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My Life Before the Apocalypse

I mentioned that things got more difficult after my mother became a "born-again Christian." This development added a new layer of the anxiety I was already suffering. A few years ago, I had an essay published in an anthology called Anxiety Disorders: True Stories of Survival. I decided to write about that time in my life and how it shaped my early adulthood.

Click to read the essay in its entirety.Collapse )

I wrote the essay five years ago, and some things are different now - this was before I went no-contact with my parents. I blamed my anxiety all on my mother, and while the religious anxiety is her fault, I had major anxiety from the abuse my father put me through as well. I was not ready to face that at the time.

I didn't include in the essay that I was incredibly angry after I realized the "rapture" wasn't going to happen. I put myself through so much to make sure I didn't miss out on anything before I died. I tried to live my entire life in 20 years. I lived with guilt and fear of everything I did. I don't think I was ever able to think straight about anything.

Like I did say before, I don't bite my nails anymore. But my anxiety didn't go away entirely, and it still manifests itself physically at times. That will never go away.

And this essay only touched on one aspect of the many factors that make up the reasons for my anxiety and depression. But this one aspect is always in my mind, because religion is everywhere. There is no escaping it. And while I am able to see religion now for what it is and think about it reasonably, the scared little girl inside me is still afraid of God and his wrath, even though I'm an atheist.

I'm definitely not as optimistic as I sound at the end of the essay. I think I was at the time, but it's so hard to keep that mindset. Anxiety and depression will always be a part of me, so in the end, it's just one day at a time.

The Necessary Heartache of No Contact

No contact - or "NC" as it's referred to by those of us who have narcissistic parents - is a major turning point in an RBN adult child's life. Not everyone goes NC; for some it's impossible or maybe they are afraid of what will happen. I never even realized it was an option until I starting learning about Narcissistic Parents and joined a couple of forums for people like me. But once I discovered this option, it would still be years before it happened since I was so enmeshed with my parents, especially my mother, and afraid of the consequences.

I type that, and it sounds so ridiculous. Almost 50 years old and afraid of what my abusive parents would do to me if I dared cut them from my life?

That is what having a narcissistic parent is like - you are always afraid of what reaction you will get to anything you do, good OR bad (in their eyes).

Some people are able to draw boundaries and get their narcissistic parents to follow them, but it's usually an ongoing battle. Some, like me, tried to set boundaries, but were trampled on, or verbally and emotionally abused in response to those boundaries. My mother thought she had the right to my life - to the point where she and my stepfather actually told me that if they wanted to set fire to my kitchen, I would have to let them since I am the child. I was in my late 30s/early 40s when this was declared.

There are those kids of NPs who think things through and decide to go NC and tell their parents, damn the consequence or reaction. Then there are those like me, who accidentally went NC after finally reaching a last straw. In a nutshell, this is what happened:

In October 2014, I realized that we would not be able to go to two Thanksgivings on the same day that year, due to many factors. We had gone to my in-laws for a midday meal, then my mother's for an evening meal, and they lived about an hour apart, and then getting home was another hour. Long day.

But my kids were no longer little, and I couldn't take them wherever I wanted whenever I wanted. They had jobs, their own lives. My oldest was spending the holiday with her boyfriend, my middle daughter had to be at work for Black Friday around 5am, and my mother didn't like our dogs coming over - and we didn't go to my in-laws without them. So we were supposed to go to the first meal, go back home to drop off the dogs, then go back her house. Adding hours of extra driving.

I proposed that instead of two big dinners and all that travel in one day, that we go to my in-laws on Thanksgiving, and then I would make Thanksgiving dinner for them on Saturday or Sunday. Keep in mind, it took me a couple of weeks to even get up the nerve to tell her this. And I took the "easy" way out - I messaged her through FB. And I'm glad I did, because I was able to save that conversation.

