Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Accusations

When I was a kid, I was pretty tame for the most part. My mom was very religious, and I was very careful never to do anything "bad" that would make God angry at me. I knew he was always watching me, so from a very young age I always did the "right thing," at first out of fear, but later out of a sense of loyalty to God and my own morality. The worst thing I remember ever doing in my childhood was in elementary school when I cheated on a test. It was a little quiz where we had to identify states on a map, and I had forgotten to study, so I quickly made a shorthand drawing with state initials on it and stuck it in my desk. The teacher flipped over the wall map so we couldn't see it during the quiz, but I looked down to my lap where my cheat sheet was, and copied all the answers onto the map on my desk. I felt a twinge of guilt, but in the moment, keeping my straight-A average seemed more important than not copying those answers. The word "cheating" didn't even enter my mind.

We went out to recess, and when we came back in, the teacher pulled me aside. You remember that mean girl who bullied me on the bus? Well she'd seen me cheating, and took great pleasure in taking my cheat sheet up to the teacher and tattling on me during recess. The teacher said very little to me; just that she was very disappointed in me and did I want to tell my parents, or should she? The shame in my heart was more than enough punishment. When I went home and told my mother, kneeling beside her bed in her darkened room where she lay with a headache, she expressed utter disgust at me. There I was, nine years old and crying with deep conviction at what I had done, and she just sneered at me, "You're just sorry because you got caught!" I was devastated, and terribly ashamed of myself. I never cheated again. I never so much as took a penny that didn't belong to me, ever again.

And so with the worst sin of my childhood behind me, I went on to excel with my grades and to hold myself to a pretty high moral standard, even into my teenage years. I was careful not to lie, not even a "little white lie." I dressed very modestly and carried a Bible around with me half the time. I didn't smoke anything or kiss boys or go out partying. I joined in the family drinking problem during a painful time in my life, but I only drank at home, in secret. I was always the good girl, the quiet girl. I wasn't any trouble.

And so when I was 17 and started liking a boy at school, it was pretty innocent. We wrote each other notes and he said he wanted to hang out with me. Sometimes we would go to the high school football games with our friends and just have fun watching the game.

One day I came home from school and went outside to rake leaves or play with the dog. When I came back in my parents were sitting at the kitchen table and my mother looked furious. Then I saw some papers unfolded on the table: the notes that the boy had written me, unfolded from their little triangular football shapes and laid out for all the world to see. My jaw dropped. "What is THIS about???" my mother demanded angrily. I snatched a note from her hand and gathered up the ones strewn about the table. "These are private! They're none of your business!" She had gone through not only the dresser drawers in my bedroom, but also my purse to find them. I was absolutely livid! "What are you doing with THAT BOY?" she shrieked. I yelled back, "you have no right to go through my things!" Back and forth it went until I stormed out with my notes, declaring, "I'll just keep all my personal things in my locker at school!"

What made me so angry was not just that my privacy was violated, but that my mother thought I was "doing things" with that boy. The notes didn't indicate anything immoral; we just "liked" each other. I had never given my parents any reason to question my morality, and her accusations felt like an unfounded attack. She tried to ground me so I couldn't see "the boy," but it's hard to ground a 17-year-old who is working 25 hours a week, going to school, and has bought her own car. I still saw him, sometimes, but frankly, I never even held his hand.

It got worse. At dinnertime we would be eating when suddenly my mother would glare at me and pipe up, "Have you been smoking pot? You're acting like you're on drugs. Your eyes are dilated! I know you're smoking pot!" I'd drop my fork in frustration and just leave the table for the sanctuary of my room. Her accusations were so wearing on me. I never even saw a joint, much less smoked one. After awhile, I just stopped coming to dinner and ate at Burger King to get some peace.

Even later after I'd moved out at 18, worked full-time to earn money for college for a year, and gotten honor roll grades at college, when I came home for the summer I heard the same insanity from my mother. I was 19 and still had never gone farther than kissing a boy because I was saving myself for marriage. I was working 2 jobs and had a very cute boyfriend who I spent time with after I got off work at 10 or 11pm. I'd come home after midnight, sometimes at 1am, and my mother would rave. "You're going to get a disease! You're going to get pregnant!" She tried to impose a 10pm curfew on me, which I politely ignored. I wasn't doing anything more than sitting around watching movies with this guy. I didn't even drink at all by this point. After several months of enduring her screeches about herpes and gonorrhea and pregnancy, and her constant sneering about how I was ruining my life by whoring myself around, I'd had enough. All along, I'd held my peace, occasionally reassuring her that I was waiting for marriage and not doing anything "bad." I tried to remember that my mother had had a rough upbringing, with alcohol and an unplanned pregnancy. But one day when she was snarling on about my whoredoms, I snapped back, "Just because YOU did those things doesn't mean I am doing them. I am not a slut like you were. I am waiting until I am married." And I walked away. She never accused me again.

