Sunday, December 13, 2009

A venting…

The vent begins.

This February a bitch will celebrate five years of blogging here at AngryBlackBitch.

I’ve written a lot about my family…my sister, brother and my father, rest his soul.

But I haven’t written much about my mother, because we are estranged.

I have not spoken to my mother in over seven years.

I’ll confess that part of why I have not written about my mother and our estrangement is because people don’t receive that information well. I don’t hide it in my life…I’m not ashamed or embarrassed…but I’ve learned from people’s reactions and advice that folks feel compelled to try to inspire a Hallmark reunion when someone tells them they are estranged from a parent.

And there will not be a Hallmark moment tearful reunion bursting with tenderhearted joy between my mother and this bitch.

And the choir asked… “Okay, bitch…fine…why the fuck are you bringing her up?”

And a bitch replied… “Because my mother resurfaced in my world last week…arriving in town and stirring up shit like only she can.”

Here’s the deal…my mother is a toxic person for me. She is manipulative, judgmental and verbally abusive. I’ve seen her treat others well, but with me things are different and always have been.

For the first seventeen years of my life I internalized that and blamed myself, thinking that there must be something in me that inspired her to lash out and generally not like me. When my older sister went to college and it became just the two of us in the house things escalated (my older autistic brother was in residential care and my father moved to Chicago after my parents divorced).

My sixteenth year of life was the single most challenging twelve months of hell that I can remember. I was at an emotional bottom and desperate for relief from being the target of the daily verbal target practice my mother indulged in…the kind of verbal abuse that is so very hard to explain, that a body somehow learns to endure but never truly release.

I developed the following technique…a routine that allowed me to fool my friends, teachers and classmates into thinking everything was okay. My mother would go off on me during the drive to school each morning, not stopping until I broke down and cried. I took early hour classes at high school, so there weren’t a lot of students entering the building when I arrived. I’d close the car door, wipe the tears from my face and quickly walk inside, going straight to the bathroom. Once inside, I turned the water on cold at the sink and thrust my hands under the rush of frigid water palms up…and I’d stay there, ice cold water flowing over my hands, until my heartbeat slowed and my breath no longer hitched in my chest. After a quick splash of water to the face I took five deep breaths, checked my reflection in the mirror and then gathered up my shit and went to class.

I’ve met folks I went to high school with who had no idea that my home life was absolute shit. It’s amazing how people see what we want them to see…how easy it is to put on a show day after day when everyday a part of yourself is dying inside.

My salvation came in the form of college…my acceptance to Simon’s Rock College literally changed my life. I applied, got letters of recommendation, took the required tests and mailed off my application without telling my mother. When I was accepted I told her I was leaving.

She told me I would fail.

I told her thank you.

I meant it…really meant that thank you…because proving her wrong had long been an amazing motivator.

So, I took my first step away from mama drama when I was seventeen…and another a year later when I transferred to Brandeis…and yet another three years after than when I moved to Texas to live with my sister.

But I didn’t sever ties completely…and my mother remained a toxic force in my life. She’d call or visit (she eventually moved to Texas too…and may the gods be damned for that one) and I’d be right back in that house with her, sixteen again and dying inside while working to maintain the appearance of a successful young woman with a supportive mother who made all that success possible.

That shit went on for years…it might have gone on forever, but I got sick when I was 29. After a year of trying other shit I had to have surgery for fibroids and I never even thought to tell my mother about the initial diagnosis or the upcoming surgery. I was focused on getting well and I knew that my mother was the last thing I needed around me. She eventually found out when my sister let it slip during an argument…and my mother decided to play maternal and come to the hospital for the big day.

True to form, she couldn’t stay in character long…she picked a fight with my sister soon after I came out of surgery and, after upsetting everyone present with the exception of this bitch (I was out of it, thanks to some exceptional meds), exited stage left.

I was in the hospital for three days.

She didn’t come back.

