In 2020, after resigning from my job which was nearly my entire identity, my mother was my first phone call. The relationship was already crumbling from my perspective. I had been going to a counselor for a few years because there was a pain in my heart that I knew I didn’t have to have. I wasn’t sure where it was coming from, but it was deep. It made me feel disconnected from myself and life. One of the things I was able to discern with my counselor is where and what was causing anxiety in my life. Albeit my job was a pressure cooker at all times, it had become manageable. What wasn’t was the nightly phone calls to my mother that ended with my heart rate in the 150s and my anxiety at an 8 out of 10. Once you start to get one dimension or area of yourself balanced, the other dimensions where there isn’t balance start to be impossible not to see. I didn’t know what exactly was causing the anxiety when I would talk with her but I did know the who, it was her. I remember the first time I told my mother about the anxiety I experience when I talk to her. But before I do that, let’s back up a little.
My mother has a master’s degree in social work. She retired from the state where she spent that last decade or so of professional life working as a social worker. She also worked as a drug and alcohol counselor for years before that. Why I share this is just because someone has the credentials doesn’t mean they have the emotional intelligence and awareness that go along with it. I gave my mom a slew of attributes strictly based on her educational and professional experience. It gave her tremendous power over me and once I transitioned into adulthood, I gave her tremendous power over me. I lived my life for her. Whatever agenda she saw fit, I figured out a way to incorporate it into my life. It didn’t help that money was a way in which conditions were made and expected. She would pay for a lot of things and I thought that was love. The conditions around money weren’t blatant or spoken about but rather unspoken. I can guarantee that my mother would disagree with this statement but this is my experience, not hers. She lacks my perspective because she isn’t living my life. Not only the perspective but apathy and empathy and compassion to do so. I read a great book a few years ago called Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, ejecting, or Self-Involved Parents by Lindsay C. Gibson and it helped put words to my experiences because my mother isn’t a loud person. She manipulates through others and by embodying a victim. She was a victim to my father who cheated on her, she was a victim to years of crappy bosses and jobs but of course never left, in her current relationship she is a victim of no help around the house. I think my stepfather in the course of their 20-year marriage has done the dishes less than five times. Remember you allow, encourage, or discourage behaviors. That is how you set and create boundaries. To be a victim means you are powerless in the situation. My mother is not powerless in these situations and her karmic cycles of complaint didn’t go on deaf ears. I was always the one who took the brunt of it when I was physically in her presence or on the phone with her. This is a great point to tie in with what I had started sharing in the opening paragraph.
I can remember the phone call with my mother as if it were yesterday the first time I shared with her how she was negatively impacting me. The positives were shared daily because I worshiped her so this was new for both of us. I could feel my anxiety building as I was talking with my mother. Normally the conversations would revolve around my day at work and who she had seen around town. "Guess who I saw she’d say?" I’d try to guess and finally say, tell me. "Jennifer... she’s gained a lot of weight." Whatever the stories were, I started to realize that it was all gossip. I was well into my 30s and didn’t realize until years of therapy that the bulk of our relationship hinged on negative behaviors such as complaining and the biggest of all, rumors of my hometown where she still lived. I told her "mother, where I feel the most anxiety in my life is when I am talking with you." It took everything inside of me to say that. EVERYTHING. I wasn’t sure what her response was going to be but it needed to be said. What she said next, I could have never predicted. Her tone changed to a tone I had never heard. It was more aggressive than simply being defensive. Anger wasn’t a celebrated emotion in our household growing up. It wasn’t even an emotion you were able to have. I didn’t know how to access my own anger until the last couple of years. It was suppressed deep down inside my heart because everyone experiences anger. And everyone is entitled to their emotions. It is important to recognize them, thank them, and allow yourself to experience them fully because emotions are energy and have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Not allowing yourself to fully feel them and move them through you will create trauma. One of my favorite quotes goes “trauma is not what happens to us but what we hold inside in the absence of an empathic witness” - Peter A. Levine. My mother snapped back at me before I could even finish the sentence. “I do no such thing and I will take no such responsibility.” I was shaken and shocked. I had enough awareness then to know that her response was not a reflection of me but rather one of her own insecurities. Of course, it hurt me in my heart because my mother didn’t acknowledge my pain or experience but what it really told me was that I was wrong. I was wrong to have needs and I was wrong to share them with her. After that, I remember telling my mother I wanted to have some space from her. The daily phone calls weren’t happening but of course, text messages and other forms of communication continued and after a couple three weeks, we were back right where we were before. Of course, we never talked about that phone call again and it was swept under the rug. When I say talked about I mean my emotions honored, her taking ownership of her role in the relationship, and the pain was further smashed down deep in my heart.
