Still Abusive

TW: full text of a conversation with my mother, in which her responses are abusive (gaslighting)

It started with an online swimsuit sale. I’m not sure why my mother decided I need a new swimsuit – I think the ones I have are fine – but she “strongly encouraged” me to take advantage of the sale… and have her buy the items for me so she can get “points” (credit card reward program?). I haven’t completely overwritten my programming, so I agreed to do the online shopping in her apartment, even though I knew I should have known better.

Clothes shopping has always been triggering for me, and swimsuit shopping is the worst. I’ve been working hard to love my body the way it is, but the internalized fatphobia and body size-related insecurity that tortured me my whole life springs up anew when I simply cannot find clothing in my size.

And then there’s the whole being non-binary thing. At least with everyday clothes it’s possible to do some gender-bending: no one needs to know I wear “men’s” boxer-briefs and an undershirt instead of a bra. T-shirts are considered unisex. Socks and shoes – who cares?! So far I haven’t ventured into trying to find “men’s” pants that might fit me, mostly because they’re simply not designed for hips that are considerably larger than the attached waist. But finding a pair of jeans shaped to my body feels so good, I can keep wearing “women’s” pants without too much dysphoria. For now.

Swimsuits are very gendered. Just the fact that men are expected to run around bare-chested and women have to cover up sends my brain into a dysphoric frenzy. Ideally I would love to just swim naked – I had the opportunity to do that once and it was glorious! No gender performance, just diverse bodies. Everything floats when it’s not tied down by a swimsuit. I loved the sensation. I felt so free!

So I’m swimsuit shopping online with my mother. She’s sitting at the computer with me mostly behind her, looking at what she thinks I’ll like. Fortunately, we agreed that the “women’s” swim shorts this company offers are far superior to typical “women’s” swimsuit bottoms… but she was going to get a shorter length than I wanted (so I had to argue with her about that) and the ones I wanted were out of stock in my size (of course). I convinced her to add the swim leggings (way more coverage than I’d like, but still better than the alternatives). And I don’t remember if we added a couple pairs of “men’s” swim trunks together or I added them myself later, but either way they’ve been ordered. Maybe they’ll even fit! (A bit of a long shot, since the measurements are smaller than my hips.)

Then we started looking at tops. I would have been happy with a simple “shelf bra” tankini thing. They all have underwire or soft cups. Ugh. We get in an argument about it. I’m concerned because with a tankini one has to consider both chest (“bust”) and hip measurements, and mine are too different to have one size fit both properly. I think everything I own is too big on the bust and too small on the hips – I just try not to worry about it. We have another fight, I get her to let me sit at the computer and look at stuff myself, without having to try and convince her to click on each item for me. Nada.

I decided to look at bikini tops, thinking it might solve the hip-bust ratio problem. Bad idea. They’re all basically bras. I don’t know what I was expecting – maybe something more like a sports bra at least? But no, my dysphoria went through the roof. I eventually found and selected a couple “men’s” rash guards, which as far as I can tell are essentially fitted t-shirts designed for swimming?

Again, way more coverage than I wanted, but probably a million times more comfortable than the weird boob-obsessed gendered performance nonsense Mom probably would have bought for me.

So, it was pretty cool that this company/site had these options. And Mom was pretty cool about “letting” – god, I’m an adult, who they hell is she to decide what I’m “allowed” to wear or buy? – me get mostly “men’s” swimwear.

But look at me, writing over 700 words about swimsuit shopping! Throughout our interaction she kept saying little things that were bothering me: “You really need to give yourself more time to get places.” “I went in your apartment and thought ‘I just have to help them out,’ so I did your dishes.” “I don’t know how you’ve been handling your finances.”

That last one was the last straw. I used to keep my checkbook perfectly balanced. I used to have my own income, so I could save money every month and otherwise be a financially-responsible adult. But I don’t have my own income, and I haven’t figured out how to consistently track finances for two people (especially since Fox is the one who makes all our money and spends most of it). I’ve been reduced to checking our bank account balance once a month, to make sure we have enough in there to pay our credit card bill. I’m not happy with the situation; it feels wrong; I’m embarrassed by it. But between my mental health issues, the work I’ve been doing in therapy, volunteering full-time for the Bernie Sanders campaign (which I love), and being primary caregiver to our pet rats, I consider it an accomplishment that I manage to pay the credit card bills on time. And eat, occasionally. That requires constant vigilance.

So I walked out. “Please don’t walk out on me.” I barely even looked at her. I’d fallen mute. I couldn’t say or do anything. My legs just carried me out the door and down the stairs and into my apartment.

