Confronting My Mother

Confronting My Mother
by Joann Shelton (Angela Shelton’s mother)

Love of back roads prompted a fall drive with my Mom yesterday along the French Broad River from Flat Creek, North Carolina through Madison County to Greenville, Tennessee.  She seemed to really enjoy the different terrains, telling the same stories about places, eating out, sometimes digging up vintage roses or Bridal Veil bushes in abandoned places and visiting the fruit stands for Greasy Beans and heirloom tomatoes.   These trips were a way to connect with her, or try too, in a way we both could enjoy.

Gina M. Henderson photography

During this drive, she told a story about a snake she found while working in the yard recently.  “He was under some leaves.” she said “A big ole brown snake with yellow strips.  I whacked him three times.  He made a whistling sound, flew up and went down into a hole in the ground.”  Being a lover of all life, I was speechless as she kills every snake who ventures within range of her three acres of hilly mountain land.   Like the Native Americans, I believe the snake is a symbol of transformation and healing.  The next day, I knew why the snake story was important as I decided to have a life changing conversation with my mother which was a huge transformation.

She answered the phone in a meek voice.  “Are you sleeping,” I asked.

“No, I’m reading the paper.”   She said.

“Can I come and talk with you for a little while.”  I asked.

“Yes.” She said.

Her late model tan Oldsmobile was pulled all the way under the right side of the huge weeping cherry tree in her front yard, one of the finest anywhere in full bloom.  It replaced the three huge mimosa trees I climbed as a child before my father carved out a level yard for her with a motor grader.   My mom has moved plants from one side of the house to another like she moves furniture.

Mom’s house has been remodeled from the money my father made in Vietnam, where he died as an excavating foreman.   If he hadn’t died there, she would have killed him or so I say.   She was sitting at the end of the rectangular room with brown hi-low carpet in her aqua lazy boy holding the paper she was reading.  Her short white hair was premed in a q-tip style like the church quilting ladies and like mine was as an adolescent.

As I walked across the room in my beige linen skirt, she said, “I can see slap through you.”

“Yeah mom, like the time you told me the neighbor across the street could see up my skirt if I didn’t cross my legs.”  She smiled.

Sometimes I would greet her by patting her face which still shows the Hollywood glamor of her youth, patting with both hands saying, “You’re such a sweet mom”.   She would flash a rare smile or laugh and I would too knowing it wasn’t true, but I didn’t do that this time.

“Can we sit at the table,” I asked.

She said “yeah; you can sit at the table.”

“Aren’t you going to sit with me, as I want to talk to you?”  I said as I remembered hearing from her many times “you’re gonna get a talking too”.

“Yes, I can come in there.” she said.  “I’ll get my hearing aid.”

She sat  in one of the four padded green chairs nestling the round table in the kitchen with its sliding glass doors looking out across the deck and the back yard  with fruit trees, thornless blackberry vines and bluebird boxes to the mountains in the background where dawn came each day.   This kitchen table was where she shot squirrels steeling seed from the bird feeder anchored to the deck railing with her shot gun.

We were sitting at the same table I tried talking with her thirty years ago but I didn’t have the skills then so I would get defensive and walk away.   Now, thanks to experience, therapy and the books I’ve read, I had a script to help me.

“Mom, did you have a good time on the drive yesterday.”

“Yes, I enjoyed it very much.”  She said.

“I didn’t.”  I said.

“You didn’t, how come?”  She said.

“After I went home and talked over our day with a friend,  I realized that when you reach to pull my hair back from my face while I’ve driving, I flinch because it reminds me of all the times you smacked me in the face.”  I said.

“Why can’t get over the past and move on,” she said glaring at me over her glasses.

“That’s why I’m here, Mom, to help me get over the past and move on with my life.  I was beaten with a belt, switches and smacked in the face and put down my whole childhood.  I have suffered greatly because of this abuse in my marriages and my jobs.  I want you to apologize to me and I want an authentic relationship with you”.  I said as I followed my script.

Her knotted arthritic hand tapped up and down on the Iwanna, a local paper to purchase and sell things, lying on the table.  She picked up one end of it and started to read squinting through her glasses.   I realized this was the behavior I grew up with: being ignored.

