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3:59 pm - Posted by Gregg

Mother’s Day is an occasion that always gives me pause since I spent most of my childhood struggling to survive in a household ruled by a monster (AKA my abusive mother). For anyone who thinks my descriptor is a bit harsh, I can assure you it’s not. What my sister and I endured while growing up was quite horrific in regard to the constant abuse we suffered—along with the lies we were forced to cover-up on behalf of dear ol’ mom.

I have a vivid memory of a time I tried to report the abuse to the police. Because it was many years ago (and because we, as a society, didn’t know better at the time) they dismissed my claims (since the bulk of the abuse wasn’t physical) and refused to investigate. Imagine a young teen hanging up the phone and turning to said abuser (my mother in this case) who had just heard me make the call. I get chills thinking about incidents like these. But still, I’ve made a vow to never suppress them or pretend as if they didn’t take place.

As faithful readers of this blog know, I spent most of my young life morbidly obese. I started to gain weight around first grade and by the time I graduated college weighed over 450 pounds. I imagine some mental health professionals might attribute this to creating a layer of protection to shield me from any relationship that I thought might cause me more—or continued—harm. This is not to say I didn’t struggle to lose this “layer of protection” throughout my childhood (even though I knew it made my mother livid to have an obese child given her penchant for telling people I had a disease that caused weight gain as opposed to simply confessing that I overate).

Once a young adult living on my own, I eventually realized that I had to let go of the mental weight (mostly comprised of memories of abuse) before I could let go of the physical weight. But even though I accomplished the goal of shedding the excess weight (and have remained a healthy weight since), I never want to forget what my sister and I went through. This is not to say I have a victim mentality. I wouldn’t encourage that in myself or anyone else. But an attitude of “acceptance” has proved most healing.

This happened. The abuse happened. It was real.

These days I can go for long periods of time without thinking about the abuse that my sister and I suffered (even though some of its after effects have been far reaching). But when “holidays” like Mother’s Day roll around, I can’t help but get a pit in my stomach when I see commercial-friendly media images that show mother and child (infant, toddler, teen or otherwise) living their happiest moments on screen or in print. I never knew this kind of relationship with my own mother. The concept remains foreign to me even to this day.

As for my mother being a “monster,” in hindsight I’ve come to accept that my mother was likely mentally ill given her outrageous behavior—which makes the real monsters other family members who, even though well aware of my mom’s actions, left my sister and I alone with her to raise us. I share this not out of spite, remorse or even sadness. But in an effort to let others who’ve had similar experiences know they’re not the only ones.

Many people breathe a sigh of relief when they learn what my sister and I lived through—because they were raised under similar circumstances. To talk about these issues doesn’t mean our goal is to demonize our parents. But abuse is abuse. And underage children often have no choice but to endure it—and to hopefully survive it. But even as adults—even when free from our abusers—we sometimes still have to make a conscious choice to continue to survive it. Especially on occasions when many are celebrating their mothers, which can potentially leave many adult survivors of child abuse feeling like we are weird, undeserving or, perhaps, as if we were in some way responsible for our tragic circumstances.

So yes—the occasion of Mother’s Day makes me somber. But it also reminds me that my sister and I—and so many of you—are survivors. We have all faced major challenges in our lives. Some on the outside, some from the inside. But we can continue to overcome these challenges (even the ones that still sometimes haunt us).

These days, when shopping for Mother’s Day cards, I pick up several. One card is for my sister, who’s managed to break the cycle of abuse and is an amazing mother to two beautiful children. And the additional cards are for other nurturing influences in my life who’ve taught me that a mother’s love can arrive in many forms (and from many different people). My self-defined version of Mother’s Day is definitely worthy of celebration. And yours can be, too. As long as its observed in a way that honors your fortitude—in addition to paying heed to moms of all kinds (perhaps even those, like mine, who were mentally ill and, maybe—just maybe—doing the best they knew how to do).

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5:10 pm - Posted by Gregg

Old Haunts From Our Past JustStopEatingSoMuch.com

As a grown adult who has not only survived child abuse, but thrived in spite of it, I never imagined I’d suddenly be dealing with the pain (and even shame) all over again at this stage of my adult life—especially since I spent a lot of time examining and processing the goings on and then even writing about them in my recent memoir.

