real life

"I need you to come and get me." The day I cut my abusive mother out of my life.

This post deals with abuse and might be triggering for some readers.

It was a quiet December morning when I saw my mum for the last time. I was happy and content in my little flat with my little family. I was newly married and newly a parent, not to my own child but to my younger sister, Lucy. It was a little strange becoming a parental figure to a teenager, but I was happy that we were all safe. 

I had escaped my abusive mother’s clutches first and prayed Lucy would see sense and follow suit. It took time but finally, the phone call came:

"Laura I need you to come and get me."

I recognised the tone in her voice. It’s the tone I would have used if I had a big sister to call to rescue me. My husband and I drove to my parents' house and collected Lucy. My mother attempted to intimidate us and gaslight Lucy into thinking she was imagining the whole thing. 

I was terrified but somehow, I found the courage to stand between my mother and Lucy and tell her, "I only care about my sister. I’m only here for my sister."

Watch: We lose one woman every week in Australia to domestic violence, but that's just the tip of a very grim iceberg. Post continues below.


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My bravery was short-lived because my mother gave me a familiar look. It made me feel sick. I got Lucy in the car and we drove back to my flat. I couldn’t get my mother’s expression out of my head. It was an expression that said, "I’m going to get you back."

On that December morning, the time came for my mother to attempt to regain control. The intercom sounded, and I looked at the screen. My throat constricted. The rise and fall of my chest stopped as I held my breath. My legs felt like lead and I couldn’t move them. The only movement in my body was my heart beating so hard I could feel my pulse in my head.

It was her. And she looked furious.

I don’t know why I did it, but I let her in. Maybe a part of me hoped she was going to apologise and decide to love us. Maybe it was because I was afraid of her. I have spent years trying to understand why I did it, and I don’t have the answer. I sat on the sofa beside Lucy, making sure I sat in a spot that would allow me to be between my mother and her.

My mother marched into my flat and looked at me as if I had deeply wounded her. I realised at that moment she genuinely thought she had been wronged. She sat across from me, staring at me as if I should be begging for her forgiveness.

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I foolishly attempted to explain to her that she had been abusing me my whole life. She was furious. Not because I had accused her of being an abuser, but because other people would think she was abusive.

"Is that what you have been telling people? Who have you told?"

I felt disgusted by her. She wasn’t even sorry. She cared more about her reputation. Lucy looked so lost and afraid and my mother showed no emotion. How could she not look at her youngest child and not feel any compassion?

I explained I had told no one because it was too painful. She responded by competing with me.

"Well, I’ve been in pain! You not talking to me is hurting the entire family."

After many futile attempts to explain she had not only been abusive towards me, but to all of her children, she began screaming hysterically. Being aggressive towards me was not working, and I could see she wasn’t expecting that. I had always fallen in line. And this time I wasn’t. So she changed her tactics and began wailing and sobbing, demanding we forgive her.

Part of me wanted to. And I think if she had just abused me, I would have. I was fragile and hated myself, so it was easy for me to rationalise that I should forgive my abuser. But I had newfound bravery. I had a reason to fight back. And that reason was my little sister.

I refused to forgive her. I stated that Lucy would be living with me and we would not be seeing her again. My mum made her way to my front door. I had a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. I knew this wasn’t over. My mother always won. I couldn’t help but panic about what she was planning now.

"Do you have a lift home?" I asked.

She nodded and said yes, but her facial expression didn’t match somehow. I asked if she was sure and offered to take her home. As she turned out of the door, I asked:

"Are you going to be okay?"

She smirked as she nodded. I wasn’t sure what it meant, but I knew the fight wasn’t over.

***

"I can’t find your mum."

My father was panicked and talking non-stop. I’d never heard him speak like this before. He had always been very laid back and apathetic, to the point where he allowed my mother to treat his daughters poorly. This was the first time I was hearing passion and urgency in his voice.

"She said she had a lift home. I assumed you were picking her up."