And it went exactly as I expected - she was furious that I wouldn't cancel with my in-laws instead; it didn't matter that they had their dinner at noon and they live closer to us, so we would be home early so my daughter could go to bed for a while before Black Friday. She told me that she had no family now and that she and my stepfather would just go to McDonald's (my brother and his wife usually spent Thanksgiving with her relatives, so that wasn't an issue). When I said I had to do what was best for my family (meaning my husband and kids), she flipped out and said how dare I say she's not family and that she would never had said that to Mom-Mom. It was a barrage of just nastiness for no reason, and I finally realized I couldn't do it anymore.

I told her I needed some peace because the way she treated me was stressing me out so badly I was having heart palpitations. But it was as if I didn't say anything, because the nastiness didn't stop. I finally told her not to contact me for a while. And except for a birthday post on my FB wall (which I quickly deleted because it said something like even though I told her not to contact me, she couldn't let my day go by without commenting on it - putting my private business out there for all to see), she didn't.

The holidays passed, and I started realizing my life had become a little better. I wasn't afraid of my mother getting angry with me about something ridiculous. I didn't have to make up reasons not to go down to see her because visits with her were so emotionally draining. No more walking on eggshells or evading questions with answers I knew would piss her off.

A couple months later I noticed that my fingernails - which I had bitten to the quick ever since I was little - were growing. I had no desire to bite them. I treated myself to a professional manicure once they were long enough. And I haven't bitten them since.

However, NC is not the end of the story, for me and for many others who choose this route. While NC is a relief, it's also difficult to deal with. Cutting ties with your parents is not a good thing, but it is sometimes necessary. And NC has not freed me from my mother's influence or the memories of how she treated me.

There is fallout from such a decision. I didn't just cut ties with my mother, I also ended up cutting ties with other members of my family. My stepfather, who did help make life better when my mother married him when I was 16, wanted me to make up with her, but I couldn't do it. I wrote him and let him know why, but told him I loved him and would love to still have a relationship with him if it was possible. He never wrote me back. It still hurts. He had legally adopted my brother and me, and always said I was his daughter.

My uncle also wanted me to make up with my mother, using the cliched "one day she won't be around anymore" as part of his reasoning. I wrote him as well (I write instead of phone; I HATE the phone, and my thoughts are better when I write them out), and once, wasn't even acknowledged.

So in going NC, there can be "collateral damage." I know I made the right decision, but there are times when it hits me that I don't have a mom. Holidays can be rough. I suffer from depression, but during the holidays, it's usually worse. The birth of my granddaughter was wonderful, but it was also sad that I couldn't share such a wonderful thing with her. I threw a shower for my daughter, and during the planning of it and in the middle of it, it hurt that she wasn't part of it.

Sometimes I think I'm doing OK, but then something happens that makes the heartache bloom again - seeing photos of extended family gatherings or events I wasn't invited to, when I was always included before. Mother's Day can be hard - it was stressful when I was in contact with my mother because it was always HER DAY, but it still hurts when that day rolls around, even though I don't celebrate it myself. Honestly, I don't like celebrating most holidays because of the negativity associated with them. One Mother's Day my mother was furious I didn't spend it with her - but I had had a miscarriage a few weeks before and was not up to it emotionally. But that didn't matter.

Thankfully, my brother and his wife are still part of my family. And I couldn't have asked for more loving in-laws. My mother-in-law is my mom and my best friend. And of course I adore my husband and kids (and granddaughter!).

Going NC means I know I will probably never see my mother again. And I've heard that she's my only mother, that I'll regret it someday, and how do you cut off your own mother? What kind of person are you?

Of course this is not an ideal situation. But I would ask those who say these things - what is my end game here? What am I gaining in cutting off my mother? Do you think so poorly of me that you think I am doing this to be mean? Or do you think I'm lying about how she treated me? If my relationship with her wasn't toxic, I'd be so happy. But it is toxic, and I had to go to this length to save myself, literally. I was very close to an emotional breakdown before I cut ties with her and my father (and I will tell that story another time). I never would have hurt myself, but I think I was close to feeling like I should be hospitalized for a while. And that is not an exaggeration.

