Surviving Though Motherless

Boundaries 101 – the 5-week course is now officially scheduled at the Columbia Area Career Center.  I’ve just put the finishing touches on the Study Guide, and enrollees will join me in a 5-week course, which will serve as a safe space to learn new skills and practice healthy ways of managing personal power.

Visit the Career Center’s site to enroll or for more information!

Boundary violation happens in so many different ways, it’s hard to know where to start talking about it, and virtually impossible to take complete account of the devestation it causes.  What follows is a short story by an anonomous contributor that describes in profound detail the phenomenon of one form of boundary violation — motherlessness, this case as a result of addiction/mental illness.  I hope it moves you as much as it did me.

Thriving Though Motherless

Some say you never miss what you never had. I suppose. But one of my first memories at around 18 months was of a motherless mother.

I heard a noise in the middle of the night followed by my father’s voice. I distinctly recall his words, “well, look what the cats drug in.” I toddled to the hallway opening, and what I heard and saw next put the glue in memory – a memory that little ones supposedly aren’t capable of.

My mother stepped into the living room as my father held the front door open. Her teethy response was, “shhhh you’ll wake up the g__ d___ kids.” They slipped into the kitchen and chilled the seats at the table. I scrambled to my mother’s lap and became instantly aware that her arms were hanging limp at her side. I looked for her mommy eyes and saw stone. As I glanced over to daddy’s face, I saw a painful look and my tiny eyes traveled back to my mother’s empty stare. I knew then I couldn’t go there for love anymore. I was awakened. I crawled off her lap and walked capably back to bed. That memory ends there, but I see now that she was in a survival mode all her own.

It was not a dream. My first task for survival was to understand the significance of physical changes. My mommy was outside and not inside like she had been before. She was cold like a statue, instead of cooking in the warm kitchen while I sat in my highchair watching her. My diapers were changed by women coming and going. There were other kids. Daddy came home at night.

I wrote a song about it years later as a sort of survival ceremony.  If the song ever comes to mind, i still choke back the tears – but moreso from the outside looking in – at that late epiphanic evening in Lewiston, Idaho.

Thriving can be an unknown concept for traumatized or starving people. Some say moreso for children, but then children can be resilient. I suppose. Whatever.

Fortunately, our father was a loving man. A veteran of front-line World War II. A survivor of death and horror. A seer. But, its hard to see how his new job as a single parent of four-under-six could be less frightening than his first-wave landing on Utah Beach. Another dreaded D-Day. It was 1958 or 9. And one of Sargent Arnold’s little soldiers was injured.

Jeffery might have been a colicky baby, but for whatever reason, he now had a brain injury. One that caused a stir. A divide. A recognition that not all mothers are fit for the job. And in fact, one might be the enemy.

Somewhere between surviving and thankful to be alive, our dad fed, clothed, sheltered and loved us the best he could – through graduations and grandchildren. He remarried after we all left home.  When he died in 1997, I felt my daddy’s-little-girl heart rip right out of my chest. But his love remained.

Wrapped up in survival, a person’s social skills can have jagged edges. And so my three older brothers and I went around jagged for years. Still jagged in places. Two divorces later, Jeff has been married for 18 years to a loving woman who is also handicapped. Two divorces later, Brother #2 is likely to remain single and run his bar and grill for years to come – surrounded by young, implanted girls who will never fill the void. Two divorces later, brother#1 is thinking of “settling” in order to settle down for good. There is a common element in our memories, but our battles were unique. Influenced by age, gender and experiences.

It took a lot of love to make thriving a concept for me to entertain. Tommy to the rescue. For years, I’d threaten to leave. But he never did. We’ve been married over 31 years, and I feel grateful we survived some very rocky roads. After the first five years of marriage and kids, I think I was yelling-mad for ten years nonstop.

We had polarizing issues, and I slowly realized other people like him have baggage too. And sometimes baggages don’t mix well. But we were persistent. Or stubborn. Or tired. And we have grown to appreciate each other more.

We are not the only ones with scars. People all around have stories to tell. Including our children. Some never make it. Others do extremely well. I am hoping.
There have been windows to joy amongst the shards of glass. And glimpses of sunshine. Babies, music, dancing, singing, colors, fresh air, kisses and belly-rolling laughter. And with enough love and persistence, these are tools for thriving. However elusive, they can be mined.
It’s about the moment. About recognizing it’s usually all in the head. It doesn’t matter if someone is laughing at you. They have their own little scars and illusions. They put on their panties the same way as the next person. We fragile-but-durable individuals have as much right to be here as any other individual. Harboring anger and fear keeps the soul and body down, but forgiveness is liberating and calming.

A liberated mind makes the moment amazing. The deeper the scars, the harder one might have to practice. But if the rewiring works and the rubberbands-to-old-thinking can be clipped, life can be like a bicycle ride. You’ll remember the motion, keep on riding and drink in the scenery.

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