Using writing, and meditation, and ice cream, and reading, and dreams,

and a whole lot of other tools to rediscover who I am,

after six years living with a man with OCPD.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Don't Pity Me Because I'm Motherless

The very worst thing that has ever happened in my life was on the eve of my tenth birthday, when my mother died of breast cancer, screaming in pain. 

Image via Trostan at Flickr
 Mind you, I can now conceive of even worse things.  It could have been my child.  I hope and pray it never is.

And from what I'm told, my mother actually "passed" peacefully.  The severe pain occurred about thirty minutes before she died, and after that there was a lull, a peaceful period, and then she went quietly.  I had been sent to bed for the night, long before, so I was lying in bed - in her bed, actually, the one with the cross-stitched bedspread her mother had made ( my parents had twin beds, a la Ricky and Lucy,) in the farthest bedroom from the living room where her hospital bed was set up.  When I heard her scream - and I don't know how long that went on, could have been a minute or two, could have been five, seemed like forever - I was terrified.  Part of me wanted to run out there and be with her, and part of me was too scared.  I didn't want to know; maybe if I stayed in bed, it would all turn out to have been a bad dream.

I wet the bed that night. 

And in the morning, when I awoke on the morning of my tenth birthday, they never scolded me about wetting the bed - a big girl like me!  My father and grandmother - Momma's mother - told me that my mother had died.  Her hospital bed was empty, her corpse having been taken to wherever it is that they take bodies that have been donated for scientific research.  Because even in death, my mom wanted to help others.  Perhaps even her own daughters.  Maybe some day I, too, will have breast cancer, and possibly because of something they learned from looking at what the disease did to my mom, I will be able to survive while she didn't.

Okay.  Some heavy duty sh-t there.

But here's the thing - I don't want - never have wanted - pity and sympathy.  Oh, maybe a little.  But my mother's death always made me feel weird, and different, so I rarely told the story, and always tried to pretend it didn't affect me that much.  As if!

Until my sister gave me a copy of Hope Edelman's Motherless Daughters, I thought I was the sole weirdo.  I didn't understand that what I felt is something that is common to all unmothered daughters (and often sons, too) who have lost a mother to death.  To abandonment.  To mental illness, where maybe the body is present, but the mind and soul have gone on walkabout, as the Aussies would say.  We don't have a real mother, a Leave-It-To-Beaver mother (like we imagine everyone else does,) but this weird, scary situation.

And what we need, all of us, isn't pityIsn't someone saying, oh, you poor, poor thing!  (My Grandma used to say it about me, and every time she did, I got this mental image of myself with a big hump on my back like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.  Not that I am bagging on people with hunched backs, okay?!)

What we need, and crave, is understanding how this has affected our lives, the ways it has skewed out thinking, the partners we have chosen (or avoided!)

As I pick apart this relationship with my OCPD b-f, I am seeing more and more how he fulfilled many of my (subconscious) needs.

B-f, too, lost his mother right around his birthday; in fact, that (plus some scarily accurate dreams about him) was the catalyst that spurred me to get back in touch with him, after I got this news through the grapevine.  While I was certainly sympathetic, and could relate on many levels to the pain he was suffering, I think there was on the subconscious level an awareness/hope that now I had somebody to talk to, someone who could truly relate.  (One of my previous closest romantic and then friendship relationships was with someone whose father had kidnapped him and his sister from their possibly BPD mother at a young age, so he'd also experienced mother loss at a young age.)  

I thought b-f  would understand how crazy it felt to lose a mom on or near one's birthday, the whole steeling oneself against well-meant salutations every year that sometimes brought me to the verge of tears.  I could save him (and thus, I could save myself.)

Then, too, b-f was much like my NPD father in many of his behaviors, right down to being an alcoholic with vodka as his poison of choice.  So now I could re-enact that relationship, too, and this time, he would give a flying fart about me, unlike Daddy Dearest!  With his OCPD behaviors in sleep mode, during the courtship, until we moved in together... no wonder I thought I'd hit the jackpot with b-f.  It was like my reward for all the years of being alone, for putting my offspring first... now it was my turn to be nurtured and understood.

