Thursday, May 5, 2011

Tough as Nails

I knew she was mad, how could she not be? But it wasn't until much later that I realized just how much my self-destructive rampage had hurt her. How difficult that hurt made it for her to look at me... be in the same room as me, acknowledge me without the urge to scream at the top of her lungs over-taking her. I was her baby, her child whom she raised up from a blonde-headed toddler to an inquisitive, artistic child. Through every bruise and bump, every drawing, question, hug and tear, smile and laugh she had built a deep well of knowledge, an understanding of who I was, and with that she constructed a foundation of trust, respect and love.

Then suddenly there we were arms crossed on opposite corners of a white-walled room in a behavioral health center, me with my faded pink bangs, scabbed up arms and legs, and eyes that no longer opened to reveal the girl she once knew. How did this happen? Didn't I know that with every slice I made into my own skin I was piercing her heart as well? With every midnight escape from the home she had made for us I ate away at her sense of faith in me... and likely in herself? How could I not have known?

All I allowed myself to understand at that moment were conclusions of anger and self-pity. "My mom hates me, look how mad she is. She can't even look me in the face." ...and she couldn't... because she loved me. And that love was tearing her apart.

Even then we were so similar it hurt. We both sat there seething, tackling the very same emotional roller-coaster ride from separate cars tumbling about in the same sky, breathing the same air, both wanting to scream and vomit. And to just let go.

Anger, confusion, fear, more anger... longing.

Wanting to hug each other and punch each other at the very same time.

Words bubbled up in our stomachs but caught in our throats and together we were temporarily mute knowing full well that if either unlocked the floodgates a well-intentioned spew of toxic waste would rush out only to further rip at the seams of what was once such a tight-knit relationship. Every minute of silence dug in deeper and deeper... finally she left the room.

The next visit was different. It had to be... we couldn't go on like that and we both knew it, but it was Mom who acted. This time when she entered the door she had a book in her hands along with her purse. As calmly as she could muster she told me what I had already known, she had been too mad to speak to me and she couldn't bring herself to have yet another screaming match or emotionally draining crying session with me, she was drained.

This time we would simply read. Back and forth we took turns speaking other people's words out loud because ours were simply too hard to articulate.

It was something we had done before, many times. Sat together and read aloud for hours. This time of course was different. We read because direct, one-on-one interaction was no longer possible, and the people in the book, though they were real, they weren't us and we could identify with them without all the first person blame and guilt and... well, pain.

Over the next few visits we slowly verbalized word by word the stories of other adolescent girls struggling in ways similar and all-together different than I was. The pages of that copy of Reviving Ophelia are stained with tears and tinged with the soreness of healing even now. As the days went on we paused and added a few words of our own here and there; "that's how I feel" and "what do you think of this?". Soon we were talking more and reading less. It wasn't a cure, but it was a start.

Looking back I know that it was her courage that brought us back together. Her courage to let me be mad at her and to let herself be hurt by me instead of shutting me out and leaving me to fail on my own. She let me hate her for the sake of my safety and well-being when it would have been so much easier and more gratifying for her to play the friend card instead of donning the hard role of Mom. She embraced her pain but let go of her anger the only way she knew how in what turned out to be one of the most crucial turning points in my life.

It is no word of exaggeration to say that her courage literally saved my life.

To this day it has also been the model by which I live that life she so graciously gifted me with, in more ways than one.

Giving birth is only the beginning.


  1. That was so beautifully written, there are somany pieces to this story that I don't know but over time as I come to know the story more and more I an honored to be not just your sister but her daughter!

    I'm literally sitting here with tears streaming down my face, mom is one of the most courageous people I know and you, undoubtably having learned from her, are right up there too!

    I love you both <3

  2. Thank you hunny, I am honored to have you as a sister too.

    Know that you and Dad also played a huge part in me coming through the other side of those years. I have the BEST family anyone could ever hope for!

    From me to the moon, and back.

  3. This was an absolutely fantastic insight into part of what you went through and how your relationship with your mother used to be.

    Even more so it is a great insight on what it truly takes to make a great mother through all of the rough patches and completely shattered roads mothers and children may go through.

    Fantastic work, and thank you.

  4. Wow! Thank you for sharing Cat! When stories are told about true life stories it is not always what we want to hear but sometimes it is what we NEED to hear to take ourselves out of the situation and peer from the outside to get a different view and I believe you just did that for many who struggle with the same issues no matter what the situation is. It takes alot of courage to tell your story and for that We thank you and hope to get many more lessons from you! :) Thank you !


  5. Thank you both for the encouragement. It's not an easy story to share but without prefacing it with at least a little of the personal struggles I wouldn't be able to properly shine light on just what an amazing Mother I have and how blessed I am.

    I also hope to help adolescent girls and their mothers find the courage it takes to navigate rough waters such as the ones we encountered. It's a strange time when a young girl wants independence more than anything but needs her parents guidance more than ever before. The transition is far from easy... but it is so, SO worth the effort!

  6. Cat,
    Thanks so much for sharing from your heart. You are an incredible writer, but even more importantly you are an incredible woman. I love to hear about all the joy in your life and about your wonderful experiences as a mom. I, too, remember those dark days and the love your family expressed and your courage to struggle through it all. That kind of love and true understanding is a blessing. Lois

  7. I am so glad I read this today. My daughter is only 9 and we have a great relationship. But she is so much like me that I can see the trouble we will face ahead as she separates from me and becomes her own individual. We have already had rough patches, moments that have scared me, because she is a child of deep emotion who feels the world intensely. I hope I have the same courage your mother showed--to overcome hurt and let go of anger so that I can be there for my daughter. Thank you for sharing your story.

  8. That deep emotion is definitely both a blessing and a curse, but looking back it only allowed me to reconnect with my mother even stronger as we worked our way through the mess that was my teenage years. It must make doling out the tough love just that much tougher but the reward is definitely there.

    Thank you all so much for your encouraging words!

  9. Thanks for the beautiful story Cat. When I read it I do remember the pain I saw when you and your family were going through such a difficult time.I cant help but think of my life when Jody was trying to figure out who he was,yes indeed realy stuff times. As parents we do make mistakes along the way,but our love for our children is like no other. There is some distance between then and now in which I see tremendous changes in all of us.Thanks again for letting me into your family life. i love being your uncle don

  10. Wow Cat ... I hope and pray that by your sharing your most personal thoughts, other lives can be saved as well ...Denise

  11. Thank you for your courage in sharing this. I pray that your writing will reach multitudes and enrich their lives with insight.


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