A little while later she was leaving the house, so I hugged her and apologized and told her I love her. She told me that she wasn’t pushing the bra-like tankini innards on me because of gender, but because she likes to have support for her anatomy. “You want some support,” she said to me. “No, you want some support,” I told her. “That doesn’t mean it’s what I want.” I escape the conversation – mostly because she needs to leave. Everything seems peachy.

She even called on her way wherever she was going to say she’s proud of me for all the work I’m doing on the campaign.

Wednesday.

On Wednesday she posted one of those image-with-text meme-like things on my Facebook wall:

I am not your friend. I am your parent. I will stalk you, lecture you, drive you insane, be your worst nightmare, & hunt you down when needed – because I love you.

I got very angry, hid it from my timeline, and proceeded to send her multiple text messages:

Posting threats on my Facebook wall is not going to improve our relationship – quite the opposite. You and dad and your in-laws and other family members already drove me insane; that’s why I’ve needed to work my ass off in therapy for the past 6 years.

You’re not my friend, you’re my parent – so ACT LIKE ONE. Get the therapy you need to be able to do it properly. Stop using me as your therapist. I’m not your friend or your therapist I’m your adult child. Respect that I’m an adult and respect my boundaries. Help me in the ways I ask you to; give me the advice I ask for; listen to me and support me! And think about how what you say might impact me before you say it.

I’m grateful for everything you do for me and I understand that it’s not easy. But enough is enough. If you think it’s okay to stalk me and knowingly do things to “drive me insane” then you need to make some effort to learn how to parent responsibly.

“I do these harmful things because I love you” is what abusers say.

The rest of the conversation proceeded in a rather alarming fashion (from my point of view) during which she did not apologize.

M: “I do not abuse you. You are taking things too seriously.”
Z:  “No, YOU are not taking me seriously enough. You never have.”
M: “Stalk you?”
Z:
M: “Not a threat. I thought it was cute. And told you that I love you. Something parents always say. We make many sacrifices for our children. We should talk later. Take things lighter. Love you.”

I freaked out and called Wakana. She got so upset with my mom, I had to ask her to stop yelling. She told me about a million times that I was not overreacting, I was having a healthy response, I need to separate emotionally from my mother, and I should unfriend my mother on Facebook. So that’s what I did, and that’s the text I sent Mom.

The next text I got from Mom was telling me I needed to move my car. We haven’t spoken since. No apology.

I’m not talking to her until she apologizes to me.

In the meantime, I got a nice short androgynous haircut that I love and everyone has complimented me on. I have a street to canvass and volunteers to call this afternoon. I’ll be working in the campaign office for a handful of hours this evening. And then we begin our GOTV (get out the vote) efforts in earnest. 9am-9pm Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. And, I imagine, the full time polls are open Tuesday. I signed up to be part of the voter protection team on Tuesday, so I will either be doing that or juggling it with work in the campaign office. It’s finals week on steroids. Crunch time.

If you can help us out go to map.berniesanders.com for local events and/or berniepb.com to phonebank. If your state’s primary is on Tuesday, visit canivote.org to look up your polling place and/or other useful information.

This is what’s been keeping me going. I need Bernie to win on Tuesday.

Permission To Be

The knots in my muscles
Were my cage armor
But you smoothed them out
Taught sore muscles to relax
And set the demons free

My massage on Thursday was bittersweet. The therapist did a really excellent job of massaging the areas that really needed it. She succeeded in getting muscles to relax that had been clenched for so long, I’d forgotten what it felt like not to be tense.

Physically, and to some extent emotionally, it felt wonderful. But those muscles held thoughts and memories that were too difficult for me to deal with at the time. As they came flooding back, the primary emotion I felt was guilt. I felt guilty for everything.

As I realized this, I tried to figure out who it was I needed to apologize to. Deep, very deep, inside, I found the little girl who is hurting so much. I apologized – for not protecting her, for not listening to her, for siding with the people who questioned and ridiculed her.

And she forgave me.

It’s not your fault. You were hurt just as much as me. My pain is your pain, my anger your anger. We’ve both been wronged.

I find it easier to feel guilty than to accept that reality. If I’ve done something wrong, at least there’s something I can do about it: I can punish myself. Take that away and all I have is sadness and anger. Unquenchable anger I cannot direct at anyone.

To a child, the adults in hir life are gods. Any anger they provoke is best turned inward; better to suffer one’s own wrath than theirs. I learned that one the hard way and spent most of my life thinking I’d deserved to be physically and emotionally abused. I’ve been emotionally, and at times physically, abusing myself.

