real life

'After years of family trauma, I tried to talk to my mum. She said she needed a break from me.'

Eight months after what I’m calling a complete emotional breakdown (the kind where you sob in your husband's arms while he cradles you like a baby; yes, I longed to feel like a child again), I reached out. 

I messaged my parents in a last-ditch attempt to find the first stepping stone forward in our relationship.

I did this after months of phone calls where I wanted, tried, attempted to open up a dialogue where there was none before. Only silence, devoid of real talk. On the first call, I shared some of my deepest feelings and fears around my teenage years. I asked questions about our messy and (literally) bloody family history.

When I say that first call (and the subsequent handful of calls afterwards) didn't go well for me, it’s the most profound understatement. 

I was broken open. I had to come to terms with a childhood that on the surface, was very happy; but when you scratch the surface a little, you see the many cracks and fissures. I was questioning so many different parts of my past around the many years of mental health trauma and addictions around my older sister, asking; why did we never speak of it? Why did we keep it a secret from our extended family? Why did you never talk to me about any of the traumatic things I saw? Why didn't you get me counselling? Why did we simply try to pray away the slit wrists, psych wards, cutting and rehabs? Did my parents really sweep it all under the rug, never to be talked about again? 

I was confident in the thought that I could handle the pain from them in broaching forbidden subjects with my new baby feelings of confidence. 

Although I was sure it would be painful for them to have a conversation like this for the first time, I was confident they could handle these questions from me.


I had a bank full of credits from being the daughter that added to their happiness, instead of taking away. 

I was wrong on both fronts. 

And just like that: it only took that one phone call for me to lose the connection I had tried so hard to keep with my silence and years of actively focussing on how to bring them joy. Those small sparks of confidence I had in myself were no match for a lifetime of getting love and connection via being ‘good’. I had just stepped off script with my questions, and the penalty was high. 

As I said, the conversation didn’t go well.

And the next day, Mum told me she ‘needed a break from me’.

I didn't do it right, apparently. Dad said if I had just asked these questions in person it would have been OK... but via the phone? Nope, that was 100 per cent wrong - they felt attacked. 

Phone calls followed of me not saying really anything but crying into the phone on speaker with my husband, my parents on the other end. There should be another word for us to use other than crying. Crying, sobbing; they don’t explain what I was doing. The closest words to describe myself on those handful of calls was someone in deep despair.

I was once again a little girl and desperately needed my parents to see and hear me. I couldn't breathe through the sobs. I even called my Dad ‘Daddy’. I had absolutely reverted to being a child again. Did I mention I’m 40 at this point?

After a few months, when I finally realised I was getting nowhere, and there were no answers to be found by continuing to knock on this dead-end door with my parents, I sent another message.


Hi guys, 

I've been thinking of how we can all move our relationship over this hurdle and through it.  I think counseling for us three would be really helpful - would you be open to us finding someone we are all comfortable with to be able to talk and understand each other better? We could find someone who would be able to do it via Zoom or similar. Let me know what you think x

The reply:

We would love our relationship to be more normal and open, but we don't agree that counseling is the way forward with us involved. We have heard your concerns, and have apologised. Now we believe it is up to you to forgive and find the release from those past hurts. We hope and pray you can overcome your thoughts and be set free. All our love, Mum and Dad.

For a Christian kid with trauma around church and God, this message contains all the trigger words - ‘hope and pray’, ‘find the release’, ‘set free’. Stab, stab, stab. Guys, you stabbed me. What I hear from this message is:

You are on your own.

We desperately want our relationship with you to be like it always has, because that works for us, so sort yourself out and come back to us when you are better.

You are the one with the problems.

You are alone, again, as always.

Grief ensued. Abandonment feelings ensued, followed by a deep kind of pain I have never known (and I have known pain).


How? How can they say no to this? Intellectually, I know that they have had an unfair amount of pain and heartbreak in their lives. Together, their choice to deal with that has been prayer and from what I can see, nothing else. No doctors, counseling, talking honestly as a family or to their friends, addiction groups, reading up on addictions... No exploration other than prayer. Oh, how dangerous that is. I imagine God looking down and shaking Her head in sadness that they have missed some key tools outside of Her.

I also know that counseling would have been a hard step for them. It’s new and it’s scary to let someone else into these deep and layered topics. Heck, they may find themselves on the wrong end of the counselor. What if they are deemed to be in the wrong? I understand that could break them.

But months on, I felt small rumblings of anger towards my parents for the first time as an adult. Anger.

I think I needed this shocking black and white answer of ‘no’ to the question of getting family councelling, that seemed more than reasonable and wise from me.

I was talking to a trusted friend recently, laying out the full story of me and my parents in our 5km walking loop of sacred honesty. I was telling her from the start, from that very first call to my parents, and the phone calls that proceeded. In one call early on, I made a decision to just listen and calmly write down what my Dad was saying for future dissection. I could feel I was in flight or fight and I knew I would have a hard time remembering exactly what words were used.

When I read it back, I realised Dad said about three times: ”You are a victim, you have a victim mentality and we don't want any part of that.”


“But you actually are a victim,” my friend says, when she hears that.

I let the words sink in. Holy shit. I am.

I have lived in my empathy for what they have gone through since the beginning of the journey with my sister.

That empathy has trumped absolutely every other emotion I have had. Completely. No resentment has ever come in, no anger that I was left behind in all the ways that mattered. Just empathy.

When my sister passed away I felt none of my own grief. I felt grief directly through the eyes of a parent to my daughter. I didn't allow myself those feelings because I was just me, the sister; not worthy of these strong emotions on behalf of myself. Every anniversary, my only thought is how my parents are coping.

And here’s what I’ve learned over the last 12 months. The door that my parents slammed shut in my face was a gift in disguise. It has allowed me to make a decision and pivot. There is no question about where they stand, and this fact allowed me to finally journey on. I feel like I am finally an adult at the age of 41.

My metaphorical house collapsed.


The upside: I get to build the house from the ground up again. I get to personally select each brick I use with the wisdom of all of my combined knowledge from the last 41 years. That stupid door slamming was painful, but it was a beautiful gift, eventually.

Feature Image: Getty.

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