Today I’m going to talk about something I hardly ever talk about, something I find quite difficult to open up about, and that is my relationship with my mother. I think most girls have, at some stage or another, experienced what it is to have a fraught relationship with their mother.
From the research I have done and the professionals I have spoken to, this is because children generally manifest the qualities of the same sex parent and so we become most like our mothers. In most cases, the things we dislike most in our mothers are the things we dislike most about ourselves. The other things I have learnt through working closely with a professional on the topic is that there is a direct link between a girls’ relationship with her mother and unhealthy eating patterns. This has been proven based on the simple fact that food is associated with nurturing and feeding, as is parenting from a mother.
Myself personally, I have an extremely dysfunctional relationship with my mother, and for most of my life have battled with eating disorders. As an adult, I have been clean for 8 years, but have somehow had the worst relationship with my mother in the past 18 months than ever before.
To provide some context and background, I will tell you a little about what has been going down recently. My mother is a recovering drug addict, as am I, and about two years ago she went through something pretty traumatic and she relapsed badly. After 25 years of running her business, which was extremely financially and professionally successful, she lost it all with no power to do anything about it. This is what I believe ruined her, or at least was the catalyst to her ruin. She relapsed after 10 years of sobriety.
Up until that point my mother and I had a very codependent relationship. I am an only child and she was a single parent (you can just imagine!). She is an addict, I am an addict, and it was a recipe for disaster from the day I was born. However, growing up we were incredibly close. We shared a love of horses and riding and that brought closer together than most teens and their mums. It is still the thing one thing that bonds us no matter what. As an only child with an emotionally and physically vulnerable mother, I grew up quickly, was always very mature for my age, and took on the role of parent from the age of 7 when my mother first went to rehab (stint one of four). I always forgave her for her mishaps or relapses because I loved her and wanted to take care of her. Until she relapsed recently and I was suddenly an adult and able to process it differently. It became as much a cathartic experience for me as it was for her.
After a bender that lasted a few months, and was heartbreaking to watch, my mother went into rehab about a year ago, at which point I stopped speaking to her completely. Yes, it was maybe bad timing because she probably needed me more than ever, but what was so clear in the moment was how badly I needed me. I was pretty rattled after the months of her relapse and knew that if I didn’t take action right then and there I could very well end up relapsing as well. And the action I needed to take was to remove the “toxic” from my life, which sadly was my mother.
This wasn’t my only reason for making the decision. I had gone my whole 27 years of life relying heavily on my mother financially and suddenly I woke up one day and realised that I could not go on living like that. The dependency we had on each other, for different reasons, was cluttering up any space there may have been for a real, healthy relationship. So I put the boundary in place, and a year later we still haven’t spoken. For two people who spoke multiple times a day and told each other absolutely everything, it has been quite an adjustment. And while I miss her everyday, I also have never been angrier with her.
Honestly, I didn’t expect it feel this way so far along. I was angry with her at the time, for relapsing and for a bunch of stuff from my childhood, but I thought I would create some distance for a bit, work through it with my therapist, and then be able to have a functional relationship with my mother in which we get to enjoy being friends more than anything else. Well that is not how it has worked out… I haven’t worked out how or why, but I have never in my life felt more hostility towards my mother. It’s makes my blood boil when I think about her (these are not easy things to admit to, by the way).
Christmas and the holidays were really tough. My mother was been pretty much estranged from her family for about 12 years simply because she lived in another city and hardly ever came back to Cape Town. So I have spent Christmas with our family for more than 10 years without her, while she has been with her husband and his family. She is now divorced and living in CT again so she was with us on Christmas, and it was hard. Really really tough to have her in a space that I spent years turning into my safe space. I’m also really struggling with putting my needs first and speaking up about how difficult it is for me because I want to protect my mother. She needs her family now more than ever and I don’t want to be the one that gets in the way of that. This is the clue that tells me that my relationship with my mother is still very codependent….
I don’t think this story has a moral. I don’t think it will until some of my “stuff” is resolved. And I don’t even know what the lesson is yet, but I do think that by speaking out about these things we create the space for others to do the same and maybe then we won’t feel so alone (or I am just using this a public “Dear Diary” forum, in which case I thank all of you for allowing me this space).