Wednesday, February 19, 2014

On a Personal Note

Recently a lot of friends of mine have been going through tough times. Many of them have been confessing what’s gone and going on with them in public forums, like blogs and Facebook.

At first, you think, oh, they want sympathy or help or something. But that’s not really the case. My friends, authors all, are doing okay -- they’ve made peace, gotten help, are pulling through. No, they are posting about the terrible times not to help themselves, but in case their words can help someone else. Show someone else suffering that there’s a light at the end of the long tunnel, if you just hold on for one more day.

So, in light of that, and in light of a life event hitting my family, here’s my story.

By the time I post this, the woman who gave birth to me, aka my mother, will be dead. But this is not a request for condolences.

As many who are close to me know, I haven’t willingly spoken to this woman for well over 25 years. Because she was, frankly, a horrible person. She mentally, emotionally, and physically abused me for the first 22 years of my life. There’s literally not a word this woman has ever said that was true. She drove her entire family away from her. She was the embodiment of the entitlement mindset. She was a paranoid schizophrenic with severe OCD and narcissistic tendencies. Untreated. When I was 5 or 6 she left me in the care of an old man, a complete stranger we’d known for 15 minutes, at a rest stop in Northern California. I’m lucky that all he did was molest me -- he could have taken me away and raped and murdered me.

And my mother? She never noticed, never asked why I was acting funny. Just suggested I go spend more time with this man and didn’t question why I refused to leave our car. Yet she loved to accuse people of wanting to molest me, not that those ever so accused did anything negative to me. She also loved to accuse people of being drug addicts or gay. Not that she ever realized who around me actually was a drug addict or was gay, they were just things to use against someone, to try to make everyone else seem less in her warped, vicious mind.

My mother was, at her core, a bully. Most abusers are bullies, after all. All the anti-bullying campaigns make me laugh a bitter laugh -- I was bullied at school and at home. I know what it’s like, and I also know that bullies don’t change and they don’t shame -- they only stop when their victim is taken away from them or shown to be stronger than they are. I was weaker than my mother until, at 22, I realized I was bigger and stronger. She realized it at the same moment I did -- when she was going to hit me just once again and, for the first time, I was going to hit back, harder, and with 22 years of anger in that hit -- and she backed down.

And even with all that, it still took all I had to get away from her. And people -- people who knew her, people who knew me -- still tried to tell me that she was my mother, so I should forgive all her sins and all the sins she did against me. I stopped speaking to those people.

Because…I can’t, and I won’t. I don’t find strength in forgiving the sinner or the sin. I find strength in fighting the sin and triumphing over the sinner. Revenge is both a dish best served cold and also best achieved by living a happy life, despite what those who sinned against you did to you.

When I first started talking about my mother, I was shocked to discover how many people would suddenly tell me that their mother, father, spouse, or sibling, had done something unforgivable to them. Many of these people had managed to forgive the sinner. But many hadn’t. And yet, I was pretty much the only one who’d cut the abuser completely out of my life. I’m not sure why I was able and willing to do this, I just know it’s the only reason I have any “me” to talk about, the only reason I’m a successful human being.

Of course, that’s only in the physical sense. The damage is there and will be there for the rest of my life. The few good things my mother did are always outweighed by the massive number of things she did to me, and to others, that were terrible.

My nightmares tend to center on her house. My demons are all the demons she gave me. The things about myself that embarrass me come from her as well, usually because she told me I should be embarrassed. My fears come from what she did to me, said to me, said about me.

I’m an adult now -- do I blame her for all of my mistakes? No. But I give her none of the credit for any of my successes, either.

And yet…all this turned me into someone who is empathetic, supports the underdogs, and tries to protect the weak and innocent. I’ve asked “what if” so many times. All of my life, really. But I come back to the conclusion I had even before I saw "Star Trek 5" -- I need my pain; my pain makes me who I am. (Truly William Shatner’s finest dramatic performance, as far as I’m concerned.) And you know what? I’m damned happy with who I am.

I have a successful marriage to a wonderful man who, out of all the people out there, never tried to make me forgive my mother. We have a fantastic daughter who makes us proud and happy every day. My in-laws and extended family are great, I have a Mom in my mother-in-law, and I’ve found surrogate mothers all along my life’s path, including the one I proudly introduce as my Mum to everyone we meet. And I’ve had two successful careers -- one in marketing and one as an author.

And that’s why I’m sharing this. Not to say poor, poor pitiful me, nor to ask for sympathy, condolences, or anything like that. I’m writing because I know that somewhere out there are a lot of people who were like me -- trapped by an abuser, not safe at home, belittled, told they’re worthless and only exist to serve the bully. And I’m here to tell you that it’s a lie -- you are not there for them and you owe them nothing. None of us asked to be born, and we owe people nothing for our births. We owe the world the best of us, but we owe our abusers nothing but our contempt and our success away from them.

