The entire scene felt like it was happening in slow motion. She walked around the counter towards me completely enraged. I had just used her own words against her and it had set her off. It was a Saturday afternoon, and my mom had returned from grocery shopping. My brother, sister and I brought the groceries in from the car, and it was my job to put the food and other items away. In addition, I had a long list of chores that I needed to finish so I could go outside and play.
My friends were already outside enjoying the day and I could hear them running up and down the street laughing and having a good time. So as quickly as I could I began to take the grocery items out of the brown paper bags. Up they went to the pantry, refrigerator and under the kitchen sink. My mom walked back into the kitchen where I was still working and opened the refrigerator. She looked inside, grabbed a bottle, became instantly upset and in an irritable tone said “why did you put this in here?” – “You are so stupid and lazy” – “You can’t do anything right!” – “WHY did you do this?” (It’s amazing that all these years later I can remember these words like it was yesterday).
I froze and just stared at her – I had done it again. She gave me a look that let me know she expected an answer. Then she said the words that changed the course of my day “You BETTER answer me”. I wish I could tell you this was the first time this ever happened, but that would be a lie. It was however the first time I remember feeling that I had enough. I couldn’t take it anymore. I could hear happy, carefree voices outside and I was mad it wasn’t me. Why couldn’t it ever be easy? Why did I always have to jump through so many hoops? “Why did I have always have to tiptoe around her landmine of emotions?” In that moment I didn’t care about the consequences and sarcastically replied “I don’t know maybe it’s because I’m so stupid!”
I will never forget the look of fury on her face as she stood in front of me – I internally braced myself. WHACK! I felt the sting as she slapped my right cheek. She looked at me and I didn’t move. WHACK! She hit me again. WHACK WHACK! My face was on fire and my glasses had flown off my face, across the room and landed on the Saltillo tile floor. I realized she was trying to make me cry, and I thought – I’m not going to let you take my fun AND see me cry . She slapped my face 3 more times when suddenly out of nowhere my dad grabbed her hand and said “that’s enough”. My eyes had filled with tears, but I honestly cannot tell you how I held back from crying. My face was bright red, completely numb, and I could taste metal (later I discovered it was blood).
My dad told me to go to my room. I walked over, picked up my glasses, went to my bedroom and closed the door. I noticed that the lenses to my glasses had cracked, then shoved my face into my pillow and quietly cried myself to sleep. When I woke up everyone acted like nothing ever happened.
Many years later while in therapy – I was having a battle with depression to the point that even getting out of bed seemed impossible. I didn’t like myself and felt so inadequate at doing even the smallest of tasks. I thought I was a total failure. My counselor asked me probing questions which led to this story I just shared with you. I will never forget what he said to me “So basically your mother brainwashed you”. I said “What are you talking about?” I was confused. He said “Every time she called you stupid and every other negative thing – she was brainwashing you – because now you believe it”.
I left his office that day still unsure of what he said to me, so I decided to look up the definition of brainwash…(to affect a radical change and beliefs of a person by methods based on isolation, sleeplessness, hunger, extreme discomfort, pain, and the alienation of kindness and cruelty. – Dictionary.com)
It felt like the floor completely fell out from under me. Was this true? Was I really brainwashed? I honestly didn’t know what to think. I mean, I trusted my counselor right? I saw the college degrees hanging on his wall and knew he had years of experience but – could he be right? It took me about a week to digest this information. Then slowly I began to realize – maybe those awful things I believed about myself weren’t true? If so, then who am I? For the first time in a long time I had hope.