I grew up in a very loveless home. The closest thing to love were probably the moments when my stepfather was comfortably drunk and watching football, being at peace with the rest of the world, as long as my mother went in and out of the room to provide a ready supply of beer and food. During those moments she was the most important person to him and no crap came my way. Sometimes, in a rare moment of generosity, I would be given a handful of potato chips. I used to love football. With some luck it meant calm and peace while it lasted.
Most other things that could be considered ‘love’ were one big tangle of sexual abuse. Hugs and cuddles were never just hugs and cuddles. That I was not used to real love and understood positive attention and affection to be mere precursors to sex probably made it quite obvious to people in the helping profession that I was pretty much in need of love.
Maybe I should mention that to most people I seem to look physically attractive. I’m short and light and have long blonde hair. I look younger than I am. I seem to look a lot more innocent than I am, too.
I was aware that many people I met along my way – social workers, nurses, therapists, you name them – took to me. For reasons of pity, charity, so I could be their success story, or just because they were idealistic . . . I don’t know which. For some reason I attracted their attention, even when I tried to be invisible. I can’t count how often someone thought that what I needed was love and kindness, someone to take an interest, good experiences . . . and I’d be better.
I suppose it’s a lovely thought. Love conquers all, and all that. But I never bought it. Love is just a word. If someone was kind to me, I absorbed all of the good stuff that I could take, I liked the person and even thought they were the one who would save me, that they were finally the one good person, but as screwed up as I was I had unrealistic expectations. That someone good couldn’t possibly disappoint me. So when it happened, I turned on them. I am capable of very awful behavior, and they were sure to get the worst of it. And I turned on me as well, for being such a horrible person.
But often before they disappointed me, I disappointed them. They invested feelings in me – some even said so, that what I really needed was some love – and were bitterly disappointed when I did not react as they expected. When I lied to them. Didn’t open up. Didn’t get better. Stole from them. Or others. Or that when they were so generous to invite me to their house I ended up having sex with their husband.
So they gave up. Declared me beyond repair and a despicable creature. Even by crazy people standards. Abandonment. Once again. Like I knew was going to happen. Fuck love. If love did shit, I would have gotten better. I hate love. Nothing but lies and deception and people feeling you owe them.
Then I met the people who are now my family. Went to live with them, because heck, what did I have to lose? Government run group homes sucked. So once again someone wanted to love me. Great. I knew how this was going to end. Knew it by heart. But hell, I’m a sucker for attention and they gave me plenty. Against better knowledge I also don’t tire of being tricked into feeling like THIS person will be the one good person, the one who will fix it. So I got a set of new therapists and family people.
And the mom there loved me. Said so, too. In English: everything was set up for failure!
Except that it worked out. The mom there was kind and affectionate, patient and gentle. But she was also not easy to manipulate. She would not melt with pity at some tear-jerking story I dished up. She was firm and consistent. She could be fun and good times, but no-nonsense, too. Yet never threatening. Or, well, very threatening, because I found love threatening and relationships threatening and everything threatening, but she managed to see that I was scared and found ways to bring the fear down to levels I could tolerate. She never allowed for situations to end before I felt safe, for the time being. More than once that meant staying up all night.
She has become my mom. She loves me. And it makes all the difference. Sometimes she, too, says “love conquers all”. Then I laugh, because that’s what all those people before her thought too, and I know how that turned out. But my mom is not delusional. She does not mean it in the way that love itself fixes stuff. It doesn’t.
My mom has a metaphor that she uses when I laugh at her for saying love conquers all. She agrees that the way that won’t work is when people expect love itself and love alone to do the fixing. She says that’s like loving on broken china. You can love and love and love it all you want, it won’t magically become undamaged. BUT if you really love that piece of china, it will give you the strength and endurance to go looking for ways to fix it, even when it isn’t easy. The china will never be the same as before, because it will always have been fixed, but if you love it enough, you’ll do the very best you can to mend it the best possible way, even in the face of difficulty and setbacks and things taking a long time. Even when it doesn’t turn out perfect. Or not the way you originally wanted it to.
And even when I still laugh at her (come on, who’d spend ages trying to fix a piece of china? 😉 ) I think she might have a point. I think I finally got what love is. And I love my mom back. So, so much.
Love conquers all. Or well. Maybe not all. But a lot. If used properly.
(And now I’m done being philosophical. For at least a week. LOL. That took ages to write!)