And then the happy love hormones wore off and I was left with an angry (seeming, anyway,) hostile b-f who neither understood me and the deep emotional scars from losing my mother, nor seemed inclined to be any more loving to me than my own father had been.  More like pouring salt in my emotional wounds, and using my emotional weaknesses against me.  Criticizing everything I did, said, ate, and didn't say, do, or eat.

Boy, did I miss the boat on that one!  (Speaking of missing the boat, this was supposed to be a book review!)

So, now that I have gotten myself semi-out of the relationship, I'm fighting to understand why I got into it into the first place, and why I am having such trouble extricating myself.  To that end, I'm rereading this book and listening again to Warming the Stone Child, because while I felt like I had learned some invaluable lessons from them, lo these twenty years ago, obviously I need  a refresher.

So I'm going through Motherless Daughters again, and it is helping me.  Once again.  All the lessons I'd already learned but managed to forget. 

To those of you readers who had an - lets say, uneven - upbringing, to those who are now struggling to deal with a mother with OCPD or another PD, or a partner with one, let me say, I think this book would be an invaluable resource for you.

From Chapter One, The Seasons of Grieving:
A daughter who loses a mother does pass through stages of denial, anger, confusion and reorientation, but these responses cycle back on themselves as each new developmental task awakens her need for the parent.  Say a girl of thirteen loses her mother to a heart attack.  In the midst of the initial shock and numbness, she grieves to the best of her ability at that time.  But five years later, at her high school graduation, she may find herself painfully missing her mother and grieving all over again.  Years after this episode she may be back in the mourner's role again, when she plans her wedding, or gives birth to her first child, or gets diagnosed with a serious illness, or reaches the age at which her mother died.  At each milestone a daughter comes up against new challenges she's frightened to face without a mother's support, but when she reaches out for her, the mother isn't there.  The daughter's feelings of loss and abandonment return, and the cycle begins again.
Yep, time for me to do more emotional homework.  Another grief cycle needs me to work through it.

Losing a mother may be due to actual, physical death,  But it can also be due to a mother who is not emotionally there for you - whether she's boogied off with her newest boyfriend, or whether she is physically present in the home, but gone, emotionally.  (As in, gone due to OCPD, BP, NPD, BPD, depression, or other mental illness.)

From the chapter Cause and Effect:
An abandoned daughter is left feeling angry, resentful, and sad.  She also has the emotional injury of having been given up, put aside, left, or lost.  The question "why did she leave?" always includes the appendix "me." 
Every time I read that, I feel a sharp pang in my heart.  Even though I know my mom would have stayed if she could.

 From the chapter Daddy's Little Girl:
... Jane says she fears relying on a partner, yet longs for a relationship with someone who will care for her.  "I attract every wimp and his brother, " she says.  "But I was never mothered, and I never had children.  I feel like saying to some men, 'You want to be mothered?  F-ck you! I don't want to be anybody's mother.'  I find all these men who want mommies, but I want them to be my father.  I want somebody who'll come home and take care of me."
Jane's sentiments here are very close to my own.  I didn't know about OCPD then, but I knew I was tired of taking care of myself, of not having someone to fuss over me.  When b-f fussed over me, it felt, oh, so soothing.

Until it didn't.

This song from Tori Amos always makes me cry, thinking of what I wanted/hoped for, and didn't have, a safe, loving relationship with a parent until I was mature and ready to move on.

From the chapter Looking for Love:
... found that those who recalled their parents as cold or inconsistent caregivers were more likely to worry about being abandoned or unloved, exhibit an obsessive and overly dependent love style, and suffer from low self worth and social confidence than those who perceived their mothers and father as warm and responsive during their childhoods.  As adults, the daughters with distant parents often formed relationships characterized by jealousy, fear of abandonment, and an obsessive preoccupation with finding and maintaining intimate bonds.
Now, to counterbalance all this sad, pathetic crap, there are also passages from Clarissa Pinkola Estes and others about the incredible strengths of an unmothered child, about how we can be very intuitive and observant, and strong, in our own way.  So, no pity required.  Just love and patience, please.

You've already gone online and ordered this book, haven't you?  If you've already read it, share your feedback, below in the Comments.  Or, if you're just beginning to read it, share your feedback as you work your way through it.  Or, click a Reaction and let me know how/if this moved you.

Peace and blessings to you on your journey.