So imagine my surprise when similar issues cropped up anew—in this case at the hands of my father—and I’ve found myself having to once again defend and explain my position to strangers, even though I (and my sister) are the ones who were abused for years and years.

People who’ve read my book often ask me what my father, who’s still alive, thinks of it, given that he’s not portrayed in a positive light (albeit a very truthful one). My answer is simple: My father, who is a textbook definition of a narcissist, hasn’t read my book. And he never will. This isn’t because he’s bitter. It’s simply because he’s just not interested in any subject (or tome) in which he’s not the central character.

Although initially blaming most of the horrors of my sister’s and my childhood on our mother (a textbook definition of a monster), with time and growth, we can now see that my mother was mentally ill (her claims to her second husband, who enabled her up to and even after her death, included that she was a French princess who escaped her country to escape tyranny and later adopted me from Iran and my sister from Germany). For the record, my mom was born and raised in Florida. Oh, and neither my sister nor I were adopted—despite everyone believing we were; and then thinking we were the pathological liars because we tried to convince them otherwise (even when we were young, school-aged children).

This hindsight about my mother is important because, in my humble opinion, it makes my father and my mother’s relatives more culpable for my mom’s sins against her children since they left us alone with her and never interceded—not even when her flights of delusion went public. Then and now, my father was only interested in serving his own interests.

I once joked to my sister, it’s amazing that she and I can tie our own shoe laces given some of the horrors we’ve lived through. Many of the events were so horrific that people think we’re exaggerating to this day. Thus, despite my recent book that shares my story, my sister and I don’t talk about our childhood often. And thankfully, there’s usually no need to. That was then—this is now. And through insight, self-love and inner strength, my sister and I are both not only able to tie our shoes, but are living very happy lives and even have very contented marriages (despite the suggested mold offered by our parents).

But recently, our father has once again put my sister and I in positions in which where we’ve been forced to explain to strangers why we aren’t closer to him and why we don’t have all the information they’re seeking. My father (still a narcissist and still stubborn) was in an accident (a result of his own ignorance) and ended up in a far away hospital, delirious. Out of the blue, we received phone calls from caseworkers (who had to initially hunt us down via internet), needing to know why my dad was in the circumstances he was (at the time of the accident) and why we weren’t able to answer more questions in regard to such and beyond (inquiries regarding his health, contact numbers, etc.).

After a couple phone calls with the hospital caseworkers (who I must admit were very understanding and nonjudgmental), I admitted to my sister that the pain, humiliation and shame of being an abused child had all come rushing back. There I was, on the phone with strangers, trying to get them to believe me when I explained why circumstances were what they were. These calls brought me right back to a time during my teen years—when I called the local police to report my mother’s abuse. Because most of what I was reporting wasn’t physical abuse, they didn’t take me seriously and never responded to my call for help.

Because of these recent incidences with my dad, my sister revealed that she was feeling the same kinds of things I was. And although we live in separate parts of the country, my sister and I were connected by an unspoken bond of emotional numbness for several days after.

I suppose that carrying the title of an adult survivor of child abuse never really goes away. There are always going to be circumstances that bring issues up—especially when the abusers have never admitted their wrongdoing or asked for forgiveness. This can apparently happen even after we have forgiven the offending parties in our own minds (and for our own benefit).

It wasn’t too long ago that my sister and I got word that our mother had passed away—long after her actual death. We hadn’t been notified at the time. We hadn’t been asked to attend the funeral. We hadn’t been considered at all. It became a little clearer why this was the case when we tracked down her obituary online, which stated that my sister and I were [still] “adopted” children. The real kicker to all this is that a few of my mom’s relatives—who know we are not adopted—not only attended the funeral, but also did not question why we hadn’t been invited to attend or even wonder aloud about the obituary full of untruths.

So it seems being a “survivor” of child abuse would be a verb rather than an adjective. And the biggest reminder my sister and I take away from these recent events involving our father is to never feel guilt or shame—not only when describing circumstances, but also (and especially) if people don’t understand or even think we might be being dishonest when talking to them about such.

