It’s Mother’s Day here in the UK today (11/03/2018). A dear friend suggested to find as many words as I can from the letters in those two words. Mother is the first and obvious one. Smother came next for me. And then mors, (mortis, f. = death in Latin, and also Mors). I wasn’t aware of the last one. So then I thought to myself: well, that’s very telling! And decided to republish my long ago post on my own blog. Not just because it’s Mother’s Day today, but also because I wanted to get it out and maybe help other children or survivors out there. And I want something good to come out it all. And for it all not to be in vain. So thank you, dear K, for your loving encouragement!
Abusive mothers rarely get the credit they deserve. The subject is hard to think about, as I still feel so infuriated and tremendously sad that most people didn’t believe me, or tried to dismiss or diminish (odbaciti ili umanjiti) what I was going through at the time. It was incredibly hard for me to write this post the very first time I wrote it a 4 years ago and release it into ether via another blog. But it’s not at all hard today. Four years alter I am a different person.
Why should I write anything? It’s not as if it’s going to help me now. Or my loved ones to whom it matters; or the dead ones who were powerless to stop it at the time it was happening. But I hope my words will make a difference to maybe just one single person out there. I’m writing in memory of my father and as a thank you to those who helped me to come out of it alive and sane – not just existing.
‘LOVING’ MOTHERS: “TKO SE TUČE, TAJ SE VOLI”
My MOTHER was my abuser. There, I said it. Just as I said it so many times in the past in so many different ways to so many people. Only to have my heart broken every time and my hope die a little. “There is nothing we can do.” Or: “You shouldn’t say these things about your mother. She’s a single mother and doing the best she can.” (Pedagogue woman at school told me this!) If that was the best, I’d hate to see the worst! In other words, I was labelled as a very ungrateful and unhelpful daughter at least.
She was a single mother because Dad left to save his sanity, his future and himself, when his red fog cleared and he realised what she’d reduced him to. One of my earliest memories is of my Dad trying to defend himself (I wasn’t more than two years old at the time). He left so he wouldn’t kill her. He tried to get me out of it, too: he had a boxful of papers to prove it to me 20 years later, because he knew I would ask him: “Why!!! didn’t you get me out of that hell!??!?” It still wasn’t enough to get me out of there. Because the state and laws protected and preferred mothers as custodians of children. And because of unbelievably un-educated professionals and the unhealthy attitude of ordinary people who wouldn’t or couldn’t believe that mothers would be capable of beating and verbally abusing their child. Personally, I found the Balkans of my youth to be a place where it was “normal” to slap a bit. Shout a bit. Call your loved ones names and tell them they are stupid imbeciles. Because, maybe some of our parents were raised in such situations. And they don’t know anything else. Or any better. They learnt it from their parents. That is my opinion, based on my experience and the mentality of the people around me when I was growing up. You don’t have to share it.
Jer Božja zapovijed kaže: Poštuj oca i majku da dugo živiš i dobro ti bude na Zemlji /Because the Lord said: Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee
I’ve heard those words very often from my mother. Mother is supposed to love you no matter what. She’s supposed to be your safe haven. Your comfort and your support. A lot of mothers are, but mine wasn’t. And weirdly, sometimes she was ok. But her behaviour was very inconsistent – something incredibly damaging for a child. Or anyone, for that matter, but especially a child whose personality is forming, as they learn how to socialise and how to think. There should be safe routines, definite rules and loving: some consistency. But they aren’t always there.
Here are some of the things that may sound very familiar. From: http://www.understanding-child-abuse.com/abusive-mother.html
“…The Characteristics of Abusive Mothers
- Constant criticism
- Labeling (name calling and insults)
- Always dominating the conversation
- The need to have the last word
- Threats of physical violence
- Using force as an act of degrading
- Threats of rejection
- Threats of abandonment
- Placing guilt on to the child (emotional blackmail)
- Incapable of feeling guilt
- Blaming the child (it’s your fault, if it weren’t for you…)
- Using rewards and punishment as a tool of manipulation
- Use gifts as a tool of manipulation
- Invading privacy
- Refusing to give privacy appropriate for the child’s age and development
- Silent treatment (ignoring)
- Underestimating their child’s talents skills and abilities
- Refusing to acknowledge any accomplishment such as sport or academic achievements
- Refusing to apologize
- ‘You owe me’ mentality….I feed you, clothe you, put a roof over your head…
- Say negative things to relatives and friends about the child
- Embarrass their children
- Demand unconditional love
- Demand respect
- “I’m always right” (and never wrong) mentally
- Sense of entitlement
- Treat other siblings or other children kindly to reinforce that you don’t deserve to be loved, treated kindly or respected …”
I could give you so many examples of every single point here. But, I won’t. Use your imagination instead.
Signs of abuse to watch out for :(From: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/child-abuse/symptoms-causes/syc-20370864 )
- Withdrawal from friends or usual activities;
- Changes in behavior — such as aggression, anger, hostility or hyperactivity — or changes in school performance;
- Depression, anxiety or unusual fears or a sudden loss of self-confidence;
- An apparent lack of supervision;
- Frequent absences from school or reluctance to ride the school bus;
- Reluctance to leave school activities, as if he or she doesn’t want to go home;
- Attempts at running away;
- Rebellious or defiant behavior;
- Attempts at suicide.
I’ll add a few more:
- stuttering = mucanje;
- twitching = (grčevito) trzanje;
- body posture: bent shoulders and lowered head (polozaj tijela: pognuta ramena i spustena glava);
- irregular breathing extreme cases (nepravilno disanje);
- aggressiveness towards other people (maybe) weaker than themselves;
- inability to make decisions and always questioning themselves because of a lack of self-confidence.
