I have heard my mother’s voice inside my head whispering “you are not enough, you will never be enough,” for half a century. Sometimes it was in the middle of the night after tossing and turning for countless hours, and sometimes it was after someone wrote a bad review or nasty internet comment.
But it was always there.
Relentlessly reminding me of the lesson she had tried to teach me my entire childhood: you will never be loved,
you will never be enough.
I was a good daughter. I toed the line. I behaved until my late teens, when I realized rebelling was much more fun, and the consequences were exactly the same. I was blamed no matter what happened, or who it happened to. I was blamed for the sexual abuse inflicted upon me. I was blamed for her becoming a teenage mom. I was blamed for every one of her subsequent relationship failures. I was blamed that the revolving door of adult males in her life hit me. I was responsible for her life, and most importantly, I was taught how to make the same mistakes.
I took her lessons to heart. I planned my whole life with the contingency of what I was going to do when the person I was with realized that I wasn’t ‘all that.’ During my own too many marriages, and countless relationships, the first sign of conflict would always send me running. I never stayed and worked at it, because my life was worthless and not worth fighting for. There would be another Prince Charming who would tell me I was beautiful and clever. Until he wouldn’t, and then I would find the next man after that. And so on and so on. I did the exact same thing she had. I could make a man fall in love with me when I cooked for them. I could mix a mean martini and I could blend seamlessly into their world. No one would ever love me for who I was inside. I put a mask on in public. It was flawless and hid the real me.
The real me was ugly.
When I tell people I don’t see or speak to my mother, and haven’t for almost two decades, they get a look of stunned concern on their face, “Do you want to talk about it?” They gaze at me intensely, to be sure I’m not suicidal or to convey their commitment to my well being. I love them for caring and simultaneously have always felt jealous of their nurturing, unconditional parental relationships.
Nope, I’m good, twenty years of therapy, and I am pretty much talked out. My childhood made ‘Mommy Dearest’ look like a Disney movie and I really have no desire to rehash that shit show. You never really know how crazy your childhood is until you see what “normal” looks like. Normal mothers love their children and all their quirkiness. Normal mothers protect their kids. Normal mothers want their daughters to grow up believing they are beautiful just as they are. I thought my upbringing was normal until I left home. Turns out that it was anything but normal, but it also turned out it was nothing special either, just your garden variety child abuse by the one person who was supposed to protect you.
So for my whole adult life I have wanted acknowledgment that my childhood was a train wreck. I have wanted her to realize I was abandoned by the one person that was supposed to protect me. Most importantly, I wanted her to realize that she really loved me after all. I wanted to stop being blamed for everything that was wrong with the way the moon orbited the earth and the fact that the sun shone in the sky. I wanted a happy ending where I wasn’t always her bad guy. So I thought of my childhood as a circle with the big X through it, the one thing I wouldn’t write about or talk about. Unless I was paying you, you really shouldn’t have to listen to me whine about the adult anger of a childhood spent being the kicked familial scapegoat.
I have realized that i did not have the mother I wanted, but perhaps I had actually had the mother I needed. I stopped trying to fix the ‘problem’, and from that moment forward my life became infinitely more clear. I realized that all the therapy that I had done was pretty much just looking for a belated apology. I didn’t have to prove her wrong because my life and my children had done that.. What mattered was that as a parent I had built a positive composite of the negative lessons I learned growing up. I realized that as an adult survivor of child abuse I had broken the cycle. And THAT was definitely something worth sharing and writing about.
Ironically, it was only at that moment I made peace with my childhood and found forgiveness for the unforgiveable. In the exact moment that I forgave her, the tape stopped playing in my head and she no longer controlled what I thought about myself or the direction of my path. She no longer controlled how I raised my children, or how I belatedly parented myself. I realized I hadn’t been able to live my life fully while I was focused on how she didn’t live hers.
I realized that voice that was playing in my head had originally been borrowed from her, but had become my own a long time ago.
So this morning I shouted aloud that I loved me, I loved my life, and I was enough.
And I let her go and moved the fuck on.
Gretchen you are beautiful and you are enough. Your kindness and grace are extremely appreciated. You leave a thumbprint on the lives you touch. You are enough and then some.
I am confident your insights and writings help others and that you may never know the impact but it is there. You make a difference. The world is a brighter place because of you.
Thank you Gretchen for your candid honesty. I can’t imagine how many people you have helped by being so open. And I’m so proud of you for figuring all this shit out and going on!
You are more than good enough. Your life is purpose driven. I am one among hundreds that love you because you are pure love.
Your post came as I pick up my king forsaken novel about the impact of child abuse. I will definitely finish it with a little of your spunk!
That is long forsaken not kingfirsaken!
Our dear friend you are more than enough. You are a beatiful creation with a warm spirit. You have bought sunshine and hope to many lives and still do. I see you a glow around you every time I see you. I have always sensed a hidden heartache inside of you, but have guided my spirit to tell your spirit to let it go and fly free. Always remind yourself how loved you are, how beautiful you are and that your past has no reigns because your future is without boundaries. Love you!
Wow. Absolutely profound. My wife could have written this piece. Thank you for sharing the raw truth about those who really aren’t enough – making those that really are enough – feel less than. It’s so far reaching in its depth I could vomit. You found the place you have deserved. BRAVO and congratulations. ❤️
What a beautiful testament to the strength of the human spirit, Gretchen! Thank you for bravely sharing such a deeply personal story that so many can relate to, as we’ve all experienced a time when we didn’t feel “good enough”. I love that the power of forgiveness set you free and brought you peace and joy in your life – you are MORE THAN ENOUGH (with a cherry on top)! Thank you for helping others through both your writing and cooking!
“What mattered was that as a parent I had built a positive composite of the negative lessons I learned growing up” >> I love this! I also grew up in an abusive (alcoholic) home and can relate to the tapes playing decades after. But, like you, I also proved them wrong with my life and my children. I love your strength and your story. Thank you for being open.
Stunning quest there. What happened after? Thanks!
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I read this with great angst, as you can imagine. Knowing what I do, it was very difficult. Also, knowing that what I write here will be perused by all players increases the challenge of expressing myself. What is most important at this point is that you have stated that you are putting the interior tapes behind you and moving forward as you and only you. From henceforth, all mistakes and triumphs have no one to credit, but you. It is a tremendous and terrifying step to take, one that will have some stumbling blocks. I’m very proud of you for moving forward on your own as a new and complete person with no trailing strings behind you. You only have those two lovely girls to cherish and nurture. All the best. All the best!!!
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i always love my mom…
I think, mother is everything for my life…
thank you for sharing this post for us….
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