The trauma of disengagement: from denial to healing, part 5 of 6

Mom’s impact—friends

I’m watching my mom walk slowly (and sit sadly) in one of the final phases of her life. After she was diagnosed with dementia, had her driver’s license taken away, and was admitted to a rehab facility because she was having great difficulty walking, I wrote this in my journal:

Saturday, July 8, 2017
I said to Brandon this morning (regarding my mom): “It seems hard for someone to steal something from you that you never had, but that’s the way it feels.” I was tired and sad this morning.

Grieving the invisible
In the first post of this series, I wrote about Grieving the Invisible. That’s what my journal entry was all about—grieving what never was, but should have been. We’ll cover this type of grieving in more detail later in this series. That journal entry was just a small taste. I’ve found Grieving the Invisible to be somewhat challenging because it feels intangible and yet very real and significant all at the same time. It’s strange and disturbing and sad….

Grieving the Invisible reminds me of The Fog—the poem I wrote about my mom.

The hidden truth
In psychology class during my senior year of high school, we did an exercise at the end of the semester where we told our classmates what we saw in them. One of the more insightful young ladies in the class told me that she saw me as melancholy. She was absolutely right, but she really surprised me. I thought I hid all that really well. I even hid it from myself. I smiled a lot. I was easy-going. How could she see what I couldn’t even acknowledge? Her comment stayed with me. She spoke the truth. The truth I didn’t want to see. And here I am writing about it more than 35 years later.

Stolen and taught
Last time on Choosing Peace,
I revealed what my mom stole from me:

My mom stole my belief in my inherent value.

And that, Peaceful Readers, is a vital thing to live without. She also taught me—silently—some very unhealthy coping mechanisms and behaviors. Let’s dive into the results as we unpack my mom’s impact on my life.

When I’m afraid, I tend to be quiet. I can hide. I can disappear. I learned that from her. Was my mom ever afraid? Of course she was. But she didn’t appear to feel anything. She always seemed hidden. Alone. Separate.

My mom taught me that the way to survive was silence. Never an objection. Never an opinion. Never a disagreement. Never an apology. Never any truth. Lay low and say nothing. Lay low and pretend you feel nothing. That’s what she taught me.

What a disaster. A catastrophic disaster.

Best friend—high school
Who did I choose for my best friend in high school? Actually, she chose me. I’ll call her Shay. The first thing Shay ever said to me was to call me an obscenity. If I had any sense, I would’ve run in the opposite direction. But I obviously didn’t have any sense. Why didn’t I have any sense? Why would I tolerate someone who cursed at me instead of saying “Hi”? Why wasn’t I insulted by her behavior?

Because I was accustomed to emotional abuse. I was raised to ignore obvious problems and to keep my mouth shut. I was raised to only say what other people wanted to hear. I was raised to smile and be nice. I was raised to make good grades and be well-liked.

My future best friend was testing me. Would I tolerate atrocious behavior? If the answer was Yes, then she just hit the motherlode—a willing “friend”/sucker/audience who was raised by sick parents like hers—parents with personality disorders. I wouldn’t see the obvious problems. I wouldn’t complain. I wouldn’t question anything. I’d just sit there and pretend that everything was fine. I’d just listen and be the Silent Sponge to absorb and wipe up anything she wanted to barf out. I’d help her stumble inside her house when she was drunk. I’d be there.

My T-shirt
My mom showed me how to be a “good listener” during one-sided monologues. She taught me how to say “Uh-huh.” “Really?” “Sure.” “Whatever you say.” When self-absorbed Shay met me, tested me and I passed with flying colors, she yanked me up. I must have been wearing a T-shirt that said “You talk; I listen” on the front, and “I’ll never complain” on the back.

Shay and family
How would I describe Shay? She was a loud-mouthed disaster—always on stage, always performing, always talking, always seeking attention, and totally boy-crazy. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Shay was the poster child for Histrionic Personality Disorder. Her dad was a depressed, detached alcoholic and her mom was a hypochondriac wacko with absolutely no boundaries who talked non-stop. What a strange couple. Very strange indeed. I presumed that since her family went to church, they must be okay. Obviously, that was a completely naïve assumption to make. (My sociopathic father-in-law was a church elder.)

Speaking of church, guess who I met at Shay’s wedding? My first husband. He was a frat brother of Shay’s first husband. Was it a community service fraternity for nice young men? Certainly not. It was a beer-guzzling, acting like fools, small town, party-all-the-time frat. ‘Nuff said (for now).

Double break-up
At some point after The Nine Years of Misery (my first marriage), I told Shay: “This isn’t working for me.” The friendship was over. I resigned my role as The Performer’s Audience. What a total relief.

No friends vs. true sisters
My mom didn’t have friends. She didn’t talk with a friend on the phone. My parents didn’t have friends over to our house. They didn’t get together with friends. They were friendly with people at church, but they didn’t have friends. That is so strange. My friend Lindsey commented: “I always thought your mom was just there to serve your dad.” You got it, sister.

Did and didn’t
As I think about my parents, they were very socially isolated. They did The Church Thing, but they didn’t have true friends. That’s really sad; but here’s the deal. You have to be a good friend to have a good friend. And they simply didn’t have the basic interpersonal skills. They didn’t know how to interact truthfully and meaningfully with other people—not with their children or with other adults. That’s just the pitiful truth.

Mr. Foghorn married to Mrs. Fog.

Gosh. I made a funny. Speaking of funny and Foghorn, did you ever watch Foghorn Leghorn cartoons? That loudmouth reminds me of my dad. I digress….

With much gratitude
Thankfully, I’m very different from my parents. And I’m very different from the girl I was in high school. Gradually throughout my adulthood, I learned who I wanted to be and—as I became stronger and wiser—I learned how to choose wonderful friends. In part 2 of this post, I wrote about my amazing friends in the Siblings vs. Sisters section. You’ve read about a number of my pals—Charlene, Isobel, Lindsey, Meagan, Summer….

The Lord has blessed me richly in surrounding me with precious friends and sisters in Christ.

Thank you, Jesus!

Coming next: Next time on Choosing Peace, you’ll read about The Bland Family, singing and generations.

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: Psalm 26:3

Song for Healing: I hope you enjoy one or both versions of “Impossible” by Meredith Andrews.

Click here for the studio version with lyrics.

Click here for a live, acoustic version.

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