Hate is a four letter word. You stop cursing yourself when you drop the F-bomb.
A few weeks ago, my stepfather called to let me know that my mother was in hospital and would be undergoing heart surgery. He told me to call him for details. It was a brief voicemail. Very out of character. His voice also rang of despair. For many years, my mother has been — very successfully — living with a rare, chronic, incurable disease the end stages of which often include heart failure. For as many years, I knew that I would one day receive a call like this one. Given the status of our relationship for the last four years, I was confident that I knew how I would react. I was wrong.
When that Karma bitch came around to do what she does best, I knew that I would sit myself a front row seat, grab a tub of popcorn and watch the show play out while my dysfunctional life with my mother flashed before my eyes to remind me of why she earned this comeuppance. After decades of being the object of her contempt and neglect…after decades of clawing my way back up from the pit in my soul that abuse left…after years of trying to come to terms with the recovered memories of her being not only complicit but instrumental in facilitating the sexual abuse inflicted upon me as a child…this would be my turn to be strong on her, to watch her be vulnerable and scared then choose to do nothing. I would enjoy the satisfaction of watching the Karmic Wheel spin full circle. This is not what happened when I got the call. It’s not at all what happened.
I had my front row seat. What I also had was an ache in the pit of my chest. My mother has always been terrified of death. Honestly, who isn’t? But my mother has always been almost phobic about it. Given her chronic illness and what was now happening with her heart, the ache I was feeling in my own heart was for the terror she must be experiencing. Almost exactly to the date, two years prior, she was in the same hospital, in the same ward, authorizing multiple revivals of her father’s failing heart.
I didn’t know what was going on with Henry’s (my mother’s father) health until several weeks after he’d taken ill when the three strange visitors arrived on my doorstep, investigating a spontaneous confession he made in the hospital. Prior to their visit to my home, Henry starred in what I believed to be a series of nightmares. Now, at the risk of sounding utterly insane, I’m not sure what they were. Like my mother, Henry was nearly phobic about death. I believe that the thought of one day possibly having to answer for the things he did was the basis of Henry’s phobia. Then as death finally approached to give his body relief from his diseased heart, his chest was cracked open only to be revived to its painful, compromised state…the process repeated several times. It was during the space between one of these revivals that Henry made his excited utterance. It is my completely uninformed, unscientific, gut belief that Henry felt that the evil deeds he had done were anchors keeping him bound to this earth. The three strange visitors almost instantly achieved clarity in Henrys deathbed confession, expressed remorse both that it happened at all and that they couldn’t do anything further to achieve justice because it had been over 30 years, then closed the investigation. With that, I felt a lightness I never experienced before. It was as if the confession of this unspeakable act perpetrated upon me cut loose an anchor holding me down. Just like that, this part of me was free. Afterward, when the nightmare repeated itself, I told Henry that I am no longer a weight holding him here. I repeated this through prayer to my Higher Power. Two weeks later, Henry finally passed away.
Now my mother was the one in the bed. Checking in on her daily, her situation was not as dire as Henry’s was two years ago. Still…it must have been frightening for her…and it was surprisingly so for me. I was conflicted. Each note of sympathy my heart played, my head countered it with disgust at myself for feeling it. Still…I couldn’t stop.
We had our first and final confrontation over what happened to me as a child four years ago. My mother took no responsibility. My mother had no remorse. My mother told me that her allegiance would always be with her father over me. It was that day that I decided that I couldn’t have her in my life any longer. I howled and cried for the rest of the day when I got home. It was the day that grown-up Judy severed all hope that inner-child Judy had that things might ever be different. It hurt. But it was right. The amount of self-healing that has been able to occur in these four years is extraordinary. There was still anger but the rage was gone. That in and of itself is nothing short of miraculous. It has given way to enhanced compassion. I believe it gave me the ability to handle the information I received from the three strange visitors with the composure that I did. It is unfortunate that this is the way it needs to be…but it does.