I will always suffer from depression and anxiety. And there will be times when I am crushed under their weight. But I know I did the right thing going NC, because I am healthier emotionally and mentally, which makes me a better wife and mother to my family. And they need me more than my mother ever did or ever could.

Sometimes, though, when I'm doubting that the relationship really was that bad, I re-read that conversation, as well as others I saved. And it reassures me that yes - it WAS that bad.

The "T" Word

There are two "T" words that get a lot of discussion these days - "Triggered" and "Trump."

"Triggered" has become a word to make fun of, because it has been misused and overused by a certain subset of people who looking for attention. Eye-rolling is usually the response given when we see someone crying "triggered" over something stupid or inane. (For instance, anybody who complained over the Starbucks holidays cups last year.)

Most people know that people who have been through trauma like war or other violence can be triggered. That's pretty much given respect, especially towards those who have served our country, or are in jobs like first responders. And it's usually not questioned when it happens. We sympathize when a soldier who has returned from a tour of duty in a war-torn area is stressed, or jumps at loud noises, and we try to help.

But PTSD happens to others; for instance, those who suffer or suffered continued abuse. Not just physical abuse that leaves obvious scars, but the kind of abuse that only the victim knows about. My blog is about the abuse my mother put me through, the emotional, mental, and religious abuse, as well as neglect. It easier to talk about than the other kind of abuse I was put through - sexual abuse. A couple of entries ago, I mentioned that it wasn't just my mother who was a terrible parent, but that my father also did horrible things. And it may seem that since I write about my mother and not my father that I think she was worse. But that's not so. It's just that my brain retreats desperately when I consider posting about it.

I will write it out eventually. Maybe not here. I might just have to write it in a notebook and burn it. I know some people who were sexually abused or raped, either as children or adults, feel shame about what happened. I don't think I do, but it is extremely embarrassing and disgusting and sometimes I feel I will be looked at differently if I publicly acknowledge what happened. I guess I sort of just did, without details.

Anyway, this brings me to the second "T" word - "Trump."

He is triggering me. I am not looking for attention and I am not exaggerating. He has always been loathesome. I remember his smugness and creepiness from way back in the 80s. But he was easy to avoid back then.

Since he decided to run for president, he has been everywhere, especially all over social media. It bothered me; he was loud, in-your-face, narcissistic, and obnoxious. The narcissism bothered me. Then he started showing his bullying side, and I started getting stressed at the stories coming through my Facebook feed. My father is also a bully who pouts when he doesn't get his way.

Then the articles about his obsession with his daughter Ivanka started up. There were pictures of him posing with her in very inappropriate ways. When she was a baby, he talked about what her breasts were going to be like. I noticed his daughter Tiffany pulled away when he tried to kiss her - I used that move a lot. I watched her escape his grasp and shuddered, feeling sick.

Of course there is also the infamous "pussy" remark. He can do what he wants to whoever he wants whenever he wants because he's rich. Because nobody dares to defy him, especially women. Melania always looks like she regrets selling her soul to him when I see them together in pictures. He cheats, he lies, he is misogynistic, racist, and just a despicable human being. I don't see one redeeming quality in him. And he has given voice and courage to those like him to express themselves violently and ugly.

This isn't a political post. This is about despair, anger, and fear. When we are born, we are supposed to be loved and cared for by our parents. I wasn't. As a country, we want to be loved and cared for by our president, to know he will fight for us and protect us. Now we won't be. At least those of us who aren't like Trump.

I am lucky. I am a middle-aged white woman who lives in a nice area. I know I can walk into a place of business and won't get hassled like a woman in a hijab or a black woman would be. I know I can get pulled over for speeding and will drive away with a ticket or a warning and not a bullet in my back.

This isn't about Trump vs Hillary. It's not about Republic vs Democrat, or even man vs woman. This is about losing hope. Despite everything I've been through, I've wanted to believe people are good. That was the line that really struck me when reading The Diary of Anne Frank - "I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe people are really good at heart." But I have seen such hate in this election - on both sides - that it hurts. When I see family or friends referring to someone like me as "stupid" because I'm upset at Trump's win, that is devastating. I'm not stupid. I am not mad that my candidate lost. I am flailing at the realization that people saw this abuse in someone who is supposed to take care of us and turned their backs on it.