Accusations are just words, but they can hurt. They can cause damage. They can become a vicious cycle, causing the very behavior they assume someone is doing. I've had people, strangers usually... but sometimes acquaintances... comment on my "diets" in the past. "Oh, you must be eating a LOT more than you say. You couldn't stay so fat without cheating." Or when I said I was walking 4 miles a day, I got "pffft! Funny. Maybe if you count the steps from your couch to your fridge!" It was hurtful. People made assumptions that because I was fat, I must be lazy and bingeing daily. I had someone ask me once what I was eating on my Weight Watchers diet (years ago) and when I gave a synopsis, she said, "you would lose weight if you only ate THAT. You must be sneaking ice cream at night." Those accusations sometimes set me off into a real binge. After all, if someone already thinks I am doing something "bad," I may as well be doing it, right? When my mom was giving me so much grief in school, I once purposely skipped a class and got caught just so I would get detention. Why?? I don't know, maybe just to stick it to her a little bit. No one likes to be falsely accused. It's discouraging and can make you wonder if you really ARE a bad person.

It's really about judgements. Generally speaking, it's not a good idea to make snap judgements about a person's eating based on their appearance. Not every fat person binges. And those who have, like myself, might have stopped. Not every teenager with baggy pants and shaggy hair is a troublemaker. I guess the point of my story is this. Assume the good about other people. Treat a person as you would like them to become, because often your treatment shapes their behavior. Being positive and encouraging and believing in someone will lift them up and help them reach their goals. That's what support is about.

And if you have people in your life who think bad things about you, try not to let it get to you. Be aware of it, but just keep proving them wrong. Don't let their words drive you into action that will make their accusations a reality. Be your best self, and treat others as their best selves. The more we think of ourselves in a positive light, the more likely we are to behave accordingly.

34 comments:

Tami said...

Thank you. There was quite a lot in there that I didn't realize I needed to hear.

Alex said...

Wow, thank you for sharing your story. It was so well written and from the heart. I'm sorry that you have had so many people make such accusations about you, especially from you mom. I had similiar situations with my parents, but with other things. It hurt, very much. I hope that you and your mom have moved on from this and that she will learn that she has a wonderful daughter and admire you for all the wonderful things you have done. You sound remarkable and I'm glad that you hold such a strong relationship with God. It is so vital. May God bless you:)

moonduster said...

I am sorry your mom treated you that way, but it sounds as though she really loved you. She wanted the best for you but she was so afraid you would end up like her and she didn't know any other way to try and stop you from doing so.

Sometimes I wish everyone who became a parent would take parenting classes beforehand.

Susannah said...

Excellent post, Lyn. Thanks so much for sharing. Today you know, I am sure, that your mother's accusations had everything to do with her and nothing to do with you. You did a great job holding your head high through such a painful time. Also, I hope you know what a good writer you are!

Roy and Hazel said...

Words are so powerful. Its not just the hurtful things that are said...but the things that are not. My dad has never told me that he loves me. Ever. He's never been unkind. Just indifferent. I don't think he will ever realise that a few words of praise would have made a world of difference to me and my self confidence.

As a parent you hold a great weight of responsibility!!

♥ Dee ♥ said...

Whoa.

My mother accused me of being a slut, and made me hand wash all of my clothes so my "slut germs wouldn't infect her machines". I was a virgin.

But you know what? I turned into a slut. Because I was being accused of it, I might as well, right?

Good for you for staying to your moral compass. I don't regret my past... it's all a part of making me who I am today. And I like me today.

But your post definately hit home for me.

dkaz said...

People can really hurt you with criticism, especially when they are supposed to be the people who love you unconditionally.
The funny thing about toxic people is that they can only hurt you if you let them. The older I get, the less I allow other people to get to me. My dad still tries to get digs in about my weight and appearance, but I think I have finally gotten to the point where I realize that its his problem, not mine. I know he loves me and I love him. I wish he didn't do it, but he has his own baggage, & I can't change his behavior, or anyone else's. I'm trying hard to get fit and improve myself. If someone else doesn't like it, too bad for them. I'm 48 years old and I'm finally not listening anymore.

Ron said...

It's amazing how mother's treat their children, especially if the mother's had a rough life, I have been there also. And when it comes to those "other people"....... I feel you have to move on and do what you have to do for yourself, not for these other people.

new*me said...

i try to think positive about myself and others all the time now but it took many years to get to this place. I think for some it takes a lifetime to get there ;)

There is just so much good in the world, we just need to open our eyes to see it.

