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As another Mother's Day passes in the United States, I got another opportunity to reflect on my relationship with mother. I am not sure what it is about this holiday, but each year it passes, I am overwhelmed with many feelings, particularly grief.
This year I sat at home, and thought of the time I watched Ladybird in theaters with an ex partner, and could not stop sobbing. The movie was too much for me. The main character and her mother were like a reflection of our relationship. I told myself that I cannot watch that movie anymore. Maybe not until 20 years from now.
I am not saying I do not love my mother. However, our relationship has not been the best.
Therapy and therapists have helped me discover the term "generational trauma," or "transgenerational trauma," which the dictionary defines as "trauma that is transferred from the first generation of trauma survivors to the second, and further generations of offspring of the survivors via complex post-traumatic stress disorder mechanisms." A psychology journal describes it as a "horizontal transmission," or injury that is bestowed on one child in the family, or people in equivalent power relations (Psychology Today).
Often for many women, that trauma passes to them through generations of emotional labor. My mother had nine siblings, and was the oldest of five. By childhood, she had to do "motherly" chores for her younger siblings. By adolescence, she had to internalize so much pain, so much trauma, because she had to accept that it was a natural part of growing up. I recall my mother's stories of my grandmother, whose forms of punishment would probably merit a CPS call today. For example, there was a day that my mother and her sibling came home late, and their punishment was public, and humiliating–tied naked on a gate for all the neighbors to see. Those punishments on top of extreme poverty were the conditions my mother had to grow up and survive in. No one taught her how to heal, and no one taught her how to be a mother.
Therefore what she saw, and what she experienced in childhood, she accidentally passed down.
When I was younger I could not grapple with this. I did not understand. It took me many therapy sessions to finally learn that I inherited my mother's pain. Though unintentionally, and unbeknownst to everyone, I manifested the lack of love, fear, anxiety, etc. that my mother internalized, and passed down through how she raised me.
I remember a time we had to undergo family therapy when I was 15, and my mother openly told me that she "doesn't believe in any of that stuff." I got angry and thought to myself, "how you are a nurse?!" This made me terrified to tell her anything–and I am still to this day. I only talk to her at most once every week. Our relationship is improving, slowly. But like healing, it is not linear, and it is not fixed.
There are many things I want to vent to her, but I can't (hopefully just for now):
Like how I was suicidal when I was younger; I tried killing myself on two different occasions. I did not think I would be alive past my 20th birthday; yet here I am. I struggled with an eating disorder which ruined my body in the long run.
Like how my last relationship ended because my partner had mental health issues, and how, once, he threatened to kill himself in front of me.
Like how I dated a man 20 years my senior when I was a freshman in college. How I dated other men in their 30s like I was weirdly looking for this sort of care, some form of maternal figure that apparently existed in way older men.
Like how my anxiety simmers into panic attacks.
Like I how self harmed.
Like how I used many unsavory coping mechanisms.
Like how one reason why I transferred colleges was because of someone who made me feel unsafe and terrified me.
Like how my anxiety got so bad that I lied in bed at three AM frantically typing, "DO I HAVE MOMMY ISSUES" in Google, and cried myself to sleep that night, wondering why I couldn't just be like my dad–who attempts to present a masculine facade to hide his trauma. Why couldn't I just be like my dad who cut off his mom from his life after his dad died? Why couldn't I just be like my dad who told my daughter at the age of five to never speak to her grandma at her grandpa's funeral? Why couldn't I just be like my dad who told my daughter to not hug her grandma back at the age of 10 at this family reunion? Why couldn't I just be like my dad who allowed his daughter to not form memories, or a clear face of her paternal grandmother? Why couldn't I just be like my dad who only forgave his mom at her deathbed?
I cried and cried, because I know I can never do that. I can never forgive myself, and continue to heal if I do that.
I know that the only reason why I can't do this is that my mom is dying. Around my junior year of college, my mom got diagnosed with mild kidney failure, which makes her undergo dialysis at least two or three times a week. This kidney failure has sent her to the emergency room multiple times. This kidney failure will require her to get a new kidney one day. This kidney failure has a possibility of killing her.
I can't let go of her just yet. There are still wounds open, and those need to be stitched. I know I can't sink into a deeper hole just yet. I need to heal before I could ever let go. To be honest, I do not know I can ever let go.
But I know that there is work to be done. Lots and lots of work that requires vulnerability, mixed with tears and blood.
I know I am not ready, but I have to. I am not sure if she wants to heal, or is even aware, but I am ready to do the work for the both of us.
Her pain became mine, so her healing will be mine too.