I share that story because it was the first time I remembered observing reality for what it was versus skewing the view with emotions which I had done my entire life. It took a couple of more years after that and a spiritual awakening to fully see the extent of how I was abandoning myself but that event has stayed with me because of how different that experience was from anything else in my life at the time. I had become really good at apologizing. I had become really good at knowing that whenever something negative happened whether at work or in my personal life, I was the one to blame. This is still a program that I am rewriting. Whenever something happens, it is imperative that I stop and take a moment, breathe and allow myself to observe what is going on inside of my body in the form of feelings instead of reacting because doing anything else is not loving myself.
It wasn’t until 2020 that the relationship with my mother in its current state was no longer working for me. When the pandemic first started, my mother’s guilt associated with my absence crept in and I found myself working and living from their home which was roughly three hours from where my home and life were. It was also at this time that I started to notice my alcohol consumption increase. I had binge drank most of my adult life and had many signs of alcoholism but when you are young, you bounce back quickly, and for me, was able to deny the behaviors. My parents have a massive wet bar and once it got to be around lunchtime, I would sneak up there and make myself a large vodka drink with some sort of fruit juice in it. Most likely not eating lunch because of my nicotine and Adderall consumption. I’d end up having another mid-afternoon and by 5 PM it was not only socially acceptable but mother would start her whiskey. My parents live in a large house with more bathrooms than bedrooms. I had been working out of a bathroom for two weeks while being there and one day, while on a zoom call with a client, I heard the bedroom door open which was attached to the bathroom. One may ask, why, I used the bathroom? Because it had a counter that I could use as a desk. Now before I tell this story, I understand that looking at the experience, there are a lot of humorous parts but it wasn't funny at all when it happened. Time has a way of infusing grace into memories. The door opens and in walks my stepfather, in a t-shirt and underwear. Out of a 5,000 square foot house, you pick to enter the only room that you know I am in and working with a closed door? My jaw hit the floor. I was in shock and I couldn’t believe how rude and disrespectful he was acting. What if I had been naked and changing? There wasn’t a knock, there wasn’t a concern or appreciation for me and my space. I paused the meeting, leaned over to him, and said, "what the fuck are you doing?" He goes, the cable guy is coming, I need to get these TVs out of here. I ask him, when do you need these TVs? He said 15 minutes. I said I will bring them out to you myself. I am in a business meeting. After I got off the call I was seething. I didn’t know at the moment but I do today, his actions were what had happened to me my whole life. No respect for me or my needs. As I set the TVs in the living room, the first thing my mother said to me was “I heard you blew up at Todd (my step-father)." I lost it. How is this my fault? I knew that I was going to be out of that house that day and headed home. But like my mother, my job was just as demanding. I couldn’t tell them something was going on with me personally and take the rest of the afternoon off. That would be used against me somehow. So I asked my mother, where can I go in this 5,000 square foot house to be left alone and not bothered? Mind you, only my mother and stepfather live in this house. I was relegated to the corner of the house in a loft about the garage that has been donned the man cave. The internet was shit but I finished the next three hours of work and hastily loaded up my car. I still remember my mother going, "now give me a hug before you go" in a tone that could make anyone's insides ill. She didn’t get it. You can see that I’m upset and that’s how you engage? Again, emotionally immature and I gave her maturity because of her education. What do you think I did? Of course, I hugged her even though every ounce of my being said not to. I was good at being a compliant daughter. Alas, the cable guy never showed up that day either.
That was in March of 2020 and the relationship was ended by me some time that summer. I’d say earlier summer around June.
I resigned in April 2020 and although this event with my underwear-wearing stepfather was in March, I wasn’t to the point to cut my mother completely out of my life. Although the relationship was rocky, she was the first call after resigning from the cult, AKA corporation. I don’t say cult lightly, it isn’t to add to the flavor of my writing. It is my truth. The meeting with the VP of Human Resources and my Director at the time on the day of my resignation was 15 minutes. Nine years of blood sweat and tears culminated in 15 minutes. I had made peace with my decision. It was the beginning of my awakening, although I didn’t know it, and there was a state of grace that had washed over me. It was pure magic. After challenging a manager on their decision on a Tuesday, I was suspended with pay that Wednesday and resigned the following day which was Thursday. I had been with this company for nearly 9 years and gave them everything of me. One day while in a meeting with the entire office I was able to observe the gas lighting and the belittling, and I thought to myself... How did I get here? I don’t want to be with these people anymore. So when I resigned, it was quick, I thanked them, and told HR that who my boss is in public is not who she is in private and that there needed to be more training for leadership and checks and balances for them too. My mother was the first person I called afterward. She goes, that was quick. No, how are you? How did it go? What an odd response but whatever. I say it didn’t need to be long, I didn’t have anything I needed to hear from them. I was done, I had set myself free. I say I feel so free right now like I could do anything! I am going to move to India and write a book. I am going to be the first woman President of the United States of America! It felt amazing to have dreams again, I hadn’t had them in so long and those two just plopped out of my mouth. She then responded in the most chastising, demoralizing tone “Tiffany, Tiffany, Tiffany, you’re flying a little high right now.” Damn. She took the wind right out of my sails. I had just quit the first and only job I had out of college that kept me under their thumb and that I had allowed to alter me completely due to their demands of me to do so and this is how my unconditionally loving mother supports me. “I say, don’t do that. Don’t do that. I need more context, these are the first two dreams I’ve had since I can remember and your first response is to shoot me down?” She said you’ll have to get rid of your dog. Okay, I just quit my job and that’s what your brain and heart can comprehend? I said it’s COVID, nobody is traveling or going anywhere. They are simply dreams. After that call, we had a few more specifically centered around her lack of ability to apologize. I took inventory and realized my mother had never apologized to me for anything in my life. For any of her behaviors whether it was intentional or not. Relationships are inherently hard and there will be times when the best of your intentions will not cause the actual intended impact. At that moment, it’s on you to recognize your role and take ownership. I realize today that my mother doesn’t have the capacity to do so because she is so insecure. I believe my mother is a narcissist and know that that is a title that gets thrown around a lot these days. Along with the word trauma. Here’s the thing, it’s my experience, so I get to decide who and what it is. Just like you get to do with your own experiences.
