I wrote this letter to my mother in honor of Mother's Day (unmmailed):
By my reckoning, you are 83 now. We haven't talked in over 15 years. When Dad died last year, you replied to the sympathy card I sent you with just a curt 'thank you'. And although I gave you my phone number, address, and email address in that card, you never tried to make any contact.
Maybe I was expecting too much, but did it ever bother you that we have had no relationship? That you never knew most of your grandchildren? Did you ever wonder what caused me to cut off contact? Did you consider me just a casualty of the war Dad waged against his children? Or was I just too much of a burden to bear because I dared to tell the truth?
From my earliest memory, you and Dad drank daily. You started at "cocktail hour", and gradually the "hour" started earlier, and went later. When you started to combine that with use of tranquilizers and other prescription drugs, you were usually checked out completely by 8:00PM, and your children were left alone. No one talked about it. It was off limits. The word "alcoholic" was unknown to us. When Dad stopped working, he was "starting a home business" even though he would be drunk when I got home from school at 3:30PM. When he would disappear for weeks at a time, he was "away on business". When the electricity or phone was turned off, it was "being worked on". Always an explanation, always a lie, to pretend life was normal and okay. Lies, secrets, and denial was what you raised us on.
It wasn't just the neglect (which told me I didn't matter) that was damaging, it was also the verbal and emotional abuse Dad inflicted on us that caused me to believe the worst about myself. I was never a 'real man', never good enough, always a failure. I cringed when he said such things to my siblings, but when he said them to me, I just believed him. Didn't you see what was happening? Why didn't you protect us? Why didn't you take our side? Instead you remained silent. You stood by silently while he destroyed your four children.
You may think "well we did our best" or "it wasn't that bad", but look at the outcome. My three siblings have collectively suffered from OCD, Bi-polar disorder, Bulimia,and alcoholism. Just a coincidence? Hmmm, then there's me. Again, OCD, Bi-polar disorder, alcoholism. Could there possibly be any relationship between your behavior toward us, and your grown children's problems?
I have a surprise for you. I was molested when I was 13. Tim R. down the street was my abuser. He let me hang out with him. He groomed me by supplying me with pot and beer (did you even know I was into alcohol & drugs at that age?). And once he had my trust, and got me good and high, he sexually abused me. I won't go into detail of what he did. Lets just say it changed my life.
I stayed in my room alot after that. Didn't you notice I never went out anymore? Didn't have any friends? Stayed up most nights and slept during the day. From then on I kept a buzz on every day from one substance or another. All through middle school and high school I stayed in my room. But you never had any clue that anything was up with me? Were you just clueless, or just couldn't care less? I still brought home good grades, and never got in any trouble. I guess that was all that mattered. I even finished high school in 3 years and went away to college at 17. Just an ambitious kid? Hardly. My chief ambition was to get away from you and Dad, and from the memory of being raped. I never lived with you again after that. Did you notice?
I kept the the secret of your and Dad's alcoholism till I was 40, when I started therapy. Then had to deal with my own alcoholism and my mental illness. Kept the secret of my sexual abuse for 42 years. Now, finally everything makes sense. About you, about my childhood, about the abuse, and the disasterous life that followed. I won't even go into all the problems I've had as a man, because I couldn't cope with what happened to me, and what I inherited from you and Dad.
So why am I writing this? After so many years of silence? Because I want you to know what damage you and Dad caused, and more importantly, that I am overcoming it. I've been sober 16 years, started a new career, made amends to my own children, made peace with my wife. I am no longer driven by fear, shame and anger. I'm learning to have healthy relationships for the first time in my life. I am becoming the man I should have been. I can't reclaim all the years that I lost, but whatever number of years I have left will be lived free of the damage done to me in childhood.
And thats my message to you today. I'm finally free. Happy Mother's Day.
"But now old friends are acting strange,
they shake their heads, they say I've changed.
Something's lost but something's gained in living every day
....it's life's illusions I recall, I really don't know life at all. "Joni Mitchell