Somehow I thought that coming to this decision would relieve me of the painful reflection that comes along with being a child whose mother is in poor health, possibly approaching the beginning of the end of her life. I try to see the Brightside in as much as I can so I don’t go mad. I thought this relief was the brightness in this incredibly dark place in my life. Wrong. I find myself instead struggling to find good things to cling to. At first it was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. My mother was deliberately absent from my life, even when she was physically present. During those times that we did interact, it was rarely pleasant. I had more rage for her than I did even for her father. It’s a mother’s job, her animal instinct, to protect her child from danger, not place her in it for her own personal gain. That to me is unconscionable. I swore it was unforgivable. Now I find myself here at a crossroads, finding it impossible to walk away. Instead, I dove head first into those haystacks.
The needle that shone brightest was It’s a Wonderful Life. As a child of the ‘70s in Queens, before the million cable channel options afforded to us, every Christmas season we were under the relentless assault of repeated broadcasts of this film. It seemed that whenever my mother was home and it was on, she watched it. Not blank way we do when there’s nothing else on. Each time she was entranced. I would hear her act out some of the dialogue. I would see her cry. Although we sat in the living room together watching the same movie at the same time, it was for her a solitary experience. I realize now that’s likely the reason why she cried at every viewing. The point this film drives home is that no matter how lonely you feel, if you’re doing it right, life is not a solitary experience. The things you do, the words you say, the places you are, effect others, often in entirely unexpected ways. My mother always cried when everyone in the town came together to help George Bailey during his time of need. He didn’t have to ask. Because of the person he was during the whole life he lead – mistakes and all – when he was in trouble, he had people lining up to help him. As they did, they shared what a positive impact he had on their life. That his life mattered. I wondered if the reason she cried just then was the same reason I did; would I ever have a George Bailey moment in my own life?
I lived a goodly portion of the first half of my life feeling like George Bailey did in the first half of the movie; like the world and everyone in it would be better off had I never been born. Unlike George Bailey, I felt this way because some of my earliest memories were of being told just that…and I believed it. The rage I mentioned earlier that I have recently been relieved of was largely directed at myself. I felt like I constantly had to prove to myself and others because I started out as a mistake, I subsequently needed to earn my right to be here. If I made myself useful, I would be needed. And being needed is almost as good as being wanted. Almost. Not quite. I watched George Bailey walk through the “what if” world Clarence created for him. I wondered if I would see something similar if Clarence talked me off one of the many ledges I teetered upon. I wondered if there would ever come a time where someone would tell me that one little something I said or that I did made a difference in their life. As it turns out, there are a lot of someones and somethings. I have been blessed with these beautiful moments personally, most importantly with my baby girl who gives my life meaning with every breath she takes. Through the years, my friends have told me that their lives are better because I’m in it and have missed me when I’ve been gone. Each time I write parts of my own story, inevitably someone tells me that it has given them courage to face and move past what has happened to them in their own lives; some of them are people I don’t even know. I am George Bailey and It’s a Wonderful Life.
My mother never had any friends. My mother kept away from family. My mother very much retreated within herself, becoming the center of her own universe. One of my dearest friends asked me recently if I think that my mother’s self-centeredness was her brain’s way of dealing with her own childhood demons, just as repressing memories was my defense mechanism. I told her that believe that’s true…but it doesn’t condone her transformation from victim to perpetrator. Most of us would live lives as perpetual victims rather than become abusers ourselves. My mind still couldn’t help but wander back to the tears my mother shed during It’s a Wonderful Life and the thought of her frightened in her hospital bed. Is she scared of running out of time to ever have her George Bailey moment? To be at the end of your life alone — even if it is a direct consequence of choices you’ve made — to feel as though you have come and gone from this world invisibly, absent of any positive impact is a heartbreaking idea. To move on from this consciousness to the next, having to answer for the sins you’ve committed and feel you have nobody feeling empty from your loss is an ominous fate.
