Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Remembering my mother

So, I had genital warts when I was 18. I'd had sex with two guys before that, mostly owing to an unwillingness to say "no" and be abandoned yet again, not because I'd really wanted to.

(My very first time was when I was sent on a skiing trip alone. I didn't want to go alone, but my father spent days working on me until he finally persuaded me to go. "The fresh air will be good for you," he said, "and you'll make friends there." So I did. There was a bartender who was kinda nice to me and bought me a few beers and pretended to be hurt by a joke I made once and asked me for sex, which at that point I felt I just couldn't refuse because I owed it to him.)

Despite overt protestations of "You can tell us anything and we'll help you" (because that's what good parents are supposed to do) on their part and "Of course I'll tell you when I become sexually active" (because that's what mature children of good parents are supposed to do) on my part, I hid this from both my parents and went through treatments on my own. I just didn't want to make myself vulnerable to them by telling them. I thought I wasn't telling them because "I didn't want to disappoint them."

But then it became apparent that I'd have to have surgery under general anaesthesia because they'd spread to my cervix. So I bit the bullet and told my mother.

She was... cold. Glad I wasn't pregnant, at least. Took me to a doctor and was clearly ashamed of me in front of her and all but apologized to this stranger in my name for getting myself into this mess.

In contrast... the doctor was wonderful. Warm, supportive, gentle. She looked me in the eyes many times and smiled. I now understand she probably understood my parents were less than supportive and was sending me a message of sorts. Even then I understood how twisted the situation was. Here was my own mother, apologizing to a stranger that I was so wayward and disgusting (not in those words, I forgot the words, I remember the feeling), and the stranger is clearly giving her the message that this was no big deal, that it happens to young people a lot, that it's unpleasant and that I should be accepted and supported, not judged.

There were painful treatments before the surgery. This good doctor was nice and warm, my mother was distant and cold. The doctor was amazed by my lack of reaction to the pain. I was simply operating under the assumption that I'd deserved this and now just had to endure it, period.

I didn't like having my mother around. At all.

The funny thing is, I was never once told that young sex, or premarital sex, or unprotected sex, were issues to my parents at all - that I'd be doing something they'd consider wrong if I engaged in this and would then deserve to be punished. They joked about sex all the time. It sounded like this cool, acceptable thing to do.

And it wasn't about the sex, I now realize. It was about causing a problem and bringing shame on the family. Embarrassment.

Then I was to have the surgery. The day before, I was nervous and wanted to cycle with a friend to the lake to relax a little. My mother forbade me and shouted at me: "Do you want the doctor to see something squashed down there because of the cycling and think you've been doing things again?" Then she forced me to scrub my feet hard in very hot water (of course I was clean - but I'd been walking barefoot and they weren't perfectly nice and tender).

They day after the surgery I was in pain and woozy.

But we were supposed to visit her sister. It was our weekly barbecue. I asked them not to go.

She was the one who said we had to.

After all, there was no plausible excuse not to go.

I don't remember if my aunt was told the truth about my surgery at some point. But I do remember barely being able to sit at that barbecue, pretending I'm fine, and vomiting afterwards.

This was my mother, not my father. The one who was supposed to be the "nice" one.

This entire thing was a very bad experience that I've been trying to forget. So I sort of did. Along with my mother's behavior through it. I just accepted that I'd been punished for "bad sex" and went on.

And then other women in my life had the same - or similar - issues. And they felt no shame or guilt. They talked about it openly. Their mothers were, of course, there for them, emotionally supported them, told them it was OK, they were OK, everything was going to be OK.

I even witnessed the same aunt my shame was to be concealed from openly support her own daughter in sexual issues.

We were different. I was different. I was not allowed mistakes. There were no clear rules, mind you - just, roughly, bring shame to us and you'll face a wall of cold punishment; bring pride to us and we'll appropriate it and boast about it.

Nothing about morality or conduct or being human.

And whatever I did, no love.

This was difficult to remember and reassess.

I'd just labeled it "mistakes of my youth and how my parents still didn't disown me."

New labels? See labels underneath: "mother," "narcissism."

She was just the less dominant one. But, in some ways, she was worse. She was the one who had problems with how I acted and who I was and how I dressed and what I believed - because it wasn't proper, ladylike, or conventional. She was the one who saw me as somehow all wrong and needing to be fixed.

My father at least let me be eccentric and pretend to rebel a little against the world - as long as he was not part of that world in any way.

They were both narcissistic parents in their own different ways. I have to face it. No "at least I had a good mother" or "at least she was affectionate and nurturing when I was a baby."

She was the one who insisted that early childhood was so important and then insisted she was very nurturing then. With the being left to cry until I passed out, I'm not buying any of it any more.

No "at least" any more.


  1. Oh, how awful. I remember having the sense as a teen that "good girls" didn't have sex, and that if you were promiscuous (read: "bad, sinful, hedonistic"), you would probably get diseases. What an awful, closed-minded attitude to hold, especially if you're a mother and should a) know better and b) have some compassion.

    Interesting how normal this stuff seems when you're a child in this situation. It's not until later, when you *get it* that the rest of the world isn't this way, that you realize how messed-up it is. Big hugs for 18-year-old Pronoia Agape.

    I'm glad you mentioned the way the doctor treated you. I have sometimes found myself in the position of the compassionate adult interacting with a child whose parent is acting in an unloving way. It's good to know that at least some of the time, the child sees the compassion and appreciates it. I'll keep doing it!

    1. Thank you Claire - and thank you for being that compassionate adult, it means so much!

  2. What a horrible experience to have to go through, especially having to also deal with your mom's reaction. Really brave post BTW. I think most people (men and women) have these experiences, but are too afraid to open up about them.

    1. Thank you :)

      I didn't really want to write about it before - but it started bugging me a lot lately and I just had to exorcise it!

  3. What a cold, unloving way to treat a daughter. How cruel and selfish she was. It's horrible that you had to go through that, and that you have to bear the memory of it still.

    I relate a lot to what you said about having sex with people just because you felt you couldn't say no. It took me many, many, many years before I realised that I could say no to sex. I was extremely promiscuous in my twenties and early thirties, desperately looking for love and affection, not ever wanting to risk rejection from anybody. It was a desperate, lonely time. It makes me think that, had you had loving, supportive parents in the first place, you may not have been in that situation at all. The loneliness of being an unloved child is completely and utterly overwhelming.

    1. Wow, exactly that - the realization that one can say no to sex!

      My husband was the first I said "no" to (I was in a "no sex before marriage" Christian phase) who didn't dump me. That's why he's my husband :)

      So many things stem from a lack of love, it's amazing.


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