I’ve got a lot of stuff floating around in my little head right now and I’m trying to sort it all out. I’m sure this post will be all over the place, but just try to bear with me, ok? Thanks. You’re always cool like that.
So… a couple of weeks ago I spent a few life changing hours in a home with some of the most amazing women I have EVER met. I walked in as a total stranger, and left knowing I had made life long friendships. The one common denominator we all had was that we were all mothers to kids that fall along the autism spectrum. As we got to know one another, we laughed, we cried, we marveled at a cake made to look like a Manolo Blahnik shoe, we laughed, and we cried some more. (And yes, we DID eat cake, but I digress…). What impacted upon me the most was what we shared. Our hopes, our fears, our vulnerabilities, and one very crucial tid -bit was tossed out there by a mom who has a husband serving in the US military…what many of us are currently experiencing is a form of PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. (Please read this amazing post by Mom-NOS about this very topic. She explains it far more eloquently than I ever could. Her post is currently on Hopeful Parents and is entitled ASD and PTSD for February 11th. Please forgive that I am clueless how to add the link here without losing all that I have typed so far. Please look for it. I pormise, it is worth the effort).
SO… that PTSD business go me thinking (yes, a very dangerous thing). In my thinking I REALLY went back, WAY BACK and I have realized that I have been dealing with a form of PTSD every day since I was four years old. Yup. FOUR. You see, it was on my fourth birthday that my dad was admitted, yet again, to the hospital for colon cancer. I remember siting on my front porch, hair in pigtails, warm but cloudy day, the smell of impending rain in the air, picking at the evergreen bushes next to me and pulling off the needles one by one and crumpling them into my hand and then watching them drop onto the step below me. Quite detailed, right? Yeah – because that was right before I learned to successfully block out things I just didn’t want to remember. Now there are literally years that I am unable to recall and yet some things can flood back to me in such technicolor detail it is beyond words. I thought for decades that the blocking was a coping mechanism but now I realize it is a manifestation of PTSD. See after my dad was admitted to the hospital, for the umpteenth time in my short little life, my mother kind of lost her shit. Literally. She started taking pills, mostly valium, to zombie through her day. I spent hours in our house with her father, my grandfather who lived with us while she left and did whatever it was that she did. Oh yeah – and my grandfather hated kids. Immensely. More on that later…
For four years,my dad, who I adored with all my heart, was in and out of the hospital with colon cancer, a leg amputation, and all sorts of other complications. When he died shortly after my eighth birthday, my mother was toast. She became this bitter, hateful, mentally and physically abusive person who blamed me for everything that was wrong in her life. She had a stillborn nearly 15 years before I was born and I never heard the end of how perfect THAT child would have been. I was the fuck up. I was the one who failed in school, was a horrible person who would never amount to anything, and all I would ever be was a failure and a disappointment. Yeah. At EIGHT. I spent years with her calling me into her bedroom at night and pretending to make that dreaded phone call to have “them” take me away once and for all because I was bad. I remember this went on several nights a week until I was twelve. That one night I realized that I’d rather be ANYWHERE but here with crazybitch and so I packed my bag up with some clean undies and my favorite stuffed animals and sat on the porch. When asked what I was doing, I told her I was waiting for “them” to come and get me. I was sick of begging and crying for her to keep me. It was too much. I was ready and it was time to go. That’s when she changed tactics. The abuse continued for years, mentally and physically and the beatings were always preferable. Physical wounds healed. Emotional wounds, while invisible on the outside, were nearly lethal. It wasn’t until the age of nineteen that the physical beatings stopped, but only because one night I had finally had enough and hit her back. I hit her with fifteen years of solid hatred and rage and lemme tell you – witchiepoo went flying. It was kind of cool actually and she never laid her hands on me again. THe emotional crap, however, got much worse. My relationship with my father always bothered her. She was intensely jealous at how much I loved him so she decided that was where she would strike next. Her new weapon of choice was to tell me that my father never wanted me. THat he already had three kids from a previous marriage and HE never wanted me to be born. Ok. Well, while that MIGHT have been true before I was born, I knew enough to realize that it was my dad who spent all of his free time with me, taking me to the beach, collecting rocks and seashells with me down at the bay near our house. My mother…. she did none of that. So yeah… by then I was old enough to know that she was just trying to hurt me with words and I gave her what she wanted. Tears. They were fake, but she seemed satisfied and would get away from me once she felt she had sufficiently ‘broken’ me. I had to time it right though. If I cried too soon, she knew it was BS and the barage of crap out of her mouth would continue for hours. However, a carefully timed bogus meltdown on my part (about the 45 minute to an hour mark was enough) was the perfect time to let the tears flow steadily enough to get her the hell away from me. I spent pretty much all of my teen age years wishing like hell that I would get hit by a bus, or shot to death or whatever just because I wanted peace. I didn’t really want to die, but I didn’t see any way I was ever gonna get away from that nightmare that I had been living. I started to really think that I was crap. That my life was worth nothing. And then, one magical night, an angel saved me. The angel was in the form of a boyfriend I had at the time. We spent most of our time studying (you see, even though I was a ‘failure’, I was still working nearly full time hours managing a children’s clothing store while enrolled in a pre-med curriculum with a 3.9 GPA because I wanted more than anything to be a doctor). Well one night, boyfriend and I were just watching tv in my living room while Senorita Crazypants was upstairs in her bedroom. She had tossed a full on nutty at me the night before so I mistakenly assumed that I was safe for that night. I was wrong. I ushered boyfriend into the bathroom and told him to be super quiet and not make a sound. He stayed in there for nearly three hours (Crazypants was really in rare form that night) and he heard every single word. When she finally retreated upstairs, I let him out of the bathroom. I was mortified. I felt so small. I wanted to shrivel up and die and that was the night that I finally decided to be proactive about that. Until… boyfriend and I sat on the stoop. That same stoop that I sat on when I found out my dad was going back into the hospital on my fourth birthday. He confided in me that his mother used to drink. That she often sounded the same exact way that my mother did just before she ‘died’. We never discussed it, but I knew that many years earlier his mom had comitted suicide. I even knew her. She was a beautiful woman with dark hair who owned an art gallery just a few blocks from my house. I never knew why her gallery had closed. Not until many years later. My neighborhood is small. People talk. And I knew despite never admitting to him that I did. I figured that if he wanted to talk about it, he would have and since he never brought up the ‘how’ part of her death, I surely wasn’t going to. Anyway, it was boyfriend who told me my mother was wrong. That I WAS a really good person. That I work so hard to put myself through school, get straight As, that I don’t slut around and do drugs, and that I DIDN”T DESERVE TO BE TREATED LIKE THAT. And you know what… something truly magical happened that night. I BELIEVED him. TRULY BELIEVED HIM. He WAS right. 100% right. SO instead of downing a bottle of pills that night, I contemplated how to get the hell outta there as fast as possible. Medical school seemed like an impossibility without any support whatsoever, so I opted for nursing. Hey, it was similar, kind of, but I would be able to get out of my house in just a few months to go live in a dormatory, defer my loans for school, and end up with a career that afforded me the ability to support myself and live just about ANYWHERE I WANTED. SO that’s just what I did. As fast as I could.