She called several days later after my release and asked to come visit. I held her off for another week because I didn’t want her in my house while I was taking powerful pain meds and unable to properly defend myself. When she did visit I couldn’t wait for her to leave…to just walk out the door and cease trying to pretend that she gave a flying shit just because society expected her to. And when she finally did leave…after dropping several rancid comments about random shit…I sat down and acknowledged that both of us were playing the same stupid game and that the only reason I kept engaging my mother was because society expected children to.

I was 30 years old when I broke with my mother…there wasn’t a huge scene or massive battle. I didn’t stage a moment of closure or set up a final conversation. I moved back home to St. Louis and just stopped engaging. She continued to talk to my older sister and harass her for information about me while defending herself as the innocent party in the whole mess…I finally sent her a letter explaining that I was done and that harassing my sister wasn’t going to change that. She sent a reply explaining that I was crazy, the years of manipulation and abuse never happened and that I should check myself into a mental hospital to get help.

That’s the last I heard from my mother…that’s right, I was mama drama free for years…until last week.

I got a call while at work – my mother was in town driving around my brother’s old neighborhood looking for his house. She had not been in contact with her son either for damn near seven years, choosing to sever ties with all her children even though my autistic brother was the one person she used to have a positive relationship with. Now, after years of silence, she was driving around looking for his house…he moved years ago but she didn’t have the new address. Now, after years of silence, the staff at my brother’s house was on my phone asking whether they could give my mother his address and phone number (my sister and I are co-guardians and things like that have to be approved by us).

My sister and I nixed the surprise drop in attempt…my brother’s the kind of autistic person who doesn’t always respond well to sudden changes or surprises.

We agreed to a dinner meet up between my brother and my mother…by all reports it went well.

Throughout the week I was on edge…out of sorts…but not as out of sorts as I often thought I would be when I allowed myself to wonder what my reaction would be if she suddenly showed up.

And it just hit me…just now, while writing all this shit down…that this vent isn’t the rant it would have been years ago…that I’m stronger now…that I’m further along on this road than I thought I was…that I am, rather than a mass of reactions and fear, truly at peace with my choice.

Whether my mother is here to stay or just visiting remains to be seen.

But my family…my brother and sister and this bitch…we’re going to be okay.

Our mama’s drama doesn’t have to become our drama.


Yeah, we’re going to be fine.

The vent ends.


Memnet said...

I'm so sorry about the drama with your mother. I can totally relate... I walked away from my family about two, maybe three years ago and have never regretted it. What I regret is that the opportunity to exit without looking like the bad guy didn't hit until I was in my early-mid 50's. I had an abusive childhood and as an adult my family saw me as nothing more than an exploitable resource. I have never regretted walking away from them. I'm glad to see that you're dealing with the situation well and that you are at peace. Sorry though that yet another person has a parent/parents who suck. :( It happens way too often.

Jen said...

Things I love about this post:
1) You. (ok, so you're a person, not a thing, but I figured I should throw an "I love you" in here somewhere.)
2) It's real. It's not a pretty reality, but it's a reality.
3) The courage. In posting about this on your blog and in cutting her out of your life. In not just playing that role of "the good daughter" just because that's the role we're supposed to play. (Not that this is surprising. A bitch doesn't often do things just 'cause she's supposed to.)
4) Self-care. In a movement that often puts pretty much everything (the cause, families that wrap up into neat little boxes, miles of spreadsheets & reports) before care of oneself, it's pretty rare to find awesome activists who will also actually put value on their own needs.

I think it's been a few weeks since I expressed this, so here goes again: I'm so, so very glad I have you as a colleague, way on the other side of this effed up state.

ps - are the sorta-beagles trained as attack/defense dogs? If not, could you learn 'em up real quick?

Flopsy said...

Good for you sista! I like that you point out that society makes us think that we are required to put up with this kind of treatment just because we are related. I still have a relationship with my mom, but I'm getting better at using my filter ;)

Thanks for sharing

Anonymous said...

