Thursday, March 3, 2016

When Hell Freezes Over, And The Devil Gives Out Free Sleigh Rides: Apologies From Our Narcissistic Parents

Unprovoked apologetic remorse from a narcissistic parent.  Sounds like a fantasy, right? Like zero calorie cupcakes and blind dates that look like Ryan Gosling. They are figments of our imaginations, but certainly not steeped in anything resembling reality.

I think we all have a better shot at receiving one of
these than an apology from our narcissistic parents.

Or at least that's what I thought, until two weeks ago.

I've been No/Low Contact with my narcissistic mother for the better part of 15 years. And only low contact due to the existence of my minor, teenage, sister, who still resides with the She-Devil. Sadly, a few years ago, her father passed away very young and very unexpectedly.  We only have one other living adult family member to speak of who has struggled with an addiction to crack-cocaine for most of the last 20 years. Which means, if you do the math, I become my younger sister's legal guardian in the event of my NM's early demise.

In fact, the last contact we'd had regarded this very issue, about 6 months ago. My aunt had called me to complain about my mom's craziness, and my mother and I had had falling out number 28,974 a few months prior.  So I was a little more of a listening ear that week than I might have been closer to the drama. My aunt, as usual, rattled off several batshit things my mother had said of late, and one word in particular caught my attention: "Guardianship."

"Wait, what was that about the guardianship?" I asked.
"Oh I don't know, something about changing it to some friend of hers she's only known a few months.  The woman is crazy." My aunt replied.

I was speechless.  As I said, things have been rocky between me and my mom for the entirety of my sister's young life.  Before, actually. But never had she given any indication of playing games with such serious legal issues. Sure she's disinherited me, told me I'm not her daughter, removed me from her life insurance, blahblahblah...but all of it with the understanding that if/when shit hit the fan, I'd step in to give my sister the support she would need if she found herself parent-less under the age of 18.  I broke no contact, called my mom, and she didn't answer.  So I left her a message: "[Aunt] told me you're changing [Sister's] guardianship.  I know we don't get along, but this feels spiteful and way, way over the line.  Please call me back so we can talk about this."

And I never heard back.

Two weeks ago, as I was going about my normal Wednesday routine, my sister called me out of nowhere. I knew immediately before I had even connected the call, something was wrong.  She's a teen in the millennial age.  Her calling, and not texting, on a Wednesday morning, means one of two things: the zombie apocalypse is underway, and/or something happened to my mom.  Sure enough, my mom was in the hospital.  In ICU, on a ventilator.

Holy. Shit.

I hung up with my sister, and crisis mode kicked in.  I pushed aside any emotions I'd had relating to my mother and her condition, and forced all thoughts to be about getting to my sister as quickly as possible.  As fate would have it, my employer couldn't let me drop everything on that day.  I am one of two people in my work area, and the two of us split up a large work load.  When one of us has a day off, the other covers.  That week, my coworker had had eye surgery and wasn't cleared to drive until that Thursday morning. I was stuck.  My choices were either to give up my job (believe me I considered it) or to finish out the day and drive red-eye to my sister's state the second my work was done.  And so I kept up with numerous phone calls, texts and emails with my sister, the neighbor she was staying with, and the ICU nurse's station while I painstakingly tried to get my work done ASAP.  I reasoned that it wouldn't be smart to give up my employment should I need to care for my sister financially.
Never have I felt so torn in two pieces in my life.
By the time I arrived, preparing for the worst, my mother's condition had improved and she was able to breathe without the help of machines. By that evening, they were discharging her. On my arrival, my mother jumped out of bed, ripping her IV out of her arm, and ran to me, embracing me in one of the (I think) 3 hugs I've had from her in my life? "My baby, my baby!" she said.  And I wondered if that IV had had some kind of Narcissistic Parenting cure-all potion in it.  Suddenly, I was stuck in a whole new way.  I had arranged to be off work indefinitely.  "How long can you stay?" She asked, reminding me of a child, hope and love gleaming in her eyes. "Uh, through the weekend I guess." I stammered, and then came hug #4.  "I love you." She said.  And I was grateful to be in a hospital, because I was pretty sure that state of shock I was in would require the use of a defibrillator. " you too, mom." I said, and she smiled.