I am triggered by Trump. Because I see my father and his treatment of me in Trump. I have had a couple of nightmares in which I am running from my father, terrified - but he has Trump's face. I was confident and hopeful that sanity, decency, and compassion would prevail and that Trump would be seen for what he is and turned away. Now I have to face a different reality.

Again though, I am lucky. It is unlikely I will be targeted physically by a Trump supporter like so many now have to fear. But seeing his face, hearing his voice, and knowing what he is will be an assault on my soul and pysche for at least the next four years.

I'm not posting this for attention or pity. But if you're reading this and you are someone who thinks those of us who fear a Trump presidency are stupid, whiny, pouty, or sore losers, try searching inside yourself for some compassion.
Everybody wonders how their lives could be different - there are so many little decisions you make every day that determine what happens next. What if you miss your flight and decide to hang out in the airport bar until the next one? Maybe you meet the love of your life there. Or you decide one day to call into work sick, because it's a beautiful day. Unfortunately, your boss saw you enjoying that iced coffee at the outdoor cafe as he drove by, and now you have no job.

These are the choices adults make every day. But what about kids? Children don't really understand how their decisions can affect them. They learn through their parents' guidance. Grab a cookie when you're not supposed to, and now you're in the time-out chair for a few minutes. Listen to Mommy when she says don't pull the cat's tail, or otherwise you'll get a nasty scratch.

Kids not only need guidance, they need encouragement and advice as well. I didn't really have any of that. Transgressions resulted in yelling and/or grounding; once my mother became fanatically religious, threats of hell and damnation were used to keep me in line. Even things I did wrong when trying to help got me yelled at or a sigh with eye rolling. Some things I was expected to know how to do without being shown, even when I was very young, like how to wash dishes by hand (and we had a single sink, not double, so the whole operation wasn't intuitive).

So I spent my childhood and into my adult years (and still now) feeling like I couldn't do anything right. As a result, I haven't done a whole lot. I'm always worried about screwing up or not being good enough. I'm not much of a risk taker.

That's not to say I'm not happy with my life. I'm very lucky to have everything I have. Great husband, wonderful kids (and  granddaughter now!), and a few close family members and friends. But as an individual, what could have been different? My cousins had great parents - nurturing, encouraging - and they have done great things. One became a pro baseball player - that could not have happened without a lot of support and guidance. Another faced a tragedy that no parent should ever have to, and powered through to become an advocate for children. She has strength that comes from a loving, supportive upbringing.

I know that their childhoods weren't perfect. But what if I had had that kind of parenting? Would I have a career? I graduated high school in 1983. I went to an all-girls Catholic school that a curiculum geared more towards "women's" careers, like teachers and secretaries. It was also a college-prep school. My mother was a secretary, and she pointed me in that direction, suggesting I take typing and shorthand classes to prepare. I am grateful I took typing classes, definitely. And I learned on manual and electric typwriters, with Wite-Out and carbon paper.

But as my friends started talking about college, looking at catalogs and thinking about where to go, I realized I wanted to do something else. I didn't know what, exactly, but office work for the rest of my life didn't appeal. Being a writer appealed to me; maybe journalism, travel writing, or even a novelist. I got some brochures and catalogs from the guidance office, and got a little excited at the opportunities ahead of me.

My mother laughed when I showed her the brochures and told me I wasn't going to college. I don't know why she laughed. Maybe the money? Maybe she thought I wasn't smart enough for college? I don't know. But the usual feeling of not being good enough detered me from pursuing it further. I didn't know that my guidance counselor could have helped me. I didn't know anything about student loans, or even how I could work and go to school at the same time.

