I’ve been asked how I knew I was ready. How did I know I was ready to say ‘no more’. It’s not a straightforward answer, but then this issue never is, is it? Nobody could ever put this all in a little neat package and wrap it neatly for display purposes. Not a chance in Hell or anywhere in fact. It’s not possible. Truth is, I thought I was ready many times, but when my daughter starting showing signs of being affected that was when it really hit home for me that I had to put a stop to it. I had to stop it overflowing and damaging her. I’d tried for so long to pretend everything was okay and that the situation would improve, and of course thanks to my abusive childhood I thought that I was the one in the wrong, that I was the one who was making everything bad and horrible and that it was my fault. So I kept on holding that rope, even though it was burning my hands. Then when my daughter asked me to, I let go of it.
That isn’t where the story ends though. It’s simply where it begins. Almost two years ago this happened. And yet here I am, just now dealing with the fall out. Only just admitting what happened to me, what I’ve been through. Only just realising that what I went through was a form of abuse. It sounds so harsh and I know that if any of my estranged family members were to read this they’d be furious but this isn’t about them, it’s about me, what I feel and think. I could be really petty and list everything and ask them to justify it but I’m so over that stage of recovery. It’s not worth going backward, taking a step backward and reliving stuff. It’s not healthy. My first year of recovery wasn’t healthy at all. I was easily angered (more than usual – those who know me will be like “Easily angered?! What’s new!?”), easily discouraged, always struggling to sleep, eating the wrong foods, getting fixated on the wrong things, the wrong people. I thought I was doing it right, I thought it was simple. I thought all you had to do was cut the bad thing out. How wrong I was.
If you were stabbed, would you just pull the knife out and then go about your day? No. You’d need to go to hospital and have stitches and be taught how to care for the wound. You might even need aftercare or ongoing treatment. Cutting an abusive or narcissistic mother out of your life is no different. It’s the same as a physical wound, it needs treatment and aftercare. The treatment and aftercare could be a whole range of things, from a cuddle and reassuring words from a friend, to taking some time out for yourself to go on a long quiet walk, to writing down your feelings, to seeking professional help. You can even do all of the above, usually a combination of things makes for a more effective recovery process in my humble opinion. You must look after yourself though, I cannot stress that enough. Recovery is not straightforward or easy or pain free. There’s gonna be a hell of a lot of realisations coming your way, some being horrific, some being heart breaking, some will make you angry, cry, numb. It’s not going to be easy, but it most definitely is worth it I promise you.
So back to me. Someone who I trusted and had a lot of respect for suggested counselling to me one day when I was crying about having a row with my daughter over something insignificant, and I’d screamed “Do you know how difficult you make my life!?” BAM. They were my mother’s words. What I should have said was “Do you know how difficult your behaviour right now is making my life?”, but in the heat of the moment it’s all too easy to let emotions take over, especially when you’re running late for work for the third time that week and you just realised you’ve forgotten to make yourself a packed lunch. I know now looking back that I wasn’t the only mother in the world at that moment having the exact same row with their junior schooler but still, at the time I felt awful. Giving counselling a go seemed like my last option left and even though I didn’t feel like I deserved help or that my problems were worthy of counselling sessions, I was desperate to keep mine and my daughters relationship from going to shit. So I referred myself via the online form, and waited. Three months later, the call came. There was a spot available on the 16-week program, and it was mine if I wanted it.
By the time my first appointment came round, I was so ready. The fact that this would be the first time I’d spoken to someone neutral about my childhood probably made a world of difference, too. So much anger was bubbling up inside me that the counsellor actually thought I was in the middle of a manic episode. I wasn’t, I’m not bipolar at all, but I was just so angry and even though I was ready to speak out, none of it made sense or was coherent. I just had so much I needed to get off my chest it was just coming out in rambles complete with scowling facial expressions and that all important -to-note minimal eye contact. I wanted to talk but I didn’t know where to start. By the time the sixteen weeks were over, I came to a startling but surprisingly easy to say out loud conclusion; I’m not scared any more. In fact, I was so not scared any more that the thought of going back would not enter my head no matter how hard I tried to envision it. I tried to imagine what it would be like to live my old life, to back down and go back to believing that I’m ugly and stupid and disgusting and living a life of fear and constant pain, but no matter hard I tried, my brain just wouldn’t allow it. My counsellor asked me to describe how I felt, and I told her, “Natalie, it’s like… I’ve spent four months trying to escape a dark forest with all tangled trees and scary stuff in it. Like there was this wall with all crumbly steps, and it was tall and I couldn’t see over it, but even though I couldn’t see over it, I knew it had to be better than staying in this dark horrible forest. And so I’m trying to find a way over it and I’ve finally done it and I’m on the other side and the other side of the wall is smooth and straight and there’s nothing to grip on to to climb back over, and I can see that on the other side where I’ve just come from it’s still dark and shit, and the side I’m on is calm and still and I don’t know what’s on this side yet but it’s better than the other side, and even if I wanted to I couldn’t climb back over the wall cos there’s nothing to hold on to to hike myself over, so all I can do is see what’s on this side cos there’s no going back. If that makes sense.”
And she replied, “That makes perfect sense. In fact, that’s quite a good way of explaining it. I totally get it.”
It’s been two weeks since I finished counselling, and it’s a whole new world. I’m still getting used to my new life, and I don’t believe that I’m cured, at all, but I do know that I feel more capable. There’s nothing wrong with me, there never was, it was all lies. I’m not ugly, I’m not stupid, I’m not selfish, I’m not vile, there is absolutely nothing wrong with me. I was a child, and in some ways I guess I still am, but for the most part of me, I’m a grown up now and I’m not scared any more. No more nightmares, no more constant panic, no more sleepless nights, no more pain. It’s not all over, I believe I will always have some days where I need to remind myself of what I learnt in counselling and remind myself of the coping techniques, and I know there will always be a time where someone says “What did you get your mum for Mother’s Day?” (fuck all) or “Are you seeing your parents over Christmas?” (Um… NO) or “Could your mum not babysit for you?” (over my dead body) and I’ll have to decide what to say, but for now, I’m good. I’ll cross those bridges when I come to it. I’m still utterly abysmal at eye contact, but hey, you can’t win them all.
So in answer to the question, how did you know you were ready to escape? The truth is, you never really know. You can’t plan it, it just happens. One day you just snap, and you say enough is enough. I kind of knew that I was ready when it dawned on me that even though I had cut my narcissistic mother out a year previously, the world had still turned. Nothing had crumbled around me, I was still living; I didn’t need her anymore. I never did. She had just ground me down from birth into believing I was worthless, incompetent, stupid, ugly, that nobody liked me or had any faith in me. In reality, those things couldn’t have been more further from the truth. I just didn’t think I was allowed to believe or even speculate otherwise. Everyone is different, but when the time comes, you’ll know. And believe me, you can do it. It takes a lot of hard work, and it’s not quick or pain free, and you might lose some shit of yours along the way, but if you come out of it with nothing but your sanity and the clothes on your back, ain’t nothing else mattering. You can buy new stuff, but you can’t buy a new you. You’re irreplaceable, one of a kind, and above all else, you’re capable of amazing things.