Please read this. It is long, it is painful, but it in the end it is joyful and worth it. This is absolutely the most personal blog entry I have ever written. I sincerely debated several days about posting. As a young woman who has spent her entire life trying to define what a mother is….this is what I’ve learned.
While I’ve done my best to prevent mother from coming across this for a while, I know she eventually will. However, even if I put aside the fact that I spent over twenty years afraid of taking one step out of bounds, my mother is always going to find something to use against me. It is exhausting to be twenty-three-years-old and still have to think out every word you say, break time, If nothing else, my mother will always blame me for breaking up her marriage and tearing apart our family and continues to have no problem informing me of that. But somehow I love her enough, or maybe fear her enough to want to hide everything. Yet sometime in the past year or two I learned that if I expect to be fully healed, and especially if I want to help others heal, there comes a time when it’s okay not to hide the truth anymore.
For those of you who know me well, and I mean truly, deeply know my heart, and some knowledge of my past and childhood, you will probably understand why “Mother’s Day” is my least favorite day of the year and the hardest day of the year for me.
And so it isn’t weird that my Dad and I would be discussing “Mother’s Day” as we walked our dogs, Cocoa and Oliver. I don’t remember most of our discussion except for the exchange that led to this blog post. For the first time in my life, I admitted the idea that a significant amount of what I learned about being a woman came from those women I saw in the film and music industry.
My Dad immediately responded, “That’s awful.”
And I kind of flinched.
Because I couldn’t disagree more. While there are plenty of bad role models out there on the Hollywood scene, I’ve noticed that if you actually pay attention, you’ll some across a few pretty stand-up gals.
As much emphasis is put on honoring our mothers on this day, including blogs on motherhood and what mom taught you, twitter posts and instagram pictures on “the most amazing mom and best friend,” friends’ posts about their mothers crawling across my facebook news feed—I’ve found that very little mention is made of those who don’t have mothers in their lives for whatever reason or for whom “mother” has a different meaning. Maybe it is death, maybe a stepmother, aunt, or grandmother has taken on the role, or maybe for some like me, your biological mother is alive and well, but never really was a “mom.”
Some of the best advice I may receive as I grow up may come from Ellen DeGeneres’ show, comedy sketches, or the commencement speech she gave at Tulane. Or it may be from one of Pauley Perrette’s YouTube videos, interviews, or amazing twitter account. In a way, these are two women who have had the most profound influence on me. Although I have never known them personally, they have been two of the most-steady figures throughout my life. While I may never have the chance to meet them personally or sit down and talk with either of them about the profound impact either of them have had on my personal life, I feel it is important to acknowledge them for their sake, my sake, and the sake of other young women who must seek out other female role models. There really is truth behind the statement “it takes a village to raise a child.”
There were many nannies or maids that were in and out of my life as a child, some of them even live-in during summers or the school year. While I have good memories of quite a few of them, many of them were in and out of my life too quickly. It was generally the same with teachers, camp counselors, etc. And so I kind of had to look somewhere for a steady influence in my life.
99% of what I learned from my biological mother caused more damage than anything else or anyone else ever could. For over twenty years, I endured every type of abuse and it changed me and molded me. For a long time I hated the person it made me. I was depressed, suicidal, battled an eating disorder and self-injury, struggled with addiction—I had been taught to hate everything about myself…until one day people finally started putting their foot down and teaching me about God and love and everything in between.
It wasn’t until right before college that social workers finally put their foot down and said that it was time for this to be over. I went straight from this crazy, painful existence that consisted of lonely survival to college—where I finally learned about Jesus, love, and friendship. It was a long road for many reasons. I had grown up Jewish and it took years for me to stop wondering “Why me?” and embrace that God had put me on this path from the very beginning so I could become the individual that I have become today.
And yes, because of my childhood, it wasn’t until well into my college career (my twenties) that I was even able to believe that love exists. But today at twenty-three, I would argue that it is one of most powerful forces in the world. I believe love overcomes hate, even if hate may seem like the more powerful word and the more powerful feeling. I don’t remember those times I was told I was loved as a child, but I do remember the times I was told I was hated. And because of that I will never take for granted the fact that it was actively learning to counteract all the horrible things I had been told and physically endured, that made me who I am today.
I spent my entire childhood, teen years, and even the beginning of my twenties just putting one foot in front of the other. I am thankful for the journal entries I have from those years because as heartbreaking as it is to go back and reread what I endured, the terror I felt; my self-image, the desperate feeling of isolation that led to suicide attempts and more…well, I can reread them now and look at who I have become and be amazed. Baffled. I don’t even know that a word can describe that. Because there are literally entries that say goodbye to the important friends I did have and describe the fact that I didn’t think I would live to see college. Wow.
Although today it has been six years, and I’ve faced many emotional and physical challenges and I have yet to graduate from college, it’s okay. Because my path has been different, I was able to be there with my extended family when my Grandpa Uncle Harold bravely faced pancreatic cancer. And because of that, I also was the one who had a free weekend to spend with my Grandma Aunt Nat the weekend after he died, so she didn’t have to be alone. It works out. I also had an awesome experience working at the Music Initiative I proved my mother wrong every time she told me I wasn’t enough and I would never get into college. In fact, I got into a great college. I’m not saying that to brag, but just to say “look how far I came.” Life happens just how it does for a certain reason.
