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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Telling: My body was not my own.

I have been awake since 3 am. I have to tell some of this.

The funny thing with survivors is that the story changes sometimes. Sometimes the memories change, like shifting sand. The memory you remembered yesterday with photographic recall and gospel certainty can drift and morph into something very different over night. Sometimes it feels like all your memories together are no more than one long fever-dream, and you are going to wake any moment into a world that makes sense.

What makes it harder for survivors is that the people around you--perpetrators, other victims, and even random bystanders--will tell that you are crazy. You remembered it wrong, misinterpreted, are lying, are deranged. You already feel bad, evil, dirty, and ashamed for what is happening to you, and then all these other people, for reasons of their own, tell you your memories are just not valid.

The reason all this is coming right now, or at least part of the reason, is my recent reading about Narcissistic Personality Disorder. One of the things I read, is that NPD people will constantly attempt to re-write history and re-frame the world in order to support their own twisted reality. That right there was an ah-ha moment for me. It made sense of so much.

And one more thing--the really important thing--I never, ever felt that I actually mattered to my mother. Even today, in my fights with Ted, the thing I blurt out most often is--LOVE ME, PAY ATTENTION TO ME. ACT LIKE I MATTER TO YOU. If she doesn't truly have NPD, then whatever is wrong with her is damn close to it. Because I am telling you, I never fucking figured out how somebody could adopt a child and then abuse it. How they could not care about it. Now I guess I know.

My story from here on out is not really a narrative, it' s more like the changing and repeating images in a music video. Lots of things happened at once, or more to the point, at the same times in my life. Things overlapped, and changed gradually as I got older, as my father got sicker and died, and in general as our lives changed.

My body was never really my own. That seems so weird because, what could belong to a person more than their own body? This is how it was: I was not allowed to bathe alone until I was more than 5 years old, and my mother and I could no longer fit in the bath tub together. (Supposedly we were saving on the water bill. I was amazed when I had my first house and found out how little water costs.) Bathing was painful and humiliating. I had to stand in the tub and have my genitals scrubbed with soap and a wet, rough cloth. No bodily orifice was safe: After I got out of the tub, my ears and nose were invaded with cotton swabs. My nails were cleaned with a metal file jammed under them. Looking back it's a wonder that I now perform any personal hygiene at all. Strangely, the worst horror for me was that every bloody time we took a bath, my mother would bend from the waist with her back to me (I guess to pick up a towel or something?) and give me a perfect view of her genitals. Sometimes I think this was half-intentional, and sometimes I think she just had her head up her ass. Either way, it was horrifying for me. I always had to look and see if she was going to do it again, much in the same way people stare at gory road accidents.

Once I outgrew the bath tub sharing, things got stranger. No doubt I was a chubby kid. I have the pictures to prove it. But looking at those pictures now, I see a little girl who was going to grow up with a youthful face and feminine curves. My mother saw something quite different. I know she was very concerned about my weight because she told everyone who would listen "Oh, Julie (my given name) just has a little baby fat. The doctor says she'll grow out of it." When I finally gained the right to bathe by my self, I spent some of the time lying in the tub, looking at the mound my round belly made sticking up out of the water, and loathing myself. I was 5.

I took ballet lessons for two years. When, like most little girls, I proclaimed that I wanted to be a ballerina when I grew up, I was laughed at. Not in a "Oh, isn't that cute" kind of way, more like a "Don't be ridiculous" kind of way. Didn't I know, ballerinas had to be thin? The next year, I got changed to tap dance, which I hated. The year after that, and for may years after, it was swimming, which I hated even more. This strikes me as so ridiculous now. I had a physical activity which I loved, enough to contemplate doing a whole lot of it when I grew up. If my mother wanted me to get exercise, which I guess was supposed to be the main point, why didn't she just leave me where I was? I used to put on my tutu and dance all around the house, burning off all kinds of energy. Why fuck with me? (Is dancing for a living now my subtle revenge? Oh, yes.)

I was the target of two bullies in grade school. Starting in the first grade, this little brat whose last name started with the same letter as mine (so we were ALWAYS next to each other) started punching me without provocation. I would punch him back, and always get caught. Nobody ever seemed to believe I had not started it. I tried to tell my mom, "but he hit me first!" "That's OK, dear. It means he likes you." WTF?

The diets started in 6th grade. (The year I got my period.) First it was Diet Workshop, with a 750 calorie diet. (For a 12-year old--yikes!) and then some of my dad's diabetic diets. None of this worked because 1) I didn't really need it and 2) I rebelled by secretly binge eating whenever I could. Even today, I hide food occasionally. We have foods that are not kept in the house, because I can't leave them alone.

By the time I was in high school, and my father had passed away, my weight became a huge concern for my mother. It was so important, in fact, that my sophomore-year Christmas present was a Nutra-system program. (That was the year I had my first steady boyfriend, BTW.) Nutra-system makes you buy and eat all their own (horrible, bland, tiny portions) of food. I passed my birthday and my first "real" Valentine's Day (with a boyfriend) munching on freeze-dried food. I couldn't get to my goal weight (because it was too low--duh!) and resorted to a 600-calorie a day fast program. I was under a doctor's supervision and had a note excusing me from PE. I finally made it to 133 lbs, and started the maintainence program.