I love my mother dearly. She loved me dearly too. She departed this world and I think of her every waking moment, with the greatest joy possible. I'm sad that you don't have a relationship with your mother but I'm happy you are a strong, honest person.

mmmpossible said...

Bravo! Isn't knowing yourself and being comfortable with your choices grand? I applaud you for having the courage to stand up to the collective masses and simply say your life wasn't a crystal stair and that as an adult you have the right to live a happy, healthy and fulfilled life. Happy Holidays girl!

Be Well

Nat said...

This hit home for me. We are estranged from The Man's mother. I haven't seen her since she accused me of child abuse. (I may be a loud obnoxious person but I don't even spank the kid. You know?) It's been more than six years. In the interim she's gone after The Man's father for alimony. Accused her other son of stalking her (by waiting outside her door in the bushes... not making this shit up) and she has only met her youngest grand-daughter once. Last week, we get an email that she is "dying from arthritis" and needs money. Who dies from arthritis (Yeah, I know it can happen but in her case... not so much.)

Still we get the looks when we tell people that... that it is our fault. The Man (after therapy) is finally ok with this, and realizes it's not his fault... sigh. Still they want that tearful reunion. Hate to say it. Not gonna happen.

Hypatia said...

Bless you. You do sound like you're going to be fine. I'm sorry family can be so painful and complicated. I wish you luck weathering the storm.

'Drea said...

Sorry to hear about your biological but glad to hear that her toxicity didn't leave you permanently broken.

Anonymous said...

Dang. I wish I didn't understand this as well as I do. Thank you once again for putting the perfect words to what I think and feel. You are an amazing woman! Thank you!
Kamrin, Little Rock

Courtney said...

Good for you! It takes a lot of strength and courage to remove toxic people from your life, especially when the toxic people hold positions that society says we should value no matter what the person does to us.

Middle Girl said...

this hits very close to my own home brew.

peace be with you.

Shark-Fu said...

Thank you all so much.

Y'all are a blessing that keeps on giving...I hope you know it.

Anonymous said...

You were one smart girl. I wished I would have taken my early college years more seriously. I simply did not have a great plan for college life and really no one to guide me online the college route. Good mentors are so important to young people.

Spring, Ph.D. said...

Oh yes. This one I know all too well.

In my mother's case, she has borderline personality disorder. Removing myself was necessary for my kids' and my sanity (I moved cross-country 12 years ago). My kids, now adults, will not interact with her either.

I still get holiday phone calls from her, but I don't let her manipulate me anymore. As you said, that's the key -- not letting myself get sucked back in.

And no, people generally don't understand. There's something about moms and daughters that makes people think they just belong together, and therefore there must be something wrong with me if I choose to stay apart. It's easier to just not bring it up.

Anonymous said...

Pray for your Mom.
It is so obvious she needs therapy. If you ask her why she does certain things, she cannot answer. Your Mom was probably abused herself. I feel for her because she does not have a clue.

Ann- New Orleans

Anonymous said...

I forgot my name @ 11:07 pm


Anonymous said...

correction...along not online

good grief, I need to go wash the color out of my hair.


Delux said...

Hugs, bb. I'm around if you need to chat.

lilalia said...

We were all sort of raised on those a Hallmark moments, so it's hard sometimes to realise that a relationship is so broken there is nothing to save. Unless it is to save a bit of dignity and kindness towards one's self.

Sandra said...

Damn! I swear you were writng my story, just the locations and type of abuse were changed. To everyone, my dad and sister included my mother was the looooong suffering martyr. Then my sister moved back in with them. After a few years she realized everything I siad about my mom being off kilter and toxic was right on. And my dad too. I got married and moved to MO. We made up for a few years, then she went all bat-shit again. Even more so with my dad and sister, as they all lived together. I however, was 600 miles away and just decided not to deal with ehr bullshit anymore. I love her, but I do not like her and will never put up with her shit and be her whipping girl again. It pains me that my older sister has to deal with all the shit and stress of elderly parent issues by herself, but I would not be able to deal with my mom's shit if I lived up there still. My mother has no one but herself to blame she is alone with no friends. She drove them away. Bless you for taking a stand.

