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Friday, January 14, 2022

Accepting Past Abuse

Accept that I was an abused child. I was. I knew this. There was no denying it. But I did not want to BE an abused child. I wanted to be cherished and loved and protected. That cannot happen. I was not. But accepting this does not say anything about ME. It says a whole lot about the people who raised me.

Parenting does not come with a manual. That's not to say there aren't a million books that have been written about how best to raise children, but not all of those are correct, probably because parenting is complex and every child is different. The most emotionally healthy person in the world can still be a terrible parent. Parenting is pretty easy to mess up. 

However, if someone comes from a background of abuse, it's not unlikely that that person will also become an abuser. It happens all the time. 

My mother was the child of an abusive, alcoholic father. She has a lot of issues that were never resolved. I and my siblings bore the brunt of this. We didn't deserve to be abused. Accepting that we were abused does not change that. It also doesn't mean that we're somehow less because we were abused.

Understanding that I was raised by a woman who lived with brain damage due to the severe abuse she suffered helps me understand her erratic behavior. Her parenting practices were completely dominated by fear. She was afraid of losing control - even though she was never really in control. She was afraid of making mistakes - even through most of what she did, discipline-wise, was definitely a mistake. She was afraid of being judged by other parents if her children misbehaved - not something anyone can avoid, really, and definitely not something she could do anything about. She was afraid of not being perfect - an insidious trap to fall into because on one is.

Understanding that because of the damage she suffered, she did not have the emotional skills to raise children in a healthy manner helps me to understand that my mother is not monstrous. She was in a situation that she had no idea how to navigate. She reacted with anger and frustration. And somehow, in that addled brain of hers, she convinced herself that everything we did was designed to infuriate and thwart her. She decided that we were rotten to the core. Somehow, she was able to rationalize her behavior based on what she believed about our behavior. 

She didn't understand that we were children. She didn't, and still does not, understand children.

My mother was not a good mother.

Having said all that, I do believe she tried. And I think, as much as she was able, she loved us.

She did things for us that she wished had been done for her. 

She read to us every night. My world was filled with a love of stories, poetry, history, and science. 

She made certain we all had music lessons. My world was filled with piano lessons, choir, orchestra, and band. I was given the foundation that made me a professional musician.

She sang. I loved listening to her sing. I have spent my life singing.

She taught us to clean house, do laundry, sew, knit, crochet, bake, preserve food, and make dinner. We weren't always willing learners, but we are capable, self-sufficient adults because of it.

She played games with us. I loved that.

She painted. My mother loved art. She was better than she knew. I loved her paintings.

She took classes throughout my life, and always assumed I would be a college graduate. She, herself, graduated from college when I was 24. She earned her masters degree ten years later. I was amazed by her determination to constantly learn.

I grew up believing my mother could do anything. She was creative, energetic, and so incredibly intelligent.

She also physically, emotionally, and mentally abused each of her children. In retrospect, however, my siblings have all acknowledged that she targeted me, specifically, most of the time. I used to wonder why. I no longer care. Abuse is abuse. Whether it is more or less does not diminish the damage it does.

What I have come to understand as I accept all of these things is that, while they each affected me differently and helped to shape the person I have become, ultimately, I am the one who gets to decide how much power they have. I choose where I will dwell. 

I was an abused child. I am no longer an abused child. I am ready to allow that part of me to heal, to cherish the child that I was, and to be grateful for the adult I have become. 

I suppose if there is any triumph to be had in my story, it comes because I took the steps necessary to ascertain that the abuse cycle ended with me. I got the help I needed so abuse was not perpetuated when I had my own children. I will never claim to be a perfect parent - such a thing does not exist. But I will claim that I worked hard to build a home where mistakes could be learned from in a healthy manner, good boundaries were in place, and love could prevail. Sometimes I was better at it than other. My children learned that their mistakes could always be forgiven, and they also needed to learn to forgive me when I messed up. That's part of the beauty of being human.

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