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I choose

This is what I wrote for K after our phone call this afternoon.

I choose. I choose to stay here because my Mum controlled my life for more than 32 years and I refuse to let her make me run or hide anymore. I have as much right to be here as she does. Let’s look at the facts of why I don’t see her, because she may not have intentionally broken me but the truth is that if all those people who judge me SAW what she had been like to me and G (my disabled half brother) growing up, the abuse she screamed at us, the endless days we spent terrified and in tears and on edge, her rage and tears and out of control screaming filling our ‘home’, they would wonder how I lasted so long. If people saw the dysfunction they would understand. And K sees the dysfunction, she sees what it has done to me, and she gets it. It’s just that they can’t see it because part of the dysfunction was putting on a front for others. That front, that pretence, is part of what broke me. I never knew what was real and what wasn’t because she would rage at us and cry for hours and then deny all knowledge of it and say it wasn’t that bad and I must be ‘misremembering’. I need to remember what is real.

At Christmas time Mum would scream at us for hours and then tell us off for “looking miserable” and “spoiling the day” when we were too shattered inside to manage a smile and we couldn’t choke the tears back fast enough to stop her seeing. The taste of Christmas treats mingled with saltwater tears lingers in my memory. Trying to keep her happy when inside I was breaking again. I have spent so many Christmases in excruciating pain, vomiting, crying and tense, erupting in full body rashes, terrified and full of dread, hearing her sniff and cry and rage and wondering what on earth was coming next. I have spent so many Christmases feeling ‘bad’ because I was never good enough to fill her up and make her happy and stop it falling flat. I have chosen not to play this game of pretend anymore. I have chosen to save Nina and myself. I have chosen to show my daughter that we always have a choice in life and that when we spend time with people who claim to ‘love us’ but who leave us feeling inadequate and unworthy and broken and in pain then this is not really love. It is abuse.

And so I choose to stay in E_____ because Nina is settled and happy and gaining her independence. She is loving school and making new friends and finding out who she is. She gets to spend time with my Dad who makes things with her out of wood and does fun craft things that I rarely have the energy or time to do – and that I often find triggering – and he helps her with Maths and makes her laugh and gives her someone else to turn to who is important in her life. And she has Jenny, who she has written is ‘like a Grandma’ to her and who babysits for free and does fun stuff with her and shows 1000% interest in everything she tells her. And she has Mark, Rachel, Stan and Eddie who are always there if I need anything and Dad can’t help and who think of Nina as one of the family. And soon we will be living somewhere with cleaner air which will be good for her asthma and allergies, and for her emotional and mental wellbeing as a teenager because she won’t be hanging round town with her head constantly being filled with things she ‘needs’ to buy.

And I choose to stay for me:

  • I have new friendships developing at work and lovely colleagues who like and respect and confide in me, and I spend my days in a work environment where I feel like I really belong, for the first time in my life.
  • I am 3 years into my probationary period and 2 years away from being made permanent and promoted and I don’t want to start again somewhere else. I have contacts at E_____ and I know what I am doing and how all the systems work and I have made a name for myself there. Starting again somewhere else is not what I want. Life is enough of a challenge because of trauma and dissociation and pain. I don’t want another huge challenge just to survive.
  • I love D_____ and I love being able to work at one of the top institutions for what I do but in a city that is small and in a place where nature is close by. There aren’t many other institutions as good as where I am but with such beautiful, wild places nearby.
  • K is here and I am making brilliant progress in therapy and I do not want to lose that or her when I can really see that things are getting better and that a type of healing is happening now that I didn’t even think was possible.
  • My choir is lovely and I always feel welcome and like I belong there.
  • I have a wonderful new friendship developing with Sue and other people and I get enough time away from Nina to see friends without her.
  • We live in a safe place and are moving to a safer place where I can let Nina out by herself and leave her at home for a few hours by herself.
  • My Dad is here and he is helpful with practical things and looking after Nina, and Jenny is here as well and she is like family too. She came with me to hospital when I needed IV morphine for the pain in the summer and stayed overnight when I was scared to be alone afterwards.
  • I have been able to buy a house and soon will be able to move somewhere quieter and out in nature where there is a sense of community and open skies and (hopefully) no one who knows Mum and G.
  • House prices are low enough where we want to live that we will be able to afford a walker for a dog a few days a week so he/she is not by herself when we are at work/school.
  • I won’t have a stupidly long commute to work even though we are living in a little village. I will be able to cycle to work in the Spring and Summer.
  • Nina is at a good school with a sixth form and an incredibly caring and nurturing ethos. She is already known and liked and able to be herself there.

If Nina had gone to WE (school round the corner) she would have been in tears every day because of horrible, bitchy girls. She still gets messages on WhatsApp from them saying mean things and accusing her of things now but she is free to ignore them because she doesn’t have to see them at school anymore. She wouldn’t have become close friends with Sally or made friends with Edie. Mum would have driven past the school and wormed her way into being friends with someone whose child was there. Nina would have been hanging out in town and might have seen Mum every weekend, but when we move she will go to S________ park with her friends or in to T_________ to go swimming or to the cinema. We wouldn’t have been able to move out of town and be somewhere quiet and peaceful, we would have had to stay in this area and we would always have worried Mum would be driving past or in Sainsbury’s. Nina would have been slathering her face in makeup and worrying that boys don’t like her. She would have been hanging around after school with horrible girls and continuing all the problems from primary school. Her main socialising would have been done in town and she is more likely to have been exposed to smoking and drinking and other things too soon. She would have been worried and tried to make herself invisible because of all the mean people.

And if we moved away I would struggle. I would be the solo parent of a teenager trying to create a new life with no support whilst working in a demanding job and experiencing PTSD, dissociation and physical pain. There would be no one to have Nina for weekends or if I went to conferences. There is nowhere nice to cycle. The swimming club Nina would need to join involves early morning swimming two mornings a week. I would have had to start again with meeting people and it would be hard because socialising is draining for me and causes me to dissociate and in order to make new connections I would have needed to say yes to lots of things which would be hard whilst so much energy is spent on practical parenting stuff and nurturing Nina and my work.

And if we had moved away before, before I really knew how broken I was, I may well have totally lost my mind and actually killed myself and Nina because if everything that hit me after Jess died had happened and I had no support I may not have been able to hang on through the years of suicidality that I went through as all the memories resurfaced and I was forced to confront my fragmented selves and all the pain they held. And even if I didn’t kill us both I may have lost my job and damaged Nina irreparably. I would still have needed to face up to the pain of Mum and what she did to me, and what she deprived me of, wherever in the world I had been.

So it feels as though I am stuck here, but actually it is a good choice. I am not crazy for staying here. Mum is the crazy one and the version of reality she tells people about why we don’t see her bears basically no resemblance to the truth. K knows, R (my acupuncturist) knows, Dad knows, K (my half sister) knows, Nina knows. It is better this way, even though it is not okay.

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