I realized I was just like my mom when my husband had his first panic attack. Driving through the city, he had to stop, and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and take over, thinking about how dramatic he was being, downplaying his emotions, his terror, his sheer, brain-zapping panic.
That’s what she was, my mom. That’s what she did. Other’s emotions were too much, or not enough. Too complicated or oversimplified. She was always too busy or too overbearing, hovering or hiding.
I learned to deal with my emotions alone. I learned to walk softly, speak little and make myself small.
She wouldn’t call me for three months and then threaten to come beat down my door to “make sure I was okay” after she decided to text me during the work day, and I didn’t respond within 60 seconds. There was never an in between. She was taking her medication and trying to be present for the important things like dance recitals and my first period, or she wasn’t taking her medication, and I was everything that was wrong with her life. She was sunshine and thunder, warmth and roar.
She would threaten me with my absent father in my teenage years, tell me I would go live with him if I didn’t “straighten up.” She made good on her promise when I was 12, too young to understand myself, or her. I was sent to spend my weekends with a strange man and a strange family where I never fit in and never understood why or how to make them love me.
I was always searching for the magical formula that would make me lovable. I tried being good; I tried being bad, I tried being neither; just invisible instead.
She never noticed me. She never had time for me. She never had advice for me. She never asked if I had homework or if I liked school or if I wanted to go to college. But if I made too much noise getting a cereal bowl out of the cupboard, she noticed.
As an adult, taking love, acceptance and appreciation from someone felt criminal. I still write the word taking love instead of receiving love without thinking. It was uncomfortable. Some days it is uncomfortable.
I numbed myself with boys, and sex, and drugs, and then I numbed myself with men and alcohol when I could no longer think of myself as a child. Embers filled my brain and laid me to rest in the graveyard of my childhood. A heavy blanket of sadness swaddled me on my sober days.
When I moved in with my husband, it took me some time to learn that I didn’t have to tiptoe around the house to go to the bathroom. It was okay if I fell asleep during a movie. I didn’t have to eat all the food from my plate. It was okay to be in his way when we washed the dishes together. It was okay to spill soda on the couch. It was okay to be human and messy and present.
There is a part of me that is like her, too. I get frustrated easily and yell loudly and I hear her coming out of my mouth and I cringe and it makes me feel sick and ashamed.
How can these two parts of me be reconciled? Time, patience, therapy, love, self-acceptance, all the things my husband has given me every day since I met him.
And that’s why I will never roll my eyes when he needs something from me. I will stomp loudly through my house. I will ask how his day was. I will not threaten or manipulate or use my love as a weapon. I will cook breakfast noisily and spill things and get in his way and he will love me as I love him; without condition, without exception, without making myself small.
Author: Chandi Gilbert
Author Bio: Chandi is a published author and freelance writer for hire from Ohio. She writes about all the dark, twisted things that hover in the back of your mind. She could make a living as a professional reality TV watcher, but for now, she is feeding her weird little heart by letting it spill out into the public.
Link to social media or website: http://www.chandigilbert.com