Unknown said...

Here’s the deal…my mother is a toxic person for me. She is manipulative, judgmental and verbally abusive. ~ I know this person..she is my mother as well. Only mine is a drunk and was physically abusive as well as verbally abusive to all five of her spawn. I am the oldest.

Be strong, keep her out of your life and your brothers life. There is nothing this woman adds to the lives of those she bore. Nothing.

Thank you for this raw, emotion-filled rant Shark Fu. I hope it helped you to deal with her and her disgusting self. Now, if I only could write mine off as well. My sista keeps that from happening. She guilts me into seeing her every winter..when the old biddy 'winters' in SoCal.

KBO said...

Love you, Bitch. Keep doin' you.

LisaMJ said...

I'm so sorry for all of your mama drama and that she has decided to pop up again, especially now right before the holidays (and they wonder why folk get so stressed this time of year). It makes a body ashamed for not being more appreciative of one's sane Mama, who I occasionally have issues with but who has been really good to me, so I have to give her a big thank you hug for being sane. I want to send you, C-Money and Bill a BIG VIRTUAL HUG for not getting the Mama you all really deserved and I hope that her toxicity does not hurt the three of you again.

You are such a strong, smart, funny, progressive excellent black woman and if your Mama can't see that, well, that is her loss.

Merry Christma-hana-kwanzika to you the sorta-Beagles, Bill and C-Money!

Happytwo said...


Amanda Marcotte said...

I don't know why there's so much pressure for people to continue toxic relationships with parents well past the breaking point. I guess it probably goes back to the 10 commandments or something, but it needs to end. You have my sympathies for all you've gone through, and I just wanted to express support for you doing what you have to do to save your own sanity. Parents should not have a right to guilt children into accepting abuse.

I just really admire the strength it took to survive this.

KC said...

Congrats for getting it down in words and telling the truth.

I had a similar parent, and went through a special kind of hell during college when feminists demanded I "celebrate" my toxic mother.

Argh. Ovaries aren't enough.

jOoLz said...

i've figured one thing out about estrangements from one's parents.. the flak i sometimes get is caused by jealousy and nothing more. jealousy that i had the courage to throw up my hands and say no fucking more (!), and walk away from my father and all his manufactured drama. i know a lot of people who would probably be better off w/o at least one of their parents in their lives, yet they lack the courage to do something about it. sometimes it's better to be an orphan of one's own making than to be shackled to the pain and misery of a parent.

today's blog was an exceptional read shark-fu. i am not seven years into my estrangement and your story tells me that healing and being able to take care of myself better is possible. thank you.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to print out your post and save it, maybe copy it and mail it off to my sister. "It hit home". I'm so sorry you had to have this sort of drama at this time of year, but really, there's never a "good" time of the year for it to happen anyway.

I just deleted what I've been through, you don't need to have to read that on top of the crap you're already dealing with.

I just wanted to thank you though for taking the time to write out what you did, and for you to know that there are so many of us out there who wish we had your same courage and who maybe are a little strengthed now by your post.

Fresh Hell, Texas said...

That reaction that people have when they find out a woman is estranged from her mother is near universal and it's beyond irritating.

My mother and I were estranged from several years (last straw? she disowned me a few weeks before my Marine husband left for Iraq. that woman has to be the center of attention.)

Those years were awesome in terms of mental health. I had not realized how much damn energy I was putting into the whole mess. I found a great therapist who understood that the Hallmark moment was not to be.

I am in limited contact with her now, by choice. But it could have gone (may still go) the way of no contact and that is fine, too. I have my family that I love that consists of relatives and friends and we are enough.