No matter what any of us has survived in the past, the fact that we’re able to talk about it, find understanding in it—and eventually freedom from it—is worthy of a gold medal of courage. And it seems there will be times when, even after we’ve moved on, people who haven’t (perhaps even our abusers) will force us to once again get mired down in the process that requires us to extract ourselves from otherwise horrific situations (even if just memories from our past).

But just as it was during our healing periods in the past, the mental work—and belief in ourselves—is worth it.

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9:28 am - Posted by Gregg

As media outlets trot out more and more people who knew Michael Jackson to share their impressions of him while he was alive, we seem to be left with an image of a performer who was very bitter about his past and quite resentful of having his childhood ‘stolen’ from him. Even among those who did not know Mr. Jackson personally, it seems to be common knowledge that he had issues with the way he was raised and the way he was constantly made to perform from a very early age. Of course, that was then, and this is now.

Sadly, Mr. Jackson’s time has now has passed. But even when he was alive, he gave an impression of a lost soul who had big issues regarding his childhood. This was not only reflected in his music, but also into the sometimes questionable relationships he had with children despite being an adult himself.

I did not know Mr. Jackson. But I know people similar to him. People who are convinced that because of what happened in their past, they cannot be happy today. In fact, I used to be one of those people.

My parents went through a very nasty split (and eventual divorce) when I was younger. The ordeal lasted for roughly 8-10 years and things got quite nasty between my Mom and Dad. They both also got quite abusive with my sister and I. My mother was basically a pathological liar who was desperate to be acknowledged publicly as young, single and childless (even though still married with two children).

My mother’s quest for what she perceived as acceptance led to some horrific incidences that would make a psychiatrist nod in understanding when also told that during that time period I was morbidly obese and continued to gain excess weight. In fact, my parents’ problems began when I was in 1st grade – about the time I started putting on excess weight in the first place. I added more and more excess weight through the years. And looking back, I can see that the weight served as a buffer of sorts (between me and my parents – as well as me and the outside world).

Because my father was never home and my mom was often out on the town (so to speak), I was left alone to raise my younger sister. There were times friends tried to intercede, but my sister and I knew that should we tell others the truth, there would be severe punishment from our parents. Despite this constant threat, at one point I tried calling the police to report the abuse. But because we lived on a military base in Germany, there was little understanding when I explained that the abuse was mostly the verbal and abandonment kind and only on occasion was physical. Thus, my sister and I were left to fend for ourselves. So in essence, our childhood was stolen from us as well.

While my heart goes out to Mr. Jackson and his lifetime of angst over his past, I also wonder if he could have just accepted what transpired, realized he’s an adult and moved on. At a certain point, we have to stop blaming our past (or others in our past) for the shortcomings we find ourselves facing in our present day lives.

Yes, I could tell harrowing tales of my Mom’s monstrous behavior. And I can point to spikes in my weight that correlated with may parents’ outbursts and abuse. But I can also point to a moment in my young adult life that I decided, ‘That was then, this is now.’ And that also happened to be the point when a lot of the excess weight began to be released.

There’s an old adage that goes something like this: ‘If you think of yourself as a victim, then you are a victim.’ And I refuse to be a victim. Especially the victim of something that happened years and years ago.

At a certain point, we need to let it go. For our own peace of mind and mental health. That was then. This is now.

I’m not suggesting we forget any past horrors. Or pretend they never happened. But today – in this moment – we need to take care of ourselves and provide whatever we feel might be missing as a result of past experiences. We can’t make the past go away. But we can control our ‘now’ – and our future. And by deciding that we’re going to stop giving the past anymore power, we can positively affect any circumstance we’re facing – whether weight loss related or if realted to some other kind of addiction or mental/physical crutch we rely on while pointing to the past and saying, “I can’t help it because this happened.”

It’s sad that Mr. Jackson’s legacy is as filled with grief and sadness as it is with memories of his incredible talent. But we can learn from him and from his pain. That in itself can be a gift to all of us from Mr. Jackson.

Acceptance. Understanding. And moving on – without pointing anymore fingers or trotting out the excuse of a past gone wrong.

We have today. And we’re in control. And that’s something worth celebrating – no matter what happened yesterday. No. Matter. What.

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