My Birth Mother Was A “Cutter” and I knew nothing about self mutilation at that time

I did not know about “cutters”

I met my birth mother in 1992. I had been desperate to meet her. I had grown up in a “home” where the people who had adopted me openly regretted their mistake. Another thing they did was withhold any and all information about my origins. The lady who adopted me would say, “If you’ve got another mother out there find her. You’ll see!” and then she would snicker like a villain in an old fashioned movie. I escaped that house to go to college. I had been so focussed on doing well enough to get out of there that I was kind of lost without having a mission. I did not just get out of that house I got to go to Harvard, which is more than I ever knew to dream about. The only problem was that the problems I thought college would solve were still there. I was still alone. I wanted a mother, a family, you know, the whole kit and kaboodle. Among the privileged people at Harvard there were very many examples of people who had mothers, fathers, whole generations of relatives working for their well-being. I was outraged that I should have no one.

I got to meet my birth mother

I did not know how I was going to meet my birth mother since the only thing I knew about my birth mother was the fact that I had a birth mother. Nothing else. To make a long story short, I happened to encounter someone who had paid professional searchers to uncover her roots and she told me how to do the same. I will share that process in another blog. In this post I will share that I was able to take advantage of a series of coincidences, miracles, whatever, to meet my birth mother and she actually wanted me!

I was not grateful

I should have been happy. As an adult I deeply regret that I was not happy. I wish I had known how to do something other than judge other people and try to be better than everyone. It really wasn’t my fault, I see that now. I lived in a world that ranked students from best to worst. I was not a nice enough person to understand there was another way to look at people. If I had it to do all over again, when I went looking for my birth mother I would have done so with the intention of seeing if there was anything I could do for her. Instead I looked for her with a list of requirements because I had a lot of needs for her to fill! I wish I were kidding but I am telling the truth. I looked for her because I was an out and out taker who looked for what she could get out of people. Yet they never seemed to be “there” enough for me, no matter who they were. Even the people who were emotionally healthy could not handle me. No relationship I tried to form ever lasted. And so it was with my birth mother. But unlike everyone else, she did not decide she had had enough of me. She tried to reach out but I would have none of it. Why not? I had put all of my hopes and dreams into finding a birth mother who wanted me. I had spent every penny I had ever made to pay professional searchers to illegally access sealed records on my behalf. Why did I reject the blessing?

It was the scars

My birth mother had scars on every visible surface of her body. If she could reach a section of skin, she had slashed it. She did not limit her self-mutilation to the clean cuts of a sharp razor. She used jagged objects that were not sharp enough to leave straight lines but left raised and twisted scars which metaphorically represented the state of mind of a woman who had been confined to psychiatric hospitals since she was a child and throughout her entire adult life. Today, I know the meaning of “cutting.” I know that it is something that is actually common, especially among females. I know that it is an expression of pain and trauma. Cutting is both a cry for help and an effort to help one’s self. When the human body is injured the brain releases endorphins to help with the pain. Not everyone knows that pain is quite literally accompanied by pleasure. (Did you know endorphin translates to “the morphine within” if you break it down by the word roots?) I have read different reasons why people cut themselves. They do it because they do not feel anything and that numbness feels too much like death and they yearn to feel anything. Alternatively, some say the emotional pain they are experiencing starts to overwhelm them so they create a different pain that they can control so they are both distracted by a physical sensation and empowered to know that the infliction of pain and the delivery of relief is entirely in their own hands and not up to an abuser. Yet another theory postulates that some people are more in tune with the release of endorphins upon injury and truly do feel better, the same way people feel better when they take drugs that trigger the release of endorphins. I am no expert in the area of self mutilation but I now know that it is far from rare although it is usually hidden because there is a considerable stigma in doing something that non-cutters view as patently “crazy.” When I met my birth mother on my 19th birthday I had never in life heard of anyone self-mutilating.

I could not handle what I saw

I saw the scars my mother had on her neck, arms, legs, feet. Ugly, injured flesh that had the look that only a jagged tin can produces when used against the body. I did not know what to make of the scars. They scared me and horrified me. I was not only young, but at 19 I was immature for my age. It never occurred to me to sit down with her and ask her what she had been feeling when she had inflicted those injuries. I knew nothing of taking a person’s hand to let the person know everything would be alright because I simply wanted to understand so we could have a relationship. Those actions were not really options for me because I knew how to be supportive the same way I knew Russian literature. I knew there was a book called Dr. Zhivago, but that’s all I knew. I knew there was such a thing as being caring, but that’s all I knew. I had no specific knowledge, no skill set, and no intuition to guide me. I did the only thing I could do. I pretended not to see her scars. I hid my complete horror. Although my mind cried out “What is this?” I never asked anyone the question.

Her Scars, My Shame

The lady who had adopted me had been right when she said I was in for a nasty surprise if I looked up my birth mother. No wonder she had called me crazy with such certainty all of my life! That lady had known something about my birth mother’s history of mental illness. She had hated me for not being the child she had wanted to bear. Name calling was one way she had expressed resentment that I was not the child she had wanted but someone’s cast off. I met my birth mother at the beginning of my sophomore year at Harvard. I had long been out of touch with the cruel people who had adopted me. I could picture the reaction to finding out I had met my birth mother. My adoptive father would say nothing and focus on whatever game was on tv, and the lady I could not bring to call my adoptive mother? She would have been delighted to imagine what I must have felt to discover that my birth mother had spent her life institutionalized or pushing a cart on a street that was well located for pan handling. It is a terrible thing to hear your enemy say “I told you so.” An even worse thing is the belief that your enemy was right after all. There was no family for me in the traditional sense. This birth mother of mine was someone who would be thought of as crazy. I hid the truth about her cutting. Anyone knowing my mother’s story would see my emotional instability as a sign that I was just like her. And you know what? Maybe I was, or am, just like my birth mother. It took me decades to form the speculation that if I was like my birth mother, that was not necessarily a bad thing. At the time of our visit I spent a week and a half with her and unbeknownst to me she was just like me indeed. She only knew how to be a taker because emotionally she was a child. She thought I was rich because I went to “the school of the Kennedys,” as she put it. She asked me for money I did not have. She wanted my attention but never gave me any attention. I resented her demands and the resentment developed into a poisonous hatred for her. I was devastated that I had created a well defined agenda of finding someone to take care of me only to utterly fail by finding a woman who never once asked me anything about myself. The same way I never asked her anything about herself. When the visit was over I got on the plane in Seattle to head back to Cambridge and I never went back. I ran away.

We were not exactly alike in every way

I made no effort to keep in touch with her. She had nothing to offer me. I got so angry when I heard her voice over the phone I would end up breaking things to try to take the pain away. I threw glasses against the walls hoping to stop the thoughts cartwheeling in my head. I paced the floor for 3 to 4 hours a night on a treadmill of rage, the same thoughts hitting me, hurting me. I did not know that thoughts do not happen to you but you can control your thoughts with a lot of work. Maybe in her world, when she felt like I was feeling she cut herself. I could not control my expressions of rage even though my raging never comforted me. I hid what I secretly called my “destruction of property relapses,” but I always ended up raging at people until there was no one around. I never raged at my birth mother, but that is all I can say that’s positive about myself and how I handled the results of The Search. I did not write her back. I did not return her calls. She once sent me a picture of herself sitting in an arm chair smiling the way people do when they don’t have any teeth. A friend I hadn’t driven away yet looked at the picture but gave it back to me saying, “I can’t look at this. She wants you to be proud of her. She is so sad. This picture makes me so sad.” A few years later when I looked up her address I sent a card and it was returned to me with the word “Deceased” on the front. I was too late.

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