The trauma of disengagement: from denial to healing, part 2 of 6

All form, no substance

Can you think of a toy you received that didn’t cut the mustard? A toy very-actively advertised that simply didn’t live up to your expectations? I think of the word Slinky. They look so cool and fun in the commercials, bopping down the stairs, etc. And as soon as el-Slinky-o gets a weird twist in it, it’s toast. No more cool Slinky-ing. It gets tossed into some toy box and eventually into the trash can. Buh-bye, Mr. Slinky. You were a major disappointment.

When I think of the word mother or the word mom, certain concepts and pictures come to my mind. I think of warmth and comfort, hugs and kisses, joy and sharing, teaching and showing, protecting and caring—and most of all, loving. Sadly, my mom wasn’t those things for me. In part 1 of this post, you learned that she was The Fog—ever-present, but never there. Yes, she was a major disappointment, to say the least.

Let’s dig into The Trauma of Disengagement.

The name
Why did I choose the word disengagement for this title? After thinking about it a little, that word captured the picture I saw and experienced. To be disengaged is to be pulled apart.

Plugged in
Here’s my favorite analogy.

Moms are like lamps. The ones who are plugged in give light, safety and warmth. When it’s dark, the light provides safety in and of itself. It keeps you from falling down, running into things and otherwise getting hurt. Light is also an analogy for truth. It shines brightly enough for you to clearly see and experience the truth of what’s all around you. People gather around the light to read, play games, talk and enjoy each other’s company.

When a mom is unplugged—like an unplugged lamp—there’s no light, safety or warmth. The home is cold, the truth is absent or unclear, and the environment is unsafe. It’s easy to get lost when you’re walking in the dark.

Mom and baby are physically linked together while the baby is growing in her womb, but when that precious baby is born, the mom has a choice—to plug in or not—to this baby’s life, this preschooler’s life, this child’s life, this teenager’s life, this young adult’s life. Some moms will plug in during a certain age or stage and then they unplug during other ages and stages. Some mothers are unplugged, emotionally, from the moment they give birth.

For me
I wrote the poem called The Fog to my mom, sort of. It was actually written for me, therapeutically-speaking. It’s part of the work of grieving. I’m not planning to show it to her. It wasn’t written for her. It was written for me.

She lives in a memory care facility. She recently started asking me, “How are we related?” The other day, she introduced me to a group of people (who were totally ignoring her) as her great- or great-great-granddaughter. Cool. That made me feel like I was looking really young that day. I can dig on that.

Seriously, though. My mom really blew it in the Making Me Feel Loved Department, which was a serious problem for yours truly growing up and for a number of years after that.

Let’s begin to unpack it.

My mom failed me. She failed to love me. She failed to talk to me about anything that mattered. She failed to teach me about life. She failed to share any wisdom with me. She failed to hold and hug me. She failed to share her life with me. She failed to express joy. She failed to express any feeling whatsoever.

She was an utter failure.

She was a presence, not a person. She did chores. She didn’t connect with people. Feeding me and clothing me were chores. Parenting me was a chore. It wasn’t a privilege. It wasn’t a joy. She gave me food to eat, but she didn’t nurture my heart, my mind or my spirit.

What she didn’t say
While I was growing up, she never told me she loved me. I never once heard her pray for anyone or anything. She never once apologized to me or admitted that she was wrong about anything.

She went through the motions. All form, no substance.

My parents took us to church three times a week. I liked the music. I liked the people. I liked being in the youth group. People talked about love there. I didn’t understand it. I really didn’t get it. I understood the moral code. But I didn’t understand the relationship. What did that word—relationship—mean? How could I have a relationship with God when I didn’t even have a relationship with my own mother? My mother who never once spoke the name of Jesus.

It took me many years to figure that out.

My mom carried her Bible to church, but she never read it to me. If she didn’t know truth or answers, she could have searched for them in the Bible, found them and shared them. But she didn’t want the truth. She didn’t want the answers.

It was easier to have nothing. To want nothing. To know nothing. To share nothing.

The chores were easier. They didn’t require any talking or feeling. They didn’t require you to care or be connected with another living, breathing human being.

The people in the house
She failed to make our house into a home. She failed to make the separate people into a family. Yes, I place this responsibility on her. The mother is the heart of the home. When she checks out emotionally, all of the people in the house suffer.