Fox and I visited with a couple of friends only hours after the massage. We played two board games. Through a combination of luck and (dare I say it?) excellent strategy I won the first game twice. The second game is very complex and challenging and I was struggling with severe depression symptoms, so I (felt like I) wasn’t able to use as good a strategy. I was winning for most of the game and came in second out of four players – despite being on the verge of tears, having trouble making decisions, and thinking I was doing poorly because I hadn’t advanced in certain areas as much as the other players had.

I think, deep down, I was proud of myself for doing as well as I did. I’m proud now, as I write this. But at the time I didn’t – couldn’t – feel it. Instead I felt guilty for winning the first game because my success required that my friends didn’t do as well, and therefore were disappointed.

I started the second game with a strong strategy, but backed off in response to innocuous comments about how it was affecting the dynamics of the game; without that strategy I felt lost, like I was constantly trying to catch up. I couldn’t see how well I’d done or that it was a good thing; when I realized I’d managed to come in second I felt worse.

I noticed a disconnect between my thoughts and emotions / emotion-related bodily sensations that I found very disconcerting. I mentioned it to Wakana during our session on Friday and told her about feeling guilty when I won the games.

She tied it into my experiences growing up (and my relationship with my mother). From what I remember, at least, I really lacked adult advocates. The staff at the after school program punished me when the other kids knocked down the zoo I’d been building (Breaking and Entering). The teachers and principal at my elementary and middle school didn’t know what to do with a gifted female student who consistently got much higher grades than her predominantly male classmates. They tended to penalize me – by not calling on me, taking away the book I was reading because I was bored in class, and raising the other kids’ grades to be comparable to mine without giving me any praise or benefit for doing as well as I did. They didn’t stand up for me when I was bullied by the male students, but punished me when I retaliated.

When I entered high school I wanted to remain as anonymous as possible to avoid the wrath of my peers. I had some friends whom I unfortunately didn’t have many classes with; I didn’t make friends with the other students in my honors and AP classes. That was a mistake; I felt ostracized most of the time and resented by my “friends” for consistently earning first honors.

My experiences in college taught me that I’d focused on academics to the detriment of my social and emotional development; though I still did well enough in school to graduate magna cum laude I feel like I’m wrong for “boasting” about it. I know it’s an accomplishment, but it doesn’t seem like something most people in most settings would appreciate.

The graduate classes I’ve taken so far have been wonderful because I’ve felt about average to perhaps above average among my classmates – definitely not the smartest, most capable, or most talented person in the room. I’ve felt like my contributions have been appreciated AND I’ve learned a lot from my classmates.

The undergraduate classes I took while in graduate school expanded and enriched my understanding of the world a great deal; I feel very fortunate to have taken them. I learned a great deal in them, from the other students as well as the course materials. But I did notice a difference in the level of critical thinking I’ve become accustomed to, compared with what is expected at the undergraduate level. I often felt very different from the other students because of this.

Maybe masquerading as an undergraduate student wasn’t the best idea. It taught me to once again hide a very significant portion of who I am, to deny one of my greatest strengths. I’m smart. I love to be challenged intellectually. I’m very good at learning – not only ingesting knowledge, but thinking critically about it and applying it to situations. I’m also very good at doing research, organizing the information, and drawing conclusions from / making an argument based on it. I have at least 8 years of experience. References available upon request.

So I’ve focused on my academic development to the detriment of my social and emotional development, lacked support in developing healthy, honest relationships with the majority of my peers, and learned to hide the very thing that has been my primary strength in some weird misguided effort to “fit in.” I like to think that I would have done very well in school anyway, because I’m naturally good at learning and take pleasure in producing well-written (and edited!) papers.

But I did most of it – especially in my younger years – because it’s what my parents needed. They needed their daughter to get straight As, so I did. An A was never an accomplishment (until I reached college). It was making ends meet. Getting by. Survival.

Wakana beckoned me to the piano to sing and express how I felt about all of this. She started playing chords and asked if they sounded appropriate to how I was feeling; I just kind of went along with it because I felt like I didn’t have an opinion, and if I did it didn’t matter.

I apologized for not being the perfect daughter. Wakana sang that there is no such thing as perfect, and started repeating “I’m enough” in the defiant, insistent voice that comes out when we’re practicing setting boundaries. She tried to get me to join her, but I couldn’t say it with conviction. I asked it once or twice before breaking down into tears.

The whole world says I’m not enough, and I’m afraid to show them the truth because it goes against the dominant values in society. I don’t want to be further ostracized. I don’t want to be hurt any more than I’m already hurting myself.