I am excited to have my good friend and guest blogger Christina Enevoldsen from “Overcoming Sexual Abuse” writing once again for Emerging from Broken today while I am enjoying a vacation in Mexico. As always please feel free to add your comments, share your experiences and post your feedback in the comments section following Christina’s article. Darlene Ouimet; founder of emerging from broken
Walking Out On Dysfunction by Christina Enevoldsen
In the movie, The Truman Show, Jim Carrey plays a man whose life is televised from birth. Truman Burbank’s family, friends and entire community are actors and the world he lives in is a Hollywood set. He’s the only one who isn’t aware that he’s the star of a reality show and that his life and everything that surrounds him is fake.
One day, the facade begins to slip when part of the lighting equipment falls from the sky. He begins to notice other things that don’t make sense. His attempts to discover the truth and to escape his confinement are thwarted, but he eventually discovers a door leading to the real world….. continued…
As Truman attempts to go through, a loud booming voice is heard overhead. It’s the producer of the show, his father who gave him up, “Truman, I’ve watched you your whole life. I saw you take your first step, your first word, your first kiss. I know you better than you know yourself. You’re not going to walk out that door—Truman, there’s no more truth out there than in the world I created for you—the same lies and deceit. But in my world, you have nothing to fear…Say something, damn it! You’re still on camera, live to the world!
Truman responds with his signature line: “In case I don’t see ya— good afternoon, good evening and good night.” Then, bowing, he steps through the door, and into a new life.
I tried to find that exit door for years. Like Truman, I lived in a fabricated world. It was partially fabricated by my parents through the family secrets and lies and partially by my own mind out of a need to believe I was safe and loved. In the reality I knew, my mom and dad were ideal parents and my childhood was untainted and uneventful. As long as I believed that I lived in the normal world, I followed the script that was written for me.
I had glimpses of the truth, but I didn’t recognize them. Like Truman’s light falling from the sky, I saw and felt things that weren’t consistent with the childhood I remembered. When I was in my early twenties, I remembered that my dad sexually abused me. I easily put that knowledge in a box since it didn’t fit the life I knew. The truth tried to break through in other ways, but I explained it away. Whenever someone who admired my mom told me I was so lucky to have her, I felt a churning in my gut. I wanted to say, “If you only knew her.” I berated myself and concluded that I must be jealous or an ungrateful daughter. I maintained that lie for most of my adulthood.
When my constructed world began to be demolished, it took me by surprise. My mother told a lie in an effort to manipulate my husband. It was hard to believe that my mom would use deception. She was a community leader, well respected and loved. Yet the facts were undeniable. And something about her lie felt familiar. It was astonishing to remember many, many other times when she lied to me, beginning in childhood. In a letter, I wrote her a very vulnerable and heartfelt invitation to become closer by changing the way she treated me.
I’d always wanted to be closer to my mother and I thought she wanted that too. I never questioned why I always had to do things for her to earn a relationship. I never wondered why I thought she was more important than me and I just had to settle for what I could get.
When I wrote to her, I never expected anything other than an apology and some changes. I was so deluded by the fantasy I created that I never expected that she would walk away. Her response was a series of letters. One angrily accused me of not honoring her. In another one, she reminded me that I wasn’t perfect and that she, “never remembered any wrongs against me.” In her last one, she bribed me with a request for me to help her with her will.
As shocking as my mom’s response was, I didn’t feel much of anything except relief over her rejection. I was overwhelmed with a sense of peace that I no longer had to perform or suffer the confinement of such a dysfunctional relationship.
I expected to feel some kind of loss. I didn’t have a mom anymore. Shouldn’t that mean something? Shouldn’t that hurt? I started to see that my relationship with my mom was a lie; I pursued her love, approval and attention, while she tolerated me. Why would I crave a relationship like that?
Soon, anger replaced the relief. I raged at her for fooling me all those years and fooling the people around her into thinking she was the good one and I must have done something extremely wrong for her to walk away from me. Believing the facade caused me to turn against myself for most of my life. I blamed me for failure rather than seeing her for what she was. For months, I pushed away any good memories and rehearsed the hurtful ones over and over. I was afraid of going back to believing the lies if I didn’t remind myself that my recent discoveries were true.
As long as I saw her as all bad, there was nothing to grieve. I’d only seen her goodness when I was a child and I was seeing only her badness now. I was terrified that if I allowed myself to see her good side, I’d want a relationship with her and I would be exposed to more rejection.
Even if I wanted to see her again, she was disgusted with me. Not only was she indignant that I stood up to her, but I had begun to talk about my sexual abuse by my father and she was furious about that. I knew there was no going back, but I was afraid of wanting to go back and of compromising my boundaries.
Eventually, I ran out of anger. I was tired of being mad at her. I remembered the good things she did for me—the dresses she sewed and the meals she cooked. With the anger-shield gone, I felt the force of the hurt and loss. I remembered something about myself as a child and I wanted to ask my mom about it. All at once, I was desperate for my mommy. Maybe this was all a misunderstanding. Could I try one more time? Was I blowing everything out of proportion? Was it really such a big deal that she had lied? Maybe we could renegotiate.
I felt weak and pathetic for wanting someone who didn’t want me. I felt like a dirty, scrawny child standing outside the window while she was inside laughing at me. I knew it was useless to hope for reconciliation since her abuse escalated, but the desire was alive and the pain hit me hard. It was only when I stopped judging my feelings and allowed myself to feel them and express them that I saw the truth. The truth is that my mother doesn’t love me. I’d never seen that before. I grieved the loss as though I was freshly cut off—as though the separation had just occurred.
I thought I was finished grieving and then the wound was reopened. My mom had been silent for a year and a half when I got a series of letters and emails from her accusing me of lying and living in a fantasy land. Her denial of my sexual abuse felt like a denial of my life. Until then, I’d been so rational about her lack of support. I reasoned, “Who cares what SHE thinks, anyway?” But the violence of her words were a blow.
She insisted that I remember that she’s my mother. It hit me afresh that I didn’t have a mother. The final rejection and betrayal was just the most recent in a lifetime of rejections and betrayals. I never had a mom who supported me or loved me. She hadn’t suddenly changed into a mean person. She didn’t recently turn her back on me. She was treating me the way she always had.
I’d been grieving the loss of my mother as an adult child, but I wasn’t an adult all my life. I used to be a little girl and I didn’t have a mom then, either. The pain seemed to crush me. I was a young girl again, alone and abandoned. As long as I viewed the rejection as a result of some event, I had hope of being accepted again. But my mother was never a mother to me and she never would be.
Every new revelation brings another layer of pain. But as I acknowledge the pain and give myself the nurturing attention that I never got, I distance myself from the world of lies.
The last layer was bittersweet. I’d achieved some breakthroughs in my personal and professional life and finally knew there was nothing that would stop me from my dreams. I had worked most of my life to earn my mom’s attention and love and now that I was well on my way, she wouldn’t a part of that. I felt sad, but I felt sad for her, not for me. I didn’t need her love or approval and there wasn’t anything to hold me within her world anymore. I felt like Truman did when he stood at the exit door. I was finally ready to leave.
There would be no resolution between my mom and me.
But my future isn’t dependent on her. I’ve resolved things within my own heart. My mom walked away from me a long time ago and now I’m finally able to walk away from her.
Christina Enevoldsen is cofounder of “Overcoming Sexual Abuse”, an online resource for male and female abuse survivors looking for practical answers and tools for healing. Christina’s passions are writing and speaking about her own journey of healing from abuse and inspiring people toward wholeness. She and her husband live in Los Angeles and share three children and three grandchildren.