Friday, December 21, 2007

Corresponding with My Mother

I received a letter from my mother tonight. It was typed, three sentences long, and signed "Your mother."

I sent a response via email that I may regret posting here in its entirety but I'm in kind of a brutally honest mood so what the he#%%. (Plus, I've heard that some people read my blog like a soap opera, and leaving out the details would dilute the drama, don't you think? I don't want to disappoint my loyal readers.)

Dear Mom (You signed your letter "Your Mother" but I decided to call you by
the name I've used all my life).

I received your letter today and then got your email address from Norman. I decided I would rather email you than send a response letter via snail mail. I'm afraid if I wait to respond too long, I will lose my nerve and/or my ability to be

Laurie "warned" me that you asked John for my address so I would probably be getting a letter. I surprised myself by running to the mailbox each day expectantly, with fear and anticipation. You would think that, after almost 20 years of no contact with you, I would have learned to NOT expect anything. But I did. I'm trying to forgive myself. I mean, do people ever really stop being someone's child and having a child's expectations that their parents will love them unconditionally? I hope that my children always expect me to love them, no matter what. I hope and intend to never disappoint them.

I had a friend on the phone when I opened and read your letter. I was afraid that you would take responsibility for your role in our dysfunctional family and apologize and then I would be forced to consider forgiving you and having you in my life which scared the crap out of me. I was afraid it would be this incredibly emotional, sad letter and that it would unearth lots of sadness in me and make me question my memories of you and our relationship and, perhaps, my sanity. I worried that you might want to have my children in your life and that we would have to take it slow so I could be sure that they would not be hurt.

I needn't have worried. In your letter you managed to apologize and place all the blame on my dad in only three sentences. Three, typed sentences in nearly 20 years.

I can not and will not speak for Laurie but I know that she saw your conversation differently than you did. In your letter you said that, until you talked to Laurie, you "had no idea that [abuse and threatening behavior] had happened." Really? So, when you pulled my father off of me when he was beating me when I was 13, did you think that was something other than abuse? When you came in my room after one particularly violent incident to ask if I was ok and to tell me that my father felt really bad, what exactly were you worried about if there was no abuse? And, when you broke plates over my head in our kitchen when I was 14, was that something other than abuse? And, when you left us with my then violent and actively alcoholic father
when I was 15 (letting us know you had moved out with a note), did you think we
were safe?

I told you how bad it was when he finally hit me and threatened me one too many times and I called you to come get me. You "welcomed" me into your friend's home where I stayed on the couch, severely depressed and you sent me to a therapist, remember? By then, my own alcoholism and addiction had kicked in so I was all set with "coping" mechanisms and was not open to therapy. All I remember about that therapy experience was that I went stoned to the few appointments I kept. I think his name may have been Mr. Johnson.

I underestimate the power of denial, I guess. I also overestimate the power of the 12 steps and a person's faith in a higher power. I know that you believe in God and read books about improving your life and relationships (I saw some at Tom and Zita's house). How do you fit your relationships with Laurie and me into that mission/belief system? How do you explain, to yourself and others why it is that you haven't spoken to me in so long? And, when Laurie and you broke off your relationship, did you wonder what was up and why this had happened again?

In your conversation with Laurie and your letter, you acted as if you had just received new information to illuminate a mystery that you didn't even know existed. I wonder...why did you think you didn't have your daughters in your life? What did you tell yourself? That we were just crazy and bitter? That you were somehow a victim of our misdirected anger and pain? Did you think you were a good mother?

I worry sometimes about what kind of mother I am. When I yell at my children (who you do not know which is why I don't mention them by name), I worry that I am like you. Although your letter saddened me by reinforcing the truth that I
didn't have and don't have the mother I needed, I'm grateful, too. It confirmed for me that I am a very different mother than you. Although I make mistakes, my children are allowed to be who they are. I tell them I love them multiple times a day, apologize when I'm wrong, give them lots of affection as well as permission to be angry at me (although not disrespectful or violent). Most of all, I make sure that they know I am here for them, forever, no matter what.