By that time I had my own horse, the support of which required 3 paper routes and a part-time job. On Easter morning that year, I was getting ready to take off with a heavy sack of Sunday papers. As I was getting ready to leave, Mom suggested I stop at the bakery on the way back and get a sack of pastries. Since we were supposed to go to somewhere for Easter dinner, I had planned to eat a light breakfast, maybe an egg and toast or something like that, when I got back. When I told my mother this, she flew into rage. I still remember her screaming at me, "WHY CAN'T YOU EAT LIKE A NORMAL PERSON?" (I should probably mention that my mother is grossly unqualified to discuss what normal people eat. I know this, now.) I crumbled. I ate the pastry. I gave up. Months and months of dieting and who knows how much money went out the window that day. Within months, my new "skinny" wardrobe had to be replaced, and my nice new riding habit no longer fit. My last few years of life at home alternated between her nagging me about my weight, my attempting to loose weight, and binge eating, both by myself and with my mother's help.

Did you catch that? My mother wanted me to lose weight in the first place. Then she went to ridiculous and expensive lengths to get the weight gone. THEN she manipulated me into breaking the very diet that had cost her so much money and me so much misery. Ted now regards this story as proof that no matter what I do, I will never make my mother happy. I think he must be right.

Not only my weight, but every aspect of my body was my mother's business. She was and always has been fascinated with my urinary habits. I had continuous bladder infections as a child until the problem was surgically corrected when I was 4. She tells everyone she meets about my potty training. (Next time she does it in front of me, I intend to say something.) She is forever asking me (and now my son) if we have to go to the bathroom. (In reaction to this, I learned to hold it a loooooooooong time. I'm sure I will pay for that someday.)

I had beautiful long hair when I was a kid. Until my mother manipulated me into getting it all cut off when I was 5, because she said it was too much work for her. The truth is, all that long pretty red hair used to get me tons of attention, which embarrassed me and probably annoyed her. My hair is my best (perhaps only good) feature, and it looks much better long. Keeping my hair long was a constant battle, because my mother was always trying to get me to cut it off. Since I moved out of her house, I have had my hair cut short only once--when a terrible perm fried it completely and there was nothing to do but start over.

Like most teenagers, I experimented with clothes, makeup, nail polish, and so on.
We fought bloody battles over every little aspect of my appearance--even stuff that didn't matter, like nail polish. I once got grounded because I painted stripes down my nails. It seems like a little thing, but it still pisses me off.

Once I started working, I learned how to shop carefully and put together a nice wardrobe. The funny thing was, I didn't especially want to look slutty, just fashionable. It was the mid-80's. I preferred the preppy look for school, and the Madonna Lucky-Star look for going out. My mother would frequently go into my room on the pretext of cleaning (she was actually snooping) and get all my clothes, and wash them in HOT water. She boiled my clothes to death.

I stayed a virgin until I was 18. When I did have sex, it was with my boyfriend of 2 1/2 years. We were planning to get married at the time. I used condoms until I went to the county health clinic and got myself on the pill. I figured out everything I needed to know by myself--long before we had internet research. I was probably the most careful and responsible teenager I knew. I can't remember how my mother found out, but I do remember her bizarre response.

"HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME?" I never understood that. Here I was, being responsible and making sure not to get pregnant. It was my body and I was taking care of it.

The boyfriend was living with us at the time, and for a number of reasons, the relationship soured a few months later. He began to force his attentions on me in a stalker-ish kind of way. Sex at that time didn't seem exactly like rape as I imagined it, but saying no was not an option. Life became hell. I told my mom that the boyfriend would have to go. Her response was that she could not abandon him and that by having sex with him in the first place, I had given up my right not to have sex with him now. In other words, the fact that I was now being coerced into sex was all my own fault.

It wasn't long after that I moved in with a new boyfriend and got the hell out of there. I only exchanged one hell for another, but that is a different story.


Frally said...

Hey you, that was a confronting read for me. Although the little details are different, your upbringing is frighteningly similar to mine. The weight thing - My mum's pet nag was my room being clean and tidy. Anytime I got it tidied up, she would sabotage the situation so that I couldn't keep it clean - tipping all my stuff on the floor because I need to "sort it out", getting rid of my furniture etc.. I ended up living in a tip for most of my life because I couldn't see a point to even trying to keep it clean. Makes me so mad when I think about it.

Thanks for sharing. It's good to get it out.

RegularMom said...

(((((hugs)))) to you.

My mom is a nut-case, too. Much of what you've written here sounds familiar to me.

Here's some more ((((hugs)))).

Erin said...

Thanks, ladies. It makes me feel so much better to know somebody else understands.

Love to you.

Lisa said...

How horrible for you. Some people are just nutty and bottomless pits of needs and wants. You can't please them because there is no pleasing them.Remember you can't change them, you can only change your reaction to them. If you want to vent somewhere anonymously, check out my new