Content warning: The following story contains references to someone's experiences with post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by years of emotional abuse, which may be triggering for some readers.
My mother grew up in a physically and emotionally abusive household. She tried to break the cycle. She thinks she did. But that is a delusion.
On one occasion she beat me with a belt, until I had large welts up and down my back and side for weeks. Why? Because I pulled the dining room chairs too far away from the table before vacuuming under it.
The main scars though were emotional ones. Throughout my life she criticized everything I did. I was never good enough. I was blamed for everything that went wrong. Everything I said and did was scrutinized and attributed to ulterior motives.
I was punished for the mistakes of my older siblings, given even stricter rules than the ones that caused them to rebel. She told me I was the hardest of my siblings to raise. She constantly compared me to other people.
Every time I began to develop a healthy relationship with someone else, she would jealously point out every slight fault they had and tell them bad things about me. She mocked me and the fact that my father was a deadbeat and not a part of my life. She would tell me that I was just like him.
My faith in God and relationship with him was the only thing that kept me going, the only thing that kept me from taking my life. But her constant belittling made me feel I was unworthy of serving him, that he was unhappy with me and all of my shortcomings.
I managed to endure 22 years living with her. I lasted longer than anyone else ever did. I finally got out, but not without a ton of emotional and mental scars. I feel sorry for her and know that so many of her issues are because of her own terrible childhood and two bad marriages. That is why I have not cut her out of my life, even though I know it would be easier to do so.
She began to treat me differently, for the most part, after I moved out. She wants us to friends, buddies. She genuinely does not understand why I don’t want that. I am very careful how I speak to her and what I share with her. I constantly have to be on guard, because the second I say the wrong thing she will lose it and the person that raised me to hate myself comes out.
I frequently have flashbacks to moments when she spewed awful, hateful things at me. When she would say things to intentionally hurt me, simply because I wasn't doing or saying exactly what she wanted me to. When these flashbacks come it feels like I am reliving them all over again. That forgotten wound is fresh and bleeding once again.
I had a talk with her once about some of the things I went through and how it made me feel. She apologized. But she then brought up mistakes I had made, as if this made us even. I try to put it all behind me. I want to forgive her and just move forward. But I am plagued with memories that will not leave me alone.
I thought things were better between us, until there was a situation where she didn't like a decision I made and verbally attacked me. I had a panic attack and left. She later told me: “I am sorry, I didn't know you would react that way.”
Just being around her, or knowing that I will be around her, will often send me into a panic attack. I have trouble sharing my thoughts and feelings with those closest to me. I assume they don't care, because my own mother didn't. I assume they will mock me, they will use it against me in some way, because that is what my own mother would do.
I assume everyone thinks I am ugly unless I wear a ton of makeup, because that is what my mother thinks. I assume everyone is watching me and harshly judging every small mistake I make, because that is what my mother does.
I have trouble getting close to people. I have trouble responding in an appropriate way to most situations. I avoid many large social gatherings because I feel they will all be watching me, waiting for me to do something stupid. I don't know how to handle conflict, the first sign there is an issue with another person I want to hide my head in the sand.
Every time I try to share my feelings with someone my brain shuts down and I have no idea how to say what I am feeling, or I break down become an emotional mess.
I will continue to try to fight my way out of my past. I will keep trying to put it behind me. But some days it feels like this weight will always be on me, slowing me down, threatening to crush me once and for all.
About the art:
When this survivor shared their story with us, I was inspired by the depth to which they were willing to share their experiences with their emotionally abusive mother. None of this is easy to confront, so the fact that this survivor was willing to do so, to find some sort of healing, was empowering.
They told me that butterflies are their favorite, so I tried my own stylized rendering of a butterfly. The quote was also chosen by the survivor as one that reminds them everyday that being strong is the only choice they have to make. So this piece will certainly live on as a reminder for them to keep confronting their trauma and their challenges head-on.
I'm thankful this survivor shared with us and I hope it inspires others to do the same.