Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Speaking ill of the dead.

It's a taboo in our culture, to speak ill of the dead. When someone dies we are supposed to forget the bad things they did and dwell only on the good.

I cannot forget. I will not forget. I will not be silent. My story is mine, and I will not edit it for ghosts.

My mother died 53 weeks ago. She is the ghost for whom I will not edit my story. I have written about some of her abusive behavior before, and I wrote a bit last year when she died, but there are specific things she did that are not ok and it is time.

My mother was an emotional abuser. And I'm triggered to shit any way, so I am going to tell you about her favorite tactics.  

Trigger Warning for emotional abuse, confinement, suicide threat descriptions

Starting when I was very young, my mother would make threats of the abandonment type. They evolved as I grew older.

When I was quite young, my mother would threaten to  leave me places. Not like that thing that parents do with their little kids where they wave bye-bye to transition out of McDonalds or wherever. That thing where they say that if you don't stop crying right now they are going to leave you where you are and pretend you are not theirs. Now, I have enough siblings that this is a practical impossibility, but five year olds don't really recognize that. This threat didn't last very long-you can't terrorize a small child who cannot handle a mall into not melting down at the mall while still at the mall, it turns out. It evolved.

When I was seven or eight, I found out somehow that foster care and orphanages were things, that some children did not have parents, that some children could not live with their parents. I don't remember how I came to this information. I do remember my mother using it as a weapon. For several years, every time I got overstimulated, "if you can't control yourself I will take you to the Children's Home". Every time I would not wear what she wanted me to wear, "well maybe you'd like the clothes from a foster mother better." My room wasn't clean (and it was never, ever clean. Nowhere in our house was clean)? "They'd teach you to keep a room clean at an orphanage". This was the constant over the head threat. At least 5 times she started to pack a suitcase for me because I was acting like an overloaded Autistic child, or because I was acting like a child in general.

This, too, would evolve.

So, for my whole life I have had a fear of confinement. Not like "oh, that'd suck" but like "give me liberty or give me death, and I mean that literally". Once I got old enough to know that orphanages weren't really a thing in the US, and to understand a bit more about foster care (and to have double dared her to call CPS a couple times), my mother had a new abandonment threat: she was going to have me committed.

This was where she'd stack emotional abuse tactics. First she would trigger a meltdown. I've got some pretty significant sensory integration weirdness goin' on, and I have always very much needed to know exactly what was going on. File nails right next to me while changing my schedule? Make me late for things with the worst sound in the world? Refuse to do what you said was going to be done when it was going to be done? Yeah I can't handle that now, 20 years later. And it was so much more chaotic there. So my mother would start a meltdown, and then instead of leaving me alone she would yell at me, hold me down while yelling at me, and then demand I calm down or she would call for an ambulance to take me to the psych ward, where she could make them keep me forever.

Yes. My mother told me she could make the psychiatric ward keep me forever if I did not stop crying while she was shouting in my face. This was supposed to be "for my own good". She would never call, but she also would not leave until I was too exhausted to melt any further.

There was a further evolution of this tactic: calling the police.

This did not last long because, while it inspired exactly the terror that was her goal, it did not inspire obedience to every little whim the way the foster care threats of my youth did. It inspired terror, hiding, and running away.  She also realized that it had deadly potential, since I was in the habit of calling her bluff, calling everyone's bluff really, and do not react well to being physically handled without permission. She could have, would have killed me just for a sense of power, but something stopped her after the time a cop actually showed up and told her that the next time she called, he was going to have to take someone in. She had played the same trigger a meltdown game, but she had waited til I was too tired to call, so I just looked sleepy, red, puffy, and bruised from where she had grabbed me. This wasn't what she had wanted at all! And if she called while I was still energetic enough to melt down or be a smartass, I was out the window and away. So the police only came the once.

That doesn't mean my mother stopped being emotionally abusive though. She had another big powerful abandonment tactic, beyond the "sending you away so I don't have to deal with you". It was the conversation stopper. It was the one that had every child in fear. And it was the one that was effective regardless of the age of the child who she claimed was "pushing her" to it:

My mother manipulated us by threatening suicide.

