I’ve been feeling profoundly sad about my mom, on and off. Yesterday, for example, I felt depressed all day, but then went for a swim in the ocean and felt fantastic. I’m discovering that I don’t necessarily need to work through things or resolve things, but that I can just put myself into a completely different situation – in particular, swimming in the ocean – and immediately transform my mental state.
Four months ago, my mom bamboozled me when I talked to her about my trip. Mind you, my mom has been my cheerleader for many years, and is someone who typically really sees me and gets me like nobody else. We’ve easily talked five times a day – I regularly have called her, to share little things and big things and to ask her opinion on matters. I have considered her to be my best friend and chief advisor.
My mom has been an especially terrific person to call and hash through things with, not only because she gets me but because she is super insightful – she can really go where I go in thinking about things, far beyond the realms that people usually discuss or contemplate. And she offers some wonderful perspective that provides a combination of a bird’s eye view of a situation and also the core issue underneath, as well as their relationship to who I am and what’s important to me.
She also offers me the perspective of what she calls my “timeline.” She visually sees (in her mind) a timeline of my life and how things go. When I feel like my life is a complete mess and that I’m falling apart, for example, she tells me that every so often, she’ll get this kind of a call, and that within a day or a few days, I have everything figured out and am off doing something extraordinary and am thrilled with my life. And she’s always been right about that.
Which all goes to say, I feel the hit when I can’t call my mom and talk to her about things. Mostly I just miss connecting with my mom. I mean, she’s my mom. When I put my head on her chest and hear her heart beat, I plummet into profound relaxation and sense of security. It’s like everything shifts into alignment. Of course – it’s the same heart I heard beating before I entered this world, when I was growing in her stomach for 10 months (yup, I was in there 10 months).
Now this “time out” from my mom, over the past four months, has proven true something she said to me many times – namely that I can figure things out on my own, that I just really need to sound them out with someone who cares and listens and reflects me back. I can even just figure them out on my own without talking them through, I have discovered during this period, though I definitely need to reach out and have a caring person on the other end, when things feel really dark.
I’ve learned that a walk on the beach or hike in the mountains or swim in the ocean can really clear my mind as well. And I’ve discovered that I trust myself, and it feels powerful to figure things out on my own. Still, I miss talking with my mom, and I miss getting her input on things. I just really like her and value her thinking. Especially when it’s about some grand meaning-of-life type matter, like the conversation I wanted to have today.
This afternoon, I was having Shabbat lunch with my lovely new Chabad friends here in Kauai, and the conversation took a heavy turn. Long story short, I got angry and upset from the kind of thinking I have heard before, in both Jewish and non-Jewish contexts, that everything happens for a reason and that it’s in the divine plan, and that if someone experiences a traumatic event, they therefore need to look at why it happened to them, as opposed to (or in addition to) happening to someone else. The whole conversation started when one of them suggested that if you’re paying a big chunk of your income on medical expenses or legal expenses, it is probably because you’re not living your life properly – for example, you’re not giving enough to charity, and therefore that money is being taken out of your wallet through other means.
The part about the medical expenses (which was later retracted when I challenged it) and the thinking that if you’re the victim of a drunk driving incident, you need to look at why Gd chose you as the victim, really pissed me off. Things kind of got heavier from there, leaving me feeling in desperate need of leaving and clearing out the energy.
So I called my mom, whom I knew would be perfect to discuss this with, but felt ambivalent about talking with her. Despite four months of sending her emails and blog posts clearly spelling out how she had bamboozled me, she still has not acknowledged what she did or apologized for it. She didn’t even bother to respond to the last batch of emails (which I sent twice), which spelled everything out in bullet points, and broke matters down into three steps, to make it easier for her to understand where I was coming from and digest everything.
I don’t want to betray myself, in particular my younger self, by just forgiving my mom and dropping it and continuing like nothing happened, when the incident felt life-altering, when I felt she unraveled and more or less destroyed our relationship, in particular, 30 years of intensive work on healing our relationship. And on top of that, she doesn’t even seem to have noticed the destruction, while meanwhile I’m feeling abandoned and unloved by her.