So I graduated, and then went to work. I actually worked at the same company as my mother, but in a different department. And I know it sounds ridiculous that I didn't know anything about getting into college, but I was only 17, and pretty much had no clue about most things. My mother's narcissism and religious fanaticism pretty much overrode any attempts I made at "breaking out."

I was good at secretarial work - I did like the typing, and proofreading and editing appealed to me. That is the writer in me. I took pride in producing professional documents and letters, and always worked hard. But it wasn't a career, it was a job. I haven't been in an office for over 20 years; I've been a stay-at-home mom (a career I did love!), and technology has advanced so much in that time, I probably couldn't get a clerical job now even if I wanted one (which I don't). And do they even have secretaries anymore?

I still want to write. I have had short stories published throughout the years, but I don't write as often as I should because I'm usually procrastinating. It's that not-good-enough feeling that hangs over me all the time. I'm always writing in my head, but once I open the laptop, I freeze. I need to figure out how to get over that.

In the meantime, I will still buy writing magazines, research markets, and write great things in my head. And maybe one day, something real will become of it.

I Will Continue to Write About This...

I haven't written an entry in a long time, obviously. It was a difficult summer for me - I had to put my oldest dog to sleep, which broke my heart. She was my companion 24/7 for 14 years. Making the decision was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, but it was the right one. And she went to sleep with her head in my lap.

Shortly after that, we had to put our 19-year-old cat to sleep. While not as heartbreaking, I loved her a lot, and losing two pets in such a short time was devastating.

I also starting second-guessing myself about writing this blog. Is it fair? Is it necessary? I know some family members read it. Do they believe me? And if they do, do they think I shouldn't be writing it? It's all in the past, shouldn't I be over it by now?

I've done some soul-searching about it, and realized that this blog is for ME. I need to write about this. It happened, and I will never be over it. I have a lot to say.

And although I'm not ready to write about everything that happened, I will say that my mother wasn't the only one who abused me. My father did horrible things that I can never forgive.

I did not win the good parents lottery.

Be Careful What You Wish For...

When  I was little, I used to wish for more attention from my mother. Even as I got older, I hoped she would voluntarily spend some time with me, that she would WANT to do something fun with me. There was one day when she had to take me out of school for a couple of hours for a physical. It was done earlier than it was supposed to, so I asked her if we could go to lunch together before she took me back to school. But she had to get back to her all-important job, even though she had budgeted the time. I practically begged her to take me, just to McDonald's or something, and she finally huffed about it and took me. But of course, it was awkward and sad after that.

And then, in the middle of my freshman year of high school (1979), things changed. My mother found religion. Now, we were Catholic already - we went to regular Mass, my mother sang in the choir, I had my First Holy Communion and my Confirmation. Like everybody else in our area. I didn't usually mind going to Mass, especially when I was part of the children's choir. It was fun. I wasn't really religious; it was just part of life.

My mother, though - she became a Born-again Christian, which turned my life upside down and put me on a downward spiral of constant fear and anxiety. Because now I had her attention - but not in a good way at all. Suddenly, I was under non-stop scrutiny and found completely wanting. Everything I did, said, wore, or thought was evil and I was going to go to hell when I died. The music I enjoyed, the horror movies I loved, the books I read were all bad and evil. Books disappeared from my bookshelves in my room. I was forbidden from seeing any movies that might even have a hint of sex in them.

Speaking of sex, the only talk she had with me was "Don't have sex before marriage. It's a sin and you'll go to hell." Of course, at 13 years old, I was going through hormonal changes and would feel stirrings I couldn't quite understand. I now know that was extremely normal. But my only resources about such things were my mother and the nuns at school, who also agreed that pre-marital sex was a mortal sin.

I was an avid reader, having learned to read at four years old. I readily admit that I was reading very inappropriate books for my age, even as young as nine (no nine-year-old should read Jaws, trust me). In sixth grade, I was reading Judy Blume's adult books (Forever was a gold mine of information). By the time I was in high school, I was reading Sidney Sheldon and Jackie Collins. And I would get "funny feelings" reading the sex scenes. I finally got up the nerve to ask my mom what I was feeling (without letting her know about the reading material), and instead of having a discussion with me, she started berating me and yelling at me, asking if I was sneaking boys in while she was at work. It was terrifying and humiliating.

