I appear to be a pain collector. I saw a meme describing humans that way once – organic pain collectors – and the idea stuck. It’s like the description of us as “ugly bags of mostly water.” It’s on point. (ST:TNG)
Part of the problem is that I lack walls once I let someone in my life. I grew up without understanding boundaries. It was a combination of parenting (they didn’t teach it), and ACES (adverse childhood experiences).
I normally hate acronyms that diminish the reality of the harm, but one doesn’t always want to get into one’s childhood and pubescent traumas.
It’s my step-daughter’s twenty-seventh birthday today. I’m not going to contact her. I didn’t contact her sister on the occasion of her birthday two weeks back either. They need names, so let’s call them Allison and Courtney. They’re my abusive ex’s daughters. I met them when they were one and two: their father left me for my married best friend when they were seven and eight. The relationship going forward was complicated and visits ended after about a year.
(The breakup was a very good thing, though I didn’t know it at the time. It’s hard to recognize an abusive relationship when you’re in it. Even when he punched holes in things, broke doors, and cornered me. He wasn’t hitting me, so I wasn’t abused, right?)
I couldn’t deal with the emotional abuse my ex and ex-best friend were heaping on me via the children. Daddy thinks you’re a bitch. Karen thinks you’re a bad mom. Daddy says (my son) is going to live with us. Harm for everyone. Easier for me to walk away.
The guilt was extreme.
My ex put them both into foster care three years later. He never gave me the chance to have them, and things went poorly for them going forward. The relationship with them has been stop-and-start ever since. It’s been harder with Courtney. Things went much harder for her.
Allison came back and lived with me for a bit as a teen, but started drinking and doing drugs, ultimately running away to live with a boyfriend and his family. Bad decision after bad decision followed, but I didn’t hear much from them. They didn’t need anything from me yet.
I sound bitter. I feel bitter. Bitter is easier than hurt. I have my response ready should any of them question the lack of card (and the normal inclusion of birthday money): “what are you talking about? I sent you the same card with the same birthday wishes you sent me?”
I don’t know what to hope for. It’s tempting to hurt others when we’re in pain.
Courtney got in touch first, seven years ago or thereabouts. She wanted to take some courses. Did I still have the education money I invested for her? I did, and I paid her tuition. I gave her some money for hair transplants as well – one of the abusive men she got involved with dragged her by her hair regularly, pulling much out by the root.
But once she had the money, she stopped responding to me, eventually blocking me. She unblocked me and reached out again, a few years later. She needed things again, and I love her, so I came running. I still had no boundaries. I made no demands, either. Those of us without boundaries don’t risk them. Demands can lead to rejection.
Did you know you needed boundaries with family too?
Allison reached out around the same time, and we stayed in sporadic contact which increased to nearly daily six years ago. She was going to have a baby. We reconnected. I spent time. At the four-month mark, she left her partner and moved in here with her son, my grandson. He calls me Nana. Or did. I haven’t seen him in four months, ever since my daughter ghosted me.
I babysat my grandson regularly. Once a week at least since she’d moved out about eight months ago. She got her own apartment and started moving forward in her career. She’d usually stay over on those days. It was a very close relationship, or so I thought.
She was mostly on time that last visit. April 24, 2022. We hung out, we visited. She loaded the things I’d bought for them. She gave me a hug and said she loved me when she left, and that was it.
She ignored all my texts, calls, and messages after that. She cut me out of her and my grandson’s life without explanation. She cut my son out too, her half-brother.
We spoke when my father was near death. I got through to her via contacting my ex. It was then that I learned I’d said something that upset her. She came out. We hugged. She said she loved me, she was sorry, she’d been planning to reach out.
She was going to come for a visit at the end of that horrible week, but she didn’t show. I texted her to learn she’d fallen asleep, but hey, maybe later.
I said that we should probably talk. I said that I was sorry about whatever it was I’d said. I said we needed to talk about her behaviour as well. That it was important.
She reponded that her life was really hard. I had no idea how difficult things were for her (no kidding, she ghosted me and never reached out). She told me I had no idea how hard it was to be a working single parent, the thing I did too. She told me I was right, that we should discuss “what was said,” but that she didn’t know when she could make that happen.
I told her I was very sorry. I told her that she should reach out for counselling and maybe take a leave. I told her I wasn’t going to not discuss this. I told her I love her.
That was the last time she spoke to me.
She won’t tell me what it was. She won’t discuss it. I’ve tried to talk to her about doing that, but she’s refused. She isn’t interested in a relationship going forward if I’m unwilling to ignore the passive-aggressive behaviour and emotional abuse.
I contacted her father a last time, to tell him she was in extreme distress (or presenting herself to me that way) and that she needed help.
My heart is broken. Again. It’s hard not to be bitter, to feel hate against her father, my son’s father, from whom so much abuse and harm has flowed. To feel hate and anger against my (step) daughters, who use me and my heart whenever they want.
I got birthday cards for Courtney and Allison, though they couldn’t be bothered with mine (they forgot my son’s/their brother’s too). I want to reach out. I want to ignore the boundary that says “you’re not allowed to abuse me.” I want to pretend it doesn’t matter. I want to pretend Allison isn’t saying horrible things about me to the grandson I love. I’m pretty sure she is, however. Love shouldn’t make us blind.
I put the birthday cards on the mantle. Those are some wasted stamps. On the bright side, I didn’t send a snarky and passive-aggressive message demanding that Allison return the house key and pick up the stuff I’m storing for her. I checked in with my friends first, but I knew the answer anyhow.
Hurting other people on purpose is never the right call.
Even if they hurt you first. After all, broken hearts heal, and boundaries are vital if you want to keep an intact and robust soul.