Anyhow, my mom called back when I was on a winding road in the rain, with the windshield wipers not working well, so I said I’d call her back, in turn. But then I felt that I’d rather go for a swim – which I did (letting her know), and which cleared out the energy, without having to talk about it. In fact, I think that just doing something physical in nature might be how I want to handle things from now on, instead of, or prior to, talking them out.
My mom called me later, but I couldn’t talk to her because her voice was all messed up. Which is related to the way my mom bamboozled me four months ago. I have written about pieces of this story, but now I will write about how all the threads are woven together.
When I was a little kid, my sister – who was six years older than I – was hyperactive and probably had some kind of related learning disability, which society didn’t know much about back then (circa 1970s). Rather than teaching my sister to look inward and develop a self-reliant kind of self-confidence; rather than helping her recognize and celebrate her unique gifts and talents; and rather than teaching her to recognize and cherish the way I basically worshipped her and lavished love upon her, my mom essentially set us up in competition and treated me like the enemy, just for being a bright and talented little girl.
My mother did not provide me support of or encouragement for my abilities; instead she punished me for them. My mom and sister basically ganged up on me, and as a result, I experienced the most profound loneliness when I was a child. I felt abandoned and hated, and I literally thought my mother and sister were trying to kill me. For the rest of my childhood and adult life, my mom repeatedly threw me under the bus, as the saying goes, in sacrifice to my sister.
Fast forward to the period between 2008-2015, when my mom was in and out of the hospital for a series of life-threatening emergencies. My sister wholesale abandoned my mother, and by extension, me. She did find my mom a bankruptcy lawyer, for which I thanked my sister. Other than that, she didn’t show up to the hospital; she never contributed a penny to the nearly 6-digit expenses; and to make matters worse, she actively antagonized me by email.
Meanwhile, my mom fought me on everything I was doing to take care of her. Not only was I busy actively saving my mom’s life and facilitating her healing, repeatedly, but as part of doing that, I also was working everyone’s world around her, including my own world, and fiercely protecting her – micromanaging and “training” everyone who came into her midst, so that they would be as gentle, compassionate, safe, and effective as possible with her, and so that they would do things in alignment with her way of doing things, as much as possible without putting her life in danger. In other words, I specifically “got” my mom and understood her needs and was well aware of how horrifically challenging and distressing it was for her to be in “the system.” I was using all my strengths and talents and intelligence to support her and serve as her buffer and her bodyguard and her translator, and to shield her from the many exchanges that I knew would be anything from hard to traumatic for her.
My mom failed to recognize any of it. Instead, despite all my heartfelt and gargantuan efforts, my mom spent most of her time fighting me on every step, yelling at me about how she wanted to do it her way, not the way of the system, not “[my] way.” She effectively threw me in with the whole lot of “them” and patently failed to see me, to recognize me for who I am, for how much I care, for how I am her daughter, for how I am specifically not “them.” My mom was, hands down, the most difficult part of taking care of my mom. I didn’t mind the feistiness or vehemence; to the contrary, I loved and valued her ferocity of spirit. I also understood her anguish and terror at not having control over her life, which is specifically why I did what I did to take care of her. What hurt me was that she didn’t see me, and she didn’t see me seeing her, and she didn’t see me taking care of her – all of her, who she is and how she is.
Fast forward to 2014. My mom started to get hoarse in her voice. I presumed she had vocal nodules, which I’d had twice in my life and healed through vocal therapy. I advised my mom to go to the doctor so that she could get a prescription for voice therapy. She adamantly refused, because she didn’t want them sticking that awful camera thing down her nose. I told her that she could skip that step, that I would do all the calling and advocating, to ensure that she just went straight to voice therapy. She said no. She wouldn’t even allow me to call the doctor and verify that she could go straight to voice therapy without getting the camera thing. She wanted “time,” she said, and she would take care of it.
So I gave her time, and she didn’t take care of it. As per the usual.