My mother wasn’t “my mom” and she will never be what I really hoped for in a mother. I don’t harbor bitterness or resentment towards her for it. I know she didn’t mean to cause the pain she did and it is far more to do with her and her personality then it will ever have to do with me and who I am. Deep down, I do believe and understand she must love me. And while there will always be a dull, steady ache when I see other mothers with their children, it is okay. My mother did teach me things. She taught me endurance and a type of strength I never would have had under any other circumstance. And I do believe I get some of my creativity (and maybe physical flexibility) from her.
Where my mother left a gap, I’ve learned that someone will still be there to pick up the slack. It hasn’t been until the past year that I’ve finally known what it’s like to have a “Mom” figure who truly takes interest in my life and loves me for who I am, proving that no matter where I fail or succeed she is proud of me. It’s hard to appreciate how amazing it is to have a mom unless you’ve grown up feeling like you don’t have one.
For the twenty-two or so years before my “Honorary Mom” entered my life, I had to seek comfort and inspiration elsewhere. As I mentioned before, there were women in my life, but they weren’t there consistently or generally for a long period of time. It was too easy for my mother to emotionally isolate me from them by reminding me I didn’t have friends, I wasn’t likable, and that people were mad at me. So instead I found comfort in writing, music, and media. Writing and music was not often taken away from me, so I have tons of spiral notebooks filled with stories, poetry, and song lyrics. My cd player and headphones, and later IPod were close to my heart. Sometimes I would record the audio of my favorite television shows so that I could play back the audio in my room when I wasn’t allowed to watch.
But most importantly I sought out role models that I could look up to instead. TO this day, these are some of the ones that remain closest to my heart. And the coolest thing about modern day social media is that A, I have the opportunity to follow them day to day, and B, years later, I even have the opportunity to tell them what they’ve meant to me.
So, here are a few:• Ellen DeGeneres—She’s not a mom, but Ellen sure has given me a lot to live up to as a woman. She showed a lot of courage by coming out and being herself without knowing how amazing and successful her life would turn out to be today. She is hilarious without trying and had has brought me more laughs than I can count. She’s like the cool aunt who will always be there to brighten your day with a funny joke. She never fails to make dreams come true for all types of people. She believes in the good in everyone and is advocate for everyone from animals to antibullying. She is exceptionally popular and famous but has absolutely no ego and loves everyone as much as they love her. She will teach you a lot about love. Even if someone doesn’t believe in gay marriage, you couldn’t help but admire her love and devotion for her wife Portia. She respects everyone and her segments with regular viewers are just as exciting as the ones with celebrities. And Ellen reminds viewers constantly of the importance of inner beauty versus outer beauty—that’s a lot for a CoverGirl! I’m super excited Kayla and I get to go soak in the whole atmosphere May 23rd- “See you soon!” • Pauley Perrette—Ok, also not a mom, but she’s truly just awesome. Definitely an all-time hero. First of all, she grew up around a variety of the Southern states, which, hey, me too. She also really appreciates the value of good sunscreen, and as someone who keeps a bottle of SPF 100 around all the time, I relate. She loves animals, especially her rescue dogs (fun fact-hers are some of Oliver’s shorter-haired Chihuahua cousins.) She knows what it’s like to live with PTSD and continues to power through it. She’s very involved in charities, volunteer stuff, and social activism, and while I feel like this has always been important to me, she has really encouraged me to continue doing it and see the value of it. Pauley Perrette is incredibly outspoken about her faith and its importance in her life; she calls herself a “church kid.” As a girl whose Jewish immediate and extended family will never support her faith, I seek out women like this to look up to. I also love that she doesn’t feel like she has to define her style and proudly rocks her chucks. She’s basically an advocate for everybody, from animals, to the homeless, to the LGBT crew. Not only do I respect that a lot, but I’ve also taken this into account in my own life. I’ve adopted a little dog of my own and try to love him the best I can. I keep bags I call “handy helpers” with me when I’m downtown to give to the homeless when I see them. And I’ve recently had the courage to let the world know that I do in fact support LGBT rights. And she writes and loves music just like I do. Plus both onscreen and offscreen her family seems to be a “create-a-family” i.e. the people who love you for being you and are the friends who became family, just like my real family is. Like I said, she’s really awesome and I’m glad to have someone like her in Hollywood. • Angie Harmon—This woman is a celebrity example of everything I ever hoped for in a mother. She is fun, and wise, and even though she is gorgeous, she pushes the message that the beauty on the inside is most spectacular of all. She is hilarious and many of her tweets will often make me smile or laugh and so will YouTube videos. Tweets from her or her husband show images of just how much the whole family adores each other and how involved they are in each other lives. I love that she thinks her daughters are the greatest gifts she’s ever gotten. That will mean a lot to her daughters to hear and the time they spend together will mean the world to them. Seriously it looks awesome. They cook together, run together, paint pottery together, etc. I’m taking notes here. And she’s open about her faith and political views but still respectful of the fact others can have a different opinion and that’s cool because that’s the beauty of America. I get lots of little tidbits of wisdom and quotes, and occasionally even a devotional. Again, as someone who doesn’t get to learn/have support from her family on her faith, I love and need this. She doesn’t seem worried about making a fool of herself when she dances, acts, talks, or makes jokes, so that means she never CAN make a fool out of herself.