You can survive anything they throw at you because the secret they never want you to discover is that you’re stronger than them. If you find strength in forgiveness, then forgive. If, however, you find your strength in the anger and the unwillingness to forgive, then hold onto that. Hold onto whatever helps get you away, makes you strong, keeps you stronger. Don’t let them turn you into a carbon copy of themselves -- forge your own path and keep the demons they gave you right in front of you, so you can recognize them and fight them, instead of turning those demons onto someone else.

Of course, since we’re supposed to not speak ill of the dead (too late) and because no one is completely worthless or evil, I can admit that my mother did give me something. She gave me the storytelling gene. When you’re raised by a woman who lies like she breathes, you learn how to spin a few stories yourself. And learning to lie to a master means that, ultimately, you become a master yourself.

I always thought I’d laugh and cheer the day she died. I knew I wouldn’t cry, unless they were tears of joy and relief. But as this time comes, I find that I’m quoting from one of the few good things she gave me -- tickets to see “A Chorus Line” live.

I feel nothing.

And that, honestly, is the best thing I’ve ever felt about my mother.

Gini

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16 Comments:

Anonymous Laura said...

Thank you for speaking out Gini! And let me tell you, as one who has never forgiven my abuser and who made the decision to cut him out of my life 24 years ago, I have never regretted the decision! Just because someone is blood does not mean they automatically deserve your love. I agree...bullies don't change!

Laura

February 19, 2014 at 1:34 PM  
Blogger Gini Koch said...

Thanks, Laura and many {HUGS} to you! Bullies DON'T change -- we just have to find that we're stronger and never give up, never surrender.

February 19, 2014 at 1:37 PM  
Blogger Joe Iriarte said...

Reminds me of my mother, who was/is (?) psychotic (not hyperbole; a literal diagnosis), and whom I cut out of my life fifteen years or so ago. And yeah, I don't generally tell people that I cut off all contact with her, that she's never met my kids (Oh hell to the no!), and that my sympathy for the bad turns her life has taken since I last saw her is close to nil. Because that's when people start with the morality plays about how your mother deserves your love no matter what.

I get you on the story-telling gene too. I'm such an odd-duck in my family--certainly being a writer is the last thing anybody would have expected. Maybe there's something about my upbringing that made me want to explore emotion in art, and made me find escape and catharsis there too.

Every once in a while some do-gooder finds my mother in Miami, gets it into their head that they can fix her life with their fifteen minutes of involvement, does some internet PI-ing, and calls me out of the blue. Do I want to be reunited with her. Do I want to go spend my money on setting her up with better living conditions. Do I want to take her in. My most unrecognized virtue is not giving these people the F-Off they so richly deserve. So yeah, I totally get where you're coming from. Good for you for acknowledging that we don't owe our abusers anything. (And the existence of a diagnosis does not compel forgiveness; you can battle your demons without abusing anybody. I have.)

February 19, 2014 at 2:39 PM  
Blogger Gini Koch said...

Exactly, Joe. EXACTLY. Literally, my rule was -- you try to "reunite me" with my mother, you're dead to me forever.

My grandmothers -- her mother and stepmother -- wanted my mother kept as far away from me as possible the moment I was able to break free. They were wonderful, and abused by my mother as well, and I figured if the woman who birthed her said, "Stay away," the rest of the world could take a hint.

And I also agree that the diagnosis does not immediately demand forgiveness, especially when said diagnosee is gleefully using said diagnosis to absolve themselves of all guilt or responsibility.

We could go on. Next time you're here or I'm there, we'll have a drink and congratulate each other on our escapes. :-D

February 19, 2014 at 4:53 PM  
Blogger Lynn Crain said...

Ah, Gini, sending hugs your way. Not because your biological mother died, good riddance is more like it, but because you need them for baring a part of your soul. In most situations the abuser does win just like you stated. It's only living the good life that you know you have risen far above the drivel they tried to make you believe. I am only thankful that you learned from her lies how to weave the most fantastic stories.

My own mother would try to twist the occasional mental knife but I learned early on how to defend against it. A trait she taught me. And when I did live with an abuser for a short while, I knew that I was better than the situation and left it quickly.

Survival is an ingrained trait and should take precedent but some just can't seem to break away. I have to agree with you...they tell lies meant to entrap you...and you owe them nothing.

I am like you and my strength comes from anger. I don't need to look at it often but when I do I know it has helped me to forge my own path and keep me on the straight and narrow. I also have learned when to tell family to stay away and mean it. Nobody deserves the nasty me because that would make me into the people I deplore.