Six months later, my mom still hadn’t done shit, despite my reminding her along the way, and her voice was worse than ever. I was put in the position that was common with my mom: She wasn’t doing what she needed to do, to take care of an important health-related matter. And yet if I were to step in and take care of things, I would be effectively disrespecting her autonomy. It’s an awful position to be in, because I care about both my mom’s physical wellbeing and emotional wellbeing.
Flashback to my childhood: My mom had several medical encyclopedias. She routinely would read one, decide she had fill-in-the-blank rare and fatal condition, tell me about it and about how she might die soon as a result of it, then refuse to go to the doctor to get checked. She did this constantly. It was psychological torture and therefore a form of abuse.
In 2014, my mom’s voice had on me the impact of nails on a chalkboard, and furthermore actually hurt my very sensitive ears. I clearly told her, repeatedly, that it was difficult for me to talk with her when her voice was like that. I often had to cut our conversations short, which meant we couldn’t have the heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul talks I so loved having with her. I begged my mom to remedy the situation. She refused. Again it was “her” way vs. “my” way. She wanted to figure it out on her own.
Of course, as per the usual, she didn’t do shit, though she kept saying she was “working on it.” Which meant she occasionally thought about it, without doing anything or letting me do anything on her behalf. As the months continued to roll by and become a year and then two years, it became increasingly difficult for me to talk with my mom, not only because her voice was grating on my nerves, but because the whole situation, represented by her nails-on-chalkboard voice, began severely triggering me. It brought up all kinds of ways in the past that my mom did things that she knew were very hurtful to me – that felt like energetic rape and had the accompanying physical sensations – but didn’t stop, despite my begging her. And so, the longer that my mother refused to take care of matters with her voice, despite my offer of total support, and despite my telling her how her voice and the situation were affecting me, talking to her set off a major and intense whole-body, physical reaction that easily fucked me up for 24 hours.
Still, I kept being the one to sacrifice my wellbeing, so as to be able to talk to her. She didn’t sacrifice her comfort – despite my offering her on a silver platter to do all the work for her – so as to be able to talk to me. Which feels like a form of abandonment and lack of care or love. And while those on the outside would advise me to stop sacrificing so that she could step to the plate, they did not understand my mom or the severity of things with her. Me not doing anything does not propel my mom to do something. Me not doing anything results in things festering as long as forever, or in some cases, easily could result in my mom being dead. Case in point: I have discovered my mother practically face down in her own black vomit, and refusing to go to the emergency room. If I don’t do it, it doesn’t get done. Period. So I always take the hit, and I always take the fall, on my mother’s behalf, and she yells at my ass the whole way down.
Fast forward to about six months ago, when my miserable specimen of humanity neighbor spread toxic fertilizer all over his house, right under my window, causing me to get sick. I was very upset. Among other things, I was feeling like a failure for being unable to properly take care of my mom during that time, because I felt I couldn’t even manage my own life, given the overwhelming number of things I was facing – including healing naturally from cancer, paying for it all, and scrambling to get enough work to foot the bills. I also was feeling horribly isolated and alone, frozen out by the Seattle Freeze.
When I expressed my feelings to my mother, she didn’t respond with care or compassion. Instead she started yelling at me about how I was trying to turn her into me, that she doesn’t do things lightning fast like me, and so on. I went from feeling like shit to feeling like shit and attacked and completely alone in the world. I hung up the phone and went to take care of myself.
A month or two later, I decided to put all my belongings into storage and travel the world. At first, I was terrified. But as I nonetheless stepped into this journey and began manifesting it, I began to feel my free spirit coming back to life, and I began to get excited about my adventure up ahead. I called to share this transformation with my mom. She was kind of like, “uh-huh.” She then volunteered that she was not excited because this is what I do – I work through things and do them, so it’s nothing to get excited about. You know, never mind the heroic strength it took to overcome my fears, and never mind the incredible daring of traveling around the world with multiple health issues, not the least of which was cancer. Since I have overcome adversity before, it’s apparently something to snooze at, instead of celebrate.
