It’s nearly two weeks until the last Empire of the year, and I’m only now writing up last season’s. However, this time there is a very good reason… (CW: Abuse)
It involves a certain person that I invited to join me, several other people at Empire, and gets very personal. If you’re fine with that, grab some popcorn, get comfy and I’ll tell you the story…
I’ve made plenty of mistakes during my life, but this particular one led to the worst/best chain of events I’ve experienced in a long time. I won’t explain too much, partly because this post will likely end up long enough already, but a meme circulating on Facebook recently sums it up pretty well:
I’m sorry momma!
I never meant to hurt you!
I never meant to make you cry; but tonight
I’m cleaning out my closet
~ Cleanin’ out my closet by Eminem
It’s taken me a long time to realise that what I’d experienced growing up was not just toxic behaviour, but emotionally abusive. While my father could get physically violent on occasion, was generally distant until my brother and I hit our teens (at which point he assumed the role of “buddy”), and also treated my mother badly, this in turn seemed to have a knock-on effect in the way she treated me – someone who naturally took after Dad a fair amount. Maybe she resented that because of his behaviour, I don’t know. All I know is, the consistent put-downs, negatively comparing me to others (“You’re just like your father”, or “[name] is so [positive quality]” with a silent “Why can’t you be like that?”), projecting, gaslighting – and later, when she saw I was old enough to understand things better, confiding in me about problems when she had friends – it all wore me down. Dissociation kicked in by the time I got to junior school, and although there were a few times I was sent to counsellors, I couldn’t articulate my feelings in a way that would be helpful. So I stopped trying, and everything went inward.
The problem is amplified when you consider the expectations placed on people by society. Parents are supposed to be a child’s role models. Every year, we’re reminded to buy them tokens of appreciation, but for people like me, Father’s Day and Mother’s Day feel like a knife twisting in the stomach. Sure, there were some good times in there somewhere, and, to her credit, she raised us to be decent people. That doesn’t negate the damage caused by her actions, however, and several of the people who’ve crossed my path since have experienced its effects. To say I’m not proud of it would be an understatement; I especially regret my poor ex being dragged into our disagreements, although their observation that “she is definitely unwell” may as well have been said against the backdrop of a hallelujah chorus. Gaslighting is a particularly nasty tactic that makes you wonder if you’re going crazy; it’s incredibly isolating when you think you’re the only one who can see what a person’s really like.
I finally moved away from family over 5 years ago, although I had been visiting for summer, Christmas, and sometimes Easter – there was the odd time where I’d enjoy my visit, but for the most part, I’d be consumed with dread at the very idea – especially later on. Yet I still fulfilled my duty as a family member to drop by and say hello – even though it was more a week’s stay each time because of the distance. Even though Mum in particular brings out my worst traits – given the above context, it’s no wonder.
My favourite mistake
Fast forward to the present. Mum is deteriorating further into a depressive state and, still thinking at this time that she’s merely toxic (rather than abusive), within my limited capacity to offer any kind of support, I decide that, since LRP had been such a benefit to me, helping with my own depression and generally building confidence, maybe it’ll help her too. So I invite her to the next summer event (E11), since it’s usually better weather.
I’d hung up the phone maybe about a minute or so before I felt a familiar knot in my stomach, and a nagging voice at the back of my head yelling “What on Earth are you doing? Are you nuts?!”
We’d speak on the phone increasingly often about the impending trip. She’d say she was scared about pretty much any aspect of it – never LARPed before, never camped before, getting lost, travelling – for every solution I presented, she’d give 3 more problems. I threatened a couple of times to call it off, since she plainly wasn’t ready. She threatened to call it off, because the anxiety was making her ill. Yet she would counter it with a determination that it wasn’t going to beat her – kudos to her for that.
As the date drew nearer, I was experiencing my own attacks of anxiety about the weekend. It ran along the same vein as other episodes precluding a visit; picturing an explosive argument, where I’d finally reach critical mass and break down. This time was worse, however, as other people would get involved, and I’ve had enough problems with that before.
Things are different now, though. I’ve come a long way, even though I’ve still been in quite a fragile state from my last depressive episode. Since my ex introduced me to this hobby, I’ve made a lot of new friends. Mostly acquaintances, but among them are people I can actually seek support from – good friends that I can talk to, that understand my worries and can provide solutions that are likely to work. Honourable mentions at this stage go to a particular player within the DelToros, and aforementioned player of Ferrero. Admittedly I left it longer than I should have done, but eventually I spoke to them both via Facebook Messenger; in one case explaining at length the cause of my anxieties. Both offered to give me plenty to do on the field to grant me space away from her.
