Thursday, November 5, 2009
Ways of Knowing
There are many ways of knowing about mother attachment. One way is by firsthand experience. Shortly before my seventh birthday, I lost my mother to suicide. She was misdiagnosed after the birth of her last child and subjected to multiple rounds of electroconvulsive shock therapy. It devastated her on the most profound level. I have written her story in an essay titled “A Better Ending” which can be found on my website at http://people.uwec.edu/mackmd/.
Before the loss of my mother, I was a confident, feisty, outdoor girl running the woods of northern Wisconsin by daylight when not in school, and trying to decipher the words in my grandfather’s books in the evening. Two women, my mother and a paternal aunt, Margie, kept the large white house on a towering hill functioning as I ran in and out free as the wind. Years later I would recognize that it was Margie who kept the household together as my mother was already damaged from the “treatments” for what medical professionals believed to be depression. The image of my mother lying on a stretcher covered in her own blood hardwired on my brain where it remained for years. Like many families faced with the choice to survive or collapse under the pressure of a tragedy, my family slowly moved on in silence. I was left on my own to decipher the meaning of how and why mother died as she did as well as how to stop the image of her death from popping up continually during the day.
Within a few years, I moved from the freedom of a hilly rural Wisconsin countryside to the cement streets of suburban Milwaukee to live with one of my mothers’ many sisters. Within a few years, I also was deprived of all contact with my father. Reeling from the loss herself, my aunt thought it best for me and for her to silently leave the tragedy in the past and move on. She obtained a court order barring my father from contact as to see him triggered her own unresolved feelings about the loss of her sister. She transferred all responsibility of my mother’s death squarely on my father’s shoulders. She believed any contact I would have with my father would work against my acclimation to my new life. What she did not know is that the path to recovery from such profound losses requires survivors to release both the energy and the toxic chemicals produced from the survival moments or carry it inside where it will wreak havoc and increase in pressure to be released. As a child, you look for others to lead the way in making order of a chaotic loss and to assist you in retaining the memory of your loved one. When that did not happen, I held on to the only memory that remained of my mother: her moment of death.
That process of hanging on resulted in early episodes of depression and anxiety. I went from a rather securely attached child to an anxious, traumatized one without the assistance of a healer. As I continued to grow and regain my footing, I chose to forget my mother, to dismiss any memory or reference of her. In a way, I acted as if my mother never existed. Other girls had mothers; I did not.
What mothers and mother substitutes must accept and act upon is that the most important relationship for a young girl or woman is that between her and her mother.. There is simply no substitute for mother and mother’s enduring life force upon her daughter. The road to gaining or regaining security and confidence is the feeling and belief that you can take care of yourself. That development or healing leads back to mother.