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Rerooted: A Tale of Estrangement

by Anya M Streng 4 years ago in parents
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Many people consider estrangement to be a cold, callous act; for others it is the ultimate salvation.

I didn’t have the perfect childhood.

My parents, through no fault of their own, saw their lives spiralling out of control. They weren’t born monsters; they were victims of their own circumstances. For that I cannot blame them.

What I do blame them for is their ignorance and their blindness and their naivety. They chose to bury their heads in the sand. They chose to wash their hands off all responsibility. They chose to turn their back on me. My parents had the choice to stand up tall and admit their faults and rectify their mistakes - but they chose not to. They chose not to.

The hows and the whens and the wherefores do not matter anymore; they never did. All I’m left with are the remnants of the blackened memories tearing a chasm through my entire being splitting me in two irremediable halves.

I was not born into an abusive home. My parents were doting in my early years leaving me a happy, carefree child. For the first few years of their mental decline, I was blissfully unaware of what was going on, merrily going along with my father’s increasingly fanatical religious beliefs, only wanting to make my parents proud of me. I wanted them to be happy. I had no reason to doubt their sincerity let alone their sanity.

However, at the age of 12, I understood. Not only did I see their actions for what they truly were but I realised what a hell they had created with my father’s deranged beliefs and my mother’s insistence on being the supportive wife; she heralded his behavior as honourable and inspirational. Neither one could face the mirror and see the truth beneath their shallow masks.

I was 14 years old when my parents told me it was my own fault that I was unhappy. Their monetary support, in their eyes, marked them as exemplary parents: They had no shortcomings, they had made no mistakes, they had never said a wrong word. They were infallible and to suggest otherwise was inane.

Around the same I confided in a teacher because the absurd craziness of my home life left me feeling like a fragile bubble that was about to explode should I not speak out. The well-meaning response I received was that other children had it worse off; at least my parents didn’t force me to work in coal mines. At least.

By 15, I knew that the only way to be happy was to be estranged from my parents. At a time when I was most desperate, when my mind was most dark, the idea that one day I could be free of my parents and free of their abuse was the only thing that allowed me to keep hanging on. Dreaming of a day when I could be safe was what kept my hope alive—and by extension, me.

Without realising it ,my parents had built a singular prison. I was imprisoned within my bedroom, for to step out meant spending time with them. I was imprisoned within my mind, for to speak out about my opinions and beliefs meant being chastised. I was imprisoned within the shell that became my body, for to express my feelings meant being censured. And yet, my gatekeepers—my parents—were unable to see any of this. They wrote me off as being moody and stroppy.

Although I moved out at eighteen the strain of my attempts to distance myself against my financial dependence on my parents did not improve anything.

By the age of 19, my mother had denounced me three times for not believing in her God, telling me that I was going to hell for being a nonbeliever whilst also trying to convince me that I was her beloved child. She threatened to cut me off financially if I did not treat my father with more courtesy whilst seeking to convince me that they were formidable parents because they always gave me money.

Whenever we were together, my parents would innocently reminisce about my early childhood whilst invigorating their belief that my life had been picture perfect. This was their reality.

During the four years I lived apart from them, I was filled with fright that my parents would turn up without warning and pluck all the things that made me happy out of my life; to me, they had been reduced to nothing more than dementors. Despite the distance between us they held a dominance over me which I did not even realise until a therapist pointed it out to me.

My financial dependence on them meant that I provided them with a power to reign over my life because I was afraid that if I stepped out of line in their eyes that the funds would dry and I’d be left homeless and alone. To me, there was nothing worse.

But last summer the day finally came. I spent months planning it. After seven years of almost giving up on hope that it would ever happen, I finally drafted my estrangement letters to my parents. It took me several attempts; I debated with how much to tell them.

An urge to come clean about all the horribleness of my life overtook me at first in order to shove it in their face that it wasn’t my fault and that I was not to blame but it gave way to a second wave of realisation that it did not matter. It didn’t matter whether I poured my heart out to my parents, or if I gave no explanation; the end result was the same. I decided not to reopen old wounds.

The day I sent the letters off was anti-climactic. Having spent years imagining what it would be like—the drama, the intensity, the overwhelming joy—none of my fantasies came to life. If anything, I felt simply tired.

