Autumn reads a story that is a beautiful illustration of what it can look like to engage a parent who has done harm. This story is from a very recent time in Autumn’s life when she found herself caring for her sick mother. For all of its redemptive beauty, there is nothing tidy about this story—you’ll hear about Autumn’s dysregulation and indeed her murderous rage at her mother… but you’ll also hear about Autumn’s fierce commitment to offering her mother the very thing that Autumn never received as a girl.

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Show Notes

Autumn reads a story that is a beautiful illustration of what it can look like to engage a parent who has done harm. This story is from a very recent time in Autumn’s life when she found herself caring for her sick mother. For all of its redemptive beauty, there is nothing tidy about this story—you’ll hear about Autumn’s dysregulation and indeed her murderous rage at her mother… but you’ll also hear about Autumn’s fierce commitment to offering her mother the very thing that Autumn never received as a girl.

Adam: When did you first learn that you had a story?

Autumn: I remember watching Oprah Winfrey about 30 years ago and she had guests on her show talking about childhood molestation. I remember listening with my jaw hanging open thinking What? That’s what it’s called?”

Adam: As you began to engage your own story in your early years what was it like? What obstacles did you run into?

Autumn: Being an optimist I was sure that I had not been harmed by any of it. That was my greatest obstacle was having to agree that there’s carnage in the wake of my life.

“Even my upbringing in a Christian church…”Jesus heals. “He’s taking care of it.”

Adam: It’s somehow unchristian to look in the darker places of our stories.

Autumn: Yes, and you feel ashamed…like I’m doing something wrong or anti-God and He’s going to be angry with me if I look at this.”

I could not answer the question as to why I had very little feeling for my mother.

The thoughts that would help settle my heart were, “She never really knew you anyway. She probably never loved you anyway.” At least if I believed that to be true I thought it would hurt less.”

Autumn: After helping my mother out of bed and into the restroom I began to recognize patterns of behavior that had harmed me in my younger years.”

As the day went on we had visitors – little visitors who were noisy and messy. I could see her eyebrows furrow the way I always understood that if my noise level did not change a spanking or slap across the face was not far behind.

I noticed how quickly I could attune to her…reading her well. Something I had learned to do to keep myself safe. But this time it was to help care for her.

As we began to navigate the living room I again saw her need for cleanliness and order to jump out again. I felt the freedom to chuckle to myself, “Autumn it is as bad as you remember. You are not crazy.”

Did she just do what I think she did? As she went to pick up the toilet paper I became acutely aware of the things I began to feel in my body. I wanted to pull her hair out. Maybe I should just drag her to bed that little brat. What the hell? Maybe I should just kill her.

The rage was so loud but as I began to breathe I began to soften.

What did I need from her that I never received? I never received attunement. Kindness. What would kindness look like? Do I even want to give her what she never gave me?

I will give her something I longed for but never received.

I held her eyes. I held my head in her direction hoping to see her face again. She looked at my eyes and leaned down toward my cheek and kissed it so softly. I love you.

Adam: It’s so common with people with trauma to not have any feeling toward their parents.

Adam: There has to be curiosity about our bodily responses…curiosity about a place that could have been massive self contempt.

Adam: And if we are faithful to continue to engage our parents God will give us give us experiences to validate what has been true of our stories.

Adam: There’s a moment when these little visitors, little kids come in and you are so attuned to this woman’s face. You see her eyes – her eyebrows furrow and something in you braces for retaliation – for a slap. It’s stunning that decades after your growing up years, your body, our bodies, this is what we know about trauma, years later, decades, our bodies still brace themselves to be hit when we read a particular facial expression on Mom. We’re limbic creatures which means that we are constantly reading facial expressions. We’re constantly reading tone of voice. And, we’re bracing what our brains have learned is soon to follow.

Autumn: There was real sadness that my body still remembers and still doesn’t want to receive. I didn’t even want to receive any goodness from her had any goodness been there. Sadness that I still had to think about protecting the kids in case she did something.

Adam: As your mom begins acting our her OCD you have a key moment where you say to yourself, “Autumn, it was as bad as you thought it was and that you weren’t crazy. You needed to experience the craziness as an adult to validate what you experienced as a child.

Autumn: When you write your story and then go back and read it again you find yourself asking saying to yourself, Really was it that bad? It couldn’t have been that bad? What are you complaining about? What are you being such a baby about?

Adam: So your mom really begins to piss you off and you begin talking to yourself. “Autumn you’ve had training. You know what to do with this.” But then say “As you begin to breath, you begin to soften.”

What you’re talking about is the difference between a bottom up approach to bringing calm as opposed to a top down approach. What I mean by a top down approach is simply using our cortex, using our brains to talk to ourselves and calm our dysregulated bodies. A bottom up approach uses our body, it uses the brainstem which lies below the limbic brain, it’s using your brainstem to bring calm to your limbic brain when it’s in a very dysregulated state. This is how God designed us. Bottom up almost always works better and faster than top down approaches to regulating our affect.