Flashback to my childhood, when I would come home with straight As, and my parents would basically say, “uh-huh,” but jump in joy over my sister’s B- grades. Because I was a strong student, I was not encouraged or supported. Rather than hear the parallel of what my mother was doing in 2016 and what my mother did in 1976; rather than hear my pain and take the opportunity to apologize for how she had hurt me as a child; and rather than take advantage of the opportunity to understand something very deep – namely, how I am the one who has to go through the effort of facing my fears and slaying my dragons, and that even if I may have done it a million times over, it still is a really, really big deal, and that regardless, I am her child and deserve to be encouraged and celebrated – instead, she justified her behavior when I was a child, saying vehemently, “But she [my sister] worked hard for those grades!”
I hung up the phone, devastated. In one fell swoop, my mother unraveled our relationship and the 30 years of intensive work on healing our relationship. It was no longer a 1976 issue. It had become a 2016 issue. Four months have gone by, and despite my numerous emails and blog posts, my mother has yet to acknowledge what she did, never mind apologize for it. Her response instead has been to say that I was calling her a liar, that she did not “justify” her behavior when I was a kid. She got fixated on this idea that I was calling her a liar and completely lost sight of everything else. She has failed to hear my heart or see that she broke it into a million pieces. She never tried to understand why I felt she was justifying her behavior. She never seemed remotely curious to know my experience. And so I was left feeling abandoned and unloved, yet again. And remembering why I felt abandoned and unloved my whole childhood.
In addition, it became more clear to me than ever that my mom behaved the way she did when I was a child, because she identified with my sister. Given my mother’s own cocktail of mental health issues, including ADHD and learning disabilities, I think that my mother saw herself in my sister, and that my mother saw in me the world that was out to get her. She did not see in me her daughter, someone who needed her love and encouragement and support and guidance. She saw in me a threat to her other daughter, as she saw the world being a threat to herself.
And so it made sense to me why she had fought me the whole way during the period that I was taking care of her, and why she fought me on the voice issue. I could twist myself into a pretzel, working my life and everyone’s else’s lives around my mother. It was never enough, because I was one of them. I was the “linear type,” as she calls it, the capable type. Never mind the fact that I am an artist and totally out there and that I have, throughout my life, felt alienated, misunderstood, and maligned by the very world that my mom sees as being out to get her. I have been able to successfully navigate that world and get shit done. Rather than accept my heartfelt offering to 1) be my mother’s buffer and do the navigating for her, where she’s been unable to do it herself, and 2) otherwise lend to her all my strengths and talents, I think that on some level, my mother has resented me and/or hated me for my abilities and perhaps still feels this way.
I don’t think she’s aware of these feelings or of how they play out in her relationship to me. But I think it’s very true. My mother has always resented me just for being who I am. And in this respect, she has never, ever seen me. Ever. And that’s part of why my mother has sold me out to my sister time and again, and why I think my mother has taken me for granted all these years. Because I have been able to overcome adversity time and again, she is blind to the inordinate amounts of courage and strength and risk and daring it has taken for me to accomplish what I have.
This hatred, dismissal, or jealousy of one who accomplishes things is intertwined with the dynamics of this world, where suffering and struggling are rewarded. The person who wins the lawsuit is the one who can demonstrate how horribly s/he was affected. If you take responsibility for your life and maximize every resource you’re given and heal your own damn self, despite all the obstacles in your way, and despite all the overwhelming odds, people assume that it must not have been that bad. You don’t get rewarded for activating Herculean strength. You don’t win that lawsuit. You effectively get punished.
When I was a little girl, a ritual during Passover was for my father to invite my mother to read the tam (simple son) passage of the h’gadah in Hebrew. “Simple son” can also be translated as the stupid son. My mom was called stupid her whole life, by a Midwestern 1930s-1940s world that knew nothing about chemical imbalances or learning disabilities. Given these learning disabilities, which we still knew nothing about when I was a kid, and given my mom’s nervousness of being put on the spot in this way – when my dad specifically knew that my mom would stumble her way through – my mom struggled through the passage, making mistakes on almost every word, while my father laughed. My sister and I also laughed, because this was the family tradition. And when I was a little girl, I understood the culture of the family to be true. This was what we called “funny.”