I take responsibility for my piece in all my relationships. Which is why I'm writing to you now. My piece in my dysfunctional relationship with you is my silence. I am 43
years old. You are not the cause of anything good or bad in my life anymore. I take responsibility for my choices, my attitude, and my behavior. I don't blame you anymore.

I did a 4th step a few years ago where I focused on the positive things you gave me. There were many: a love of books and the library, intelligence, creativity, just to name a few. Thank you for those things.

The list of what I didn't get is so much longer, though. Which is very sad. I can't go back and neither can you. But I will not be silent while you try to paint a picture that wasn't true. I live in the truth today. The truth is: You probably did the best you could but it wasn't good enough. Your mother was missing some important tools so you didn't have much of a role model. You married a very sick man but you were very sick, too. He hurt us, physically and emotionally, but so did you. He was
the alcoholic (still is, although dry/sober today) but, as his wife, you suffered from the disease of alcoholism as well. Untreated alcoholism. And it was not cured when you left him.

I used to think I cut my dad slack because, like him, I am an alcoholic and an
addict. Over the years, I've realized that's not true. I have forgiven him because HE ASKED FOR IT. I have prayed and written and cried about my inability to forgive you for SO LONG. A few years ago, I finally realized that I had to forgive myself for hating you and letting that hatred hurt me. I couldn't focus on forgiving you because YOU NEVER ASKED FOR IT. Dad shows up in my life. He calls, writes, talks about the past and his role in it, apologizes, tells me he loves me, and does what he can
to show it to me and my family. I will not let you demonize him. He sucked as a father for sure. He drank, he drugged, he beat you, and he beat and threatened us. But YOU were not drinking and you allowed it all. You were not drinking and you hit and threatened us, too. And, most importantly, he has changed and made amends and continues to make amends. You have not.

You asked Laurie what she wanted from you. Although you didn't ask me the same question in your letter, I'm going to answer it anyway. What I want from you is for you to read this and know my truth. I want you to know that my childhood was not what it should have been because BOTH my parents did not do their jobs as they
should have. I am a good person today. I have issues and challenges and I am not perfect, for sure. I blame you for NONE OF THAT. I take responsibility for my successes and my failures today. You have lost out by not having me in your life.

Since becoming a mother, I have understood you more and less at the same time. I can't understand how you can carry and give birth to a baby and then reject her. I can understand how you lost your temper and felt overwhelmed by an alcoholic family and four children. I can't understand how you did not protect us from abuse. I can understand how a rebellious child can push your buttons and try your last nerve, but I can't imagine cutting her out of your life and threatening to send her back to her abusive father. I can't understand how you put conditions on your love for your children. I can understand wanting to be selfish sometimes and take care of yourself but I can't understand how you put your husband and later yourself before your children's well-being, especially when we were young. I can understand losing your temper and yelling. I can't understand hitting, name-calling, and making us feel like we were defective. I can understand making mistakes. I can't understand not accepting responsibility for them and doing what you can to fix them or prevent them from happening in the future. I can't understand not apologizing or asking for forgiveness when you have so clearly screwed up.

May you be well and at peace this holiday season. I wish you nothing but the best...the same things I wish for myself. This letter is part of making that happen for me. I'm tired of being afraid of telling you the truth. I'm done hating you but I am done being silent, too.

I went back to edit this letter and realized I didn't want it to be "perfect" because I'm not and my feelings about you are very complex and messy, like this letter. I've been redundant, contradictory at times, possibly grammatically incorrect, and overly verbose, but I've definitely been truthful.


Julie, Your Daughter


  1. Your letter to your mother is amazing...and very similar to a letter I had to write my own mother. We grew up in similar situations, only my mother is the alcoholic and my father the passive, almost non-existent one. Thank you for your honesty, clarity and sincerity. ~Cami

  2. Thank you Julie,

    I wish I could be this honest