Waiting in the stale air while she read, I was thinking her car was in a different place because she must have gone out to get the Iwanna to place an ad for her house, “as is”, meaning, “the windows are dirty”, she had told me yesterday.  I finally said, “Don’t you have anything to say to me?  I want you to apologize to me and I would like to have an authentic relationship with you.”

“What does authentic mean.”  She said.

“It means we can be ourselves around each other.  It means you don’t tell me to put on a sweater when I’m wearing a tank top saying I need to cover myself up.  It means we can take art classes together.   We can do something fun and enjoy each other by being ourselves.”  I said.

“I’m sorry for the things you say I did to you, but I was treated that way too, everyone else was too; it wasn’t just you.”  She said.

“Yes, Mom, I know it was that way for you or you would not have treated me the way you did.  I am talking about what was done to me, how I was treated, just because everyone else was treated that way and you were too, doesn’t make it okay I was abused as a child and still am abused every time I am around you.”  I said.

“Why can’t you get on with your life and leave the past behind?   I guess you will be glad when I’m dead.”  She said.

“Mom, it won’t make any difference whether you are living or not, if I haven’t resolved this within myself.  I left here thirty years ago because of you.  I swore I would never come back.

I used to call you and be upset for two weeks because of something you would say to me, implying I wasn’t good enough.  When I was sixteen, I remember asking you if there was anything about me you liked.  I was ignored then too.   I love you because you are my mother, but I do not like you as a person.”  I said.

“Yes, I have known for awhile you don’t like me.  I have to be very careful what I say around you.   Don’t I get credit for anything?”  She said.

“Yes, you do Mom, but where is the love?  You did a lot for me for which I am grateful.  I am an amazing woman, I know you don’t think that, but I am because you are my mother.  I have learned many skills from being raised by you.  You clothed me, you made me some of the most beautiful clothes including two wedding dresses, you have fed me and given me a place to live, that doesn’t make it okay I was beaten, smacked and put down all of those years.

You are an incredible woman.  I tell people you are a master gardener, a master quilter, an artist, a painter, a writer and a poet.   You worked at the sweater factory, raised three children, cooked and canned.  You gave me five years of piano lessons which you should have given to yourself as you were the one who wanted to play the piano.  I see you as a bitter old woman who has not lived the life she wanted, you beat me because of your unhappiness, as I see it.”  I said.

“You need to get over the past; you should move on and get over it.”  She said.

“That is your opinion, Mom. This is why I am talking with you now, to move on from the past.  I shared one of the most important things of my life with you which took me the required twenty years to accomplish, my clergy papers and all you could say was it would be great if you were a Christian.” I said calmly.

“Well, it would be great if everyone was a Christian,” Mom said.

“I accept people for who they are, including what religion and what political values they have.”  I said.

“Then, why can’t you accept me for who I am, why are you trying to change me?”  She said.

“I do accept you for who you are, this is why I am talking with you.  Now I spend my time with people who I feel love and appreciate me.  I am not willing to continue our relationship the way it is.  I am not willing to have another day like I had yesterday with you.  Something has to change, and I know most people don’t change.  You tried to beat me up when I was thirty, the last time I lived here you accused me of stealing a quilt, you tried to take my child away from me.”

“I did not.”  She said emphatically.

“Yes, you did Mom, the family intervention with Angela and her father, who turned out to be a pedophile.  I’m confronting my abuser, just like Angela did.”  Her face broke its plastic spell, lips pursed, hazel eyes stabbing, reminding me of all the times I heard “don’t look at me with those beady Shelton eyes.”

“Well, if you don’t want to spend time with me, then don’t,” Mom said and went back to her paper.

“I’m not angry with you anymore, Mom, I used to be.  I feel sorry for you now.”  I said.

This interchange was broken by the ringing of the kitchen wall phone.  My Mom chose to answer it, getting up slowly in her mid eighty years, slim from a diabetic diet.   “Guess I should answer it.” She said.   Once again, she was putting something else before me.

Hearing bells, I figured my time was up.   Before she lifted the phone off its hook on the wall, I said, “Looks like we are through, Mom, I will be going.”  I was not willing to wait any longer.  We were through!  I felt like I had spoken my feeling with love and grace.

“Bye,” she said.

“Bye,” I said.

Walking out of my mom’s house into the fresh fall air on Windy Ridge where I lived from six until eighteen, a full twelve year cycle, a slight breeze found me.  I felt centered and strong just as I felt walking into her house.  There were no emotional feelings which surprised me.   My goal was to be graceful, with love and kindness while speaking the truth, while giving my mother credit and positive reinforcement for her accomplishments and me in mine as to who I am today.