I can’t erase the things that my mother inflicted upon me. Not from her life or mine. In my recovery, I am told that in order to truly heal myself, I need to “forgive them even if they are not sorry.” I have not yet reached the level of enlightenment necessary to do this. What I can do is what happened two years ago with Henry when the three strange visitors came. I can cut each of us free from the anchor to the past that keeps us bound to it.
I can give my mother a bit of a George Bailey moment by letting her know that her life has meaning in mine. It turns out that my mother was wrong in her original assessment of my life. I am not a mistake. I belong here simply because of the life my mother created and gave to me. How she feels about that has nothing to do with me and everything to do with her. I can only be grateful for the gift. I am.
I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I didn’t have the experiences that I did. I wish there was a different way for it to have come about but this is how it was meant to be. I can only embrace the end result. I listen closely. I am compassionate. I make people laugh through adversity. I am one of the helpers.
I inherited my way with the written word from my mother. My rage has always prevented me from admitting that but I’ve always known it to be true. The written page is where my mother’s intelligence and articulation unite to become melody. I can’t say that I share her perspective on anything she’s written but it is always so eloquently put forth and enjoyable to read. My writing has been my personal savior in so many ways. It is how I define myself. It is how I connect with others on more profound levels.
For a variety of reasons beyond my control, saying these things in person was not meant to be. I no longer question the wisdom of the Universe. I have learned to just go with it. Besides, it seems fitting that I utilize my mother’s gift to me of the written word to express my gratitude for it. I hope that my letting go and the peace I’ve made with the Universe about our past allows both my mother and me to move more freely to the next places that each of us will go. I hope that my prayers reach her, as closed off as she may be, so that she is less fearful and feels less alone.
It’s a wonderful life. I thank you for it, Mom.
In recovery, every day is kind of like Throwback Thursday. In the examination of events that occurred in the past and how you participated in or responded to them, we recover. Until we do that, those events are never quite over and the destruction is kept alive in the behaviors we display.
In May of 2014, I was invited to be the Special Guest Speaker on the Stop Child Abuse Now (SCAN) internet radio show. It’s a podcast that broadcasts live. The shows are archived so you can listen to a vast array of special guests, adult survivors of a variety of child abuse, speaking about their experiences, strength and hope. Prior to my first appearance, I listened to several archived podcasts. I highly recommend doing so to any fellow survivors, victims trying to transition into survivors or any civilians who want to learn more about the lasting effects child abuse has.
While during recovery, I shared my story with others in groups and in this blog, I was scared last year to hear those words leave my mouth and hit the airwaves. Some of those feelings were expected; telling these stories make us extremely vulnerable and one of the common threads we have is that our vulnerability was exploited, to be used as a weapon against us. Some of those feelings were unexpected; what if they hear my story and say I don’t belong? That would be the ultimate rejection, wouldn’t it? I was accepted immediately and welcomed into The Family. That acceptance is something my upbringing has always left me yearning for. Even though I’ve never met anyone in the SCAN Family in person, the kinship is strong. I learned that night, as I have throughout my recovery, the vulnerability of sharing our experience, strength and hope is no longer an instrument of exploitation. In our hands, it gives us strength. It was an emotional experience but indescribably empowering.
A great deal has happened in my life from May 2014 to May 2015. Breakthroughs in my recovery occurred and because of that, I am finally able to truly fix the wreckage. I’m still me. But today, I look at myself differently than I did. My eyes are adjusting so that I see myself more like the people who love me do rather than succumbing to the power of suggestion the sick and damaged people in charge of me had over me. It’s a process. It’s all about progress and not perfection. I am the first person to tell you I am far from perfect, but today I am making steady progress. So to celebrate the anniversary of this catalyst, I was the Special Guest once again on the show. The link to it is below.
Be warned…nothing I say is graphic but it is very personal. You might not want to know quite that much about me. That’s more than fine if that’s the case. And the show is 90 minutes long. I don’t know if I would be able to listen to me talk for 90 minutes (although the panelists and callers do engage in a lot of the exchange so — thankfully — it’s not all me).