Fast forward about a decade and a half…. mother now diagnosed with lung cancer and me an only child. I felt obligated to move home and take care of her because that was what I had to do to face myself in the mirror. So I did. I moved back into a place that I despised with every cell in my body. I swore I would sooner live in a cardboard box beneath Penn Station before I would ever move back in with the Soul Crusher. I guess I did it partly because I felt obligated. Maybe a part of my did it because the house was my birthright and there was no way the government was gonna take it away if she ended up as an inpatient in a long term care facility. Maybe part of both. I earned that house as much as I hated it and I was not going to let anyone take it from me. So …back I went. With my new husband and the fetus that was growing inside of me. I guess another reason I went back was because I wasn’t the failure she predicted I would be. I wasn’t going back because I needed her. I was going back because SHE needed ME. It was a whole different ball game and this time I got to make the rules. In the immortal words of Bill Cosby, this was NOT the woman I grew up with. This was an old person trying to get into Heaven now. She had softened tremendously, adored my husband, and was so excited to see her new granddaughter, which she did get to do before she died two months later. The only thing I wanted, the ONLY goddamned thing I ever needed from that woman was an honest apology. Just one lousy apology for all the abuse she thrust upon me as an innocent shild. An apology that never, ever came. I hated her for that. wait, let me rephrase… I HATED HER FUCKING GUTS FOR THAT. I hated her all through my childhood. I hated her all through my adulthood. I hated her up until THIS AFTERNOON when, thanks to MOM-NOS’s unbelievable words, I realized that my mother also suffered from PTSD. You see she lost her own mom when she was only six years old. SIX. And her father, my child loathing grandfather was her dad. My mother was passed around from relative, to orphanage, to abusive relative, and so on. She knew nothing other than abuse in her life. She had confessed to me once that she never loved my father, that she only married him to get of her house and away from her own father (who ironically ended up living with her).
So there we have one helluva PTSD cycle. However… the cycle stops HERE. WITH ME. I will NEVER lay a hand on my kids. I will NEVER tell them they are nothing, or screw ups, or losers. Now that I have my own kids I am astounded that she never even once tried to change her behavior towards me until she realized that she was going to end up dying alone and nobody was gonna notice until the stink wafted out into the street and someone called 911 months after the fact. As a mom, I would walk through a volcano to do ANYTHING to help my kids flourish and thrive – and believe me, there are days that feel like I have done just that. At a recent doctor’s visit, he asked me if I was under any stress. I just laughed. I mean I LAUGHED. My LIFE is stress. The physical manifestations that stress has plagued my body with have sent me to the operating room several times, are the reason I am on blood pressure medication, have an enlarged heart, and now I am undergoing tests to rule out a bleeding ulcer. Something has GOT to give. Yes… this is just one of the faces of PTSD. It doesn’t have to be though. There is help. There are support groups out there that have warm, caring people who are willing to listen and offer helpful suggestions on how to navigate the choppy waters. There are even medications available to help you get through the major crises – and major is subjective. Don’t judge yourself harshly. Treat yourself the way you would treat a stranger, with KINDNESS. You deserve it. It has taken me decades to realize that. Decades. It took until TODAY to realize that the horrors I grew up under were the result of a person with PTSD who opted to refuse all offers of help (oh she HAD offeres, she just wasnt able to acknowledge that she NEEDED help. Desperately) .
If you are experiencing PTST, there is help available. There are references online, in the library, at the board of health, they are out there. YOU need to access them. Bring the info with you to your doctor and get all the help you can. Break the cycle before YOU break another person. It has to end somewhere and for me it ends here. Today. NOW.
Endless thanks to the Pajama Mamas for getting me to this place. I have walked thousands of miles alone through the fire. Thanks for helping to extinguish the blaze.
And an extra special thanks to ‘boyfriend’ for that night. He gave me the greatest gift of all. He gave me myself. I have no idea where he is now, but I will always hold a special place in my heart for him. I hope his life is full of love and happiness because he most definitely deserves it. Thank you, B.
I owe you everything.