10 Years Later: A reflection on the memoir “House Rules” by Rachel Sontag

I was at Chapters one day and was browsing through the bargain books. I saw a book titled “House Rules”. I picked it up, as I was drawn to the title and what it represented for me; growing up in a home suffocated by rules and restrictions.

The description of the book described the memoir of a woman who experienced severe emotional and physical abuse by her biological parents and hers and her sister’s journey through life during and after living with their parents.

I bought it. I read it.

In three days.

The first night I read it, I was triggered.

My heart rate increased, I became anxious and experienced flash backs. I couldn’t sleep most of that night.

The memories and experiences shared by the writer, brought alive such real emotions and feelings that only another person who had experienced similar, if not exact experiences could feel. That feeling of “someone else went through this and knows what it was like…”.

I continued reading.

The woman wrote about her fathers emotional abuse, which included severe verbal abuse and mental manipulation. She also wrote about her mother’s bi-polar and dependance on the father. Many times the mother would say she was leaving the father, and grasp onto the daughter for support. In the end, the mother would turn on the daughter and return to the father. The daughter was blamed for many things in the family, and was not able to experience a true and healthy relationships with her parents like many children do. Her mother would physically assault her and she would describe the fights using vivid language that would make the reader feel like they are the ones being choked in the snow. The daughter spent a period of time in an all girls foster home at 15 after disclosing to a school counsellor what was happening in the home.

While the author dealt with the abuse in her home by using sarcasm, wit, smarts and anger – her sister, Jenny, did the opposite. Jenny was “invisible” because the other sister was so resilient and fought back. When the other sister would fight against her father, Jenny would slide into the background and later blame Jenny for not just responding in a way that would make everyone else’s life easier. Jenny pretended everything was fine – that their family had a few snags, but if they tried hard enough and pretended long enough, everything would be OK and things could continue on just fine.

I kept reading the book.

I suppose I was looking forward to something – thinking that this author and I have such similar experiences – I wanted to see how things turned out for her. How she dealt with the abuse and the relationships with her parents and how she was able to overcome it all.

I was hoping to feel something happy at the end of the book – looking forward to reading about what my future may hold for me in regards to the emptiness that creeps along into my heart and mind on those long nights that I can’t sleep.

I finished the book today.

The author and I really are the same person.

Ten years later, she still drove past her parents home, and would look at the house and wonder where it all went wrong. She would look at the home and think angry thoughts, even though deep inside, sadness was the only true feeling that surrounded any thought of her family.

Ten years later, her mother was still with her father.

Ten years later, she still never went to the home for celebrations or holidays.

Ten years later, she did not speak to her father. He was cut completely out of her life.

Ten years later, she would sometimes go days, or weeks, or years without talking to her mother – depending on her mental health state.

Ten years later, her and her sister continue to try and work on their relationship – and sometimes need to take a break because of how different their realities are – even though they both lived in the same home. These different realities created two different survival techniques – which sometimes clashed with each other.

At the end of the book, her life is similar to the one I live.

When things are not going well – she runs away. She is scared of commitment and staying in one place. She is a writer. She built supports around her to make up for the lack of biological supports. She is doing well for herself. Things like watching a father-daughter dance at a wedding, slowly become less sad for her to watch because she just accepts that things like that will never exist for her. Eventually, she stopped driving by her parents home.

She writes about how she needed to stop looking for a mother and father in other people and stop hoping that one day, a perfect family would come along that she could be a part of. That the only thing she could control, is to one day be the best mother she could be – and marry someone who would be the best partner they could be – and together, they could be the best parents they could be – so that their children would never have to experience the hurt she continues to live with.

I guess, I was hoping for something more – that the book would somehow end in a way that would make me feel like I had something to look forward to – that it doesn’t end like this.

But it did.

And I guess, it does.



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