Thanks for this honest post from your past Lyn. It must feel good to get all this stuff out. We are always here to listen..and never judge!

clickmom said...

Just today I saw some photos of me from 30 years ago and I was astounded to see that not only was I totally adorable, but I was a completely healthy average weight. My whole life I was told I was fat and would never get a boyfriend if I didn't slim down. Maybe if they had told me I was simply gorgeous instead I would not have sought solace in the cookie drawer.

Dinah Soar said...

It hurts when our parents abuse us. I've never quite understood why a parent would do such. When my daughter was born I determined that I would be her biggest cheerleader...that she and I would not have the typical mother daughter clashes. And we didn't. I made it my job to show her that she was the apple of my eye.

Tony said...

That was an amazing post and something I can definitely relate to. People can be quite nasty sometimes and say things without having any proof. Being accused of doing something you didn't do is an absolutely horrible feeling.

GF said...

Thank you for remaining positive and sharing it. We can all come away learning something.

"4 oz" said...

Excellent post! As many others have said, it really hits home. Keep your head up!

Pamela said...

Ah, Lyn, I wish I could give you a big hug! You are an amazing woman!

Karyn said...

Lyn...you are an amazing person.

On one hand, my heart breaks for you that you had to endure so many groundless accusations from your mom and then such tasteless, arrogant, cruel assumptions from 'others'.

On the other hand, I am in awe at what a whole person you are - in spite of all these obstacles.

And I am simply incredulous that ANYONE would think they had the right to pass judgement on you and what they assumed you were eating or not eating, doing or not doing. I just don't understand how anyone can be so unkind.

Thank you for sharing your life with us.....and for making us look at ourselves in the process.

Stephanie said...

I liked your post. My dad always used to go through my room, my purse, my things - even came to school and went through my locker once - looking for...what? I'm not sure. I wasn't on drugs, drinking, having sex or anything. He was just obsessed with me and what he thought I was doing - he was always asking "what's the plan?" but I never had a plan. He assumed I was bad and immoral when I was far from it. So weird. Then I left for the college dorms and lived up to every one of his suspicions - I mean, he thought I was doing it anyway, so why not?! That stuff was very painful as a kid. I hope I don't treat my kid that way - I don't want to. Glad to hear you are doing good, Lyn.

antgirl said...

Wow! You really are a strong person. It does hurt when those close to you have no clue who you are. I hope you now are surrounded with people who do. :)

Vickie said...

I loved this posting. It didn't happen to me. But I loved it all the same. What it said to me is that the 'disorders' ( couldn't think of a better word) of others - impact US hugely. So, I need to work on my disorders so that they don't impact my kids.

Anonymous said...

I have been following your blog and we have so much in common. I lost 70 lbs. 2 years ago and am fighting not to regain. (I need to lose 70 more.) I too was made to feel like a slut by my mother (after going to church once with a boy from my neighborhood, she told me "I will not have a whore for a daughter"). So I became a girl who made out and slept with boys to get the affection I needed and did not get from her. Mothers, please be careful what you say to your children! The harm you inflict stays with us our whole lifetime.
Germaine

Hanlie said...

I was shocked and devastated to discover at the age of 14 that my parents didn't trust me. I was so innocent back then! Their reaction sent me headfirst into rebellion that has all but ruined my self-worth. I still rebel against my own good... but I'm really working hard at overcoming the inclination after 25 years!

Great post!

Ann said...

Thank you for writing such a powerful essay. And congratulations on rising above this, and becoming a strong woman.

Krista said...

hey, I just linked over from Dee's site, and WOW! I loved this post, very moving! Thank you for sharing, I think we've all had times in our lives where people assumed the worst of us in varying degrees. I loved what you put at the end about treating people as you'd like them to become... so true and such great words of wisdom!

:)

skinnyhollie said...

Your blog really hit me, and so did the comments. Sometimes you think you are alone, but then you realize you're not. Thank you.

somebodys mother said...

Thanks for the reminder that my life needs to based on love not on fear.
When my life is based on fear I judge others because I'm looking for anything to help me feel better. Judging helps me feel 'better than.' When my life is based on love I do not need to judge.
When my life is based on fear I judge myself more harshly too. When my life is based on love I have to remember to love me too.
Based in love, my reaction to unfounded accusations ("you're losing weight because you want to be with someone else ' is a current one in my life)is much gentler. I can realize it has nothing to do with me and everything to with his own fears and insecuritites

bbubblyb said...