Where you went to was to ask, “What did i need from her that I never received. Attunement. Kindness. What would kindness look like. Your heart began to settle and I knew instantly what I needed to do. I needed to offer her attunement.

A desire stirs in you to give your mother the one thing you needed from your mother but never got from her. When I hear “Overcome evil with good.” This is what that verse is talking about.

Autumn: There are a couple of things that describe who I’ve come to embrace of who I was as a child. That is an intensely spiritual young girl with a ton of faith. Lord, I kept thinking, “I don’t want to go to my grave hating my mother.”

Adam: Repentance: I don’t know a more accurate example of repentance..In that moment you describe feeling a frightening rage and in the moment turn around and go in a very polar opposite direction which is to gift her with the very thing she never gave to you. It’s just stunning.

When these moments happen in our lives (repentance) it is this simultaneous sense that I did that and God gifted me with that.

Autumn: Gratitude was the overarching thing I was able to pull from. Gratitude that God has given me so much…so much richness in my own life…because I was able to engage my story I am so grateful for who I am today. Had I not chosen to e curious and engage the awfulness of my story…

Adam: My heart began to weep as I realized that I had to be the one to parent my parent…yet I felt full.

Redemption: To be weeping in grief and yet feeling full and alive.
The additional glory of the story. You’re not only engaging your mother with immense kindness, but you’re engaging your own heart…your younger heart, in a way that you really needed.

Autumn: It was apparent to my mom most of my life. I never cut myself slack. There was not room for goodness of kindness. There was no space for me to have needs for myself. Asking for needs is something that wasn’t allowed so being able to give my teenage girl that desperately wanted kindness in my own life.

Adam: There are these moments in your story when you are full of rage and feeling intense feelings. You were able to tend to your own bodily sensations. You move in a posture of kindness to your own heart.

You have already mentioned the weight of the teenage girl on your shoulders that was not only parenting another but wasn’t being parented.
How has your posture for that girl changed over the years?

Autumn: I would say it has greatly softened and also I would say another word is that i’ve been able to honor the strength and courage that she had as a young woman growing up and navigating life, a lot on her own, and she navigated some incredibly terrifying and awful things in her life alone. I didn’t have parents who attuned to my heart. So I had to figure out ways into which to navigate that and I did. I did so in heroic ways. I became the hero in my own story. Yet, if I had never worked on my story I never would have been able to say that about her.

Adam: That is one of the irony’s of engaging our stories. When we are faithful to enter the darker portion of our story, we find surprisingly a fair bit of glory has been evidenced in our hearts from the beginning or created by God in the midst of horror.

Is there anything as we come to the end that you want to share…

Autumn: Yes, as I wrote this story for this podcast and I was reflecting on it, I wanted to remove a section where I told you the truth of what was going through my mind which is that I wanted to snap my mother’s neck…I wanted to kill her. That was a real feeling that I had and I think it was the most shocking for me. But as I was reflecting on that and with recent work I’ve done on that portion of my story, there was a story that cropped up. When I was abut 17 my dad was having some heart issues and my mom sat me down, “I want you to know, if your dad dies it’s your fault. You’re the one that would have killed him. What I hadn’t realized for all those years is that I was carrying death and life in such a powerful way that in the way that i lived my life without. In this moment to be able to engage with kindness it was breathing a curse that had been spoken over me…that I somehow have the power of life and death in my hands.

Adam: It’s so easy in that moment in the story when you have murderous rage for your mother, it’s so easy to flashback to that younger time with your dad and to say, “See, she was right. You’re a murderer. When you say you were breaking a curse what do you mean?”

Autumn: What I mean by that is I took to heart, I really felt responsible for my dad’s health, his failing health. In that moment in those words were heavy and a weight I have carried, even with a fear of death that was attached to that. Not that I was thinking this through in the moment but i can now say looking back that is when i took my sword out with kindness and I went’ “Hell No, you’re not going to control me anymore.”

Adam: What you are saying about the curse is very real. There are times in our stories when words are spoken over us, that’s what your mother did, she spoke words over you and named you a killer, those words have efficacy in the world. Those words are powerful. We are fooling ourselves if we think words spoken over us in moments of intensity don’t have weight and don’t continue to play out for decades which is why this story is so beautiful in the reversal in many ways of reversing the curse. You stop joining. What do we mean when we say “you’ve stopped joining?”

Autumn: It means that you’e stopped we untangle ourselves from the notion that something that is such an incredible lie can no longer have power over my life. It’s disentangling. It’s a way of uniting the knot, “It no longer has any power or control over the way I manage my life.”

Adam: When you say, “Hell no” to the curse you are in fact breaking a curse over your life and those words, Of “Hell no” or disentangling, has an effect in the cosmos, it has an effect in the world and it sets you free.

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