Walking across mom’s yard, across the spot where she beat me with her fist while calling me a whore when I was thirty, past the For Sale Sign of the house where she has lived for a sixty year cycle, I was amazed it would take me this long to stop feeling guilty about trying to gain love from my mother.   It was time to stand up for myself.  Like the song I was hearing now inwardly in my head, the song I learned in church growing up, Stand up, Stand up for Jesus!   Well, who was standing up for me, nobody but myself?

Standing in her yard in the sunshine of this lovely mountain fall day, next to my Matrix parked beside her huge heart shaped flower bed where exquisite fragrant bearded iris grow in the spring; I called my daughter to tell her what had happened.  She said, It’s about time!  There is no telling what you will accomplish in your life now.”   A bluebird lit on the wire overhead and my heart was filled with love.

My mom had chosen to hide in the hole like the snake to not participate in an authentic relationship.   She whacked me three times saying it was time to get over the past and move on with my life.  She was right.  The decision to not have her in my life was the best decision I have ever made for myself.  She taught me by example of how important it is to do what I love and love myself.   This healing has been part of the change into the sixty year cycle of my own age, into a new beginning, a transformation of loving me more, as it’s never too late for love!

Joann Shelton

Treating Trauma from a MIND/BODY perspective

Treating trauma from a mind/body perspective is the key to unfolding the process of the traumatic effects of sexual and emotional abuse. Current research in neurobiology point to the physiological connection between how emotional affects increase arousal in the body which then in turn create physical issues like chronic tension and other ailments like autoimmune disorders.

Since there is evidence that both mind (what we think) and body (what we feel) are in fact scientifically connected, we know that to treat trauma both mind and body must be addressed. However, even though this is true, only some are able to get this kind of treatment either because of lack of knowledge about its availability or simply because it just doesn’t exist.

That is where I come in. My mission in this lifetime is to bring this treatment to each of you in a way that you can use it to empower and heal yourself. Because there are multiple ways of peeling this onion, we need to put take each layer and go slowly. Every post I will go through some technique or application that I feel would be useful for you to do at home. To begin, I will  give you a mind/body writing exercise to to help you focus on your physical, emotional and cognitive history.  A body map in a sense that you can use to detail your bodily experience through specific times in your life. This exercise might also help you get adjusted to the present tense at the same time as giving some credit to the past even though it might be painful. Before you begin, you should know that this process will or could unleash some emotions, but please try and welcome them  as they are releasing from your system and can be addressed more easily in the present moment. One last word before we begin. In giving you any kind of therapeutic help/tips, I in no way intend to cure, treat or heal  any one person. I am not acting as your therapist nor am I advising or prescribing any treatment to anyone but merely suggesting these exercises have been helpful for numerous clientele. I am sharing these with you first hand because of Angela and her network of fierce women. I hope you understand, however if you should have or want an emotional release bodywork session or wish to contact me, I am available for appointments by phone, skype and in person in my San Francisco office during the weekdays Monday through Friday 9-5. http://www.alisonleigh.net/resume.html

415-377-9851

NOW- to get you started on the road to recovery, we are going to begin with a body map, both physical and emotional.

“Seeing is believing but feeling, now that is exceptional. ” als

1)PHYSICAL BODY MAPPING JOURNEY™ exercise by Alison Leigh, MFT

Take out a sheet of paper and write down your “physical body journey”. This is  a chronology of your body from the very beginning of time. It includes *facts* not feelings. It also includes *objectivity* , meaning your describing a narrative of what you saw from a perspective *about* your body. Similar to your seeing your body from another perspective. In other words, you didn’t feel it, but you saw it, you observed it. “I saw my body growing, I saw my body moving faster than the boys, “i noticed my  physical appearance as (insert here). It might sound something like,  “my body came out of my mom at 7.4 lbs”. “When i was 8, i remember jumping, climbing trees and running around with my brother”. Write down your active moments, your non-active times, and everytime in between. Write down times you or another used or abused your body. “she did this to me, or he did that to me”.  Or, perhaps you were inactive but used your body to do simple things, like play board games.  It may sound like this, “I remember playing chess with my grandfather but I was not into sports much”. Remember to include physical injuries and how they made you feel plus physical victories, (do you remember getting taller?  Stronger? Sexier?). If you find this exercise too overwhelming, then just choose one year of your life or maybe even one day.  You could choose a decade or from a particular age like 13-20, or your entire 35th year. So, again, you are writing from *just* a physical bodily perspective. It would be as if your body was talking and writing the story herself.

