Reflections on a Year of Boundaries

It has been almost a year since I cut off contact with my parents. It has been a ravaging and soul-restoring year. I remember the prayer retreat last March that propelled me into a two-week march toward liberation and the beginning of breaking their 32-year stronghold. 

It has also been about a year since my health began to rapidly decline. It’s hard to discern if the separation and progression of my illness were related, but I don’t know if I could have handled the deep vulnerability of becoming so sick while being in relationship with my mother. My illness would have served as an open invitation for her to uproot and plant herself in my town, and quite possibly my home. I would have had to erect extreme protective walls around myself and my children just to have to peace of mind to rest at night. Myself in the sick role would have re established mother-daughter dynamics that I never in a million years want to relive.

Oh, how I was spared from so much mental and emotional anguish. If I get really downright honest, I think that I managed to dodge the bullet that might have sent me straight to looney-town.

God in His mercy knew, a year ago, that I needed safety and distance from the dangerous people in my life because I was about to enter an extremely vulnerable season. He knew what He was doing. When He made it clear that it was time to cut the ties, he knew that those ties were about to strangle me, even though I could not see around the corner.

It has been a treacherous year. But I have lived it in a place of freedom and sincerity that I was unable to experience before. Sickness is so terrifyingly vulnerable, and it is so easy to find oneself in a place of potential exploitation. Praise the Lord that those who were geared to exploit me were finally out of the picture.  

I am safe, and I am free to be vulnerable and have needs. I am surrounded by people love me and want what is best for me. I am so beyond blessed and thankful.

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Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

Nearly three weeks have passed since I cut off contact with you, since I sent you what must have been an unbelievable nightmare of an email, ripping me and your grandchildren out of your life. Years ago, we built a physical barrier, moving across country, but that was not sufficient. I had hoped, oh I had really hoped that less contact would solve our problems. Every time you came for a visit or called, I crumbled, imploding into a heap of self-hate and shame. I tried desperately to make it work. You have to believe that I did. I was the last one to ever want to draw the line in the sand and say that you and dad couldn’t cross it. I have been relentlessly allegiant to you, never in a million years wanting to villanize you in any way. I have lived my life to protect you, my parent, from myself, from the rest of the world, and from yourself. I was willing to go to my grave defending you and caring for you. You had me trapped. I was paralyzed, just as I had always been, unable to break free.

But, mom, something shifted. I fell in love. I entered into healthy relationship. I had my own children. I entered into a season in my life where I had to choose between taking care of helpless, precious, babies, whom I love more than anything in the world, or taking care of you, a grown woman, who has tied me to yourself with cords of shame, bitterness, and hatred. I had to take a step back and evaluate our relationship in light of the vow that I have made to my own family, the people who depend on me for their survival.

In the aftermath of this estrangement, one experience, or lack thereof, seems to speak loudly: I have no grief. I feel no sense of loss. None whatsoever. I have never loved you. I have been terrified of you, manipulated by you, shamed by you, but I have never felt love for you, my own mother. I thought that this reflected something terrible in me, some horrible deficiency, or presence of extreme evil. I think, however, that it really reflects more realistically the sick nature of our relationship. I am extremely capable of love and compassion. I see it every day. With my husband and my children, I feel more love than I ever imagined a heart could harbor. Thus, I am not a sociopath. Although, you may be. I feel no loss, but I feel sad that I feel no loss. How does a person lose her mother and feel no sadness? This in itself is tragic. I do, however, feel like a boulder of guilt is resting squarely between my shoulders. I try so valiantly not to enter into your mind and not to imagine what you are thinking and feeling about my decision, but it catches me when I let my guard down.

Your birthday came and went, and I did not call you. I am so so sorry. I wish that I could have. I truly wish that it were different. I desperately wish that I had “false memories,” and someone would prove me wrong. I wish that I could find out that you were safe for my family, and that I could honor you by allowing you contact. I want to honor you. I want to take care of you. I want to love you. Strangely, however, I am certain that this wall is the best way for me to love you and for me to love my husband and my children. You had too much power over me, over us. I was too scared of you.

I breathe deeply now as a free woman: A woman, strong, and whole. You are no longer successful in your attempts to break me down into fragments, making me weak and ineffective in order to make yourself seem stronger. My lungs stretch to hold a little more air with each new breath. The sun seems a little more radiant with each day out from under the shadow of your darkness. I come more fully alive as I wriggle out of your shackles of death. I defy the odds and break free, and my children and grandchildren and great grandchildren will live in peace.

I am truly sorry that it has to be this way, and I pray for restoration.

The “Break-Up”

Can there be a “call” to break up with your parents?  Yes, I am an adult woman living many hundreds of miles away from my parents, but they run my life.  I have a sense of indebtedness towards them.  They are my parents, for crying out loud, and what if I am totally wrong and off base about my entire childhood?  Do I just cut them off?  

But relationship with them is killing me.  It is draining me of my lifeblood, just as they did when I was little.  Somehow, they still are in control.  That phone call.  The name that pops up on my phone and sends my world spinning.  That first birthday of our baby that they just have to fly out for, and I have to feign excitement.  Why would I let them ruin a time of joyous celebration?  MY child. Not theirs.  They already ruined their own child. 

But how?  How do you cut it off?  How in this great big world can I possibly say to my parents that my relationship with them is harming me and my family and that I need more space?  Not just a little breathing room, but I don’t want to ever hear from you again. 

My entire life has revolved around caring for my parents.  My sole purpose was to make sure that they were always emotionally stable.  I protected them from everything, especially from myself.  Now, once again,  I am the greatest threat to them.  I hold this time bomb, and one day soon, I am going to have to bite the bullet and call it quits.  I will hurl the bomb at them and watch them explode into a million pieces.  And my world will shatter.  As they crumble, so will I.  Because, we all know, that they hold the key to my demise. 

What is the “godly” thing to do?  I am either all about my present family or all about my parents.  I either protect my husband and children or protect my parents. Can I do both?  Can I protect everyone?  Can I guard everyone’s feelings and make a decision that will not hurt anyone?  My primary role is to protect and care for my children.  Their safety and well-being is paramount in the hierarchy of important things in my life.  Honoring and loving my husband is my other primary role.  I am a “daughter” of sorts, but that is not my primary role anymore.  I am no longer a secret-guarder.  I am no longer the one who has to keep my mother from committing suicide or my father from attacking my mother.  I am no longer the one who has to endure the consequences of my parents’ choices.  Thus, it seems to me that the “godly” thing is to cut my parents off. 

But here is the other rub: Can I emotionally handle the consequences of this break up?  Will I unravel?  Will I splinter into the thousand pieces that I constantly labor to hold together? Will the stress of all of this release crazy amounts of cortisol into my unborn child?  Or is it the opposite?  Will the trauma that comes up with every conversation with my parents drive me to complete madness?  Will the long term stress of trying to live a double life wreak havoc on the well-being of my family?  What is more damaging? 

So here I stand, in limbo, in the in-between, in this half-in, half-out, undecided, cowardly place.  I will probably remain here for a while.