Tag Archives: toxicmomtoolkit.com

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: Especially With a Dead Toxic Mother

4 Aug

797734b77a8d26ebe0685a1afbf3414aMy toxic mother died in April 2009. By August, I had left a good newspaper job to write Toxic Mom Toolkit, which I published in December of 2013. I have since watched a global support community spring up around my memoir. It has been a continuous learning curve for me. Along the way I shared my experiences including how to go No Contact with a toxic mom. I’ve always warned that it is not a step to be taken lightly and I’ve mostly recommended taking it a day, a week, a month, and a year at a time. There is no formula for going No Contact; no right or wrong way. Because each relationship is so complicated, the process of breaking away is an individual and unique event.

Walking away from a toxic mother can be incredibly painful. But here’s what I’ve learned lately: breaking it off with a deceased toxic mother can be just as difficult.

My multi-decade disconnect from my living Toxic Mother was totally organic. I just felt that I would die (or my soul would die) if I kept in contact with her. I made it up as I went along.  I don’t recommend totally winging it like I did.

Today, when asked, I suggest that people sit down and make some notes, some lists, to pre-plan how to handle typical life events. Ask yourself: If a grandparent dies will you go to the funeral? When a baby is born, will you notify your mother? Family relations are complex and sometimes your fear of your toxic mother is tempered with love for your father, siblings or love for a related community. Some decisions are not absolute. You can grant yourself flexibility. You can allow yourself to keep an open mind. Variables are part of the calculus of No Contact.

While I was writing my memoir, I realized there was still work to do. I needed to stop listening to my deceased toxic mother.

If your deceased mother is still a source of sadness, fear, instability, emotional limitations, phobias, shame, self-loathing, self-medicating, over or under eating, isolation, or grief, consider this: Dead People are only as powerful as you allow them to be.

When it comes to your deceased mother’s voice, I’ve decided the main survival skill is to replace a negative with a positive.

When you hear your mother’s negative voice you can:

  • Take a moment to understand that her voice is nothing more than lingering trauma, which you are working on to overcome.
  • Tell her (out loud) she is wrong and to be quiet. (Don’t worry. Other drivers will think you are on speakerphone.)
  • Write down the words you hear and decide if those words are true or not. Many times, labels from childhood are completely false and meaningless, yet they haunt us.
  • Reach for the Happy List you created, which includes all those things of which you are most proud. For example: If you have a good job, have put your kids through college, volunteer, help your neighbors, or bake great brownies, put it on your list. Keep your list in your purse or on your phone, where it is easy to see. Feel free to include things that simply please you and make you happy in the doing, like: I keep the hummingbird feeders clean and always say a blessing for young mothers pushing strollers. (I also bless men with trucks, checking their tie-downs on the side of the road.) Simply wishing others well probably puts you WAY ahead of your Toxic Mother. Relish what makes you a nice person and refer to it whenever your thoughts turn to your experiences as the adult child of a toxic parent.
  • Call a friend and express positive thoughts, even if it’s just checking in. Develop a habit of being a good listener and be a supportive friend.
  • Turn to a favorite activity, hobby or method of self-care. Instead of listening to negative thoughts, (and granting them power), decide to walk your dog instead, do an art project, clean or organize something, or even take a short nap or bath. Keep something you enjoy, like a special tube of hand lotion nearby to moisturize your hands for a few minutes. Grant yourself a few minutes in a bookstore. Listen to a positive or funny Podcast.

You have worked too hard to build a happy and peaceful life despite all the negativity associated with growing up with a toxic mom. Each time you hear your deceased mother’s voice and substitute a positive experience for old negative thoughts, tell yourself, I deserve to be treated lovingly and with respect.

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Toxic Mom Toolkit: Twelve, Going on Thirteen.

2 Aug

6d9e34b64a486c17f4090868e51d5a90I remember exactly the moment it first happened to me.

I was 12, going on 13. I had left the dinky grammar school and all the friends I’d known since Tiny Tots and I was in a huge San Francisco junior high and I didn’t know anyone. I got lost a lot, shaming myself by walking into the wrong classrooms and slinking out again.

Somehow I made two nice friends who lived within a block of each other in Sea Cliff, one of the oldest, richest and prettiest neighborhoods in the city. I could walk to their houses from the flat my parents rented until they divorced, which had happened as I changed schools.

We three girls were at one of the girl’s homes and we were reading an older sisters stack of 17 magazines. It was a lazy Sunday and the mother had served us a plate homemade donuts with powdered sugar on top. We flipped pages lazily, commenting on eye make-up and skirt lengths. I was also peeking through my own eyelashes at this HOUSE with Oriental carpets and needlepoint pillows and everything clean and lusciously decorated.

