Probably because the Christmas dinner served as such a good advertisement, we began 2010 with a number of new clients. As is typical for our new clients, most of the women were from the recovery house next door. That means that they all have histories of serious drug abuse, but that they are sober now or at least making the effort to be. For many, that sobriety is one very fragile and precious thing. A woman named Didi announced that she had thirty days clean time, and we all applauded. She was almost giddy with her accomplishment, with finding a new place to receive care, with being listened to. When I asked if the women wanted to talk about themselves a bit, she told us that she had been sexually abused as a child and that she was still trying to cope with the guilt she felt for not having taken care of her mother. Didi's mother had been an alcoholic.
"And you feel guilty about that?" I asked. "You think you could have rescued her from her alcoholism?"
"I couldn't have rescued her," Didi said. "But I could have treated her better. I manipulated her. I lied to her. I got into her bank accounts, and I stole from her." In the space of about ten seconds I went from picturing a seriously abused and neglected child blaming herself for her parents' failures to picturing a relentless adult addict, exploiting and stealing from her sick mother. I imagine that both mental images were reasonably accurate. Didi, at any rate, was glad to have spoken, and surprised to hear that quite a few YANA clients have mother issues.
Another new woman, Glenda, quickly spoke up to tell us that her mother didn't like little girls and turned her head to make a spitting gesture whenever Glenda tried to hug or kiss her. Glenda, too, had been raped by family members, and Glenda, unsurprisingly, had been called a slut when she tried to report the abuse. Glenda loved her mother. It actually sounded to me like her mother loved her. When I asked if her mother had a bad past of her own, Glenda said emphatically that she knew she had been abused as a child and that she saw her continue to be abused as an adult. Glenda is over 50, and she was more than a little exasperated by the fact that she was still trying to forgive her mother, to accept her own anger about the past, that she was still trying to fight her way free of the things that happened to her when she was five and ten years old.
I asked another woman if there was anything she would like to talk about, and she looked at us all as if we were mildly crazy. "No, I don't need to talk," she said. "I liked my mother." The room laughed. The women seemed energized by the things they had told. "Women's rap!" Glenda said more than once. "I like that even better than the clothes!" So far, so good for the new year.