Debriding my Past

I’ve been trying to think of an analogy for what I’m attempting to do right now, and debridement came to mind.  If you don’t know what it is and have a weak stomach, skip to the next paragraph.  Debridement is when dead tissue is removed to allow healthy tissue to grow in its place.  I’ve heard of and seen this process for severely burned patients, it’s not pretty, it can be painful, and it’s really gross. The process is done in one of three ways, the most common is to bound the wounds with gauze, soak the tissue with liquids and then remove the gauze along with the dead tissue.  The painful part is that the tissue that is healthy is left exposed and raw.  Imagine your worst sunburn ever, and having to wear a wool sweater over it.  You get the picture.

So I’ve decided instead of dissecting my unhealthy relationship, it might be better to debride my past.  By looking at my past, forgiving myself and those involved, I might uncover some healthy tissue.  One of the ways that I feel I can debride my past is to start with my grandparents.  My grandparents raised my parents, and their behavior toward my parents has influenced how I was raised. How I was raised directly influences the way I make choices now and how I react to my family.

Every Sunday I talk with my parents- no matter where I am or what is going on, there is always a Sunday phone call between us. Quite often these conversations end with me being very angry with my mother for some thoughtless comment she’s made or that she’s “overprotective” of me at 46 years old. Today before the phone call I stopped myself and said, “Today, no matter what she says or thinks, I won’t rise to the defense.  I will listen and try to understand.” I’m proud of my accomplishment, because it took everything in me to just listen.

I wanted to find out a little more about my grandparents.  I suspected that both sets of grandparents were alcoholics and that my parents were subjected to that uncertainty in their childhood, which would explain their behavior toward my brother and myself.  I am the oldest, so the brunt of the offensive behavior fell on me, and still does.  What I learned today, helped me to understand my mother a bit more.

My mother was sexually abused as a child by an alcoholic neighbor.  Today she told me that the reason the neighbor had access to her was because my grandparents typically left her on Saturday nights to go out drinking.  She further explained that when she got the courage to tell my grandmother about the abuse, my grandmother thoughtlessly accused my mother of making it up to keep my grandparents from going out on Saturday nights.  My mother had a hard time proving the abuse medically and felt as though her mother doubted her. The next incident she brought up was years later when my mother went for therapy. As many therapist suggest, she was told to confront her abuser. When my grandmother was told that my mother was going to confront her abuser, her response was-“WHY? He’s an old man, what if you give him a heart attack?” My mother said that really hurt her, and despite my grandmother calling later to admit that she was wrong and shouldn’t have said it-she couldn’t forget it.

One of the things that struck me so hard about this whole conversation was that I could have easily reminded my mother that my grandmother’s behavior toward her, exactly mirrored her behavior toward me. I was sexually abused by an alcoholic neighbor. I lost my virginity to rape. I was sexually assaulted while serving in the Army.   I then married a man who abused me and committed adultery quite frequently. You would assume that my mother would understand, could commiserate with me. But she didn’t.

I don’t remember the first abuse very well, because we NEVER discussed it, so to survive I blocked the memories of it.  When I was raped my mother’s first question was-“Did you at least use protection?” When the doctor she took me to after the rape told her there was damage, she conceded that it might have been rape. It still took me a year and a suicide attempt to admit it to myself. I didn’t tell her or anyone about the abuse in the Army, I was very lucky to have had witnesses that took up that charge for me. When I found out about my husband’s infidelity I remember calling my mother from Germany asking for help. I had been married for three years at this point, would have been forced to leave Germany with nothing- no money, no means of support and no job. All I wanted was a place to live for a few months until I could get back on my feet. Her “help” came with conditions I couldn’t live with-she wanted me to leave behind my dogs with a man I hadn’t told her had been abusing me since our wedding night. So she further advised me that, “Marriage is hard work, why don’t you try and forgive him.  Go to counseling and try everything you can before giving up.”

So I spent the next 16 years trying to make it work. Every time I decided to leave I knew it would take great commitment on my part.  I would leave knowing I’d be doing it alone, without help from my family. And just as I resolved to go it alone, my ex would attempt suicide which always sucked me back in because I had my mother’s voice in my head urging me to work hard. Of course if you ask her about this now, she denies that she ever suggested such a thing, that I should have left years ago. And from her point of view, I should have known better. But it becomes a do as I say, not as I do situation where no one wins.

Recently she asked me some rather hurtful questions, questions that felt like she was blaming me for my ex’s infidelity.  I had to wonder why, until today when she shared some info about my grandparents’ marriage.  My mother loved her father very much…to the exclusion of her mother I suspect.  The truth about my grandfather is that he cheated on my grandmother. When I said something to that effect today, she said,”Well she drove him to it.”  That took me a moment to process. I couldn’t understand how someone could blame her mother for her father cheating on her. She further said,”She kept accusing him of doing it, getting jealous when he’d dance with other women. So it’s no wonder he cheated.”

As if my grandmother suspecting that my grandfather was capable of infidelity was reason enough for him to make that choice. She couldn’t fathom the idea that her sainted father made a choice, a morally reprehensible choice that ended his marriage. He broke his vows.  I can’t say that my grandmother didn’t make choices that affected his choice, but in the blame game- my grandfather is mostly to blame. But now that I understand my mother’s position on the adultery that directly affected her, I can accept that she will occasionally take my ex’s side. My ex reminds me very much of my grandfather, which is probably one of the reasons I was attracted to him initially.

I think it’s also possible to assume that because my abuse took focus off of her own abuse, that she tends to be jealous of me, just as she accuses my grandmother of being jealous of her. I don’t share any of this to place blame or accuse my mother of being heartless… but when damaged people raise children, they often create damaged children.  I can choose to dwell on all of this damage, dismiss my faults as being because of how I was raised or I can do what I hope I’m doing which is to be aware.  If I’m aware of where the damaged started, I can make better choices to end the cycle of damage.  So far I haven’t done that…

Today was the first step in ending the cycle.  I didn’t allow my mother’s abused mentality to feed my own abused mentality.  Instead I examined her statements and actions from a distance. Where was this coming from? Is it coming from concern for my well being or from her own survival instinct?  I can’t fix what happened to her. I can’t fix what my grandparents did to her or even change her beliefs about them.  I can only act from a place of freedom from the abuse, a place I hope to reach by debriding my past. It will be painful and probably gross at times. But if I want to find peace, this is the way it will have to happen!