It's hard being a parent. I feel sad your mom did that to you. I feel sad that some people can't learn from the mistakes their parents made. I know I have a lot of trust issues, I know they came from my own up bringing. I'd like to think I've learned a lot but sometimes I still struggle. I think guilt is a huge problem for me and I'm sure it started when I was a little girl struggling in a dysfunctional family. I hope I can raise my kids differently but like I said I still struggle sometimes. I'm sorry you went through all that as a teenager.

Lady Downsize! said...

Wow Lyn, your mother and mine could have been related in behavior. I find that its not what was done to me physically that will haunt me, but the things that were said to me, and primarily those things from my mother. I thank God for my father, because if it weren't for his influence I may never have turned into the person I am today. I treat others the way I want to tbe treated, and sometimes that's not easy given how some might behave. It's amazing how others will judge every morsel of food. Like if I have a bite of something they feel I shouldn't, just because of my weight. 'It's OK for them, but I must punish myself until I am their size' is the attitude I get sometimes. Yet these are the same people who have their own addictive behaviors like smoking, swearing, losing their temper, etc. I'm so sorry you had to endure such frustrating behavior, but thank God you are stronger and knew what you were hearing wasn't the life for you.

flaxmonkey said...

Lyn, your posts never cease to amaze me. Your words are very powerful and I love reading your blog. Thank you for sharing so honestly about difficult topics.

Scale Junkie said...

amazing post Lynn. I think our Mom's took the same mail order parenting class

Teale said...

Great entry, as always. I can relate to this on so many levels (the drinking by myself, but being the "good girl" to others; having my privacy violated--my journal--and having my mom thinking I was whoring around, when in reality I was virgin... etc).

The other day on the shuttle bus at work, this very thin elderly woman who works at the same place I do was talking to a friend of hers about the new season of the biggest loser. Her exact words were "Did you see how BIG some of those people are?!!? Most of them weigh over 300 pounds! I don't know how anyone could possibly get to that weight unless they were just laying around all day and stuffing their faces with junk! There's just no other way to get that big!" I had to bite my tongue from causing a scene, because here I am, over 300 pounds, and I KNOW that that's not what I was doing!

Colleen said...

Your posts and the comments underscore to me the social psychology research showing that "authoritarian" parents have less well adjusted kids. It seems like most people, faced with parents who are judgmental and accusatory, become exactly what their parents fear to get back at them. I did the same thing after I realized that I could be good and still get in trouble all the time, or I could be bad and still be in the same amount of trouble. My mother was also overprotective in a way that was overbearing and she ended up just pushing me towards risk taking behavior. I'm amazed at how many people have been through the same thing.

Karen said...

OH LYN!! This entry just broke my heart for you as a child and teenager. How you turned out to be such a wonderful Mom is beyond me. My parents made lots of mistakes and many times I mourn the fact that they weren't more loving toward me and my siblings or wish that they had been more patient with us, but overall they get a solid B in parenting for the era they raised us from me. Your Mom was so damaging to you, yet you rose above it all, became a great mother, and even managed to love and forgive YOUR mother. Is one of the reasons I am in awe of you! (Well, that and raising 5 kids which would have landed ME in a mental hospital!!!) :)

Karen in TN

Anonymous said...

Lyn- Thanks for sharing. I'm a regular reader and commenter, but I'm posting anon. to give my mom some privacy.

My mother was a free-love single parent in the 70's and early 80's and unfortunately was the biggest source of immoral exposure I had as a very young child. First sex act I saw? Mom and her boyfriend. They thought I was sleeping. First touch of a penis? Her boyfriend's. I was 7 or so, praise God a touch was as far as it went.

Then she got saved (Please don't roll your eyes folks.) and made big changes in her life. Unfortunately she carried that guilt with her and projected it on to me. I did like many others here did as a teen. But I got through it.

I also saw through the failings of a fallen, broken woman and did not let it harm my relationship with God, which brings me great peace, comfort, joy and love. Mom still is clueless at how much of my teenage rebellion was caused by her own guilt, anger, mistrust and her very own failing to shelter me from the experiences she exposed me to.

I do struggle now with thinking the worst of some of the teens in our church group and I pray I don't follow this particular family legacy as I raise my own children.

One thing I wonder about as I process these things as I work through learning how to deal with my emotions instead of eating them, is how much of this stuff to dig up. Do I need to go back and 're-feel' these experiences and work through them or do I just need to learn how to deal with current and future happenings and emotions? Does that make sense?

Thanks so much for putting so much of yourself out here and verbalizing what many of us feel.

Amy

Susan said...

You're a fantastic writer, Lyn! As someone else commented a while back, your experiences would make a great book.

Oh yeah, and my mother took the same mail order parenting class.