Each of us has our own past. Many of us enjoy the weekly opportunity to throw ourselves back into nostalgia. Some of us prefer to throw it all away, as if it never existed. In all cases, the past is done…but it’s only truly over when you move on. That choice is yours. Choose wisely.
There is a well-written blog entry that is making its way around Facebook called “A Letter to the Motherless Daughters on Mother’s Day.” I read it because I consider myself a motherless daughter. The blog struck me on two levels. First the level on which it was intended to; I miss Mama, my maternal grandmother who was my mother in every sense but biology, since she passed away 10 years ago. Jenna, the author of the blog, says, “Remember the sorrow, remember the love, remember everything. Talk to her, she’s always listening.” I do. And I believe that. It is an important reminder, though, and I am glad Jenna took the time out to remind all of us who have had this type of significant loss. On days like this, it is easy to succumb to that profound sadness instead of focusing on the joys of the life they gave us, as all good mothers want their babies to do. What a blessing it was that my Mama loved me, cared for me, believed in me and did her best to protect me when it was not her responsibility to do so. I do not know what would have become of me if she hadn’t. That is something to celebrate today.
Then on the other level…profound loneliness because of the abuse and abandonment of my biological mother. Truth be told, I was hoping that Jenna’s open letter was addressed to people like me…the ones whose mothers defied instinct and harmed their babies rather than nurture them. Each year I would be filled with a sense of dread as I entered the Hallmark store. All the cards spoke to the unconditional mother’s love that’s been expressed through the years or boo-boo kissing or creating enduring memories. Hallmark didn’t have a card celebrating the enduring memories my mother bestowed upon me. I felt like a freak. I felt like a hypocrite when I did buy one, knowing that this is nowhere near the relationship I ever had. I felt like I was the only one who couldn’t get passed the things my mother said and did or didn’t do. I would try to tell people about my dilemma and get responses like “Wow…that’s horrible…but she’s your mom and it’s Mother’s Day.” It’s not their fault. Most people don’t understand…and that is a blessing in and of itself. But for those of us Other Motherless Children, it is indescribably lonely on a daily basis, amplified to a nearly unbearable degree on this day each year. But we are not alone. Sadly, there are a lot of us out there. I wished that Jenna’s blog spoke to that because it’s something that nobody ever writes about. Today, I am writing about it.
There is a particular shame attached to being the kid that even a mother couldn’t love. Through decades of therapy and being blessed with people who love me-for-me, I learned on a rational level that the rejection I experienced had little-to-nothing to do with me and everything to do with my mother and her own baggage and frailties…but the feeling of being unlovable never fully goes away. You just pick up tools and the skills to use them to cope with the pain effectively. It does get better if you let it.
Becoming a mother myself was terrifying. My greatest fear was that no matter what I did, my baby’s fate would be to have a mother like mine. I believed the things she said about me. I believed my defects were the most dominating parts of who I was and that it was all I had to offer. She was wrong about me. I was wrong about me. I am my own person and because of that, I became my own brand of Mommy…who was far from perfect. Let’s be honest here. I am still “me” and I prove daily that I am human…some days more human than others. I am heavily flawed. I have numerous issues. But I am greater than the sum of my parts. I am a survivor. I love my baby girl unconditionally, the way that every mother should. These are the greatest gifts I can give her. The love that my little girl and I share is what I celebrate today.
I believe there are two sides of every coin. Even in the darkest situation, if you look really hard for it, you will find that it brought light to you as well. While light may never outshine the darkness of that particular situation, I’ve gotten comfort from a single candle’s light during a blackout, helping me to manage through it…so long as I made sure it didn’t blow out.
