IT IS NEVER TOO LATE TO HEAL
By Arleen Lorrance
It took almost 80 years, but I have finally experienced a radical shift in relation to my birth family. On a Saturday morning in March, 2023, my older sister and I were having our weekly phone conversation. We were talking about my motherís influence on our lives. Sheila will soon be 93 and she still has stomach problems like when she was a child and was dominated and controlled by our mother, Rose.
Rose never knew how to love. But she knew how to inflict pain. When my sister was age 4, a physician put her up in front of an audience of doctors as an example of a child whose problems at home caused her physical condition. The doctor didn't advocate for intervention; he just used Sheila as an example of what he was teaching other doctors.
Sheila mostly yielded to Rose during her growing up years, internalizing the mistreatment. I came along eight and a half years later and from the beginning, I rebelled and fought to survive. We often called my mother a witch because of how she treated us and how she attacked our father.
Our dad was a loving fellow in contrast, and he was a workaholic. We saw him only on Sundays because he left early each morning and came home late in the evening. For some reason, he loved Rose and would do anything for her even though Rose belittled him and screamed at him.
I donít remember any affection expressed toward him by her. But then, she never expressed affection to us either. Decades later, long after my dad died, I asked my mother if she had ever loved him. She said, ďNo.Ē They were married 63 years.
Rose was not ďall bad.Ē She hovered over us, checked on everything we did, encouraged us when we expressed interest in activities, wanted us to be successful, worried over us day and night, tended to our physical needs, and took us to doctors when necessary. She used to say she was both mother and father to us. She was certainly in charge.
As Sheila and I talked about our childhood we confirmed for each other that, back then, we thought our upbringing was normal. We thought every family was the same as ours because we didnít know any better.
It turns out that we were being abused, but that language (diagnosis) was not popular in those ďoldenĒ days. Even the doctor who put my sister on exhibit didnít use that word. Nor did he do anything to help remedy Sheilaís painful situation. He simply displayed her and treated the ramifications in her body.
I have reread the last paragraph numerous times because I hesitate, even now, to say we were abused. I want to soften it and say, we suffered a form of what would now be called ďabuse.Ē I see this as an element of shame. I donít want to tell you that I was abused by my mother.
By the time I was in my childhood and my sister was a teenager, the situation had not changed and there was no mention by anyone that we were being mistreated. My mother would scream at me and when she was particularly infuriated, she would beat me with a belt while I cowered on the floor.
When we were ill, we would go to clinics where we would wait on wooden benches until our number was called. These doctors were all specialists and excellent in their chosen field, but most of them didnít focus on psychological cause and effect, or what to do about it.
Once, I was referred to a social worker for a private talk at a clinic. It was one of the first times in my life that someone was there to listen to me.
I didnít tell her about the screaming or the beatings. I didnít want her to know that my mother did that. I convinced myself that every mother does that. What did I know?
I told her I was being punished and couldnít go to a party that was coming up. The social worker was a help in that instance. She talked to my mother, and I was allowed to go to the party given by a classmate. It was my first party. We never had parties or birthday celebrations in our family. I donít know why.
As my sister and I talked, we affirmed that we didnít know, my father didnít know, and certainly my mother didnít know, that Mother was mentally ill. I canít give it a name, but whatever it was, she finally had a full break with reality in her mid-90ís when she completely tore up a new living arrangement that Sheila and her husband had created for her over several weeks.
She went on a rampage, as if all the frustration, anxiety, and unfulfillment rose up in her like poison and overtook her completely. She then left that apartment in her bathrobe and went to the dining room in the assisted living facility and screamed and raged until she was confined.
After that, Rose spent a month in a psychiatric hospital from which she emerged docile for the remainder of her life. Sheila doesnít know what her treatment was, or the meds they put her on, but she was subdued thereafter, moved to a new place, and had 24-hour private care until her life ended at 99.
My sister and I saw and agreed that we had been raised by a deranged person. We never knew it. We just suffered the life we were given to live and did our best to survive. My focus for decades was on searching for the love I knew must exist somewhere. I surely registered that from the collective unconscious. Later, I devoted my life to love, to being it, to bringing it to others, to imprinting my world with it.
At Last, I Cried
On March 18, at age 84, the change that occurred for me was that after all these years and all the work I have done in relation to this over decades, I cried. I had never done that before. I cried with sadness for the suffering in my family, for the suffering my mother endured not ever knowing that she was mentally ill. I cried for the sadness itself.
I feel as if something has been lifted. Finally, the last shadow that darkened those early years has been lifted.
I am grateful that things have changed over all these years. Children are safer today. They are taken from homes where they are ill-treated and placed in foster care where they can hopefully be loved and nurtured. The word abuse now stands as a beacon saving both children and adults from painful relationships. The world of psychology has blossomed and sent its branches out to embrace those in need.
People who are ill can be more easily identified and treated, given a chance to mend, to become whole. My mother never had that opportunity. I am sad about that still. Nobody knew back then, but everyone knows today and because we know, and because there is help available, there is global change.
The sadness I feel did more than exorcise the harsh voice of Rose from my inner self, it led me to forgiveness. Rose wasnít whole, so she gave us a fragmented self that could not come together. She didnít know how to love so she didnít know how to express it. She was tortured so she tortured us. I forgive her and I am sad. I am sad for my mother, my sister, my dad, and all those in the collective who have suffered in their own way.
Those of us who are intimate with suffering can embrace the world and all its tears and wars and troubles. We can hold the world in compassion to the degree we hold ourselves.
For most of the years of my life I carried a wound of fear. I suffered great anxiety if I had to stay alone at night in my own residence. I was fine in a hotel or a friendís place, but never in my own home.
I knew it was because I never felt safe in my own home when I was growing up. I never knew what my mother was going to do or when she would go off on a tear about something.
When I was a small child, Rose left me alone for a short time once and I panicked and vomited in the sink. When she returned, she went into a rage and pushed my face into the vomit. I never forgot that, or the pain of that. For decades I suffered the utter panic of being alone at home.
Recently I took myself to a psychologist here in Scottdale. I had one session. Everything she said I have said to myself and said to others whom I have coached. I thought, ďOh well. This is not working.Ē
Then she asked me a question. She said, ďThis fear you have, can you accept it as a weakness in your personality? Can you embrace it?Ē
It was one of those breakthrough questions. Yes. I could accept it as a weakness. I could feel compassion for myself. I could love myself and the fear. I donít have to be ďstrongĒ and stand up to Rose in rebellion anymore. I donít have to hold back my tears as I did when she towered over me with a strap with a wild, raging look on her face. I see the child of then and I can embrace her in her weakness. I can love her just as she is.
Mariamne was in the hospital and in rehab for a month this May/June. I was able to go home each evening, get under the covers, and go to sleep in my own abode, unafraid after almost eight decades. Compassion replaced panic. After all this time, I am healed.