I'm glad you've got your family too.


PS My son is sending in his Brandeis application tomorrow. You are yet another reason I'm happy he is applying!

landismom said...

Delurking to say, thanks for this amazing post & congratulations for weathering the hell that you describe. I haven't spoken to my father in nearly 7 years, and I know exactly what you mean about how the world wants a tear-filled reunion. The reality is, I gave that guy more than one second chance, and he blew them all.

Shark-Fu said...

Thank you all of you for your encouragement and for sharing!

Y'all are amazing...just amazing.

Fresh Hell, Texas - me and Angela Davis too (wink). Go Judges and good luck to your son.

Metzengerstein said...

My sympathies and congratulations on dealing with it as well as you have. I didn't have that trouble. We had our conflicts like everyone; I was a late-life child and my mom may have been going through menopause when I hit puberty, which might have caused some moments. But nothing like what I'm seeing here. She was a great mom.

On the other hand, my partner of 28+ years had an abusive father who made his childhood a nightmare. It has an impact on a relationship and it's been some hard work at times. He told me plenty about it, but it took me a long time for it to sink in how bad it had been and was making things.

Some years ago, I came across a book called "Toxic Parents" by Susan Forward and bought him a copy (probably when 1st ed. came out around 1989) and gave it to him without too much comment. I don't really know if he read it but I think he might have and maybe it helped (something did, if only "mellowing" with age.

The book must have something going for it -- there are a whole bunch of printings/editions in a dozen languages or so and is still in print, the paperback at least. Many hundreds of libraries have it. It gets a 4+ star rating on Amazon.

Not to use your blog to plug a book, sorry if I overstepped. Nothing in it for me, just thought some might want to check it out.

Thanks, shark-fu.

Shark-Fu said...

Thanks for the book tip.

I can also recommend The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout.

Rileysdtr said...

I can now look back and honestly say my folks did the best they could with what they had to work with at the time. They gave me the intelligence and bone-deep stubbornness that has made me the person I am today. They also passed along a lot of less-positive personality traits, but the Bible says I must honor them; it is silent on whether I have to like them or not.

Stay strong within yourself, Little Sister, and remember that "Family" encompasses relatives of choice as well as blood. My closest family member (other than the Dearly Beloved) is my adopted cousin who passed from breast cancer almost 10 years ago. She loved us without judging and is sorely deeply missed.

(big hug of encouragement and switching topics how 'BOUT those Blues?)

L. Jackson said...

Toxic ppl can come from all areas of the family; I am dealing with a toxic dgt. that wants in my face, but can't hold her rancid comments for a few minutes at a time. Truth is, you can't make someone like you or even love u. I finally had to tell her 'if u can't find some good in me as a human being, then why are u bothering me?' Sometimes the freedom of finally cutting it lose means more than matter what society says. Merry Christmas Shark..may u have much fun & many blessings!

Jaelithe said...

You won't get any dreamy obsession about a Hallmark reunion from me. I've been estranged from my father for a decade. And have no plans to reconcile.

I don't understand why certain people always want to put the onus on the adult children in these situations to forgive and forget and overcome, etc., to "fix" broken relationships with their parents. As if the parent's behavior had not caused the rift in the first place. I got over the guilt when I realized that even though I was the one who broke off contact, my father chose, and continues to choose each day, to be estranged from ME, when he chooses to continue certain behaviors. Not the other way around.

Sane children do not stop talking to their parents unless they have a damn good reason.

Anyway, I think you are handling this situation appropriately and with grace, and I hope it turns out as well as possible.

Anonymous said...


You and I corresponded briefly long ago. I was a fan in the early days and hoped to meet you during a trip to ATL. It didn't happen due to my schedule issues, but I have a special request...

Please make the distancing-oneself-from-toxic-family-even-if-it-is-'gasp'-your-mother a regular holiday topic. Seasonal depression can be tough and feeling left out of the Norman Rockwell picture of Christmas bliss really sucks.

