When I was younger, my mom was my best friend. When I came home crying because I had been bullied, it was her arms I would cry in. I worshipped my mother. She was beautiful, smart, she had gone through so much growing up and yet here she was a respected lawyer. She overcame so much hardship, moving to Canada when she was 26, and having to go through law school a second time only this time she also didn’t speak the language and had a child. There is a lot about my mother that is worthy of respect and admiration.
At some point however, things changed. Until then, whenever I came home crying about bullies, my mom would comfort me with all the usual tropes about them just being jealous. Then one day the message shifted slightly. Maybe if I didn’t put myself forward so much, if I just kept quiet in class. Maybe if I didn’t stand out so much.
I was 8 the first time my mom suggested that I was fat.
I used to hate walks. Always a slow walker, whenever we went out for family walks, I would invariably be left straggling behind. My parents would assume I was being difficult and either leave me straggling behind or irritated, tell me to hurry up.
Physical exertion was often uncomfortable for me, leaving me with aching joints. When I got older, those problems only got worse. My mom would always blame my weight. That is until I was diagnosed with arthritis and suddenly it turned into “I always knew something was wrong, but doctors wouldn’t listen to me.” Though to be fair, she did have me checked out once when I was younger for the fact that I was pigeon-toed.
As I got older, any bad thing I did became an excuse for any mistreatment for years afterwards. When Alex called my family out on treating us badly when we visited, my parents response was to remind me that I was a bad person because when I was in high school I used to take money out of their wallet. Although the incident they had in mind had happened more than 10 years before, it was still a reason about why any mistreatment is and always will be my fault.
Anytime I stood up for myself, that I pointed out how messed up something was, the response was always the same: Mom would put on a martyred expression talking about how she would always love me even though I didn’t love her. Everything I did was proof I didn’t love her. When I called her one day late on her birthday, when I decided to move to Ottawa rather than go to school in the same city she was in, everything was about her.
I grew up with everything I did being wrong. Whenever I brought home good grades, they weren’t good enough. The family joke when I would bring home tests where I scored 98% or so was always “why is it not a 100?” While it was always said as if it was a joke, that is what it often felt like. I told my parents stupid lies, afraid of getting in trouble for the truth. My biggest one was about food. I used to sneak trips to McDonalds, and other restaurants. They were my high school rebellion. That reference to taking money earlier, that’s what it was for. The food at home was delicious, and it was always available, but it was also always watched. My parents could see when I had a chocolate, or when I took multiple sandwiches. They were never mentioned at the time, but there would be subtle references when the conversation of my weight came up. “Well you know, maybe if you didn’t have so many sandwiches at breakfast. You should eat healthy!”
Imagine my shock when I found out that family friends had seen me at McDonalds and told my parents about it, when my sister’s nanny told my parents about the hidden chocolate wrappers she found. Because to our community, the evidence of disordered eating, or fear related to eating, is a sign that they should tell the parents that their daughter was getting fat. My rebellion was revealed, and taken as another sign of my lacking.
Mom and I would get into screaming matches. It didn’t seem to matter what it was about, but it was always my fault. Even when I did exactly what I thought would make my mother happy, I somehow got in trouble.
When I left for university, I hoped things would get better. We could speak on a more equal level and perhaps things would be better. Except it seemed to get worse instead. No matter how often I called it was never enough, even though she never called me. Our every conversation seemed to be a fight. When I visited home, I felt like every effort was being done to undermine my confidence. My weight was a favourite topic.
I didn’t know that this wasn’t normal. I didn’t know that other people’s parents wouldn’t use love as a bargaining chip: “If you loved me, you will finish your milk in ten seconds.”
When we have discussions of abusive relationships, our social script is of a romantic relationship. When we think of any abuse, we mostly think of physical. Psychological abuse can be devastating. It eats away at your confidence. It makes you feel so unworthy.
People often joke that I’m so Canadian because I apologize so much, which is usually followed by me apologizing for apologizing. How can I tell them that I am legitimately afraid that I have done something wrong? What does it say that one of the things I apologize for is for being excited about something?
Abuse makes you vulnerable for further abuse. When my boss was taking advantage of me for months, working me upwards of 12 – 14 hour days, not paying me for hours worked, it took me way too long before I realized that I didn’t deserve this treatment. That in fact, I was being taken advantage of and that it was wrong. When a boyfriend told me that I was so annoying, that he wished he could hit me, it didn’t seem like a worrisome statement to me. After all, who else would love a fat crippled girl?
Not all of it was bad. In fact a lot of it was good. I have amazing memories of my family: of singing together on road trips, of camp fires, of mom taking care of me when I was sick. They paid for my university and apartment, and have always been generous with their money. It is the good things that can make it so very difficult. These that make you feel so guilty about thinking badly of them. Maybe you really are ungrateful? Maybe all of it really was your fault? But if that was the case, why is it happening again with your sister?
What makes it even harder are the older people, often parents themselves who nod while smirking knowingly about teenagers. The people who talk about theimportance of family. The people who shame you for cutting off ties with your parents, because they raised you and gave you a roof over your head. The apologists who pretend that psychological abuse isn’t a real thing. Those that pretend that just because they were good parents in other ways, that it means they cannot possibly be abusive. The people who enable their abuse by making it impossible for me to have secrets. Those, that made sure my mother saw every singly post that might even slightly reference her or my family. That make it dangerous for me to post this.