I wish I could find this magazine and the article that my friends were so intrigued by to see it with my adult eyes. It was a profile of twin sisters who lived in Marin County. The largest photograph was of one of them doing yoga on an outdoor deck with a rug on the planks providing a colorful backdrop to her pose. Both sisters were tall and slim with long brunette ponytails. Both were into ballet.

“That’s not for me,” I thought instantly slamming closed a million doors in my future life because of the underlying thought that I wasn’t the type of girl who got to do that. No shady decks, no yoga poses, no pink ballet slippers and healthy fruit drinks to make my skin glow.

That life? That perfect, investing in yourself because you deserve it, kind of life? My friends could have that life, but not me. I was a little nobody kid. My parents weren’t much. My mother was sort of nuts. My father had just left us and I wasn’t getting ballet lessons or time at beauty salons or even a tiny bottle of seashell pink nail polish.

It didn’t help that I had been watching a bunch of “back-door romance” movies in which a slatternly girl from a poor family conducts a secret love affair with a young doctor or lawyer, but only in the shadows. She is always dropped for a “good girl” from a “good family.” I was fascinated that there were girls that boys were ashamed to be seen with and I thought I would probably be one of those girls.

These types of thoughts that we think when we are young, with little perspective or life experience, seep into our bones. They are a slow-leak raft that never quite gets us to shore. That image of the pretty girl on the leafy Marin County deck still flashes in my brain unbidden at least once a week. I have fought back against that image and the wrong thinking it inspired that limited my view of my world for so long.

Every time we bought a house, I thought I wouldn’t “get” it. That I wouldn’t find the car I wanted, or if I did it would be quickly dented. I developed a cute mania for “little” things, anything reproduced in a smaller than actual size. Collecting tiny objects fit into my thesis of not deserving wonderful things.

The thought that I was somehow “less than” because of everything that happened to me as a child has been vanquished. But like a monster that arises every full moon, I am never truly free of niggling doubts about what I get to do, have, experience. It is therapeutic to understand it. Too bad understanding it doesn’t end it.

If I’m very lucky, in the writing it down, this will be the last time I think of it.

Toxic Mom Toolkit: You Can Laugh or You Can Cry

24 Mar

As part of the Toxic Mom Toolkit Journal Project the next question is:

When you were little what did you think was the funniest thing? What made you laugh until your stomach hurt?

My dad, the beatnik printer, used to always say with a gleam in his eye,

“You can laugh or you can cry.”

When I would take a hard fall on skates and run to him weeping and showing off a fresh scrape he had this act, this routine, that would always leave me dissolved in giggles.

“You FELL? Where? Show me where you’re hurt!” he’d say breathlessly.

He’d scan my arms and legs with his huge hands, squeezing and waving my little limbs, asking me if this or that was broken; could I still feel it?  After he determined that I wasn’t actually broken he’d demand that I take him back outside to the sidewalk in front of our house and show him the precise, exact inch of sidewalk where I landed. He was worried that if I hit it that hard I might have left a crack and the Crack Police would come and write him a ticket – which cost money.

We’d get down on our hands and knees and touching the concrete with our fingers, feel around for fissures.

My dad would point to a little normal city street crack and demand to know if I had broken the sidewalk, right there.  Maybe we could ‘pin it’ on the little neighbor kid down the block.

“His dad’s a car mechanic. He can afford to pay the Crack Police fines. Not me! Not this week!” my dad would exclaim dramatically.

The routine went on and on until our giggles attracted a little knot of neighborhood kids to help us study the cracks in the sidewalk in front of our house. My father wasn’t worried about little hairline cracks, but big divots that collected dirt and allowed weeds to grow – that would be trouble.

My father had a knack for turning childhood upsets into funny adventures. When the gold fish died we held a New Orleans funeral for it, opening umbrellas in the house and parading down the hall behind him holding the fish bowl up high then pouring it dramatically into a flushing toilet. Then we’d all applaud poor dead Leon on his way to Ocean Heaven.

My dad and I wondered aloud what flowers said to each other and why birds liked to steal penny nails. We gave inanimate objects names in order to talk about them more. We talked and giggled and used our imaginations. Kids cry. But when my dad was involved, tears quickly turned into laughter.  We learned that bad things happen, but if you let the bad go, it’s natural to find something funny about it. Laughing is a choice, a habit. It’s a gift from my father for which I am eternally grateful.

When you were little what did you think was the funniest thing? What made you laugh until your stomach hurt?