Because of my life’s negative experiences, I possess positive qualities and skills that I don’t believe I would’ve otherwise obtained, at least not to the degree that I achieved them. I am the calm during the storm; I am able to remain rational amid chaos, formulating a focused plan to make it to the other side of it. I am deeply compassionate because I realize that there is usually a reason behind why people are the way they are and behave the way that they behave; hurt people hurt people…often times others, more often themselves. I listen keenly to words spoken and unspoken because I know the pain of being ignored. I can find the humor in anything and use the power of laughter (often peppered with sarcasm) to help myself and others out of the darkness. I have not reached the state of enlightenment in my recovery where I am thankful for receiving the negative experiences of my upbringing. I don’t know if I will ever reach that state. But I have gratitude for the lessons it taught me, the gifts I received because of it and the unique way I can help others get through it all.
So to all the Other Motherless Children out there today…Mom was wrong. However you got here, you have a right to be here. You are deserving of real love. You are not alone. YOU are the candle that shines through the darkness. Break the cycle. I did. You can, too.
“This chapter of my life will close here, today. I will walk out of this courtroom and not look back. I will do everything in my power to have my story be one of triumph over adversity, not victimization, because that is how I will become whole again. I hereby transfer my suffering to [the convicted rapist] as he receives his sentence today and begins paying the price for his demonic actions on that day.”
~~ Long Island Rape Survivor address to the court at her perpetrator’s sentencing hearing today. He received 25 years for first-degree rape, criminal sexual act, first-degree burglary, first-degree sexual abuse during the initial attack and two counts of second degree conspiracy, as he subsequently tried to hire someone to have her killed.
As a fellow survivor, her statement truly moved me. Although I have undergone the metamorphosis from victim to survivor, I accepted that the acts that were perpetrated upon me would keep me entombed in my own internal prison to some degree for the rest of my natural life. It never occurred to me until I read her statement today that I have the power to “transfer my suffering” away from me by my own “triumph over adversity,” making me “whole again”.
Thank you, fellow survivor…fellow Long Islander…live by these words…don’t look back but to see the faces of the others you inspire to be triumphant and whole.
This is something that I struggle deeply with and work on every day. I’ve made strides, successfully forgiving some who haven’t asked for it, some who don’t feel they’ve done me wrong. When I realize that’s on them and the choice between resentment/hurt and forgiveness/release is on me and I follow through, I am astounded by the good it does for my well-being.
I’m not sure if I will ever be able to forgive those who have hurt me the most. I know that I need to if I am ever going to truly heal. Already about midway through my life, time is running out for me to reap the rewards of that liberation. I’ll keep working on it. I’m worth it.
They say that you can’t change the past. I know different. On August 17, 2008, every childhood memory I had changed. Everything I thought I knew suddenly changed when my husband told me what Henry said.
When I confronted Henry, images of visits to Hecksher State Park and unwrapping Christmas gifts and sitting in the shopping cart at the grocery store flashed through my head. In every way but biology, Henry was my father. My mother turned over my care to her parents. She lived in the apartment with us but she washed her hands of me completely, with a few notable exceptions.
Even though the revelation of my own sexual abuse perpetrated upon me by Henry would occur well after that day, as he denied the accusation, a new set of images flashed through my head. Photographic images of myself. Photos that Henry took of me with expensive cameras and special lenses under the guise of being a hobbyist. I was often dressed in lingerie, sometimes my little girl penoir set, more often in adult lingerie. My mother would sometimes put dark lipstick and heavy eyeliner on me, making me look like a “woman-child.” Henry never dropped his film off at Fotomat or the drug store to be developed like everyone else. He brought it to a special store. The same place he bought his fancy equipment. He also wanted to convert the half bathroom in the apartment into a darkroom so he could develop his photos himself. Mama put an end to that idea.
Still, even though remembering these photo sessions made me believe the terrible story my husband told me about what Henry did is true, I never made the connection that he did the same thing to me decades before. Or maybe I did and I just refused to acknowledge it until very recently. I’ve been poring through old photo albums, digging through envelopes and boxes in search of pictures for Throwback Thursday now that I have a good scanner. I found a lot of me as a kid. I also stumbled across some from those photo sessions…and it’s all right there. On my face. In my eyes. It was captured right there. It’s amazing how our minds can let us see only what we want to see and be so blind to what is staring us in the face because we just don’t want to see the truth.
