Bobbi’s Saga: When Loving Me More Means Letting You Go

 

Sometimes you don’t realize you’re actually drowning when you’re trying to be everyone else’s anchor.”-Anonymous

“At some point you have to realize that some people can stay in your heart but not in your life.”      –Anonymous

All my life, I have wanted a good relationship with my mother and never had it.  To keep trying and let her make me feel sad, angry and guilty regarding our relationship does not make sense.  I know I will wonder how she is doing but I can’t help her.”  -Bobbi

My Dear Readers,

We return this week to the voice of Bobbi, who is sharing her journey of healing from decades of memories of sexual, emotional and physical abuse suffered during her childhood and adolescence, with her mother often in denial about the abuse or actively punishing Bobbi for speaking about it.

Following six years of intensive outpatient therapy, she no longer considers herself a victim, although she acknowledges that she was victimized. She has survived the repeated emotional, physical abuses, and sexual assault, but she is no longer a survivor; instead, she is now a striver on the journey we know as life.

Bobbi, now in her early sixties, is providing care and assistance to her mother who continues to reside alone and is suffering from mid-stage cancer.  The mother, now in her eighties is receiving a combination of radiation and chemotherapy.  In the midst of assisting her mother, Bobbi is working to come to terms with her feelings, which are a mixture of conflict, confusion and contradiction.  It is through her therapeutic journey of self-discovery that she learns to balance these feelings and in doing so, she brings clarification to her suffering and ultimately compassion for her mother.

In this excerpt from her journal, Bobbi writes about her feelings following an incident after one of her mother’s medical treatments.

PLEASE NOTE: FOR AUTHENTICITY’S SAKE, THESE WRITINGS ARE GRAPHIC AND MAY CREATE DISTRESS FOR SOME READERS DURING AND FOLLOWING READING. PLEASE USE DISCRETION WHEN SHARING WITH THOSE OF YOUNG AGE OR LACKING EMOTIONAL MATURITY.


Part 1: The Incident

I just left my therapy session and wanted to write down my feelings.  I was advised that writing would help dissipate my anger.   I left the session less angry than when I came, but I am still angry.  In the treatment room, my mother leaned forward towards me; there was about a yard between us.  She twisted her neck, turned up her mouth, flinched her eyes and raised her voice at me. The look my mother gave me in the treatment room brought back memories of my childhood.

It brought back intense memories of when I was a kid.  I hated the way she treated me then and I hate it even more now.  When my mother gave me that look, it brought back sudden memories.  It was the same mean look she had when I was a child.  The only changes were the wrinkles and sunken face.

It brought back vivid memories of how she used to get inches from my face, bulging her eyes, twisting her mouth, screaming and telling me what I should do and how I should feel.  I remember how scared I felt and how much I hated her.  I had wished so much that she wasn’t so mean.  I couldn’t understand what I did was bad.   I tried so hard to be good and not get into trouble.

I was always afraid of what she would do next.  I was so scared that I truly believed she would kill me.  She used to always get down on her knees and in my face and say “I brought you into this world and I will take you out”.   She wanted us [the children] to be scared of her and it worked.  It brought back a rage in me that I didn’t know that I had. The rage I had in the treatment room was like the fear I had as a child.  The rage was so intense I had to leave the treatment room.

As a child I never had joy.  I had fear, pain, shame and guilt.  There wasn’t much good in my life.  I didn’t know how other kids lived.  I thought everyone had a mother like mine.  My mother never allowed me to visit other kids to come over to our house.   She never played with us.  She wanted us [my siblings] to play by ourselves.

When I was a kid I wasn’t allowed to have anger.  Now I have intense rage.  Rage that continues to build.  Rage that began when I saw her face.  Now I keep seeing her face and hearing her voice.  It is like a flashback happening over and over again.

Why?  Why am I so kind to people?  Why do I always want to do the right thing?  Why do I give a damn?  I want not to be angry.  I want that tight feeling inside my chest to go away.  I want the thoughts in my head to go away.  I want the flashbacks of how my mother looked when she was talking to me to stop.  I remember how much I hated my mother.  I hated her when I was young and when I left at 12 years old.

Part 2: The Next Day

Today, I feel sad and depressed.  I found myself frequently crying and hiding tears from public view.  I know that I did nothing wrong.  But I know that this was my last chance to make the relationship work.  I have tried all my life to make the relationship work.  Each time it failed.  I fear that my mother will not make it through this cancer.  This will mean that the last positive relationship I had with my mother ended when I was 4 years old. I hope the depressed mood goes away.  I feel my depression is getting worse.  Hopefully in the morning, I will wake up in the morning and feel better.

