The Unplanned Body Count of Estrangement

I never imagined the body count would be so high… the body count being the relatives I’ve lost through my decision to estrange from my mother. I think I’m maxing out at 14 at the moment. That’s not counting a few who are sitting on the fence but will likely be seduced by the ‘sweep it all under the carpet for an easy life’ theory.

There is no doubt that estranging from my mother saved my life. I am better person for it, a better wife and a better parent. My children are happy and confident, surrounded by friends and passionately pursuing their special interests. They live the life I used to dream of.

My mother claimed to love me but what she wanted was to control me. She actively and deliberately spread lies about me and diligently worked to isolate me from my support network throughout my life. I on the other hand, really did love her. I also hated her but still, I worked very hard to earn her love and friendship like the naive Autistic optimist that I am.

Cowardice and Betrayal

I knew estrangement would hurt. I’m pretty sure I could fill several bathtubs with my tears during the first year after ending all contact. What I didn’t count on was the cowardice and betrayal that would be demonstrated by my extended family.

I knew my mother was crafty, clever, and a convincing actress, but I never for one second thought she would try and take other family members away from me. And not just from me, but from my children, the grandchildren she claimed to love. Even if I had thought her capable of that, I never anticipated she would follow through with such cruelty.

I’m not sure what she did or said, how she orchestrated the exodus of siblings, grandparents and more, from our lives. Most of them have met my attempts to contact them with silence. A few made spiteful verbal attacks, unmasking their true selves. This was actually worse than the silent treatment because family I had loved and respected revealed their true murky shades of colour, undermining our shared past and making it feel like a sham.

The Fragile Love of the Loyal

But harder even than that, was the loss of family members who initially stood by me, who assured me of their love, who withstood the criticism and judgment of my mother and her followers so that they could continue to be in mine and my childrens’ lives. I was insanely grateful at the start for their loyalty and sacrifice. I also felt guilty that they were experiencing stress and pressure from my persecutors. But as time has gone on, and they have slowly pulled away from me, the hurt is ten times worse.

The Aunt I worshipped since I was a little girl; a kind and lovely person with incredible talents I admired and tried to emulate. I used to wish she was my mum, I felt I was far more like her than my own mother. But gradually her contact became less frequent. I asked her, is it too much being there for me? And she insisted it was fine, that she could cope, that she loved all of us and always would. But that was the last time I ever heard from her. And so I stay away, not wanting to cause her stress or to be a burden.

Then there is the sister in law I stood by through her difficult divorce; for many years my husband and I and our children were her constant, her safety net, offering enduring love and friendship to her children, my niece and nephew. This was no hardship. We loved them to bits and some of the happiest times in my life have been spent having adventures with ‘the cousins,’ our four children. My own childhood was so marked by fear and stress and violence, that it was wonderfully normal and wholesome to watch our kids growing up having fun together. Best of all, she treated me like I was her real sister – something I’d never had before.

But nothing stays the same and as my niece and nephew got older and navigated adolescence, my sister in law began a new relationship and had a gorgeous little boy. Exciting new beginnings for her, new family members, new friends. Gradually we saw her less and less. Still I continued to put love and effort into the relationship. I tried to create opportunities to get to know her new partner and I was supportive in every stage of her journey. I never for one second imagined a time when she wouldn’t be my sister.

But recently she surprised me with a text announcing a special event, an important ceremony, an event for closest family and friends. Her message said she wasn’t inviting us as she didn’t want to upset my mother. It was better not to invite us apparently. She was sure I would understand. She even stated that my youngest son and I would struggle to be at this event because we are Autistic. This was frankly all kinds of offensive, hurtful and disrespectful given the many special events we had shared previously.

I was heartbroken. I cried a river and then some. The rejection of me and my husband and our lovely boys was a huge injustice. How could she hurt us so badly, the ones who had stood by her in her darkest hours and her happiest times? And all because she didn’t want to upset the woman who has repeatedly tried to destroy me? The woman who ironically, had repeatedly fed me negativity about my sister in law, criticising her lifestyle and her parenting like she did the mothers of all my brothers’ children.

We exchanged angry and emotional messages and she asked me to have empathy. To see her point of view. It was as if she were a stranger. I thought we had earned a place on her VIP family list after all the years of friendship and memory making. I would never treat her like this. Never.

Unanswered Questions / My Right to Write

I don’t know what influenced her decision. Whether it was my mother, or her partner, or even my niece who mysteriously withdrew from us after I estranged from my mother. It seems like I’m destined never to know the truth, never to have answers to my questions because no one is brave enough to be honest with me let alone honest with themselves.

I want to salvage this relationship for me and for my sons. They adore their cousins and have been hurt enough by the family who’ve turned their backs on us. But how do I overcome this hurt I feel? And why should I have to fight to be loved, why should I have to fight to be included by the family members we made our number one priority for years and years? Is it better to just accept we aren’t needed anymore? That we’ve served our purpose?

I understand now that it’s so easy for people to say ‘I love you’ to excuse their choices and behaviour, but love is shown by what you DO, not by what you say. I am trying not to blame these family members that I still care for. I know they are torn. But it still fills me with sadness because I think I deserve more. I deserve their love and I deserve their loyalty. I gave them mine freely and generously.

