I’m Not My Mother

I started writing an article about being too quick to medicate children. I often wonder about the damage done to my developing mind from all the medications given to me as a child (some prescribed for me some for my mother).

I find myself questioning how much of my anxiety can be attributed to taking six different antidepressants and mood stabilizers before age eight. I know my body suffered, and I’m sure my mind did too. My thoughts drift to the sleeping pills my mom had me take when I’d get out of bed to ask for a book or glass of water while I was lying awake at three o’ clock in the morning.

But every time I started writing, I’d stop after a few sentences. My thoughts kept coming back to my mother. Somehow I felt like if I wrote this piece, she’d win.

That’s when it hit me, a realization that hadn’t been that far under the surface, a worry creeping in any time I lose my temper. I was still allowing myself to be a victim of her verbal abuse even though she’s been out of my life for five years.

My mother suffered from substance addiction as far back as I can remember. A side effect of this is that she carried her addiction over to me by teaching me her ways to cope, by self-medicating. It started with her giving me Klonopin to sleep when I was seven during a string of nightmares I was having; then it eventually transitioned into her buying me a pack of cigarettes when I was twelve after I came home crying that my best friend was giving me the silent treatment. But, honestly, all that was in the background, and not something I truly understood until I was away from her. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized all these people coming in and out of the house were buying drugs.

The thing that overshadowed all the substances was the fact that I was her verbal punching bag when she was having an off moment, which happened a lot. I still freak out about going to the doctor; a symptom of being part of her ploy to get her hands on prescription medications. Honestly, only once I had become a mother did I realize the parts in me that needed fixing. I never learned any proper coping technics. My tools were rage and substances.

The truth was I had spent most of my childhood terrified of my mother. The unpredictability of how dark things could get at any moment made me constantly feel on edge. Like all aspects of life, there are peaks, and there are valleys. It wasn’t bad all the time. Some moments were good even. She certainly was able to maintain an image of normalcy when she was out in the world. The facade she put on made me feel trapped, causing me to feel like I had imagined it all. But like clockwork, after a small stretch of relatively smooth sailing, the moment I started not to dread coming home after school, everything would take a turn. Each time worse than the previous. I still find myself to this day on edge, waiting for everything to turn to shit.

I worry myself sick with small details, hoping that if I stay on top of all those things I won’t let life slip through my hands like my mother did, even though the rational part of my brain tells me that’s not the case. In those early childhood years when I was just building my family, I was terrified I’d be the reason it would all break someday. Then I didn’t really understand why. Only recently was I able to put it all together. Every choice, every action has a ripple effect. I understand that nineteen years of emotional abuse is going to have an effect on me. The environment that my mother created directly influenced certain tendencies in my behavior, certain habits (both good and bad), and fears—even my goals and why I work hard to build a healthy homestead.

I learned what not to do.

For a long time any time a glimmer of her would reveal itself to me I’d immediately reject it. It didn’t matter if it was liking tea or losing my temper. When I’m angry, that’s when I remind myself of her the most, which only adds anxiety and self-disdain to the mix. I started noting behaviors of mine, paying attention to why. I didn’t want to give any acknowledgment of how she influenced my behavior, or how I treat myself, or the guilt I feel when I eat a piece of bread. I wanted nothing to do with her, which included the parts of me tied to her.

I have a wonderful family now; we have a beautiful life, and even though things get a little messy, and raising kids doesn’t come with a manual, everyone feels safe and happy and loved, which is honestly all I can hope.

I realize that holding myself to inhuman standards to avoid any similarity to my mother isn’t healthy, or fair to me. For my sake, I have to love and nurture all of me, even the parts that are like her. Because even though I wouldn’t be who I am today without her; I am not my mother.

Photo Credit: simpleinsomnia via Compfight cc

  1. Jayme,
    Having pored over your writings on Feminine Collective I am filled with deep emotion. I am wanting to pick up and embrace that darling baby girl–six years old and so shiny and bright living her life, wanting to please and be loved. I frequently saw the stress between mother and child. I longed to reach out, questioned how things are, what can I do for this lovable child? “Nothing! Everything is fine…she’s actually just like me.” Oh no! Don’t say that. She’s her own little person, nothing like you! That’s not what she wanted to hear. She up and left with her sweet child.

    More years passed than I’d like to admit. Holidays came and went; invitations to join the family first accepted but then never honored. Dinner held, waiting. Oh, we can’t make it was her response to my phone calls from the dinner table. My concerns were with the children, but I did nothing!

    No, you are not your mother. You never will be! You are a very strong, kind, lovable woman who is so incredibly gifted it boggles my mind. I love you—I always have. I am sorry I didn’t show you with my two hands and two arms. I’m sorry I never was there for you—in your childhood days at home in hell; during the runaway time, sharing the phenomenal joy and terror of childbirth. I would tell you that mothering is the best of times, but often the worst of times. That your heart will never be the same. That each child will fill you with unfathomable love and hope, ah, but also with worry, angst, and yes anger. I might say there are no greater rewards, but I won’t because there are special rewards that life doles out: Loving a great man who loves you back; freedom to be you—to be all you can be; cherishing one or two amazing friends with bonds of love that know no bounds. I wish I could have been your adopted mother. I am sorry I didn’t force the issue, steal you away…but then, I don’t think you would become the woman you are today. I am so proud of you. For all you have done. For all you still will do. I love you.

  2. Thank you Mary. I honestly didn’t realize the toll not accepting the parts of me that remind me of my mother really had until I started to accept them.

  3. Thank you Kitt, your words mean very much to me. I have been inspired by many to speak up and share what I’ve gone through, and I’m honored to have helped.

  4. Thank you, Jayme. I’m so glad you’re able to embrace all parts of yourself. My mom’s issues are much different than your mom’s, but they affected me deeply as a child and still do. As I grow older, it’s strange to see both the good and not-so-good parts of her in me, and I have a hard time embracing most of them. But your piece helps me understand how continually rejecting those things won’t do me any good.

  5. Thank you, Jayme, for writing this. I’ve been debating whether to submit a piece about my mother’s mental illness and how it affected and still affects me. Now, I feel free to do so, as if in sharing your story of emotional abuse and how you have overcome it gives me permission to share my story. Those of us who have survived substance abuse and emotional abuse can see ourselves in your story. Thank you for that.

  6. Jayme,

    I wish I could hug you tight. In this essay, I could her the little girl in you cry out. How you have not only survived but THRIVED is a miracle. You are a miracle. You are important. You are worthy of all good things. Beautifully written, it left this reader’s heart on the floor.


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