When they released her and we got back to their house, she waited for my sister to go to bed and then said she wanted to have "real talk" with me.  I braced myself for what this has always meant in the past...a diatribe of her long list of grievances against me, my father, my aunt, Lady Gaga, Elton John, and the entire Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  I have long been trained to respond to these talks with a polite "Yes ma'am, I'm sorry, woe is you, you're pretty, I'm ugly, you're smart, I'm stupid.... etc etc" lest I want to start World War Seventeen.

"I want to say something I've never said to you." She began.
"Yes Ma'am..." I said, reading from the well rehearsed mental script in my head.
"No, stop it." She said.  "You don't owe me any respect."
I couldn't help it.  My eyes bugged out.
"I owe you a thousand apologies." She said.
My eyes felt like they would fall out of my head.
"I never should have hit you. I was a bad mom to you. I treated you differently than your sister because I resented you for favoring your father.  That's a shitty thing for a mom to do and I'm ashamed of myself."

"Ok...." I said, regaining composure and looking for the catch.
"I have always loved you.  But I don't know how to show it.  I felt rejected by you, and so I rejected you to protect myself.  And when I did show it, I only seemed to know how to do it with money.  But then I would hold it over your head like you owed me and that wasn't fair."
"No, it wasn't." I said, with a cringe and waiting for the emotional bitchslap I knew would come.
"No. it wasn't."
Holy shit.  Did she just validate me? And immediately I thought of tearing down this blog.  I am a fraud.  My mother's not a narcissist.  I don't have a toxic parent.  Who am I to try to help others when these situations no longer apply to me?

And then began the diatribe against my dad.  Back into submission mode I went.

"Yes ma'am." I said.  Rolling my eyes internally at my silly self.
"What just happened?" She asked.  I stared at her.
"Nothing. I'm just listening." I said.
"I fucked it up already, didn't I?" She said. I was astounded at her perception.  Again, I am a fraud.
"I've said this to you before, but you don't ever seem to get it." I said, playing with fire. "But my dad is very important to me. I am half him.  So when you put him down, you're putting half of me down."
"You're right. I'm sorry. I won't do that anymore." She said.  I actually felt my heart stop.  I wished we were back in the hospital under doctor supervision.
"I really want us to be closer.  I hate that we only come together in times of crisis.  I hate that I don't know what's going on with your life.  I hate that I've pushed you away and I am going to do everything in my power to repair things and earn your trust."
It was then that I remembered the guardianship, and asked her about it.
"Oh boy, this is your druggie Aunt causing drama.  I spoke with a lawyer a few months ago who said I should have a backup guardian in case something happened to you as well.  I mentioned it to her on the phone and she must have run her mouth to you trying to cause problems."  She then got up, fished around in her office, and produced a legal document.  "Here," she said, "see for yourself."

Her Last Will & Testament still named me as my sister's legal guardian. And hand written in the spaces below legalese was a note to make another person guardian in the case of my death. She only needed to get it redone by a lawyer and notarized.  I sighed in heavy relief.  She wasn't playing with legal fire out of spite, she was making smart parenting decisions for my sister's future.

When I left town 3 days, and more of these types of talks, later, I was skipping. It felt like a 30 year weight had been lifted from my shoulders.  I felt something I couldn't even describe because I'd forgotten what it felt like.  Hope.  Maybe, just maybe, I could have a real mom.  As I drove home for 5 hours I didn't even turn on the radio.  I thought about what kind of flowers I would send her this year for mother's day.  I thought about how much fun it would be to take a family vacation with her and my sister for the first time. I imagined being able to talk to her and have her actually listen when I was facing turmoil in my life and to have a maternal figure who would talk me through it and assure me that everything would be alright in the end.  I let myself have those dreams of a mom for the first time in probably half a decade.

Is this a dream?
On my arrival home, I opened my email to find 13 messages from my mom. All reiterating and reassuring everything she'd said while I was with her. I felt like I was walking on clouds.

The next day, I received 4 more emails.  12 block length text messages, and 4 phone calls.

On Tuesday, 8 emails, 23 texts, 3 phone calls.

Wednesday: 7 emails, 18 texts, 2 calls.

Thursday: 20 texts, 4 emails, 6 calls.