That would have been wonderful if it actually happened, but when the day arrived, fate had other ideas.
End of the line
Mum got a lift directly to my place thanks to my brother not only being able to drive, but also owning a car. There were problems almost immediately – one or two things were down to me; neglecting to put away the large folding table I use for dressmaking, not having enough wardrobe space (“I should have thought of this”) – seemingly trivial things that were already causing conflict. I’d reached a point of resignation years ago where, no matter what I tried, nothing would be good enough, so no, I didn’t think about such things. In fact, during the few days she stayed before the event, I was already wondering why I’d invited her in the first place.
On a good note, one thing I managed to do with her – or rather, let her watch – was my latest varieties of coconut ice.
We left on the Thursday so we could set up and relax. The travel was stressful because of the amount of luggage that I was carting on and off the trains, but we got there. I set up my spare tent for her to use – which was too small. I offered to store some of her things in my bigger tent – a purchase I’d made after struggling with extra scrivener related items, trolley, bags, and trying to apply cambion make-up. The weather was bad, she encountered LRP food prices, and no matter who she talked to, no one could allay her anxieties about either camping, or the game itself.
This only got worse on Friday – the day the game starts. Being depressive and anxious is bad enough – hell, I know this from experience – but this went beyond that to render her more child-like than the toddler brought by one of the DelToros. Another member observed that she was possibly agoraphobic, but was certainly making herself ill with worry – unnecessary worry, due to the amount of people reassuring her that support was available if she asked. One of these people was a crew member who works in a nursing home, so had already seen all sorts – and even he couldn’t help.
By the time it reached the afternoon, with only a few hours until time-in, a chance visit to the monster tent so she could borrow an item of clothing brought things to a head. A crew member brought her to me and took me outside to explain that she needed to be taken off-site. Possibly a hotel, but better to take her home.
She got taken to First Aid, where she was found to have hypothermia and high blood pressure. Meanwhile, I noticed Ferrero’s player, who I knew wanted my character to help out during the weekend, so I instinctively approached him and explained the situation.
He let me use his laptop to check my options, including checking train times in case the worst happened. I reported back to the DelToros and explained the problem to them. Many hugs were given, many suggestions and other supportive words were offered, and I finally felt able to return to the First Aid tent ready to tell her that there was a nearby Travelodge – except she’d already called my brother and told him to expect her back at his place.
At this point, I just felt sick and angry. I did actually lose it while trying to offer a compromise, whereupon a staff member had to take me outside for a word. Knowing that again, people were only seeing Mum’s side of the story, I told him that things weren’t as straight-forward as it seemed. Thankfully he understood this but still reiterated that she needed to be taken home. He did at least suggest that I could still come back for the rest of the weekend.
It was of little comfort when one of the DelToros brought me into Monster so I could be looked after for a change, when I caught Ferrero’s eye and gave a weary wave, when I gazed dejectedly at him as he approached and told him I really needed a hug.
As I sank into his arms, his deep voice muttered something in my ear.
“No reason to continue the relationship now, is there?”
I knew for a long time that, at some point, I needed to break all contact with Mum for my sanity’s sake. We’re told this all the time – “Why don’t you just leave?” I even said it myself of people with abusive partners, yet here I was, refusing to do something I badly needed to do.
I don’t know what it is that partners experience, as I’ve never had it – there are often themes I hear of a lack in confidence which, given how I’ve been left feeling from not only Mum, but also incessant bullying during my school years, I completely understand that. Emotional abuse of any kind batters your self-esteem, leaving you right where they want you. When that person is your parent there’s the added sense of obligation, that you’re supposed to love your parents unconditionally and help them out when needed. It goes back to what I said before about society placing undue pressure on people who still have parents – and it’s only made worse when said parent plays on that and makes you feel like a horrible person if you fail to meet that obligation.
If it weren’t for people like Ferrero, who could reassure me that breaking contact was not only a valid option, but necessary, I’d probably still be trapped in an abusive relationship with someone who’s been slowly sucking the life from me.
So thank you, Ferrero, for throwing me a life line.
To be continued
Photo credits: Ann Sundqvist