I won’t rescue you but I will love you #mentalhealth #mentalillness #domesticviolence #recovery
August 24, 2014 § Leave a comment
Yesterday I met my daughter and two granddaughters, ages four and eight, at a wooden boat festival. My brother has a wooden boat and was a member of the club that organized the show. He had arranged a rowing dinghy for us, and I took the little girls out for a row as part of our outing. It was super fun. The girls made pirate hats, and we ate crepes with sea shanties performed in the background by a small group of musicians. My eight year old granddaughter had a chance to learn to row, and was really good at going backward.
After we finished eating, while there was a bit of a lull, my daughter told me she was thinking of going back to her hometown the next day instead of attending a birthday party for my nephew. She confided that she was very tired and had been single-parenting the girls all summer while her husband was off at trade shows. She also confided the problems she was facing with my grandson, who has graduated early from high school but is depressed and unmotivated to figure out his next steps.
I was so happy to be spending time with my daughter and granddaughters, but, at that moment, I felt sick at heart. I had to fight an overwhelming urge to try to fix her life, to rescue her, to swoop in and try to make things right for her.
When my daughter was 11 years old she disclosed to me that my then-husband (her Step-Dad) was sexually molesting her. I was devastated. It felt like the earth dropped away below me and I was in free fall. I immediately went to him and told him what she had told me. He confronted her with me looking on and came up with the odd idea that she must have been dreaming or that it was a neighbour sneaking into the house. The weirdest part about this incident was that I accepted those explanations as plausible and put my daughter’s disclosure behind me. It does indicate how wholly my ability to rationalize and form a logical chain of argument was impaired in that relationship.
Two years later she told me that it had happened again. By this time, my ex-husband and I were in counselling. When we went to our next session, Ex-husband told the counsellor what Daughter had said, as a way to illustrate what a problem Daughter was in our lives. Counsellor was obligated by law to report the incident to the authorities. The police stepped in and our family was investigated to ascertain the veracity of Daughter’s claims. While we were under investigation Daughter and Ex-husband were not allowed to live in the house together. In my extreme state of mental and emotional battery by ex-husband at that time, I elected to have Daughter move into foster care.
Huh. Now that I am thinking of it, I wonder if I wasn’t trying to protect Daughter from Ex-husband because I felt so powerless to get away from him. At least I could get her out of the house? Because I did not believe I could live without him, and I could not conceive of having him move out. I felt absolutely unable to make the decision to force him to move out and the kids stay with me. I also had two sons, where were 4 and 6 years younger than Daughter.
Daughter never did move back home after that. She was 13 years old. She stayed in foster care until the end of that school year and then moved 500 miles away to live with her Bio-Dad. I stayed with Ex-husband and continued to try to build a life for my two sons. I was terrified to leave him. I did not believe I could survive financially or emotionally without him.
Finally, in 1996, I had a complete break down. Our finances were in ruin. We were on social assistance. I stopped smoking pot and qualified for a stay at a drug rehabilitation program. While I was in drug rehab, I attended daily group therapy and individual therapy sessions. One of the rules of the rehabilitation centre was no contact with family for the first week or two of treatment. After several days my counsellor let me know that Ex-husband had been calling the centre and threatening staff because he believed I was being ‘brain-washed’ to leave him. At that point, my counsellor said I might need to look at what was going on in my marriage if I wanted to stay clean from drugs and alcohol. After I left rehab I never say my ex-husband face to face again. Although I had the strength to save myself and stay away from him, I didn’t trust myself, that if I was ever face to face with him again, that I wouldn’t fall back under his spell.
In the meantime, my daughter had struggled to put her life together, suffering anorexia and never finishing high school. She got pregnant in 1996, and in 1997, gave birth to my grandson. By that time I was back in her life, trying to make amends for abandoning her and betraying her in favour of Ex-husband during those crucial years of her disclosing the molestation and the aftermath.
From that time, until the spring of 2010, I did everything in my power to make my daughter’s life easier. I took care of my grandson for 8 years, basically co-parenting him while she worked graveyard shifts and struggled to put her life together. In 2005 she met her husband, a US citizen, and they moved to the United States. From that point on we had a long distance relationship, talking on the phone almost daily. When I would make trips to visit, I would spend the time cleaning her house, emptying the fridge, and looking after grandchildren. My daughter and I developed an extremely unhealthy imbalance in our relationship, where she would basically convey all her complaints and angst about her life to me, and I would be expected to listen and offer support. In the beginning, I thought I was offering her the mothering that she did to get from me before. But, gradually, I realized I was actually feeling emotionally and mentally burdened in a way that was very difficult to cope with.
Finally, in the spring of 2010, I told her that I could not listen to her complain about her husband anymore. I found it extremely distressing and I did not think it was right for me to have to listen to these details from her married life. At that point she rejected me entirely, saying, “If I can’t tell you these things, then what is the use of having you for a mother?” I honestly could not answer that, I just knew what we were doing was not healthy for either of us. After that she did not talk to me for four years.
This summer there has been a change, precipitated by my grandson, who came to visit. We re-connected, although our relationship with never be what it was. He is now 17, a teenager, and struggling with his own life challenges. I can never ‘grandmother’ him again, in terms of giving him a bath, making sure he has clean clothes, and feeding him.
I can no longer caretake my daughter or her children. It never was my job, and it is even less so now. Yes, they are going to struggle and they are going to find their way somehow. No, I cannot eradicate the past by present deeds. Yes, I am going to have to live with the shame and regret of being a battered wife who could not protect her children from an abusive husband.
What I do have, from yesterday’s visit, are photographs of my granddaughters with me in the row boat, of them standing in the sun with their pirate hats. I have the pirate flag my granddaughter drew stapled to my summer hat. I have a few moments with my family that can be cherished and remind me of the resiliency of the human spirit, no matter what pain we have survived.
Maybe someday my daughter and I will talk about what happened with the help of a professional therapist. In the meantime, we will continue to grow our lives, side by side, and try to make the best of what we have. I do feel really, really lucky right now. It is truly a blessing to have them in my life, no matter how briefly.
Tagged: addiction, al-anon, alcoholic families, asking for help, autopoeisis, difficult communication, difficult family relationships, distant family, ecologies of learning, family connections, family relations, grieving