My mom, however, never laughed.
By the time I was no older than 11, I realized that this ritual was one of humiliation and that it was both gross and unacceptable. I told my father to stop doing it. I refused to participate in it anymore. I then took my mother aside and taught her how to read Hebrew. I helped her, one-on-one, learn to read that passage perfectly. And even try it in Judeo Arabic. And I helped her learn to read the Hebrew Shabbath songs we sang every week.
And yet, when I was 14, and my mother became a street artist and was really good at what she did and had customers cooing over her, leading her to get a surge of self-esteem, what did she do? She turned on me. She took out on me all the shaming and humiliating she had ingested from throughout her life. Why? Why did she take it out on me, when I was the only one who stood up for her?
Just a few days after the 2016 incident, where my mother justified how she gave my sister preferential treatment when we were kids, my father emailed to let me know that he could only pay 40% of what he initially had offered (unsolicited by me) to pay of my mother’s monthly expenses. Not only are my father’s claims of not having money more reflections of what he does and does not value than what he does and does not have, but the justification my father gave for being unable to come through on his offer/promise was that, among other things, he had bought a $350,000 house for my sister (an employed professor who already owned a house worth shy of $1 million, from which she receives monthly rent) and, on top of that, was giving my sister monthly financial support – thereby depleting what he had to offer me. “Me,” of course, really meant my mom, whom my sister should have been contributing to supporting this whole time.
It’s a mess. My so-called family is one hell of an abusive, twisted mess. I have devoted decades of my life actively working to heal our relationships. Only people who know me well know the extent to which I have gone. I have never witnessed or heard of anyone devoting themselves to the extent I have. And to what end?
People advise me to lower my expectations. They tell me that my mother doesn’t have the ability to comprehend her actions or to offer me what I need. They tell me to talk about light things with her and to “get off the roller coaster ride,” as one friend puts it. But my mom has the ability to see things, to get things that she doesn’t see or get initially. It’s just that sometimes it might take her a decade to understand, and even then, it might unravel, and you’ll need to start all over again. Also I don’t want superficial conversations with my mom. I want the heart-centered, soul-to-soul conversations. I want that spiritual juice.
But I am not willing to endure the torment I experience with her voice, and she’s not willing to recognize the need to treat the core issue and do the work it requires to resolve the matter once and for all (she gets fixated on temporary solutions that mask the symptoms but do not treat the root cause, that do not solve the problem once and for all), and I don’t want to just let this whole sister comment thing go, because it’s a really big fucking deal that is at the core of my relationship with my mom. And, bigger than all these considerations, I have to focus on me – on my life, on healing myself. I have devoted decades of my life to healing with my family, and I think that maybe I’ve gotten as far as I can get.
As a friend recently said, “You’re a magic maker. I think you’re frustrated that you can’t make the magic happen with [your family].” Truth.
So I am turning to writing to get it all out. Maybe it will help. I’m not sure. Meanwhile I have anxiety that my mom will Gd forbid die before any of this gets resolved, before I can connect with her in a meaningful and deep way again. I just wish she could hear me, see me, understand me. Why is it so impossible to communicate about this stuff with her in a way that reaches her, when I have communicated about it in every way possible?
I adore my mom and miss her terribly and want to share with her my adventures. We have been through so much together, with her healing from the inside and me facilitating her healing from the outside. My relentlessness, and my willingness to let her rail at me and cause me misery, and my refusal to give up on her or give into her shenanigans, no matter what, enabled her to rehabilitate. And now here she is! Alive and well. I want to celebrate with her. I want to party with her. I want to connect on the soul and heart levels. I want to enjoy the parts of her that are so unique and vital to my sense of belonging and happiness in the world. I want to go on road trips with her.
That’s all I got. There is no tidy ending to this blog post.