For many years, I’ve lived a stress-filled life without any freedom to relax for fear of not being enough. It was a struggle more than my mind and heart could keep up with that I attempted suicide countless times. Sure, it was a shallow reason in exchange for my life. I am not justifying my wrong choices. But it wasn’t your everyday stress. It was the constant pressure of measuring up to someone who ruled my heart – my Mother.
It’s one thing to disappoint your family, or anyone really. No one is perfect, and people do it more often than not. But if the reason for disappointment is being who you are, then it’s another story. And this was my story growing up in a dysfunctional, Asian family where shame, guilt, and fear were the vital tools for discipline.
There was love, yes. When I did well at school, there was love. When I was obedient to Mother, there was love. When I made grand promises to Mother that I would save the family from my alcoholic Dad and poverty at age 8 or 9, I felt love, appreciation, and acceptance.
For a long time, I have been supporting Mother and the family both emotionally and financially. I put my desires in the back of my mind. I prepared myself to take on the world for Mother. I aimed high and grabbed all that I could get from the outside – recognition, accomplishment, compliments, etc. I modified my behaviour always to fit my environment and to achieve my goals. All so that Mother could be proud of me. So that Mother could share in my triumphs. And so that I could save Mother from the pain and make her happy, with herself, and with me.
As I grew older, I started to question things. I saw how the world worked differently. I met happy people. But Mother would always deny that. She would go on about how people were deceived and couldn’t be trusted and that I only had her and the family. That my friends weren’t real or that I shouldn’t have a best friend, other than my sister.
I started to realise that she was painting images in my head. Things were beginning to take on a different meaning in my life. There were many things I had no control over, and I saw what I lacked. I didn’t have what it takes to be happy. I didn’t have the freedom to make decisions. I didn’t have any power to choose my own path. I didn’t have a voice.
I visualised myself as a robot. One that was programmed to do whatever was asked. But I felt the real me was worse than that. I couldn’t even get anything right. Everything I did was just wrong and unacceptable to Mother, therefore unacceptable to me. I was trying to be the person she wanted, but as I continued to encounter more people, different lives and different stories, I got even more confused. I would consistently get into fights with Mother. But it was always for the same reason: because I was different, I was stubborn, and I was thinking on my own.
I always had to apologise for who I am. Until I found out, I never knew who I am. Only who I was supposed to be for Mother. And whenever I tried to be who that is, I always did it wrong. Either way, one thing was clear. I could never be accepted.
But still, I exhausted myself doing things to become someone. I would get recognised and acknowledged for my achievements. People would tell me how I was a good and responsible daughter, way ahead of my years. I would take these and offer them to Mother, hope filling up my heart. They were my tickets to being accepted and loved. Isn’t that what life is all about? Being loved and accepted and to love in return?
Even then, I would still do it wrong. I wasn’t supposed to let it get to my head. I was supposed to be humble. There was an unspoken rule that condemned the prideful. Mother would say that I was better than that.
Other times, Mother would remember these things. She would remind me how my achievements define my worth. She would tell me that I made her happy. This was one of my best days. It was all I lived for, my very existence. And for a very long time, it was empty.
Not long after, I met someone. I met a man. He showed me a new kind of love, and it triggered something in me. He showed me kindness, generosity, acceptance and love. Suddenly, I was very aware of my lack, my unworthiness. There was nothing in me that’s worth loving. I haven’t yet done enough to earn that.
But this love started healing a wound in my heart I never knew existed. Love accepted me as I am. Love didn’t attempt to make me someone, unlike what Mother did. This love gave me the freedom to be whoever I wanted to be. This love empowered me. I felt different feelings, those that I never did before. It made me happy. It made me love myself.
Eventually, I learned to make my own decisions. I chose to continue what love started in my heart and pursued emotional and mental healing. And I sensed the changes in me. Love was taking root, revealing more of who I really am inside, who God made me be. For the first time in my life, I felt loved, wholly and unconditionally, just for being me. I was accepted. I was enough.
I finally decided to separate emotionally and psychologically from Mother and the family. This time, there was no more guilt, shame or fear. It wasn’t a welcomed idea for the family. Instead, they dubbed me, the prodigal daughter. Maybe in another attempt to make me loathe myself and come back to them? I’ve had enough.
The journey of my healing starts here.