And if that wasn't all scary enough on its own, she suddenly started preaching that the end of the world was coming. The world would end at the stroke of midnight when 1999 became 2000. Every earthquake, tornado, flu outbreak in the world was a sign of the coming End Times. If I didn't become born-again like her, I was going to be LEFT BEHIND. It didn't matter if I was a good and kind person or if I had a kind heart. If I didn't become born-again, I was not good enough to be let into heaven.

Trumpets were going to welcome Jesus to Earth, and he would take only those worthy back to heaven with him. This was pounded into my brain so much, that just hearing about an earthquake would scare me, because I believed every natural disaster was a step closer to the end of the world. I was in my room one day and heard a trumpet outside - I was absolutely terrified. TERRIFIED. I braved a peek out my window, fully expecting to see people rising into the air. It was a neighbor kid across the street, just playing with his trumpet in his front yard.

Nobody, especially a child, should live in fear like that.

I lived that fear every damn day for over 20 years.

It's the Little Things

One of the most difficult things about having a narcissistic mother, especially one who is emotionally abusive rather than physically abusive, is trying to explain the situation to anybody who hasn't lived it. I mean, if I say my mother gave me a dirty look for no reason, a normal person would just shrug and think "so what?" They wouldn't understand what emotional chaos that look can throw me into.

It's the same thing with tone of voice. Sure, every parent has a certain tone their kids know and realize it's time to straighten up. But with a narcissist mother, the tone comes out of nowhere and you realize you're in trouble, but have absolutely no reason why. You desperately try to think of what you said or did to piss her off, but it doesn't matter. She's angry with you and you'd damn well better grovel and apologize and hope you can diffuse the fury about to be unleashed. Usually, though, you can't.

And while those things are bad, I think it might be the indifference that hurts the most. Of course, all parents inadvertently hurt their kids' feelings at some point, but then they feel awful and apologize. Not an Nmother. After a while, it's futile to explain to such a parent that you are hurt by what they said or did, because it's taken as a slight, or a criticism, or even an attack, and you end up apologizing for being hurt.

There's a phrase that describes this for me - "death of a thousand cuts." It's slow, extremely painful, and demoralizing. You reach a point where there aren't enough bandages in the world to help heal the wounds.

I could write a book containing examples of those "cuts" (and who knows, maybe I will someday), but here are just a few that still sting, even decades later.

  • I got lost in a department store when I was about three. I was crying and hysterical when my mother finally found me, and then told me to knock off the crying.

  • As I mentioned in a previous post, being left at school while sick and then left alone for a week while I recovered.

  • She's a very heavy smoker. If I'd ask her to not smoke when I was eating or if it bothered me, she'd blow smoke in my face, even as a little kid.

  • If I dared to talk to her or walk in front of her during a Redskins game, she'd scream at me to get out of the way.

  • There were several times I should've been taken to the ER for injuries, but was told I'd be fine. Just one instance: I went to visit my friend across the street when I was four or five. When I walked into the backyard, her brothers were playing baseball. One of the brothers accidentally hit me in the head with the bat - he was a teenager with a real bat, so it was a hard hit. No big deal.

  • I went to camp for a week one summer when I was 12. My best friend had gone with me, but got sick and went home several days early. My mother knew this. My friend's mom was supposed to pick us both up, but since my friend was no longer at camp, her mom didn't pick me up (it was no longer her responsibility). But neither did my mother. I watched everyone get greeted and hugged by moms and dads while I waited for a ride that never came. A police officer finally took me to Mom-Mom's house. I guess my mother forgot, but knowing my friend wasn't at camp with me, you'd think she had made other arrangments for me. Or maybe take a freaking hour off work to pick me up.

  • She would ask me why I didn't write nice things when she read horror stories of mine that had actually gotten published.