And I noticed something.  By Tuesday the emails began talking about my dad again.  The texts were running my aunt into the ground.  One text on Wednesday talked of a temporary financial bind she's in and 30 minutes later, another text asking if she could please but me a pair of $200 sunglasses to make up for not acknowledging any of my birthdays in the last 15 years. And mixed into every email starting on Wednesday, was her own "fears and apprehensions" about our relationship.  She wanted to know if I thought she was a good mom who tried her best.  She wanted me to acknowledge how great of a mom she is to my sister.  She repeatedly asked if I was faking my desire to have a better relationship with her only because I really just wanted more access to my sister, despite my telling her no about that several times.

On Friday, she emailed me at 2 am while I was sleeping.  At 6 am, she texted me 3 times in a row asking if I was mad at her because I hadn't replied. I texted back that I was sleeping, had a very busy work day ahead and that I would read and respond over the weekend. She texted again, saying she hoped I wouldn't be mad. I said I wasn't and was going back to sleep.  Still the texts came.  So I got up, made coffee and sat down to read her email.

It was as if none of the previous week had happened.  It was roughly 5000 words.  2000 putting down my dad and asking for reassurance that he was a terrible husband to her and for me to never talk about him to her because it hurt her.  (For the record, I have no idea how good or bad of a husband my father was since they split when I was in 1st grade.  But I do know that what led him to file for divorce was her multiple extramarital affairs, one with his best friend. And I know this first hand, as I remember being about 6 years old in this man's apartment watching his fish tank in his living room while he and my mother had loud sex in the back room, and her telling me afterwards not to say anything to my dad. But I digress)  The rest was a diatribe I'm all too familiar with.  How the reason I didn't get the relationship with her that my sister has (the GC) was due to my own fault.  I was a bad teenager who was out of control.  She did the best she could.  Sure she'd made mistakes, but anyone would in her shoes dealing with a troublemaker like me.

I sighed, audibly, and took a minute before responding. I found myself grateful for therapy.  Grateful for this blog, facebook groups and research materials I've read over the last year or so.  And instead of beating myself up for getting sucked in again as I might have without the assistance of these support systems, instead, I forgave myself.  I smiled.  Knowing with FULL confidence that our trouble isn't me.  That I tried.  That I had faith and hope and love in my heart, albeit small, rational, apprehension.  That I was willing to forgive and even forget if the behavior truly changed.  And then I smiled because I realized I didn't need her approval.  I didn't need her love anymore.  Sure it would be great to have a mom I could send flowers to and talk about my life with, but I was whole without it. And I didn't need to play this game with her.  I didn't need to correct the false things she said, or submit to her bullshit on the glimmer of hope for another apologetic talk down the road. Because the truth is the things she had said to me that weekend, the validation, the promises of a better future, all of it, were things I had needed a long time ago from her.  But in their absence, I eventually created peace for myself somewhere along the way. Through therapy, I had put it to rest. I already knew I wasn't unlovable.  My self-esteem didn't hinge on her approval.  I didn't need her to apologize for or acknowledge any of the things she'd done because *I* knew they happened.  *I* knew they were wrong.  And *I* knew they weren't my fault.

I am daughter, hear me roar.
I replied, knowing full well it would result in falling out number 28,975, and completely at peace with that. I told her I felt she was ignoring me again, because of how many times I had had to repeat myself.  I told her I thought her behavior was manic, the constant communication wasn't normal and spoke to a deeper problem.  I told her it sucked that she went back on everything she'd promised about not trash-talking my father, and that she seemed to be doing the same old thing of seeking mothering from me rather than being my mom. I told her I wasn't angry, and that I would still be there in any time of crisis for her and especially my sister.  And then instead of blocking her, as I might have in the past to protect myself from abuse, I gave her an opportunity to correct it.  I didn't want to have any regrets. The reply I got was almost immediate.

In it, she explained that she was in fact removing me from my sister's guardianship because she feels I am an ungrateful loser who has psych problems and needs to be on meds. That my aunt was right but she didn't have the guts to tell me that to my face because she didn't want to hurt me.  (lol) And, well, so much of the same diatribes from the past that it's unnecessary and repetitive to illustrate. Later that night, I opened a picture text from her which was the will she had shown me, ripped into pieces. I just shook my head, blocked her, and laughed out loud.

Little does she realize, these behaviors won't put me in my place as I'm sure she believes.  They won't make me submit and cower and give in to her way or the highway.  Instead, I now see them for what they are: desperate acts from a sick person.  It's not my fault.  I didn't deserve it, and I am still, regardless of what she thinks says and feels, a valid person worthy of love.

Now excuse me while I write a thank you note to my therapist... ;)

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