2) After you are done, email it to me or a friend and discuss. You would be surprised how much you get out of this exercise.(askalisonleigh@gmail.com)

3) EMOTIONAL BODY MAPPING JOURNEY exercise™ by Alison Leigh, MFT

Now, I would like you to do the same here, but this time, either choose the same time period as you did earlier, or you can choose a new one. Describe in detail the emotional body feelings you had during that time. You might say something like, “I felt hopeless, I had feelings of despair”. Or you might say, “It was the first time in my life I felt love and I felt it all over my body”. Remember to note *where* in your body you felt it. People feel their feelings everywhere or sometimes in a specific place. Even, sometimes they don’t or can’t locate them. That is okay. Try anyway. If that doesn’t work, you can just say, “I felt it but didn’t know where”. In contrast, there are feelings that aren’t felt, called, “numbness”. That is where you might tend to disappear, dissociate and forget. If that happened, that is okay too. Just stay with that. Don’t try and change the past just note it. Saying what was in the past won’t hurt you now, it just names the fact as it *was* without a label. (unless you put one there) Remember while writing that often times there will be two voices speaking at once. One will be the cognitive (brain) talking. That is the one who tells the story, no matter how you feel, that is the author. Then, there is the emotional body story teller who tells the story of how it feels, instead of *what* happened. Sometimes, the two get mixed up and it’s all confusing. That is why I’m separating them here. This way, you get a fresh perspective on both ends. You will hear from your physical body as well as your cognitive mind. The cognitive mind often times does not get along with the physical body voice so often times people have challenges in that area. Your body’s words might say, “I liked what he was doing to me”, and your cognitive words  might say, “I hated what he was doing”. In anycase, just write down your feelings, and just note your thoughts about that. Should you have any questions, please let me know. Until then, enjoy your process and be open to what you might find. I believe it might help heal you.

askalisonleigh

alison

Review of “Crazy Love” A Memoir

Crazy Love: A Memoir by Leslie Morgan Steiner

Leslie Morgan Steiner, a Harvard graduate with a coveted position at Seventeen magazine and a hip apartment in downtown New York City, seemed to have it all. She had already achieved sobriety, after determining she did not want to follow in her mother’s alcoholic lifestyle. Her father distanced himself from the family by immersing himself in his career. In her early twenties, Leslie had youth and independence to encourage romance. The handsome and charming Conor showed up at the right time.

Had Leslie been aware of the behaviors of a potentially abusive man, she might have realized that all that he said and did were manipulations based to suit his needs. He was in it for himself. But she fell in love. She wanted to “help him overcome the years of abuse and neglect and pain…And if I could make him whole, we’d be one person. He’d be mine forever.” The foundation for relationship was faulty; it would require insight and experience to recognize the potential for collapse.

The reader learns the signs of an abuser, at first subtle, such as snide remarks about friends, and then covert, such as demanding forfeiture of her career. Leslie cannot make a decision without mentally challenging herself first, asking, “What will Conor think?” or “How will Conor react?” The problem is, he is so unpredictable, she can never anticipate his reaction.

Woven throughout this story is a dog that Conor insisted on having, yet Leslie was reluctant to acquire. Leslie nonetheless became attached to the dog. It was interesting to read the details of the dog’s behavior during the dynamics of the relationship.

The reader learns of unexpected betrayals during Leslie’s most difficult times, as well as a surprise redemption. Also, the reader learns how hard it is to live with abuse, to survive the physical and emotional wounds, to leave, to get restraining orders, make impossible choices, to move out, to move on. This book was well-written, incorporating information, insight, and depth of characters. We ask, “Why didn’t she leave?” and Leslie Morgan Steiner tells us. We might ask, “Why didn’t he stop?” Too often, he can’t.

This book reads like a psychological thriller, yet it is true life, and is only one of thousands of stories like it. Read it to know that someone you know may be at risk.

Review completed by Lynn C. Tolson, author of Beyond the Tears: A True Survivor’s Story