And here’s the kicker. She’s also a UNICEF Ambassador. And as a kid whom went through multiple types of mistreatment and abuse, but was lucky enough to have educational opportunities and at least a social service system that at some point recognized what was happening (I was almost 18, and while it didn’t completely end it, it did make it less frequent)—I could hug her a thousand times. What a cool mom/hero/woman to look up to. Oh, and by the way, she’s also from Texas and now lives in the Carolinas. • Pink—She recently became a Mom, and she is also the one who ended up encouraging me to actually post this when I saw a tweet she recently posted. Her daughter is incredibly lucky to grow up with a woman like her as a mother. Not only does Pink seem to have a great personality judging by her interviews, but she is also incredibly real. I really respect her honesty about how marriage is “real.” She tops my list as one of my favorite artists—I love her writing. I could possibly give her music credit as singlehandedly getting me through childhood. While there were other important songs, she had important albums and was an important artist. I think I own the most albums by her, even excluding the ones I’ve unfortunately lost. I have vivid memories of some of the hardest moments of my adolescence and teenage years, wrapping myself in a blanket to feel like a hug, huddling under a desk or behind a bed, and playing her albums on my Walkman on replay. I owe her a ton. Much respect, Pink. I continue to enjoy her tweets and love her honesty. Like I said, you have a lucky little girl and family. I’m sure they know it. I look forward to seeing the rest of your work and hope to see one of your shows one day when you’re in my area.
For those of you that know me personally, the revelation of a small summary of my past may surprise you. Or it is likely it may not. Rather it may explain a lot about who I once was when you first met me—introverted, depressed, afraid to have an opinion or speak my mind, and plenty of other behaviors you may have noticed.
Getting these words out is such a relief to me. Choosing to share it means I will no longer have to rack my brain trying to remember who knows what and just how much they might know. I won’t worry about what someone might have heard about by my life from other people, because I’ve already laid it out in the open. It may seem like that would be a trivial concern, but believe it or not, this is a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I know there will be consequences that come if I choose to share this. But I know there will be even more of a freedom and healing…because I don’t think there is healing without honesty. When or if I post this, I am choosing not to reread it because I am afraid I will have second thoughts. Therefore please forgive any errors I’ve made. Most of all, if you actually read this whole thing, dang, I appreciate it. I hope that whoever you are and wherever you are it means something to you.
If no one has read it, I don’t mind the least bit. It is been wonderful for me to get to the conclusion of this epically long blog and tell you that I love who I am now.
I’m proud to say I have been self-injury free for several years now. I no longer struggle with disordered eating. Instead I choose to eat healthy without counting calories and exercise in ways I enjoy (which may or may not include hula hooping.) I can look in the mirror and I say feel beautiful despite my imperfections. I’ve started allowing myself to have opinions. I’ve even been told I’m funny.
At 23-years-old, I have finally lived the first full year of my life without being physically abused by my mother. Even though occasionally she can still be manipulative and mentally and emotionally abusive, I now know how to handle it and I have learned to understand that her behavior is not a result of my actions, but a result of her personality and mental illness. I can hang up the phone and forgive her for not being able to show love the way I wish she would and be the mother I always needed and wanted.
I owe this to God and love; and the people I met who finally taught me the true meaning of both God and love. These are the best friends I have ever had. They have held my hand down this journey as I have recovered from self-injury, depression, and eating disorder, nights where I wanted to take my own life. And I am now healthy and happy because I know love. I am so thankful for every moment I survived as a child; every physical, verbal, and emotional attack, and mostly that I now know the meaning between simply surviving and living.
There is a magical feeling to looking back on my life and being able to say “I would never change a single thing.” I am the person I am because of family I was born into, the experiences I had, the people who loved me and those who either didn’t or didn’t know how to appropriately show it. I am the person I am because of the poor ways I chose to cope, the problems I faced, and then the way I overcame them. Yes, I bear both physical and emotional scars, but they are beautiful, because they represent healing and they tell my story.
And now, I have dreams. I repeat, I HAVE DREAMS. You might not think that’s unusual, but I never knew what it was like to have a dream until this year. But my entire life I was told I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, thin enough, etc…so I tried to be exactly what my mother wanted and forget anything else. And no, I will never be the best at everything or better than everyone, but guess what? I’m the best at being me. So yes, I have dreams. I want to be an actress. I want to be involved in social activism until people are tired of me talking about love, and animals, and human rights, and all that jazz. I want to get an internship on The Ellen Show. I want to be one of the next generation of women who supports and inspires those girls who need a positive role model, because that is what so many women did for me. Yes, acting looks like a really fun job—but to me it actually holds a real meaning. So once again I’m going to take a deep breath, put one foot in front of the other but this time really, truly live.