I have not written a single word since I finished my blog-run of “50 Days of 50, One Man’s Sobering Realization that it’s NOT The New 40’s.” The wind didn’t stop blowing into my artistic sails; I just had to get out of the creative waters for a while. You see, my mom passed away shortly after complications from a “successful” surgery. Oh yes, I will write about that later: I’m thinking of writing “50 Days of Mother,” a personal reveal of my mother’s relationship to me. But I’ll need some time. You understand.
But yesterday one of my favorite clients, Jay, came in for a haircut and told me about his sister and his mother. His sister is lesbian and is looking forward to her upcoming wedding to her partner and his mother seemed to be having a hard time with this. Instead of the wedding becoming a time of joy and celebration, it had become a catalyst in his family where acceptance had to begin; and sometimes that can be rocky. When Jason told me his family story, I knew I had to write again. As with all writers and hairdressers, I know that I have all the answers and I think my own history with my mother and I holds a key to help Jay’s family avoid years of strife and possible estrangement.
My mom and I were always close. We were both powerful and headstrong. As I have stated in my fiction book, Mafia Hairdresser, and alluded to in day 45 of 50 Days of 50, we also had a few years of strife between us. But those hard years of learning to appreciate and love each other again, unconditionally, were also part of our rich history.
I was living with my high school sweetheart, Chuck, at the time in Long Beach and I was still working at Jon Don’s Salon. I was pretty much grown up and had a grip on life. But I had flown to Antioch, California, to attend a larger-family wedding and then I was going to hitch a ride with Mom and Dad back down to So.Cal.. On the car ride home, mom kept picking on me. She was very pointed and cruel and dad was unconsciously oblivious. This was a time when mom and I barely spoke. She had been having a very hard time with me being gay and so she hated Chuck, and she bade me to keep the relationship “to myself” and not even mention it to my larger family, including my brother–which I did for a while. But I did come out to my family during that wedding, and I got lots of acceptance and love, except from mom…
I broke down on the trip around the pass over the mountains into L.A.. I remember blubbering and screaming at dad, “How could you let her be so mean?!” And I’m sure I was very pleading, hurt, angry and biting back to Marie Elshere, in kind as well. What came out of that “break down” on the highway was that dad and I went to counseling with famed councilor, Judith Doyle. (She went on to produce the AIDS walk in LB of which I was on the committees.) My original plan was to have mom, dad and me in therapy but mom refused.
In these sessions Judy Doyle said, “Of course your mom isn’t going to come to therapy. She’s afraid that you would bring up things that she has done in the past that hurt you.” I was like, “Duh. That sounds like fun to me.” I have would loved to have rub her nose in the fact that she threatened me with shock treatments, she’s a controlling bitch, and that she’s just plain mean.”
But Dad and I changed in those sessions. We formed a healthy communicating relationship. I was still young so I had a lot of wisdom to acquire but those sessions were a great foundation to build on. I also got a few life-tools out of those sessions. Tools that carry me through and guide me in the choices I make for myself and my relationship with others today.
Judith Doyle said to me that if I wanted to have a relationship with my mother, I had to first: forgive her and myself. This is never easy but I have found that, just like the Bible, Buddhism, and so many Wayne Dyer type philosophies, forgiveness is key to moving on to a healthy self and then a healthy relationship. The opposite of forgiveness is seething, anger, pain, hurt–and visualizing negative aspects of the unforgiven every time you come in contact with them. That negativity has to come out while you’re with that person somehow–no? Oh yeah, have fun forgiving yourself for being a dick in the first place and seeing your own part in EVERY relationship. That one is hard. I had to listen to numerous forgiveness affirmation CD’s to forgive myself–for a lot of things!
The second thing Ms. Doyle said to me was that she assumed that I had it in me to want a relationship with my mother; over being right or rubbing her nose in “her past deeds.” It took a few weeks for me to agree, but yes, that was correct. I looked at all the good my mother and I had built between us in the past and I wanted a future with my mother so I thought I would and could let go of the anger as well as what was not so good about our relationship. Once I had decided that I wanted a relationship with mom I was instructed to let go of my pictures of the old mom and start the relationship anew with the new mom. What did that look like? Movies? Cooking together? Bonding over things like art and holidays? Essentially I had to act like the relationship was already like that–when it wasn’t–and then it was…
The last and most important part of those sessions was that I had to realize that I could not change anyone and that I was only in charge of myself in that department. This is never particularly fun for the “it’s all about me” generation because those people love to manipulate other people’s lives. And you know what? I was addicted to drama as much as mom was…
Part of my taking care of yourself is to look at your own life and start living it–this never stops and everyone is always sidetracked. Another part of taking care of yourself is to learn how to set boundaries which helped in mine and mom’s relationship. Many times I had to stop her and say, “You know, I love ya, but when you do that it hurts my feelings.” I usually never even had to put a threat of leaving the moment with her and I never had to raise my voice. Of course, this sort of dialogue came with and opposite–I had to stop doing a few things that bothered her.
Over time and many wonderful years, mom apologized for that time in our lives that was so difficult. I have my own opinions about why she was such a bitch: her oldest son was gay, she was pissed I lied that I was gay for so long, her youngest son had flown the coop and soon my little brother would do the same so who would she take care of…She had no identity without being a mom? And her marriage was…what?–what was her mission there anymore? That time had to suck for her so she grabbed the steering wheel of our lives and steered her family like she always had to and she gripped so tight it nearly choked us.
Forgiveness, love, work, years, and learning how to take care of myself gave me back my mom and it was all because I changed. She did too and I am thankful for her, but when she apologized, years later I was very touched but I did not need it. The relationship was everything and it was more than enough. We actually laughed about those years many times.
I advise anyone who needs to come out to a strong steering-mother: Do what you need to do for yourself. Come out of the closet: tell the world that you don’t want to be a lawyer and that you want to in be an actor and do it. Come out of the closet and tell your best friend that that you can’t be around them because of their drug or alcohol abuse–you haven’t been able to help them and this hurts you. Come out of the closet to your friends and family and let them find their own way with it and give people room to breath with that. Know you can love someone, but sometimes you have to do it from afar to be able to live your life and learn to love yourself–relationships come back together when both parties are ready.
To the sister getting married: I’m sure your mom loves you so much, but she has had such a strong picture built, over years, about how your happiness is supposed to look like. It’s going to take some time for her to let you show her that your vision of happiness is just perfect-for you. You must give your mother more love and understanding if you want that from her. She’s been guiding you and putting your well-being in front of hers for so many years, I’m sure it’s going to be a bit of an adjustment for her to let go doing what has been her main job all those years.
God Bless. Onward.