What prompted me today to write about my mother is that after 2 years of no contact, she by the grace of god got an update on me. My mother is the baby and the youngest of three girls. I called her the baby on purpose because she never quite grew out of the role. Out of everyone on my mother’s side of the family, her middle sister, my Aunt Karen, is the only person I have a relationship with today. And that is one that I rekindled earlier this summer after telling her to fly a kite, the same boundary I had for my mother in 2020. After my mother and her minions, AKA family tried to get me locked up in a mental institution on a 51/50 hold stating that I was hurting myself. Not true, none of that is true. And it isn’t even something to joke about or waste resources on because there are people who are truly hurting and need intervention. I use the word minions because I am not entirely sure who colluded with my mother about my mental state behind my back but I know my aunt Karen did talk with the mental health liaisons because she told me so. I also had her eldest sister, my Aunt Linda, and her daughter, my cousin, Arin, texting me inauthentically at that time. Showing up and asking a million questions of myself but sharing nothing vulnerable about themselves. It’s as if they were trying to see what was going on with me but not ever actually asking that. This is what my family does, they talk about one another behind their backs but never to their face. Be careful when you leave a room because you are bound to be the topic of conversation. After I healed the hurt my Aunt Karen had done to me with the colluding, I forgave her. Not like I called her and said, I forgive you but rather in my heart I forgave her. Since starting my business a couple of months ago, I sent her a link to my website. I’m proud of it and wanted to share it. This glorious earth angel shared the link with my mother. I didn’t ask her to, but she did. The beautiful thing is, I am not hiding from my mother. I just don’t care to have her energy in my life. She exploded on my Aunt saying that the reason my mother doesn’t have a relationship with me is because of her. She starts to cry and says how come you took me from my baby? My mother never heard me when I would try to share with her the impact of her presence in my life but it’s hard to be defensive and deny when you are communicating with a computer screen. She has no other option but to read what my heart has shared. Who knows how she will digest the information but I don’t care and that’s not for me to discern. I also can’t control anyone but myself. So Patricia, if you are reading this, I hope you are healing yourself and learning how to take ownership of your role in life. It is the only way we can all find true freedom. The ego is a beautifully creative component of our existence. It keeps us safe and gives us our personality. It also keeps us from fully experiencing reality by telling stories and creating narratives related to safety and fear that don’t even exist. The ego always wants a job and is never solutions based. It’s never truly trying to solve your problems. By me sharing some of my relationship experiences with my mother, I hope that it implores you to honor yourself. You are not required to have anyone in your life, ever, if they don’t make you feel good. I used to think that you had to keep family in your life because they are family. Not true. That was the programming I received from my parents. If someone is bringing pain to your heart and not accepting that not only do they need to make changes but changes need to be experienced with actions. Then bye. Not everyone gets your energy without your consent. If you feel drained by being in the presence of someone, there isn’t a balance of energy exchange happening. Whatever you are putting out into the world, you should get back. Today I don’t have any relationships in my life that aren’t serving me. I have the most wonderful, loving relationships that I never even knew existed. You can create that too but to invite in new energy, it’s important to let go of old. It’s like the old adage when one door closes another opens. You can’t have healthy relationships if your life is filled with unhealthy ones. It just doesn’t work. It’s too conflicting. What I can tell you is that although letting go of someone or something can and will be painful, what awaits you on the other side is unimaginable bliss and love. A love so strong you didn’t even know your heart was capable of experiencing it. And you deserve it.
Tiffany Hill Cook