I understand now that this blog of mine, this emotional download and sharing of experiences over the last few years, has probably been used by my persecutors to turn others against me and to pressure those who once loved me to give up on me. To them it is shameful and embarrassing that I am airing the ‘family secrets’. They point to my writing as evidence of my inherent badness.

But this blog is here to stay. I write only for ME and all the people like me who have lived through trauma and abuse, mental health problems or late diagnosed neurodiversity. I write to heal myself and help others. I write so that one day, when they are grown up, my sons will read my journey and understand what I’ve overcome to be here. I write so they can be proud of me like I am proud of me. Writing helps me work through the most difficult of times.

People assume if you can speak, that you are capable of discussing your feelings face to face or on the telephone. I cannot do these things unless I feel completely safe with the other person. Otherwise I crumble. This is a core part of my Autism – I have always felt more capable and in control communicating in writing. Without it my feelings would be trapped inside me, accelerating my mental health problems.

I do appreciate that heavy and emotional topics can be uncomfortable for some people. In fact my most recent and by far my most read blog, ‘The Narcissist’s Daughter’ saw my inbox jammed with messages and comments from total strangers thanking me and telling me to keep writing. In contrast barely any of my friends and family have read it or commented to me about it…but that’s ok. I know every word is a step further in my healing and every stranger who reads my blog and finds help there is a gift.

I’m aware some people turn a blind eye to avoid confrontation, that they put on a pretence to keep the peace. But I never asked anyone to get involved in my conflict. I never asked anyone to take my side over hers. I never tried to take family members away from my mother. In fact I was extremely anxious that she should have support in my absence, given I was the one carrying her for most of my life. I simply asked my birth family to hear my truth, to recognise my suffering and to accept my decision. I pleaded with them NOT to take sides. But I was ignored and gaslighted. My husband was verbally abused. Our sons were abandoned.

I realise that not everyone who knows my birth family will have experienced the pervasive, toxic, coercive control I was subjected to. Both my mother and my father can be very charming and engaging when they want to. They can show love and can perform acts of kindness. They just never did that to me. Both of them treated my siblings very differently to how they treated me although my oldest brothers definitely saw what I went through and definitely experienced their own trauma growing up in that household. In fact there are plenty of people who saw and heard what my life was like under that regime. They saw how I suffered and they did nothing because it was easier to avoid confrontation. I also think my grandparents were of the generation that believed you made your bed, so lie in it! Don’t make a fuss. Pull yourself together. No one wants a scene. Men were providers, women served and children should mind their manners. All in all, I think I had a lucky escape.

Silver Linings

There are silver linings to estrangement.

I have built loving contact with my father’s sisters. My Aunts. For most of my childhood and adolescence we were kept apart by my mother’s inexplicable resentment of my father’s birth family and his secretive manner only seeing them without us. Knowing they care about me is a huge comfort and seeing the love they have for their children and grandchildren reassures me that I am related to some really good people, not just horrible ones.

I also have a sibling who was lost to our whole family many years ago, when he divorced from my sister in law. With great shame I admit that I followed the lead of my mother and my siblings, rejecting him and judging him for his actions without ever asking why. I know now I should have talked to him. I should have asked how he was feeling. Why he’d made the decisions he had. I should never have taken sides. I should never have listened to the gossip nor caved in to the peer pressure. I should have worked to sustain my relationship with those on both sides of the story.

Somehow we’ve found our way back into each other’s lives and have struck up a tentative friendship. We message about the past and we message about the now. It is MASSIVELY validating to talk with someone who was there during our awful childhood, who can confirm what happened after my other siblings betrayed me with their silence or gaslighted me as a way to control me and shut me up.

I don’t know if our relationship will ever grow beyond messaging but I am so grateful for the opportunity to apologise for my mistakes, to apologise for taking sides, to apologise for not being a better sister and to offer my friendship as a fellow survivor of trauma. He has built a really good life for himself and whatever happens in the future I am grateful for my chance to have known the man he has become, despite my mother’s best efforts to keep us apart. I feel sick now knowing that I believed her toxic lies about him whilst all the while she was telling lies about me and I never had a clue.

Estrangement is a b****. It turns your life upside down and drags you through a maze of every possible emotion. I like to think I’m at the healthy anger and acceptance stage because I have so much to be grateful for, more than I’ve ever had. Yet it still surprises me when a ‘memory’ comes up on Facebook, or a mutual friend posts a photo; and suddenly I’m looking at my mum smiling in happier times or at my grandad looking frail and tired. Then the sadness overwhelms me. Because there were happy times and I really believe they were real. I don’t understand why they couldn’t last. I don’t understand why my mother hates me so much that she refused to acknowledge or apologise for the years and years of damage I suffered at her hands. I don’t understand why my family was so quick to betray me and take sides. Why did they have to take sides? Why does anyone?

No one prepares you for the extra body count of estrangement but still, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

You can’t put a price on freedom.

Sometimes the most difficult decisions are the best ones.

Sometimes letting go is the best and only way to be happy.

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