Birthday Blues

It’s my mother’s birthday on Friday. I never considered her birthday to be a trigger for my childhood trauma, but alas it is. 

When I say childhood trauma, I’m not referring to physical abuse or sexual abuse, neither of which I have experienced (surprisingly, considering the amount and quality of men my mother had in and out of her life). My childhood trauma doesn’t stem from my mother’s physical absence. She was physically in my life until 14 years ago. She helped me tie my shoe laces and took me to the park. She bought me presents every birthday and Christmas. She got me my first bicycle, boom box, entertainment center and I even had my own landline phone number (and answering machine) just for my room for a short while as a teenager. As she did with every gift or sentimental gesture, she ended up ripping the landline cable straight out of the wall during one of her rages. I had, of course, done something bad. 

My punishments always involved withholding – withholding attention, withholding dinner, withholding affection, withholding gifts already gifted. “You’re spoiled,” my mother would tell me. “You have no idea how good you have it.” You’re right, I didn’t know how good I had it because life sure felt crappy. As the identified patient in my family, and arguably the black sheep, I felt alone when I was with my sisters and my mother. I felt inherently less than. I felt anything but good. “You need to be a better role model to your little sisters,” she’d tell me nastily. What about you, mother, being my role model? As a child, I simply reenacted the behaviors I saw day in and day out. I lived out of the messages my mother told me. “You are bad.” “You are selfish.” “You are not a good big sister.” I was never enough, never good enough, never quiet enough, never respectful enough, never loving enough, never truthful enough, never, never, never enough. It makes sense why my self-esteem has always been low. I was told by the woman who gave me life that I am not enough. With no father in the picture, her criticisms and downright meanness were amplified. To this day I struggle with feeling like I’m enough. 

So back to the birthday bash that wasn’t. There is that nagging voice (small self, the devil, etc. not real sure whose voice it is) that says, “Call your mother and wish her a happy birthday. At least send her a card.” I can do it physically yes, but emotionally and mentally I am unable to pick up my phone. And I don’t know when or if I’ll be ready any time soon or any time at all. And she has to respect that boundary I set 14 years ago. There was one time after my near overdose years and years ago that she contacted me. We only conversed for a couple of weeks, but all ready her tentacles were taking hold. I felt icky talking to her. She was already telling me the latest drama with whoever her boyfriend was at the time. And she sounds so uneducated to me. I used to think she was so smart. It’s like she stopped growing in her 30s. I managed to cut off contact from that little set back and I haven’t talked to her since. 

“At least send her a card” is the most laughable advice I’ve ever received from anyone regarding pretty much any thing. In J’s defense, he was just trying to help but doesn’t know the whole mother back story, which he may feel differently about the card sitch after learning the back story. He seems like the type I can tell my story too, but I’m also still on guard because I’ve been burned before. I thought this person was letting me confide in her to help me when really she was just gossiping my problems to everyone, feeding high schoolers the bait that is made from the sharp decrease in my self-respect and increased inclination to kill myself. This is how mean high schoolers were mean. You’re either kind or you’re mean in high school. There’s no middle ground. Either you’re a jerk to unpopular kids or you make them feel included. Unfortunately I went to a high school with a lot of jerks. And I’ll be the first to own up and acknowledge that a lot of my drama was self-imposed. I just wish you understood. You girls involved probably had loving mothers, mothers who are loving all of the time. No headaches or not feeling well for days at a time. No ripping presents from your room (she almost broke the tv and her back. I just sat on my bed in amazement). I don’t even remember what I had done. I can pretty much guarantee that the punishment did not fit the “crime”, whatever the crime I was that I had committed. 

Per an internal source, my mother and biological father’s wife Shelly bonded over the phone about how bad of a person I am and my mother spilled all my tea with Shelly. Shortly after this explicit conversation, I see my mother at my sister’s bridal shower and she comes up to me and says, “I don’t know anything about you like what kind of car you drive. So you have a boyfriend? Is he cute?” All this nonsense as she messes with my hair. I want this woman to stop touching me. I ducked out of the bridal shower early so I didn’t have the pressure of saying goodbye to her. I imagined her hunting me down as I walk to the car she knows nothing about. I definitely am proud of how I handled that situation with grace (and not medication or alcohol). 

The only thing I can think is to pray for her. I know that may sound cliché but God knows the exact words to put in her heart. I don’t want to pray for her to come into my life; I just want to pray that she is getting the help she needs. And to one day see her live her full potential – healthy, mind, body and spirit – that is my miracle wish. She can do it, but it’s going to suck like nobody’s business. She’ll want to quit. She may quit, but she always comes back. If she can just work on herself, our relationship would be different. I would want her to call me. I would think to call her when facing a challenging situation knowing I’m going to get sound advice. Or maybe I snapped a cute pic of myself at the grocery store. The first person who I want to see that picture is my mother. Me. To this day. Most all pictures – I wish I had a mom to send these to. 

So back to this trigger thing.  

As I write, I see I have anger, disgust, resentment and sadness all wrapped up with a nice bow enticing me to open it. But seeing as how I’d like to not feel those emotions, Briana Borten of The Dragontree says to lean into those emotions and explore them; be curious. It’s against our nature to turn toward what put us in pain, what put us in danger. We are far from hunter-gatherer days and it’s time to live in the present by making peace with the anger, disgust, resentment and sadness you may feel. If not, you will carry that crap with you to your grave. This is another area where I’m conflicted. My mother is not well, mentally or physically. Is my job as the oldest to be caring for her? Checking on her? Is it time for me to step up? I don’t see that happening in any form of reality. After what she pulled with sister, showing up at her business event that she found out about by going to my sister’s website. The date and location was listed so she showed up. Unannounced after not having seen my sister and her girls for like 2 years. “Do you remember me?” she was asking the kids. “I’m you’re Grammy. Do you remember me?” How my sister handled it I have to give her props. She handled it calmly, focused on her product and clients (which she ended up winning the contest!) and just pretended our mother wasn’t there. I’m happy she won the contest because a part of my mother is jealous of our successes. Sure, she’ll say she’s happy for me, but there’s a glitch in her eye that says “that should have been me.” 

The decision of whether to call or not to call, to send a note or card is actually an easy one. I’m not opening that door. Life is slowly getting better and she will rain on my parade. That’s just how she is in the moment, sans not getting treatment. And I’m just plain not ready. I have issues I am working on in counseling about mother messages I got as a child and growing up. I need to find true forgiveness with her and I am not there. And I don’t want to pray about it because she’s not someone I want in my life. Lord, just let her get healthy and get the help she needs. 

2 replies on “Birthday Blues”

Kristin, I hear your pain through your words. It is important to take care of yourself and not open yourself to painful experiences and events. You are a wonderful person. Your blogs let other women with mother’s that don’t nurture, love, and protect know they are not alone. Thank you for sharing so that others realize that. You are a wonderful woman.

Penny, thank you for your kind words. My hope and aim is to show other daughters that they are not alone. I’m happy you liked the post.

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