A new (and very supportive) Twitter friend of mine, the @RealMattEaton, and I have an unfortunate common bond: childhood abuse by our family. Matt and I “met” in a Monday night #sexabusechat and have shared a few meandering conversations since. For some reason, he always seems to be around in the Twitterverse and responds at just the moment when I need to be tweeted off the ledge. After my last therapy session, I was processing a few of my thoughts via Twitter and definitely needed to talk to someone who *gets it.* There was Matt again, ready to lend an ear. I am in awe of and very grateful for his repeated selflessness.
Anyway, as we messaged about my past and my tumultuous relationship with my parents, he asked me a question that, while I have certainly pondered in general terms, have not really been asked or asked myself so pointedly:
Why would you want to remain in a relationship with them?
I don’t know, friend. I don’t know. Except, how could I not? This is my mother and father we’re talking about, after all.
Everyone wants, needs, craves a supportive, healthy, functional relationship with their parents. I, like Matt, and like an unconscionable number of other child abuse survivors, however, have never had real parents. Sure, we might have had adult human beings who cared for us, that we loved deeply, that loved us back, that we shared good (even joyous) times with. But when adults abuse an innocent young human being, they simply don’t qualify for parenthood anymore, IMHO. Parental status, revoked.
The parental absence and abandonment leaves a void, an emptiness, a wanting, a lacking in the abused child’s heart that will be present with them for the rest of their lives. The abused child is left confused, stunted, and reckless. They desperately try to fill the chasm in their souls with addictions to mood altering substances (in my case food – dessert especially), anger, cutting, crime, anything that makes them feel something other than that sheer desperation or simply helps them forget. Without hard work, grit, and a little luck, some never make it to the other side of their grief from the ultimate betrayal by the adults in their lives.
Why do I want to keep them around? Why!?
Some days I really don’t. I have wished they were dead, just so this internal struggle, this insatiable desire for an impossible and unattainable functional relationship with them would be over (and I feel incredible guilt because of it). I’ve gone through periods of no contact. Right now, in fact, we’re back to not speaking while they decide if our relationship is worth the effort of individual and family therapy. With the distance and time away, my heart usually softens and I welcome them back, hoping for better. Hoping for what I’ve been missing. It’s hard not to. My real hope this time is for the strength to maintain my bottom line. It’s the only way we can ever achieve something close to normal.
Even Matt recently admitted that all the “child support” he needed was for his parents to be together as a unit rather than fighting over him and the money he generated in child support payments for his mother. He has chosen to cut the dysfunction from his life completely and I respect, understand, and applaud that, but I haven’t fully been able to. I may never fully be able to.
I don’t want to get married without my dad to walk me down the aisle. I want to have my mom there to help me through child birth. I want to be able to have dinners, share laughs and conversations. I don’t want to miss the last years of their lives and carry guilt for the rest of mine (like I do about my Gram) because I wasn’t capable of being the bigger person in the moment.
Despite everything, I love them, I miss them, I continue to want actual parents. I have seen the potential for greatness in my relationship with them and hold out hope that we can make it through this season in our lives better people, together. It would be easier in many ways, to turn off the switch, to forget it. But I’m kind of a hopeless romantic about life (I had to be to survive) and I just can’t let them go yet. Call me naive, a fool, whatever you like; I just can’t.