The most transformative moment of therapy for me didn’t happen in a therapists office, or even in therapy. It happened in a walk in closet that I’d made my writing room in the third floor walk-up in Astoria, where I lived. Truth is I was in therapy to be able to have this moment so I could move forward in my life and let go of the things I had been dragging around with me since childhood. It was in this small room, within a room, within my apartment surrounded by the thousands of written pages I’d been creating and hoarding for years in an attempt to understand who and why I was and am that I called my mother to tell her how she’d failed me.
I recounted things said without thinking that hurt. I recounted the things she said that were so confusing that I couldn’t comprehend why she would share them with me as a kid. I recounted the times I’d felt alone and unfairly judged. I told her of feelings I’d been blaming her for for decades. Literally decades. This wasn’t as long ago as I wish it were. I told her things I’d latched onto and refused to let go of for eternity. I told her about feeling like I was ignored and left to raise myself. I told her about how angry I was at her and why.
I’m pretty good with words. Not to brag, but I have a pretty good vocabulary and the ability to take thoughts and convert them into succinct and coherent and downright concise sentences that cut to the heart of what I’m trying to say. At the beginning of our conversation I told her that I called to talk about the things that were between us. About our relationship because it had occurred to me that it was our relationship that was in fact sabotaging my ability to love and to feel loved. I unloaded on her the pile of blame that I could never get past. It was fairly brutal and brutally unfair. It was mean. Anyone listening would have said so. Anyone who wasn’t my mother.
My mother is perhaps the toughest person anyone’s ever met. She has bravely stared down a life I’ll never have to. She’s been processing horrible tragedies since her youth and finding evermore reason for joy and love. She is the strongest person I know. You have to be pretty close to see this and I was afforded a front row seat that night in my closet, crying to my mother at a makeshift desk, surrounded by endless papers containing a profound misunderstanding of what turns out was my very good fortune of being born to the family I now understand to be my greatest blessing.
I hit her with every unfair punch that night. I blindsided her. She took every single one of them and apologized. For mistakes she’d made, for my pain, for misunderstandings that she couldn’t have known were still hurting me until that moment. She apologized and said she loved me even when I’d blame her for things that I now see she couldn’t have been a part of. When I called and started swinging wildly and emotionally she let her guard down and allowed me to punch away, telling me she was sorry, telling me I was brave for confronting her, telling me that I deserved better. It wasn’t a lie. She meant it. Despite giving me EVERYTHING and being blamed for things that weren’t hers to own she heard not an angry and aggressive and unfair man treating her poorly. She heard her son hurting. She heard her little boy screaming and crying that it wasn’t fair. And she took it all. To make me feel better. She let me know that it was okay to blame her, even if it wasn’t her fault, because she was mom and I would always be her boy.
I grew up fully in that moment. Seriously. I can tell you when I emotionally became fully a man and it was that night. I knew almost immediately upon expressing my pent up feelings that they had tricked me. Wisely. My feelings made me blame the one person strong enough to handle my impetuousness and bullying if I ever chose to unload it. The one person that could guide me to where I needed to go.
By the end of the conversation she was crying with me. She was telling me about her pain and letting me know I wasn’t alone. Letting me know that I would always have someone who would understand. Her. Mom. She healed me that night. The cuts that bled at ten, the ones that mean everything to a kid, I had bandaged. Being a sensitive kid at heart, naturally the bleeding continued and instead of allowing these wounds to heal, instead of cleaning them and caring form them, I just kept applying more and more bandages every time the blood seeped through. Never healing, always covering up and hoping my cuts would one day stop bleeding through. But that’s not how it works. You can’t heal that way. You can only hide. That day my mother held my hand like I was a child and promised me that even though it might hurt, she was going to tear off my bandages and clean them up so I could heal properly. So I could put down the load I’d been carrying and move on.
I emerged from that conversation a changed and healed person ready to take on the next phase of my life. It just in time as I was about to meet the woman that has since become a hero to both me and our sons. My mother gave me life, love and security and when I misplaced her gifts she dove into the hole I was drowning in and rescued me, despite my resistance.
I love you, mom. Thank you.