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Surviving Abuse Without My Mother

With Mother's Day approaching, Dana shares her story about living through and escaping abuse without her mother, Pam, who passed away when she was 18 years old. This holiday can be hard for many, including abuse survivors. Whether you have lost your mom, are a single mother, have an abusive mother, long to be a mother but aren't, etc., this blog shares how to find comfort on this holiday (and any other day of the year).

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Dana Rutherford (BTSADV’s Volunteers Director) and her mother, Pam, in 2002

There is nothing quite like a mother’s love.

It’s comforting and nurturing. A simple embrace can make all the cares of the world disappear even for just a moment. It’s the very heartbeat that we hear before we ever enter this life, and it’s the first form of love that we feel from another human being.

What happens, however, when that love is ripped from us too soon? Many of us are left to deal with the broken pieces that the absence of a mother leaves in our hearts. We long for that nurturing, comfort, and embrace, but it is not there, whether by death or choice.

I was 18 years old when my mother passed away. I was just entering adulthood, and I truly needed her more than ever. She had unfortunately become addicted to prescription drugs in a day and age where they were handed out with little said about their habit-forming properties. My childhood was very unstable because of it. My father was also addicted, so it led to a very unhealthy situation. My mother went to the hospital one day with Tylenol poisoning and died 6 days later at 44 years old. My father would pass away as well just 3 weeks after her at 53 years old.

Right before they passed away, I married a boy I met at church youth camp. We were both young, 18 and 19 years old, and we both came from toxic homes. I wanted someone to love me, and he was eager to fill that role. I now can see where it was a perfect storm that would lead to almost 15 years of marriage, 3 children, and abuse in every way.

Not having a mother (or father) while enduring abuse was devastating. I often wonder if she would have been the first phone call on those days that I needed encouragement. Would I have hidden it from her out of shame, or would I have looked to her for wisdom and guidance? Would I have gotten out sooner if she was there to help pick up the pieces, or would it have broken my heart to utter the words that a man was hurting her little girl? No matter how the events would have occurred, ultimately, I wish that she was here through it all because her absence was crushing.

Leaving the abuse without her support proved to be even more difficult. Logistically, I had nowhere to go, but emotionally, I needed her more than ever. Statistically, the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence is right after they escape, and I was terrified. I had to file divorce papers and a restraining order all by myself. The shelters were full, so my 3 children and I bounced around homeless for almost 4 months. I felt like I was drowning, and I worried that my children were going to feel the effects of this. Not only did I not have my mom, but I felt like I was failing at being a mother myself.

Survivors of domestic violence struggle with multiple issues including post-traumatic stress, insecurity, hypervigilance, a lack of resources, etc. You throw that in with grieving, and it can be very triggering especially around holidays such as Mother’s Day. Whether it’s the one who lost their mother, the one who has no relationship with their mother, the single mom, the one whose mother is the abuser, the one who longs to be a mother but isn’t, the mother who lost their child, etc., this event can be painful with constant reminders of it through advertisements, greeting cards, and social media posts. Even though I am happy for them, it can sting to watch my friends shower their moms with love on that day. I am blessed to be a mother, so I can say that my children make me feel very special on Mother’s Day, but there are many years that it has been a hard day for me, and that is okay to admit.

If you struggle on Mother’s Day, or any day of the year because of grief, know that it’s normal, and you are not alone. If you are walking through healing from abuse or any kind of trauma without your mother’s support, it will not be easy, but you can honor your mother in the best way possible by loving and caring for yourself. I know for a fact that my mom would be so proud of me for leaving abuse, getting on my feet, and helping other survivors do the same. I know that she would be my biggest cheerleader every step of the way, and I carry her spirit with me in my heart. She loved me dearly, and I know she would never want me to live a life full of abuse.

Mom, I miss you. I wish that I could tell you how much you mean to me, but for now, I will live a life that makes you proud. Happy Mother’s Day, not just to you, but to all those who may be grieving on this day.

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