Again, thank you for sharing. You are one strong lady and I adore you more each day because you are a great friend.

February 20, 2014 at 2:09 AM  
Anonymous Linda said...

Hugs my friend.. As you stated, you have a wonderful family and friends who love you.. You are a remarkable person and one of the most compassionate people I know.. I have a wonderful mom and aside from a horrible 4th grade year when I was bullied everyday.. I had a great childhood.. I don't know that I would have made it through with as open a heart as you have.. You can tell I am not a writer lol and if this is expressed badly please excuse.. I have met some of the people that are drawn to and surround you, All that I have met have seemed loving ,friendly and down to earth folk.. I teared up as I read your post and this one line from a song went through my head.. (with one word changed) God bless the broken road which led us straight to you! Love ya my friend.

February 20, 2014 at 4:25 AM  
Blogger Gini Koch said...

Lynn, yeah, I get tired of those who can find peace in forgiveness trying to make those of us who can't toe their line. We're all different, and it's what works for YOU that matters. Love you, babe!

Linda, you're awesome, and thanks so much. And I thought it was expressed beautifully. Love you, hon!

February 20, 2014 at 3:03 PM  
Anonymous cwyrm said...

I believe that...... If you love someone, you don't try to cause them grief or pain. And, friends don't make friends feel bad over very personal and private decisions. You do what you have to do to protect yourself and your family.

February 21, 2014 at 9:23 PM  
Blogger Gini Koch said...

Indeed cwyrm, indeed. And yet, people dump guilt onto others all the time. But we shall overcome and persevere. :-D {HUGS}

February 21, 2014 at 11:25 PM  
Blogger Carolyne Kleinman said...

Gini,

It took nearly hitting a school bus full of kids in the midst of a PTSD inspired fugue for me to finally deal with the "zombie in the closet" AKA my mother. There's a good chance that we came from the same generation of mothers that were all about appearance over substance, and as a result, seriously screwed over their offspring.

The only joy to come with the debris of the mother/daughter relationship came when I blogged it myself here: http://mamacees.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/learning-healthy-rage/

I am still recovering, a bit of a twist altho'- My body decided to play "Trick or Treat" a bit early this year and bless my existence with the bursting of a cerebral aneurysm heretofor unknown, and I got the scare of a lifetime when they found a brain tumor, too.

The "HEA" of all of this is that the tumor disappeared as quickly as it showed up, and all the brain bleed healed with time....so save for some short term memory loss - I'm here. Of course, I'll never be able to do the high function accounting work I used to do, but the stress was killer anyway. Besides, was as pathetic as the Everready Bunny when he died - someone put his batteries in backwards and he kept coming and coming and coming.....

Isn't it strange that we grow too soon old and too late wise?

Gentle Hugs,

Carolyne/Asnee

February 22, 2014 at 7:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No excuses for Gini's bio Mom. And I'm proud every time she introduces me as her Mum.

Smooches, kiddo.

Mumsy

February 22, 2014 at 5:21 PM  
Blogger Gini Koch said...

Carolyne, so glad you're still with us, babe. Surviving and living well remains the best revenge. Many {HUGS}

Love you, Mumsy. {HUGS} and *smootchies*

February 22, 2014 at 10:02 PM  
Blogger bfree2read said...

Thank you for writing this. I haven't been in this situation but have had friends who were and told them it was okay to walk away. That they had to take care of themselves first and owed nothing to those who abused them. Sadly it was a rare, brave soul who could walk away before more damage. Perhaps your post will help someone out there to make their own decision to walk away and live.

March 4, 2014 at 3:37 PM  
Blogger Gini Koch said...

Thanks, I hope so. And most of us can't walk away for a long time, so there's plenty of damage. But we do persevere. It was truly proof that the adage that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger is true.

March 6, 2014 at 9:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, Gini i just want to give you a big hug! I do not have the kind of bio-mom you have but grew up never being enough, not smart enough, pretty enough, fast enough, talented enough surrounded by sisters who were. I was bitter and angry for so long and altho, I would not call it forgivness, because that won't ever happen, I came to a point where I acknowledged that my parents were wack! and they don't matter to me. They are not part of my life and that's great with me. I hardly ever think of them and live my life in spite of them. People often say that forgivness is more for yourself than for the person who hurt you that seems trite, what helps me the most is not letting them controle even a small part of my life they cease to exist in my world because they just don't matter to me. I consider it my victory. Thanks for letting me vent.
Theresa

March 14, 2014 at 9:46 AM  
Blogger Gini Koch said...

Theresa, emotional abuse lasts longer than physical, so good for you for overcoming all of that. YOU are great exactly as you are and kudos to you for breaking free. {HUGS}

April 3, 2014 at 12:28 AM  

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