  • Laughed at me when I was a high school senior and I told her I wanted to go to college. "Oh, please. You're not going to college." I had no idea about student loans and such as a way to go on my own.

  • Told me nobody in our family would want to drive an hour to my house for a holiday gathering, so don't bother asking. Yet, I was expected to make that drive for any family get-togethers she expected me to attend.

  • In a very patronizing voice, when I expressed enthusiasm after attending a Beatlets tribute show (if you know me, you know that I am a Beatles FREAK), said to me "Um, you realize they aren't really The Beatles, right?"

Like I said, I could write a book. I am 50 years old, and only wrote out ten examples. It's said that hate is the opposite of love, but it's truly not. It's indifference.

Home is Where the Heart Is

It was rare that I felt truly safe and comfortable at home, even in my own room. But there were two places I loved to go. I always felt welcomed and loved at both places.

They say your cousins are your first best friends, and that was certainly true with my cousin Debbie. She was born nine months after I was, and once we were both toddlers, we were practically inseparable. As little kids, we loved playing Barbies together. We'd put a Barbie world together that was so elaborate, we'd make her little sister go sleep somewhere else so we could use both her room and Debbie's, usually into the middle of the night.

We fell in love with The Bay City Rollers and Andy Gibb as preteens, squealing together while listening to 45s in their living room. Family get-togethers usually ended with us hiding together, hoping my mother would give up looking for me so I could go home with Debbie. She never gave up, but sometimes would let me spend the night there.

I loved my aunt and uncle as if they were my own parents. The atmosphere at Debbie's house was light, fun, and happy. Although they divorced many years later, my aunt and uncle at the time were affectionate with each other and there was a lot of laughter with them and all my cousins. One of my fondest memories is of my Uncle Denny making ice cream sandwiches for all of us using blueberry waffles and vanilla ice cream. I was included in many of their family outings, and for that I am forever thankful because it was the only time I really experienced what a happy family was like.

My very favorite place was at my grandmother's house. She was called "Mom-Mom" by all of us grandkids (pronounced "Mum-Mum"). I absolutely adored her, and I think she felt the same. Nights spent at her house were magical, although she didn't really do anything special. I would lie on the couch while she sat in her big comfy chair watching late-night TV, like reruns of "The Honeymooners" and "Perry Mason." I loved hearing her laugh at Johnny Carson's antics, even though half the time I didn't know why she was laughing.

I loved snuggling up with her in her chair until I got too big to do so. She would lament that she needed to lose weight, but I told her not to because she felt so good to lie against. Mom-Mom gave me one of the best gifts I've ever gotten - a passion for reading. She was a reading teacher and taught me to read when I was only four years old. I would snuggle against her in her bed while she read to me, and as I learned words, would have me read to her.

When I was a teenager, while a lot of my friends were embarrassed by family members, I never felt that way about Mom-Mom. And my friends loved her too, and also called her Mom-Mom. I could take my friends to her house and she would always welcome them. In 7th and 8th grades, my best friend was Susan, and she and I went to Mom-Mom's house a lot since it was within walking distances of our homes.

Those days with my extended family are gone. Mom-Mom passed in 2002, breaking my heart. Once she was no longer around to keep us all together as the matriarch of our family, we pretty much scattered. Thanks to Facebook, I'm in touch with my aunt, uncle, and cousins, but it will never be like it was when I was a kid. I will always be grateful for all the memories I keep with me.

Here is Mom-Mom holding my daughter Lauren:

"You've Got a Great Imagination"

One especially insidious weapon in the narcissistic mother's arsenal is gaslighting. It can be subtle or in-your-face, but either way, it leaves the recipient second-guessing herself for life. Peace of mind is elusive.

I am blessed (cursed?) with an amazing memory. It's not photographic or eidetic, and what I do remember is usually some obscure trivia or childhood memory. I mean, I may not remember everything I need at CVS without a list these days, but I can recite high school friends' phone numbers that I haven't dialed since the 80s.