Look for combinations of all those signs, too. And listen, for crying out loud, listen and help those kids in any small way you can! You just might save their life.
THE PENNY FINALLY DROPS / REALIZACIJA
So how did I persevere and survive after the police told me and my father that they couldn’t do anything because there were no witnesses when my mother beat me? My half-dressed body full of bruises, my hugely distressed state of mind, my lack of glasses and wristwatch were not enough evidence. I had ran out of the flat in desperation, at around 10.30pm, to save my life, because I could see in her eyes that she was going to beat me to death if I didn’t. My uncontrollable shaking, teeth-chattering and soul-wrenching sobs were not enough. NONE OF IT WAS ENOUGH. I was 18 then. I’m 41 now. It happened about 23 years ago. It was the night before my Biology test. Wednesday night.
The lady doctor wrote a little note of what she’d seen and what she’d treated me for that god-awful Wednesday night. Dad kept the note and tried to use it as leverage to stop my mother beating me again. I don’t know or remember what he told her. I wasn’t there when he talked to her.
MY GUIDE TO SURVIVAL – THINGS I COULD!!! DO
I knew then that I was entirely on my own. That ‘nobody cared’. That NO HELP will EVER come. That I had to help MYSELF, because nobody else will do it for me or with me. I knew then that it was entirely up to me to fight for myself and survive each day.
I realised that I had to pick my battles carefully, to win my war for survival. That I had to keep my mouth shut, if there was no benefit for me in talking back to her. Keep secrets from my mother and lie to protect myself. To try to keep close to the truth, because she’d beat me for lying, of course, and it was easier to keep track of fewer lies (I had undiagnosed thyroid problems then, so had bad short-term memory).
I tried not reveal too much, so as not to give her weapons to use against me.
I was switching off and ‘travelling’, making plans inside my head to escape the depressing life I was trapped in. Daydreaming about the future and a better life. One day it would happen. I took comfort from kind people and small positive things wherever I could. I spent a lot of the time at the local library reading anything useful (popular and proper science and psychology stuff) – plus any half-decent romance story in books or magazines. That’s how I learned how, ideally, people are supposed to treat each other. Mother taught me how they shouldn’t J.
My humour is darker than a Black Hole. I listened to the music to stop crying and keep myself going. Queen was always brilliant, just the sheer energy of Freddie’s voice was incredibly uplifting. And of course The Animals: We gotta get out of this place. I didn’t care about the other words: I just had to get out of that place!
And I eventually started fighting back. I would hit her back if she hit me. I would try to prevent her from hitting me by grabbing her arms or hands with all the strength/adrenaline I could muster. (If you do that, mind your legs, especially if your mother wears clogs [klompe]!) I stayed away from home as much as I could, by being at university or the library. The local vicar had a room where I could study in peace and sleep off the stress because I was incredibly exhausted emotionally, mentally and physically. She wouldn’t let me sleep and have a rest, like the rest of the normal teenage population.
I listened to my instincts, my common sense and logic (thank you, Dad!) and tried to rationalise what and why and how I should do things, or what to say. I tried to predict her words and behaviour and adjust mine accordingly ahead of time, to ‘reduce the impact’. And I trusted nobody but myself. Sad, but true. I knew I could only rely on myself.
THE BEST THING MY MOTHER GAVE ME
In 2000 she came home one day and said I was going to meet a woman from an au-pair agency that she spoke to and some weeks later I was put on a plane from Zagreb with around £250 in my shoe, a suitcase I didn’t like (very awkward to carry, but chosen by my mother despite my instructions, because she KNOWS BEST what I need). She said to go and make something of myself and not to come back because there’s nothing for me ‘here’ to come back to. I had addresses and phone numbers from some of my mother’s friends and my father’s friends from high school days. They had been very close as a class. So they must’ve heard things. They were wonderful to me. I suppose they were my new role models (on top of my mentor with whom I share birthdays, my lovely dentist and my godmother who I did not yet know well).
I landed at Heathrow on a cold February morning in 2000. I CAME HOME to England, UK. I knew better than to go back to Croatia any time soon. I fought tooth and nail to stay away from her. I still only go back if I really need to. And when I do go back, I don’t necessarily tell what’s left of the family. My husband insists that I always have him there with me for support (which I am more than happy with J). I have learnt to say NO. And FUCK NO! It took quite a few years and a lot of hard work. But it feels great. I still keep in touch with the people who have helped me survive, such as two lovely friends, one of whose letter from long ago helped me not to end it all and leave this world at the tender age of 18. I haven’t spoken Croatian much, or followed the news from ‘home’. I moved on and healed myself with the loving help of new and old friends and some family members old and new (in-laws). I live in the UK. I speak English. And I have just started thinking that there are some nice things about the country and the system that I was born in, but that failed to protect me, that let me down. I paid my dues dearly. Most of my battles are OVER. And I am OUT of it.
Or am I…?
To be cont’d….
Thank you to both Martina – Dear skin and Martina- AlterEgo Style and my lost friend Milena S-W for bringing some Croatian beauty back into my life. I shall treasure it always.
Thank you to my old friends who helped me survive and to my new ones who give me hope, Zubin blog, Bitchy Dust, my family members from the Balkans who are scattered around the world, some of whom I’ve reacquainted myself with in recent years. Thank you to my Happy A:runners and Timmy’s and Charley’s campers, Yarna and my Arts and Minds friends for their teachings, incredible Energy, motivation, warmth, love, kindness and laughter. And above all, a massive thanks my husband. You all make it a life worth living. I love you. Thank you.