One of my mother wounds is rarely feeling free of tension when I say No. As a child, the only way I could come up with to deal with my raging alcoholic mother, even when she was sober, was to stay small, stay compliant and say yes to whatever she wanted from me.
Who knows what I would have wanted to be or wanted to express outside of her environment, but I grew up within it as a people pleaser, and more specifically, someone fine tuned to try and please my never satisfied mother. She just never liked me. It started off poorly at my birth when she was disappointed I was a girl and went on until her death when she disinherited me.
Needless to say, the wounds from this mother have been a source of a lot of deep sorrow but also a lot of growth. Taking back my power has been exhilarating as well as painful. Not being compliant, not toeing the line, not stifling my truth, not staying small: each act of defiance has helped heal the wounds that generations of women in my family and every family carry. Each act of defiance has released me into a greater sense of self.
Defying my family of origin and my mother in particular took me into my own resources, that deep well within us all, and took me to the God within. I am so grateful for this.
And yes, I feel compassion for my mother who was carrying her own immense mother wounds. But this compassion lives inside me alongside the conviction that it was not okay what she did to me and I do not have to deny this truth to cover for her failings.
One thing that took a long time to address was the mother wound of self care. My mother left me no room for self care. She couldn’t even be bothered to hold the bottles that fed me. She propped them with pillows and left me to it.. My parents would laughingly tell stories of the doctor telling my mother that I was not gaining enough weight and was too polite a baby. I learned early to stay small and make few demands.
But I was a person, as we all are, with needs and wild, fiery life flowing through me. As I got older, I realized I could have a secret life of doing what I wanted as long as I was home in time to do my chores before dinner. I wandered the forests and imagined a different life. Sometimes I lived it. Completely unsupervised in my secret life, I learned to drive a car when I was nine. My best friend Lynn and I would drive her family’s old Studebaker up and down a strip in her back field, We could get “Old Foolish Carriage” up to 30 mph down one straightaway. I am sure it was the act of a loving God when the front axle broke, and the car died.
As life unfurled, I continued to balance out the expression of my inner zest better than my need for self care. Life at home felt like a coffin, but away from home I explored things that I was truly passionate about and committed to them fully. Later I declared my truths to one and all and stood by them even as there was intense criticism about my choices. My spiritual search started in earnest when I began my own family in my twenties. My father thought my spiritual choices and life work meant I worked for the devil. My mother just called me crazy.
By the time my family of origin devolved into the new low of my youngest drug crazed and violent brother threatening to kill me and my children while the rest of my family of origin looked the other way, I found my mother and father’s behavior dark but not unexpected. I had patched together my own way to live my life and go for my truth. I grieved at what I had never had from them- love or even safety- but I continued on, not looking to them for help. I followed through on the cultural taboo of breaking off with them completely in order to use what energy I had to protect myself and my own family.
Some mother wounds were a bit more slippery to see and resolve, and self care was one of these. When I look back on the orthopedic injuries I have had- I broke my left arm and wrist into dozens of pieces in 2012 and then did the same thing to my right arm four years later- I see that these were opportunities to heal the original drama of having parents that did not care for my physical being when I was a child. I may have mentioned this before, but when the orthopedic surgeon looked at the x-rays of my break in 2012, the first thing she said was that I had broken my arm previously, and it had not been set properly. When she said this, I had some deep awareness that this happened when I was four. It didn’t set right because I was not taken to a doctor. I also have broken ribs and broken bones in my feet that healed wrong. It pierces me with sorrow that little Molly navigated broken bones all alone.
With the more recent arm breaks, my recuperations were a chance for me to receive love and care from the people around me now and also learn to slow down and inner mother myself in my recovery. It was also a chance to let go of the kind of self vigilance I have had since birth and learn to trust that in the life I had created for myself I had surrounded myself with people that would care for me when I couldn’t care for myself. AND THEY DID.
I am in my sixties now and through my second Saturn return. For me, the territory of this Saturn return was a return to the concern of self care. The last few years have called me to pare away more lingering “a nice daughter does this” ie “a nice daughter doesn’t have time to take care of herself because she is busy taking care of everyone else.” The paring away means I am free to follow through on what I believe to be my purposes here with more reverence and more discernment, more joy and more space.
Life gives us so many opportunities to examine what it is we believe is important and what needs to be discarded. The old dragon mother dialog of shoulds becomes increasingly unhelpful, but mercifully, life constantly highlights these old chestnuts and helps us to discard them. No is always a vital word for women and a sentence in its entirety, but this comes home to me more and more as I am aware my time is not infinite as Molly Sheehan.
Yesterday was a small victory for me and my ease with the word No. A fellow beekeeper came to my door wanting me to contribute honey from our two hives so she could fulfill a contract she had with a local organization. I told her I did not have the honey for this. I could have added nor do I have the interest as this organization has been a patriarchal bastion of pain and suffering for all of my family. She pressed me, saying it was bee sisterhood and the bees could give more honey now. This is way past when I harvest honey from our bees. At this point in the season, my whole focus is on getting the hives through the winter and this means ample honey for them. I felt my niggling old mother wound of being nice, sharing at my own expense, but it was exhilarating to just say No.
And so I did.