And things went well, but the Surgeon managed to find “Timmy the Tummy Tumor”.

Two (2) years ago (on 6 February 2015) I weighed 368# when my husband and I checked into the Surgical Registration desk. It was time to evict Timmy and have gastric bypass surgery. My husband waited alone, our grown kids (my only family) had better things to do with their time. I came out of surgery with more surgery done than planned, and I’d suffered a stroke in the left prefrontal lobe. When I left the hospital I went to a nursing home for care – the very place I’d hoped to avoid. That lasted all of two days, once we found out they really didn’t have a post-surgical care unit. At one point I pulled myself along the floor (with my left side) to the bathroom – they couldn’t be bothered to help me relieve myself.  They gave me the wrong meds, failed to care for multiple surgical drains, failed to care for the right side of my body – which was paralyzed. My husband rode in like a prince on a white horse, saving me. He raised his voice to administrators, made demands of staff, people were fired – that was the first time in our 25 years that I’d heard him raise his voice that loud. I’ve never been so proud and thankful. Later, I asked why he hadn’t backed me up like that before. “Because you do a pretty good job of doing that already. You don’t need me to get in the way.” he replied. I’d come a long way.

During my recovery at home (over the next seven months) it was just the two of us. My husband worked about a mile away. I had Physical Therapy at the local hospital, and my husband took on all the other care duties. It was, and still is, a lot for him to do alone. We have grown children in the area. One travels and the other lives less than two hours away. We heard the usual “Give us a call if you need anything” and actually did call once. But no one came. So we became a self-sufficient team of two.

Eventually I regained the use of my right side.  But 100% recovery wasn’t possible – a hard pill to swallow. My husband, friends, and therapist were my constant calming and supportive source of strength. There were times when I didn’t recognize the woman staring back at me in the mirror. As the weight disappeared, I felt more vulnerable and lost. I didn’t know how to be a woman. I knew how to hide my body, but not how to wear clothes I liked and feel confident in them. I didn’t even know what kind of clothes I liked.

A year after surgery, my family (the kids) saw me in a just-above-the-knee sundress. I hadn’t worn a dress in over 20 years and the kids hadn’t seen me in months, much less in anything that revealed skin. I’d cleared the dress with my Therapist, making sure it was age appropriate and not too revealing.   I asked my daughter what she thought. “You wouldn’t catch me in a dress that short” she snipped back. Not the supportive answer I’d hoped for. On the drive home I asked my husband, who had heard the conversation, if I was being overly sensitive to her comment. “No, and I think you looked great” he answered as he smiled.

It had been tough to put that dress on, go out in public, let my ex-husband and his family  (who had hurt me) see me (when I was feeling vulnerable), and still feel good about myself. I counted it as a win and bought three more dresses!

Today, two years post-op, I weigh 192.8#. I’ve lost 88% of my excess weight. I’ve got 17.8# to go until I’m at my ideal body weight. And although it isn’t easy running on less than 1000 calories a day, and it’s created some really scary health situations, I don’t regret having surgery. It gave me more time to connect with old friends and build deeper connections with everyone. It weeded out the riff-raff. And it gave me the strength and confidence to finally say exactly what I think and feel. That feels especially good.

Last Friday my GI Specialist said “At least it got you two more years. I’m concerned you won’t make three”. The current situation is malabsorption – I’m not absorbing enough vitamins or calories. Weight loss typically ends between 18-24 months. I’m at 24 months and mine isn’t slowing down, it’s speeding up. I’m absorbing less than my body needs to survive. This is a life threatening slippery slope, as the deficit increases as time passes. So we need to nip it in the bud. Otherwise it’s “Not compatible with life”. Those are the specialists words, not mine.

And yesterday I found out my blood pressure is so low that I need additional cardiac testing. Yippee – not.

I’m sharing this with you because the very people who should have loved and cared for me the most, just didn’t. They were my family. When they were gone, there was only my husband, myself, our two grown kids, and our dogs. Our children flutter in and out of our lives – mostly out, oblivious to the daily stress and rigors of keeping me alive. Not aware of recent news that time may finally be running out.

I have two wins in my column (1) my husband – best decision EVER, (2) I don’t stuff my emotions down my pie hole anymore. I deal with them like an adult. I stand up for myself. I say NO MORE!

Today begins my second year of open, honest, and harsh truths. So get ready for it.

I used to be big.

Moving Forward

So I did it. Did you notice? The blog is in the middle of a make-over. But the biggest thing I did was remove my blog posts and all your comments from the past 2 years.

How’s it feel?

It’s January. This is the time of the year when we’re all expected to simply leave the past behind and move forward into the future. It sounds so simple. But in reality there’s really more to it than that, right? Because the past is an integral part of who we are. That’s true for everyone, some more than others.

When I removed my posts I backed them up to my server – it felt good. And safe. Some of those posts – truths that were hard to tell – will find their way into a book one day. So I don’t feel as if I’ve lost anything. But your comments, brilliant as they all were, have simply vanished. Those I will miss. They gave me comfort and support when I needed it. Thank you.

We each put so much of ourselves into what we do. So when someone, someone who hasn’t been through what I’ve been through or what many of you have been through, comes along in January and tells me to “Let go of the past”, I want to scream back “I’m trying, but my past won’t let go of me”! Then I’d like to grab my Nerf gun and let her rip. A girl can dream.

It was time for new and fresh. I get that. It’s a bit uncomfortable but I’ll get used to it. In the meantime, I challenge each of you to come up with creative ways to respond to those “Move On” comments. We hear them year ’round. But January is the worst.

How about we celebrate the fact that we made it another year; that we survived the holidays with relatives we don’t care for – and no one died?!?  Some of us also survived spoiled grandkids, ungrateful children, long lines, and horrid parking lots. Many spent money they didn’t have. Isn’t that enough? Do we really need to follow that up with working harder, accomplishing more with less, and starving ourselves just to lose 10 pounds? And we should also just “Forget about the past”.

If you simply forget about the past, you’ll lose part of yourself. Just like you lost the comments you made here over the past 2 years.

As for me, I’m trying to let go of nightmares of the past. It’d be a lot easier if they would let go of me.