I refer to us as the people in the house because I can’t call us family. We sat around the dinner table together, but we were never a family. Being genetically or legally related doesn’t make you family. Living under the same roof doesn’t make you family.

Worshiper and worshipee
As far as I could tell, only one person out of the five people in the house felt loved and that person was—*Tah-tah-tah-tah… tah-tah-tah-tah-tah-tahhhhhh* (trumpet fanfare)—Pam, The Narcissist, my younger sister. She felt utterly adored and worshiped by our mom, because her love language was Acts of Service. So in Pam’s World, chores = love. (For more information about Love Languages, go to this website or see the Essential Reading section in this post from the last series on Choosing Peace.)

One-way street
And our mom never asked for anything. It was a one-way street. Pam had a full-time servant who never required anything from her in return. Combine that with Dad’s stellar narcissistic example, and you get the creation of the Personality Disorder Princess. (Narcissist is the common expression for people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.)

Live-in servants
While we were growing up, our mom’s cooking, sewing, knitting, cross-stitching, errand-running and transporting all said I love you, Pam! If you’re working for Pam, you love Pam. If you’re doing Pam’s work for her, you really love Pam.

Did I mention that my mom did “adult” Pam’s and her family’s laundry for decades? Did I mention that Pam charged my mom rent—to the tune of $650 per month—to serve as her personal, live-in servant after her other live-in servant (her now-ex-husband) moved out? You know the drill. It didn’t matter that the new servant was 80-something years old. She grocery shopped, cooked, cleaned, transported kids, parented kids, packed the house every year for their annual move, etc. And she was happy to pay for the honor of serving—*Tah-tah-tah-tahhhhhh*—Pam, The Almighty. Ahhh, yes. Codependents R Us. I mean Codependents R Those People.

Now that our mom is in a memory care facility, I guess Pam will have to break down and get another husband; I mean slave. Wait a minute. Her teenage sons may suffice for a while….

Kingdom of Crazies.

Back to the original, the Kingdom of Nothingness.

Siblings vs. sisters
The siblings I grew up with are not my sisters. They are not my friends. They are not for me. They are against me. They don’t know me. They aren’t a part of my life. One of them is evil and the other one believes her. End of story.

Don’t get me wrong. I do have sisters, but none of them are related to me. My true sisters bless me richly. They are amazing to me—not in some fancy, world-accolade kind of way, but in all the ways that matter. They listen. They care. They share their hearts and feelings deeply. They question. They pray. They hug. They laugh. They are truth and love. They’re everything my mother wasn’t.

I love you, my sisters! I love you. I love you.

Freed by truth
It didn’t pain me this month to finally acknowledge my mother’s emotional neglect. It wasn’t hard to admit it, to write it. Actually, it felt freeing in a way, kind of like The Emperor’s New Clothes. Seeing the fog and calling it a fog is simply the truth. There isn’t any way around that. Fog isn’t sunshine. It isn’t rain. It isn’t snow. It’s fog. Plain and simple.

I like how this truth came out. My dear family—Brandon, Logan and I—went camping one recent weekend with friends. We took our 1960s vintage Airstream to a state park and spent a wonderful weekend outside—walking, reading, talking, laughing, cooking, eating, sitting by the camp fire, enjoying smores. The children and dogs swam. Our Golden Retriever loved the swimming. Our other dog? Not so much. He got out of the water pronto and looked at Brandon, as if to communicate What was that for?

Only one
On the third day of this peaceful, restful camping weekend, I woke up writing The Fog in my mind—the poem in the last post. While I was lying on my back, it poured out in my thoughts. One single, lone tear ran down my right cheek to my hair. Only one. Maybe more will come later. We’ll see….

Oh. In case you’re wondering about the one question and the one answer from the poem—the one question was “How was your day?” The one answer was the response I was trained to give: “Fine.” That is the most-foul four-letter word to me. I hate that word. I absolutely, utterly, completely hate that word. It is a lie. It is refusal to connect. It is death to relationships. It is nothing.

It is a vapor.

It is the fog….

Coming next: In part 3 of this post, you’ll read about the infraction, the place and the letter.

Healing through truth and music
Peaceful Readers, I’ve found great healing in my life through the beauty and truth of God’s word and through music. I hope the truths and songs that I share at the end of each post will bless you too.

Truth from The Word: John 4:4-42

Song for Healing: “The River” by Meredith Andrews

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