Part 3: A Few Days Later

This morning I woke up feeling not angry but very sad.  I kept crying every time I thought about my mother.  I have tried all my life to deal with my mother.  It always turns out the same way in her treating me badly.  I have decided that the relationship isn’t worth the pain she was creating in my life.  Coming to this decision my chest is less tight and I can now eat.  My sleep is now normal.  This is an unfamiliar feeling.

I have decided to stop participating in my mother’s medical care regarding cancer treatments.  I will not take her to her appointments anymore or make phone calls to her healthcare providers.  This makes me feel sad because the next time I see her she will be close to death or dead.  She has used up all of her chances to maintain our relationship.

All my life I have wanted a good relationship with my mother and never had it.  To keep trying and let her make me feel sad, angry and guilty regarding our relationship does not make sense.    I know I will wonder how she is doing but I can’t help her.  

I gave it a good try.

Discussion-Dr. Kane

In this entry, the common theme is the trifecta of emotions that Bobbi is experiencing as she attempts to come to terms regarding her unresolved feelings towards her mother.  This trifecta is conflict, confusion, and contradiction.   At the time of the original incident, Bobbi was involved in a confrontation with her mother while sitting in the treatment room of the healthcare provider.

The Conflict

Bobbi has spent her entire life seeking to resolve her feelings regarding her mother.  During the sixty years of her life, she has weathered the storms of the trifecta i.e. conflict, confusion, and contradiction, all which have severely weighed her down as she has embarked upon her own marriage and raising her own family.  As a four-year-old, Bobbi sacrificed her psychological self by keeping the secret of her sexual assault to protect her family.  Bobbi then went on to sacrifice her body as her mother’s husband repeatedly sexually assaulted her.  As a child, she kept the horrible secret for almost three years as she did not want to see her mother suffer emotionally for the actions of her husband, a man Bobbi’s mother trusted with the well-being of her children.

The Confrontation

The confrontation in the medical office resulted in Bobbi experiencing a flash that can best be described as an emotional response that occurred suddenly and was quick and intense.  This response developed into a series of flashbacks.  Flashbacks are sudden clear recurrent and abnormally vivid recollections of traumatic experiences.  As the situation unfolded when Bobbi’s mother gave her “that look”, it created a vivid memory that arose from that provocation as she experienced the incident.

The Confusion: Bobbi’s Mother’s Betrayal

It was only after being told by her stepfather of his intentions to “give her a baby” that she came forth and disclosed this horrendous truth to her mother.  Instead of receiving the protection, support and help she expected from her mother, she was viciously proclaimed a liar, threatened with blindness with a fork, beaten with a broom and ejected from her family home.  As she is ejected from the family home, it is her mother who, in seeking to maintain her “image” within the African-American church/community, spreads the story of being forced to eject her daughter because “she raised her hand towards me.”   As a result, the family honor is upheld, the sexual abuse remains the “family secret,” and Bobbi is sacrificed and tossed away into the state foster care system where she is shuffled between numerous families before aging out at eighteen.

Trapped in a mire of conflict, confusion and contradiction, Bobbi has spent the majority of her life believing that she is not is not worthy of love and protection, that she is responsible for the horrendous crimes committed against her, and consequently, that she deserved the outcomes that came with those crimes.  It is only following six years of intensive therapy that Bobbi is able to empower the psychological self and in doing so, sharpen her own awareness and understanding of parental failures as well as understanding why her acquaintances, family members, and the African-American church and community accepted what happened to her.  Yet, she continues to be trapped in a mire of conflict, confusion and contradiction as she seeks to achieve the love now as an adult that she never received as a child.

Rage

At the beginning of the journal entry, Bobbi wrote, “I was advised writing would help dissipate my anger.”   Actually, because of the intensity of the traumatic experience and the traumatic recall of her childhood interactions with her mother it brings with it, what Bobbi is really looking to achieve is the dissipation of her anger. Instead, she should be looking to process the incident, not to dissipate the anger.

Anger is a natural, and most of the time, healthy response to an incident that promises harm. However, it does not disappear before its time and before healing has occurred.  Healing can only come after we process the incidents that generate that anger.