He explained my mother hadn’t contacted him for hours and he assumed she was still at my flat. She wasn’t answering her phone. She wasn’t at Kat’s house, who was my other sister. Kat was a victim too but hadn’t fully realised it at this point. I was comforted by the thought that she no longer lived in the family home, so she was safe. But I also worried about her a lot. My mother regularly used her as a therapist, particularly about her marriage. Kat would oblige because that’s the kind of person she has always been. But I knew exactly how she was feeling. My mother used me as a therapist for my entire childhood. I felt guilty when I distanced myself from her and she chose the next child to use, which was Kat.

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I knew my mother. I wasn’t concerned for her welfare. I think this came across and it disappointed my father. I felt frustrated. Why couldn’t he see that she was doing this on purpose?

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I tried to shield Lucy from what was happening. I reassured her everything was fine. She also seemed puzzled as to why I wasn’t worried. But nobody saw the smirk my mother gave me as she left. I knew she was doing this on purpose. And I was furious with her. Whilst everyone was panicking that she was missing, they were forgetting the most important person in all of this. My little sister. She was just a kid, and she has just escaped an abusive household.

My mother was missing for hours. My dad drove around the town we lived in trying to find her. Poor Kat was going out of her mind with worry whilst trying to look after her new baby. Finally, my father found her close to their home, just walking around. Apparently, she was fine. Of course, she was fine. She was getting the attention she wanted.

My father fawned over her and treated her like the victim. Her actions caused a temporary rift in my and Lucy’s relationship with Kat, who assumed the role of therapist and parent to my mother.

Not only did we lose our mother that day, but we lost our dad and our sister. That’s the thing about escaping abuse. You are forced to leave so much behind. And often it’s people you love.

***

"Why did you take so long to leave?"

"If it was really that bad you would have said something sooner."

I understand why people ask these questions. If you haven’t been abused by a parent, it’s hard to understand. But the reason I didn’t say something sooner was that I knew my mother would pull something like this. Abusers are clever and cunning. They don’t just abuse the child; they abuse the entire family through gaslighting and manipulation.

My father and Kat were under her spell and victims too. Everyone she met, she could easily convince she was the kindest person in the world. She was charming and likable. She seemed like the perfect mother. So why would I say anything? No one would believe me. I didn’t even believe me.

It wasn’t until I saw the devastating effects it was having on Lucy I realised the cost of losing everything was worth it. I knew people wouldn’t believe us. I knew that in many ways, cutting out our abuser would be more horrific than the abuse itself. But she gave me the strength to carry on because I wasn’t just fighting for myself. 

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I had lost out on so much in my life because of my mother. Kat had lost out on a lot of things too and I felt frustrated that I couldn’t save her. Lucy was still a child, so I was determined she wouldn’t suffer the same fate.

We are still healing six years later. We still have a relationship with Kat, which we are both grateful for. My mother could never break that. But we still lost our father. Part of me wonders whether we ever really had him, anyway. Regardless, we grieve every day even though he is still alive. We lost so much that day and we thought we would never get over the pain. But six years on, we realise we gained something much more important.

Freedom.

Freedom is terrifying when you’ve never had it before. We are now allowed to be ourselves. But that has created a lot of pain because we had no idea who we were outside of the dynamics of our family. We are allowed to think for ourselves and have our own opinions. But that creates unbearable anxiety because how can we know what we think is right when we no longer have someone telling us how to think?

We are afraid every day. Life is confusing because we were never prepared for it. But life is also beautiful now we are free. We can choose to surround ourselves with good people. We can choose to try things without being told we can’t do them because we are not good enough. We are no longer laughed at. We are no longer insulted and bullied. We are no longer pitted against one another. Sometimes it’s hard to allow ourselves to be happy, but we can be happy.

We are now in a phase of our lives where we are settling down and having children of our own. We have suffered so much loss. But we have gained the freedom to break the cycle of abuse. 

We are free to choose a life for our own children that is a million miles away from our own. Each of us is free to be the mother to our children that we never had.

Our mother took so much from us, she will never be able to take the desire that burns in us to be different. 

And as hard as she tried, she could never break our bond as sisters.

This post originally appeared on Medium and has been republished with full permission.

For more from Laura Fox, you can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home. 

You can also call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit www.safesteps.org.au for further information.

The feature image used is a stock photo from Getty.