An uncertainty took over. I did not know when they received the letters. I did not know what their reaction was. I did not know what, if anything, they said to each other. They put some money into my bank account; that was the only sign I got that the letters were delivered.

I fully anticipated a tirade of phone calls and emails and text messages asking me what was going on and what I was thinking and how I could be so heartless. Instead, I got silence.

Partially I was glad that they respected my choice. Yet a part of me also felt sad that they didn’t fight more. Of course, it wouldn’t have made a difference to my decision, but it would have given me a reassurance that deep down I do matter to them, and perhaps even enough for them to seek help to try and understand why I cut them off.

I was living in a fantasy where my parents would have realised how their actions affected me and where they would have taken responsibility and where eventually we could have rebuilt our relationship. But alas, no.

In the same way I feared my parents randomly turning up into my newfound independent life after I moved out, I now feared them more than ever. The silence, although cherished, was unsettling. I did not know whether they would come looking for me. I wouldn’t know how to handle it if they turned up at my workplace, or my home, or caught me when I’m out with friends.

Although I lied to them about most things in my life over the years, I was paranoid. I was so deeply afraid that now I had found a new kind of happiness, they would come and take it away like all the times before. I was deeply afraid that they were truly nothing more than dementors.

Eventually, my fears began to settle down. As days turned into weeks turned into months, I acquired a new sense of self, a sense of belonging, a sense of reality. This was really happening: my parents were out of my life. I started to feel safe.

On paper, estrangement might appear like a simple solution to a complicated situation, but it encompassed many more implications than I realised before. For one, when I was suddenly forced to move house, I did not have a guarantor to sign a new lease. It was a singular moment of realising that I am, truly, all alone.

Without my parents, I’m in a country with no other family support. Whilst I have social circles with friends and work colleagues, these cannot replace the support family members can offer. However, despite these hardships, I don’t regret what I have done. I managed to sort out the situation with my estate agent and I’m confident that any other obstacles thrown in my way will be equally solvable.

6 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days later came the first attempt at communication. My mother left me a voicemail saying they would like to meet me for dinner. I felt almost violated that she had broken the silence after so many months when things were going so well.

Yet at the same time, I felt wretched at what I had done; she sounded so tired, despondent, and broken on the phone, and that was my doing. I cannot blame anyone else for that. No matter how necessary what I have done was for myself, I cannot deny that it brought devastation to other people.

There have been moments when I have been crippled imagining the pain they must have felt when they received my letters—despite all the hurt and suffering they put me through, from their point of view their beloved child had been ripped from their hands for no discernible reason. I’m not proud of what I’ve done.

What they have gone through has been as undeserving as what I went through. This is not some kind of revenge-seeking: If there was anything I could have done to prevent this, I would have. But ultimately, is their ignorant blissfulness more important than my wellbeing and happiness?

I was filled with dread when two weeks and two days later I received several emails from my mother. Naturally, I’d ignored her phone call, hoping against all hopes that that would be the last of it. I was at work and had to excuse myself to get some fresh air, gather my thoughts. I was in shock.

After ignoring them for nine days I finally read them. My mother hadn’t changed one bit.

Apart from another plea to meet them for dinner, she yet again tried to talk me out of pursuing my dream job because clearly, there was nothing more important to say to her child that she had not spoken to for seven months. I was angry at myself for hoping that the estrangement would have sobered her up to the reality of what my childhood had been like.

To say that she is incapable of understanding me as a person is an understatement. The moment I read the emails was a validation of why I had cut them off, a validation that my anger at myself for hurting them was unwarranted, a validation that without them, I’m much better off.

The ultimate truth is that I no longer have to hide and be afraid of who I am. I am free to be me, explore what more there is to who I am, and I am free to smile without needing to be afraid to be told that I’m not allowed. I am free to be happy.

Throughout my childhood, I was like a plant that was pulled from one piece of earth and shoved into the next, barely able to grow my roots and ground myself before being rerooted again, whether it was through moving house or the instability of my home life or all the other abuse I survived.

Now, I’m beginning to find my new roots after having been put in a new, bigger pot. I’m living in a new place, I have been given a shot at my dream career, and I’m building up my relationships with the people around me. The road I’ve traveled has not been a smooth one, and the road ahead will equally be full of obstacles, but I’m no longer afraid of what the future has in store for me. I’m no longer afraid of the next dawn.

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About the author

Anya M Streng

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