It's funny how my mother responded to memories I'd bring up. If something I remembered was a happy memory or bathed her in a flattering light, my memory was wonderful and admirable. When I was a teen/young adult, she liked having me on her team when we'd play Trivial Pursuit because I could usually get the right answer, depending on the category.

And if she could twist my memory to make ME look bad? SCORE!

When I was in 4th or 5th grade (so about 9 or 10), I was terribly bullied by this girl in our neighborhood. We went to the same school on the same bus, so I could never really get away from her. She was terrifying. Now, I was a little thing, timid, anxious, and shy. This girl was big, probably obese for the time, loud, and menacing.

And she was black. This is important.

One day I was walking my dog after school, and she started harassing me. Somehow I found it in myself to yell at her to go away and leave me alone, then ran for my house. Before I could open the front door, she had caught up to me and slammed my head into the door. When my mom got home, I told her what happened. I don't remember the exact chain of events, but my mother talked to the girl with me standing there later. The girl said she did slam my head into the door, but only because I called her the N-word.

I DID NOT. It never even entered my mind. And I may swear like a sailor at times now, but back then, at 9 or 10 years old? I would spell out the word "hell" before I'd dare to say it, and that was talking about the afterlife.

My mother apologized to the girl for what I said and that was that.

Several years later I brought it up to my mother who told me I absolutely did call the girl that word and that I even admitted it to my mother that very same night.

Why would she say that? Why try to convince me I would do such a terrible thing? Why take my bully's side? Where was the concern for what I had gone through?

Sometimes, I do question events. I had a savings account my mother set up for me. I'd have her put in birthday money, Christmas money, little amounts. After a few years, I had about $300 in the account. I specifically remember my mother asking me if it would be OK if she withdrew the money and loaned it to my uncle, who was having some financial problems.

I adored my uncle, and of course I said yes. I was going to be paid back ASAP, with some interest (although I didn't know what that meant).

I don't know how much time passed before I asked my mom when my uncle was going to pay me back. She asked me for what, and I mentioned the $300.

"What are you talking about? That never even happened!" No matter what I said about it, she told me I was imagining it.

Now that particular situation makes me wonder. I KNOW it happened. I remember it clear as day. BUT -

Why would my uncle need to borrow from his niece who was only a child? Surely he could have borrowed from his parents or his brother. A friend. Anybody but me.

Did HE really borrow the money? Or did my mother make up the story so she could have it? She did tell me not to mention it to him because it would be rude. I didn't think anything of that at the time; I was always being told never to question or contradict adults.

If she needed it for something, why not just ask me that instead? I would've helped out.

There are so many things like this I look back on. And being gaslighted all my life has left me questioning my sanity at times. For instance, I know where every cooking utensil goes in my kitchen. I know everything I buy at the grocery store and where it should be. So if I'm cooking dinner and can't find something I know I have, I completely stress out. Usually, it's just misplaced after someone else has unloaded the dishwasher. Or a food item was put in a different spot than I had placed it. (Seriously, family - put things back where you got them, especially in the fridge.)

Back a few months ago, a lot of things in my kitchen were missing. I mean, stuff I had bought for recipes, remembered putting away, then completely gone when I needed them. I got bad enough where I would go online and check my grocery receipts to prove to myself I had bought the items. One day, I had a last straw, and broke down in sobs, thinking I was losing my mind. "Normal" people would be able to shrug it off and figure they had forgotten or lost an item.

Of course, I realize now I was also suffering from horrific anxiety and needed meds, which have helped. And with my husband's and kids' help, I was able to find most of the stuff I had actually misplaced.

Another ugly side-effect of gaslighting is getting angry when my memory is questioned. And I mean stupid things like my husband telling me I hadn't told him something when I was sure I had. And we're probably both right 50/50, but there's that part of my mind that starts spiraling when I question myself.

Ask me who played keyboards for The Beatles' rooftop concert, and BAM - I've got your answer. And I'll be confident in my response.

Ask me anything that has me doubting myself and my mind, and I'm immediately breaking down on the inside.

But I'll help you kick ass at Trivial Pursuit.