The Triad

Where the Trifecta refers to negative experiences, the Triad serves as a healthy response seeking to bring balance to difficult situations.  The Triad is commitment, clarification, and compassion.  Although Bobbi is initially reluctant to heal and inclined to hold onto her rage, starting this process allows her to realistically review her childhood relationships and the role her mother played in stunting her development.  Bobbi wrote:

“As a child I never had joy.  I had fear, pain, shame and guilt.  There wasn’t much good in my life.  I didn’t know how other kids lived.  I thought everyone had a mother like mine.  My mother never allowed me to visit other kids to come over to our house.   She never played with us.  She wanted us {my siblings] to play by ourselves.”

Looking at her childhood, Bobbi begins questioning her commitment to others and what she wants for her psychological self.  She writes:

“Why am I so kind to people?  Why do I always want to do the right thing?  Why do I give a damn?  I want not to be angry.  I want that tight feeling inside my chest to go away.  I want the thoughts in my head to go away. “

As Bobbi begins to examine her commitments, she also reviews what she has done to create a healthy relationship with her mother.  She now finds herself moving towards the acceptance that despite her best efforts, she hasn’t been able to create that healthy relationship, and that she has done all that she can do in that respect.   Given this, Bobbi begins the process of “letting go” of her mother as she begins to accept both the impending death of her mother and the inability to establish a healthy relationship.  Bobbi states:

“I know that I did nothing wrong.  But I know that this was my last chance to make the relationship work.  I have tried all my life to make the relationship work.  Each time it failed.  I fear that my mother will not make it through this cancer.  This will mean we never had a positive relationship after I was four years old. “

Bobbi completes the objective of the triad, which is to bring balance to difficult situations by affirming compassion for the self as she measures the cost of continuing the relationship with her mother despite the pain it was creating in her life.  By developing that compassion for her self, Bobbi finds the desire to focus on her own self-care.  Bobbi writes:

“I have tried all my life to deal with my mother.  It always turns out the same way in her treating me badly.  I have decided that the relationship wasn’t worth the pain she was creating in my life.  Coming to this decision my chest is less tight and I can now eat.  My sleep is now normal.  This is an unfamiliar feeling.”

The Epiphany

Towards the end of the entry, Bobbi has a moment of sudden insight or intuitive understanding, also known as an epiphany.  Bobbi concludes her writing by realizing that despite her best intentions and actions, she will never achieve a healthy relationship with her mother.  As a result, she has decided to stop participating in her mother’s medical care, and thus, accepting the impending death of her mother, since she will not bear witness to the ongoing decline, and she will likely not see her mother again until that death has occurred.   In doing this, Bobbi has decided to respect her own life and come to the acceptance that her mother has wasted her chances of creating a healthy relationship.  Bobbi writes:

“I have decided to stop participating in my mother’s medical care regarding cancer treatments.  I will not take her to her appointments anymore or make phone calls to her healthcare providers.  This makes me feel sad because the next time I see her she will be close to death or dead.  She has used up all of her chances to maintain our relationship.”

Concluding Words-Dr. Kane

The trifecta of conflict, confusion, and contradiction has mired Bobbi for almost six decades of her life.  It is through working within the framework of the triad of commitment, clarification, and compassion that allows Bobbi the ability to release herself from the need to achieve her mother’s love and a healthy relationship.  As a child and as an adult, Bobbi sought from her mother that which she was incapable of providing: love and a healthy relationship.

We don’t know that much about the history of Bobbi’s mother.  Factors arising from journaling and therapy sessions conclude that the mother knew of the truthfulness of the sexual assaults by her husband and chose to sacrifice her daughter in order to maintain her marriage and image/standing within her extended family and local community.  Both Bobbi and her mother share several characteristics: they are both residents of a closed system that is isolating and non-sustaining and both have been psychologically impacted by complex trauma which resulted in permanent emotional scarring and long term psychological injury.   The difference is that Bobbi’s mother chose to betray, sacrifice, and abandon her daughter, where Bobbi chose to continue to provide compassion, care and resources to the person who had forsaken her.

It is through walking the therapeutic journey of self-discovery that Bobbi has empowered her psychological self to seek love from within and in doing so she is capable to create emotional distance between her mother and self.  It is possible that although Bobbi decided to cease assisting her mother in her cancer treatment, she will return to help out.  If she did this, it would not be a failure, backslide or error.  It would simply be another example of the compassion being exhibited by this extraordinary individual who, despite repeated incidents of poor treatment and abuse, returns to do what she feels is the right thing to do.   The positive note is that Bobbi, in the process of empowering herself, is loving herself more.

Join us her next month for the next installment of Bobbi’s Saga.

Dr. Kane, Clinical Traumatologist

 

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