Frequently. Often. Many more times than I can count.

She always told us how she was going to do it, too. It was never "If you don't stop embarrassing me at church, I am going to kill myself". It was always "if you don't stop embarrassing me at church, I am going to sit in the tub and cut every vein I can see until I die" or "jump into traffic" or "take a bunch of asprin and drink a box of wine" or "jump off the roof of the house" or "poke a beehive" (she is allergic to bees).

Not only did she tell us how she was going to do it-and she would think of how she was going to kill herself easily, on the fly, when we needed manipulation to behave how she wished-she would tell us to imagine the body. To think of how the body would look immediately and at the funeral. Would it be open casket? How would we feel then? Which would be worse, a mangled or not mangled corpse?

It was twisted. It was not ok. It was unacceptable emotional abuse, and there's really no way to say it was for our own good. After the third or fourth time she did this, I came to the conclusion she wouldn't do it-I think she was going to jump from the roof to the street, and there's no way she could get on the roof or jump that far-but it was always scary. And then I would always be oh so angry that she made me do what she wanted without just asking like a grownass adult.

This is not ok. This is not the legacy to leave one's children with-one of abuse, manipulation, fear, feeling that if they step one foot out of line, and you kill yourself, it is all their fault. No. That is absolute bullshit. And we never called her bluff out loud, but sometimes? I wish I had.

She often said if she killed herself we could never say anything bad about her. This too is bullshit. She died of lung cancer, which she arguably gave to herself as a heavy smoker. I am speaking ill of her now. Nothing that isn't true. But nothing she wanted heard.


Lydia Brown said...

Sending many hugs and spoons your way. That is terrible and is definitely not okay and is definitely abuse. It is far more important to speak honestly of the dead, and you've done that here.

BiolArtist said...

I agree with Lydia 100%. This was awful, and you don't have to pretend the dead were saints when they weren't.

Besides my usual disdain for social lies, I don't think it applies here anyway. I think the custom originated in deference to the grieving family by outsiders, or trying to keep the peace during a time of crisis. Well, a family member with a bonafide history of harm should be able to speak the truth even sooner than a year after the funeral.

Your mother was far, far worse than mine ever was, but mine had the same "send you away" shtick, and I still have a phobia of being institutionalized. I'm not trying to make this about me, but just to let you know you're not alone.

Unknown said...

If people have a problem with being remembered as harm-causers, perhaps they oughtn't cause harm.

Good job surviving.


Lindsay said...

You've described your mom deliberately making sounds that hurt you before, but I'm still aghast at it. What kind of person does that? I know that if I ever find out that something random I'm doing hurts someone, I STOP DOING IT. And I'm supposed to be the one with no empathy, too...

Anyway, this stuff is awful, and you were a brave kid to try and call her bluffs. I don't know if I would have dared, had it been me.

And yes, I do think you're helping people by telling these stories. So much in our culture --- respect for elders, respect for the dead --- is theoretically good but works to protect abusers, and because this culture is so saturated with abuse I think those norms might do more harm than good.

Chickenpig said...

I have heard many stories of abuse and neglect, and this is one of the worse stories of emotional and verbal abuse that I've heard. Today if a child tells a mandatory reporter something like this they would be pulled from the home and put into foster care. Ironic, isn't it? It sounds like your mom could seriously have used some help and support, for your sake. I'm sorry you had to endure this.

Draggle said...

Your mother sounds so much like my mother. I, too, speak ill of the dead.

Lecy said...

Wow... I do not blame you AT ALL for having negative things to say about her. How dare she shift the blame for her own unforgivable actions onto you, just a child at the time.
I wish you could have had the empathetic, nurturing parent you deserved instead of a deluded person riddled with insecurities.

Unknown said...

the no speaking ill of the dead thing is for protecting grieving family members from other people trash talking their loved ones who just died I think, you have every right to speak ill of that shit, what kind of parent does those things to a child? No kind of parent worthy of the name.

Reading these kinds of things has made me all the more aware of how lucky I've been to have raised in a family that was supportive, not perfect by any means, but generally supportive, and trying to help me for my sake, not just stop me from doing things they didn't like.