About a week ago, my brother called to tell me my mother swallowed a handful of anxiety medication while on FaceTime with him.
This is how stressed I am, she said. I take these pills five times a day. Everyone feels sorry for your father. Nobody understands my pain or feels sorry for me.
She was chain smoking and crying and holding the bottle in her hand. Then she swallowed the pills. She didn’t take enough to warrant a hospital visit. I’m not even sure she took enough to do any damage to her physical well-being. She did, however, definitely take more than she was supposed to in any one sitting. It was an obvious ploy to guilt my brother for sympathizing with my father in my parent’s divorce.
My parents are divorcing because mother had an affair and everything about her has changed. Her appearance, her behaviors, how she treats everyone in the family. I didn’t know she was having an affair, because she was also seemingly in the middle of a mental health crisis and she had vehemently spoken out against infidelity ever since I can remember. I guess everyone is against an affair until they have one, though.
Around the time that the affair started, my mom started oscillating between hyper-critical, overly happy, and erratic. My mother has been mentally abusive my entire life, but since her affair began, it seems like her abuse is on steroids.
Wow, aren’t you a bitch today?
I’m sorry, but your father is fucking boring.
I’m sick of being a wife and a mother.
What do you think is the meaning of happiness?
She became friends with a woman who is my age, 29. She started texting her every five minutes (literally) and calling her multiple times a day. She Facebooked her and the woman started staying several days at a time at my parents’ home.
She’s more my daughter than you are, she said.
She stopped talking to me regularly, and when she did, it was all about her friend. She’d call me a dumb ass, and my father, too. She called him a fucking bastard, said his mother was a bitch and she never wanted to see her again, told both of us to take our Christmas presents back because she didn’t want them. Christmas is overrated, she said. Besides, I need to downsize anyway.
Again, these behaviors were nothing new. It was just new all at once, and it seemed more malicious than usual. Before, it didn’t seem like she enjoyed abusing us. This time, it was clear she liked it, at least sometimes. She’d smile after her quips. She even had my dad take pictures of her in provocative clothing that I’ve since found out she sent to her lover. She’d giggle looking at her phone but wouldn’t tell us what it said.
Her smile turned into an omen.
My therapist told me I have something like Stockholm Syndrome for my mother and that I would probably have been justified in cutting her off at any point in my life for my own health. She said this because I had emphasized that my mother loves me and, despite having done irreparable damage, has always had good intentions.
I said this wasn’t her fault and that I probably really am a bad daughter, that I probably don’t treat her as well as her friend. I don’t text her every five minutes. Sometimes, I don’t text her for days. I don’t sleep over often and when I do, I don’t sleep in the same bed as her. I don’t take her on surprise trips. I’ve been a disappointment — I’m fat, I get tattoos, I’m poor, I date women. My mom has mental health concerns. How much is she really responsible for?
When I found out about the affair, though, it was harder to be forgiving. Not because she was having an affair, really. People have affairs. It happens. People fall out of love. And I believe that women should be able to make autonomous choices about their bodies.
But I couldn’t forgive the abuse to my dad, and it was hard to tolerate how she treated me, given that I never yelled back, never called her names, and tried to be understanding the entire time. I continued to visit during holidays even though she barely spoke to me when I was there and ridiculed my father in front of me.
Once we found out about the affair, my brother flew up from Florida to confront my mom about it with me. It didn’t go well —before we talked to her, my father had found out that the man my mother was sleeping with was a police officer and that he had slept with her on duty (and at the police station). My father filed a civilian complaint and the man was fired from both of the precincts at which he held jobs.
My father didn’t tell my mother that he knew about the affair, so naturally, my mom didn’t know that he had filed a complaint with the police department. She found out the day my brother and I visited, before she stepped foot in the house.
She had gotten the phone call when she was pulling in the driveway, so she turned around and peeled back out. Her dog followed her, chased her for a mile down the street.
She knew and she left him anyway.
She didn’t come back at first, even though she knew we were there. I imagine she went to salvage her relationship with the police officer. When she got back, she didn’t even acknowledge my brother or me. She just came in, sobbing, and begged my dad to rescind his complaint.
All I want is that you don’t take his job. Please don’t take his job.
Later, she’d say that I wasn’t capable of being compassionate. She would say that I’m unforgiving and hold grudges, because I’d tell her that I had no sympathy for her lover’s job loss and that I want neither him nor her friend to be part of my life or my mother’s and my relationship. I’d set up boundaries, which included that my mom see a therapist, that she doesn’t talk to me about her lover and her friend, that she remains cordial to my father throughout the divorce, that she no longer highlights my faults (fat, gay). I told her our relationship would be contingent on respecting all of these boundaries, including avoiding taking half of my dad’s retirement and savings, and moving out of the house, as my mother had already stolen and hidden thousands of dollars from him in order to fund the affair and her leaving him.
Last week, I found out that my mother had a lawyer and that she planned to go after my dad’s things. I wouldn’t be angry if she were genuinely concerned about her finances and if she had called me to talk through why she had changed her mind. But she is doing this out of vengeance and vindictiveness — she truly believes she’s the one who’s been wronged, that my father has sabotaged her, and that he deserves to be destroyed (she said this). She told me, soon after all this happened, that all she cares about is her lover’s job and finding a house for herself.
She didn’t call me to explain the lawyer, even though she knew I’d found out. Her relationship with her lover and her quest for vengeance had become more important than our relationship (and her relationship with my brother). In fact, when she talked with him on FaceTime, she talked with him not to remedy things between them, but to ask him to negotiate with my father about who will take care of their two dogs. Apparently, she also called to overdose in front of him.
It was after the FaceTime incident that I decided to cut my mother off, at least until she shows clear changes in behavior and until after the divorce is complete. She had broken every boundary I established (besides, thankfully, seeing her therapist), and multiple times, and she consistently showed a selfishness (and ruthlessness) that I thought not possible for her. I decided that she needs to face the consequences of her behaviors; I can no longer tolerate the focus on her relationship with her lover, the pity parties, the berating of my father, the suicide threats, the guilt trips.
I gave her a chance to remedy things before I cut her off. I asked if she could explain the lawyer and the incident with my brother. I asked for an apology. Instead, she said, my children don’t care about me! You don’t respect me and never have, from the get-go. I am not going to listen to MY DAUGHTER make threats. I will not be treated like a three year-old. No one’s apologized to me. No one knows how I feel or what it’s like to be me.
I told her I love her and ended the call.
I’ve never been so sorry for anything in my life. I should feel empowered, but I don’t. I feel sad and powerless. In many ways, it feels like she made the choice, not me, and while I have “power” to foster a life that’s healthy for me, I don’t have power to change her or make her understand why I’m doing this. I know she’s hurt and I wish she wasn’t.
The worst thing out of all of this: I don’t think she’ll change.
I’m scared that our relationship, however imbalanced, will be gone forever.
I’ve thought about her probably every hour since I cut her off. I want to tell her that I’m sorry, that I wish it didn’t have to be this way. I want to send her cartoons and funny memes and supportive texts. I want to hug her and tell her I love her and take it all back.
But I can’t, because deep down, I know that separating from her is the only way I’ll ever heal.