Tomorrow is my 4th Mother’s Day since disconnecting from my mother. Her final email to me two months after our last phone call reads, “well, I guess you have made your point….no more contact from mum…So, heaven knows that I don’t wish to make you angry but obviously I do so you have a good life in whatever you put your talents to…”
I read this email as a reminder of her inability to talk with me about our problems. She never asked me why I am angry. She never wanted to know why I wasn’t talking to her or how she could make amends. She isn’t sorry. She doesn’t believe she did anything wrong. This email is just the cherry on top of a lifetime of experiences, conversations, arguments, mental, physical, and emotional abuse, manipulation, and coercion that reminds me why forgiveness is not part of my healing. At least not her forgiveness.
Forgiveness and Love were tools of manipulation and coercion for my mother. Our church promoted the concept of “Turn the Other Cheek” as a way to lower yourself to the needs and abuses of others. When someone told you they were forgiven by God, it meant you automatically had to forgive them, even when they weren’t really asking you to. I mean, how do you argue with the forgiveness of God? It took me years to realize that this is a poor understanding of biblical forgiveness. Forgiving someone for actions against you means that you name that action against you, that the person seeks forgiveness from you because they realize what wrong they have committed. The act of forgiveness is a mutual act.
For me, forgiveness can not be granted unless it is sought and because of that, I have little interest in forgiving my abuser.
I know forgiveness has different meanings for everyone. The meaning that a lot of people I have spoken to use is one that allows them to let go of hurt, negativity, and pain. They tell me that they just needed to Forgive so that they could Move On. It is their act of letting go and trying to not let what was done to them rule their lives. I can appreciate this even if I don’t personally understand it.
That being said, I am not interested in forgiving my mother. Forgiving my mother continues to put the focus and power on her. I’m not interested in allowing her that kind of power anymore.
The person I need to forgive is myself.
Mother’s Day reminds me of the mother I don’t have and all the ways that I couldn’t get away from the one I do. I remember the Mother’s Day I bought her a nice tea cup and delicate teas because she always claimed to love making and drinking tea. She politely smiled then set the cup aside, just as she did with every gift I ever gave her. That mug sat in the cupboard, untouched, for years. She doesn’t have a tea drinking ritual like she claims to. I remember all the gifts I gave her trying to make her realize I know her and love her. I remember all the ways I tried to make her proud of me, love me. I remember all times I should have stood up for myself or my sisters. I remember all the times I let her walk over my needs. I remember all the times I planned to run away but never did. I remember all the ways she made fun of me, belittled me, ignored me, abandoned me, hurt me, lied to me, manipulated me… all while claiming she loved me. All while making me feel crazy, unbalanced, difficult.
I need to forgive myself for all the ways I couldn’t protect myself as a child and even as an adult. Because I hate myself for not being stronger, louder, braver. I blame myself for the abuse and suffering that my sisters endured in our house because of our mother. I blame myself for the mental health struggles of my youngest sister. I have to learn to forgive myself for things that were out of my control. Because I am angry at that young girl for not knowing better. I’m angry at her for not having the resources to protect herself. I am angry at her for not fighting harder, even when her fighting was destroying her. There is a part of me that is even angry that it didn’t destroy her… maybe if all this had killed her, then her little sisters would have been saved and she would finally get to rest.
The forgiveness I seek is from myself so that I can move on. Forgiving my abuser is not necessary for me to heal and grow.
So, this Mother’s Day, I will try to hold even a small amount of forgiveness for myself. It isn’t going to come all at once. It might not even come tomorrow. I know I still hurt. I know my heart will feel heavy with every joyful post online and my anxiety will thrash against my chest. I will carry my sadness. But I will also be kind to myself. I at least have a better idea of what that looks like now. I will remind myself and all other survivors that we were brave. We survived. Survival was the strongest thing I could do and now I want to thrive.