Your post was very honest and life affirming. We estranged daughters are a stoic and often misunderstood tribe. Thank you for the gift of comfort and understanding.


Anonymous said...

You are right. You are amazing. Reconciliation is highly overrated.

The Hallmark-tearful-reunion-moment pressure gets dialed up to eleven when estranged mama and her sidekick, estranged oldest sister, both have breast cancer. I keep opening my heart and peeking inside to check whether it would be more poisonous to talk with them or to keep silent, and so far silence is still the healthier choice.

Thank you for posting this.

Miss Kitty said...

Love this post, and your honesty! [raising PBR bottle] Here's to you!

My sister and I broke ties with our dad's family after his death (long-ass story) in 1997, and have seen them once since then, at our grandmother's funeral. They're a lot like your mom, and caused us so much grief, shame, and heartbreak...and life is so much better now that we don't have to deal with their toxic messes.

I'm so glad you found the strength to cut loose from your mom and her drama, Shark-Fu. Robin nailed it when she commented, "Your post was very honest and life affirming. We estranged daughters are a stoic and often misunderstood tribe. Thank you for the gift of comfort and understanding." :-)


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Bitch. This one hit home.

Trick Razor

Unknown said...

ddj just read this rant. It never ceases to amaze me to see a piece of my story. For the first time it feels good that I know there are others out there with the some of the same issues and experiences. Think about the young women in the middle of it now and how much they need that one person to say how much someone loves them. Just one person. So folks-see a child tell them they are loved. We never know whats happening in their live and what those words might do for their day. Peace.

Anne said...

I'm late to comment but your post struck a chord with me, too. It's not my mother but my sister that I am estranged from. I just couldn't carry the toxic load anymore. Like you I made the decision to disenage and moved on without any guilt. I feel so much better, it has been almost 20 years. I forgave her for the over 20 years of emtional abuse I endured. She no longer has any control over my emotions.

Mermama said...

Thanks. I made the same decision and keep my mother at a healthy distance. I appreciate the validation and applaud you! God Bless, you and the family.

ejackson21st said...

I was online looking at a video of a child taking a typing test one minute ago and ended up seeing a ABB link and here I am the next. Wow to everything I've read so far.

My Mom physically & mentally tortured me daily for the first 18 years of my life. She even beat me for getting good grades. I left her for college we rarely talked since. I had a very successful 30 year career after putting my history of her out of my thoughts. She left me scarred for life but didn't break me like she wanted. I'm 50 years old, she recently died. I had to clean out her house and bury her. I found a box of 300 family photos. I was in two of them. I learned this week that I have Asperger's (and always had since being a 2 year old boy). This was good news. I'm proud of myself for beating the odds without any one's help. My diagnosis came about because for the past 2 years I've been in therapy and finally had the will to tell my shrinks what I've gone through to survive this far.

My only regret is that I didn't know to call the police when I was a child. I told no one anything but several neighbors and teachers knew something was wrong but they did nothing. My mother was popular in the community, a Sunday School teacher. [I believe that you ABB are wise and selfless, not selfish, in what you do. Thanks]

EHR said...

As someone who is going through disengagement right now, this was so good to read. I never actually told my father that I didn't want to be part of his life anymore, I just stopped making any contact or accepting any calls. He still emails me and tries to add me on social networking sites; I delete both. But there are so many people who do not understand, and I do (as someone said above) love him without liking him, and it's hard. So thank you, and everyone else in this thread, for letting me know that it is okay, that I'm not crazy or ungrateful, and that I have made the right decision.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for telling this story. I admire and appreciate you so much, Shark-Fu. I keep adding stuff and then deleting it, so I'll just say thank you again and leave it at that. ;)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for telling this story. I admire and appreciate you so much, Shark-Fu. I keep adding stuff and then deleting it, so I'll just say thank you again and leave it at that. ;)

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