I was a joyful child with a cute giggle and infectious smile back then. When I didn’t realize that Mama was my grandmother and not my mommy. Or that Henry was my grandfather and not my father. Or that the woman who sometimes slept in my bedroom was actually my mother and not a strange houseguest. I look at photos from then and I see the light in my eyes. I see my chubby-cheeked grin and I can almost hear myself giggle. That’s what happy looked like on me.
Then the photos from my onset of puberty, 8-, 9-, 10- years old. My eyes lost their shine and became distant. I rarely smiled. You can see a sadness the depth of which a little girl that age shouldn’t know. I have a hard time looking at these photos of myself at this time because seeing them, I can remember how I felt at that point in time…ugly, fat, geeky, masculine (fuckin’ Dorothy Hamill haircut Mama always made me get) and unwanted. By that time I had become acutely aware of what my family dynamics were which, now I know, facilitated my abuse by Henry.
So on this somber anniversary, looking at my story laid out in Kodak moments, I am left to think why couldn’t I have made the connection sooner? If I had, Henry probably would not have raped the 9-year old girl, the subject of the story my husband told me on August 17, 2008. Or who knows how many others I didn’t know about?
By continuing this self-battery, I am continuing to blind myself to the truth; I am not the perpetrator. I am a survivor of horrific acts perpetrated against me by someone who exploited my helplessness and innocence for his own personal gain as well as by someone who, against all maternal instinct, knowingly and willingly fed me to him. My mind’s defense mechanism to make me survive and eventually escape was repressing these memories. Until those memories were unleashed, there was nothing that I could have done to stop my own abuse or prevent the abuse of others. Facing this truth, while helping to make me stop beating myself up, makes me feel more powerless than before yet simultaneously strong because I’m saying that I’ve been battered long enough.
We are all guilty of selective blindness to varying degrees and varying situations.
Today, I’m keeping my eyes and my mind wide open so maybe I’ll see something important that I might have missed before. Sometimes something that you suddenly pick up on can make all the difference in the world.
If you or anyone you know is an adult survivor of child abuse and want an empathetic person to talk to about it, any of the residual effects or to find out where to get help, please contact me. We’re in this life together.
It’s been a long time since I’ve written a personal blog. I am incredibly blessed to have a few people ask me when the heck I’m going to get back to it. All my life I’ve felt like the-thing-that-nobody-wanted-but-was-stuck-with-anyway. (There are reasons for this and I’ll get to a lot of them in this blog.) To know that people are affected by my words and actually look forward to reading more validates me. You know who you are. I know who you are. I thank you so much. Please keep that feedback coming — the good, the bad and the ugly. Don’t be shy!
It’s not for lack of material that I’ve been gone. Quite the contrary; my life has been filled with new experiences, recovered memories and several epiphanies. (Again, I will get to a lot of that later in the blog.) I’ve actually been busy writing a professional blog for both Netter Real Estate and my own professional blog, Judy Cangemi Your Friend in Real Estate. Both are hosted on WordPress so I decided to move my personal blog here, too. I was able to move my posts here from my last site so nothing got lost in the move either. The only thing I dislike is the appearance (just like life, huh?) because I don’t think it reflects me very accurately. But I’m not going to get too hung up on appearance now (just like life).
With this new location, it is a new beginning in many ways. I altered the name of the blog slightly. It’s now called “One Woman’s Adventure Through Life and Recovery.” I’m still having adventures through this economy but it has taken a backseat to my recovery at this point…and that is yet another blessing.
So it is with a open heart that I welcome you here. Consider yourself warned that I will get quite personal. My writing has always afforded me a vulnerability that I deny myself in face-to-face contact…and after all, effective writing is always grounded in truth. Many people throughout my life have told me that my words made them feel less alone and the more of myself that I offer in black & white, the deeper I connect with others. Read, write, share. We are all in this life together. Let’s help each other through.