Lydia Giannakopoulou: “My Mother Would Say My Life Was Hers”

GiannakopoulouThe Greek writer Lydia Giannakopoulos has given many interviews in television and magazines, while promoting her new book “To chadi tis miteras” (A mother’s caress) that quickly became popular in Greece. The autobiographical book is about her childhood and living with an abusive mother. Greek Reporter got in contact with her, to find out how she is now as a person, rather than about her childhood torture.

Did your mother know about the book?
No. She first heard about it when I called her right before my first presentation of the book on television. I really wanted to look her in the eye and hand her the book myself but I couldn’t find the strength to do so.
However when I called her she wouldn’t let me talk and she said she didn’t want anything to do with me.

Now that she knows?
She’s definitely angry with me. She always was and always will be. She used to say to me daily: “Your life is mine; you will only live if I want you to.” After the publication of my book she is even angrier because she didn’t end up controlling my life as she wished.

Why did you decide to write about your life?
Writing was my psychotherapy! When I became a mother and my children began asking for the obvious things like toys, kisses, hugs, my mind would constantly take me back to my past. Unfortunately memories always find a way to resurface. I began writing the events with every detail. It hurt and made me suffer because every time I would write about a memory, I was actually reliving it. I had been suffering for years, not just because I didn’t want anyone to know about my past, but also because I was thinking of all the children that were in my place. Even though it’s hard and sad, it’s my life, my testimony… I had to make it public to show other people the “dark side of the moon.”

vivlioNow that you are a mother, are you ever afraid of becoming “her?”
I always wanted a family, but I was really scared. What if I became “her?” I consulted some experts that helped a lot and I actually told my husband that if he ever saw any irrational behaviour from me, he should lock me up in a psychiatric clinic and take the kids away. But my hatred towards my mother helped me raise them well.

Did your husband know your story?
I was ashamed I couldn’t tell him. When we decided to get married I revealed some important secrets in order to explain my mother’s absence. He learned more through the book. But to this day, we haven’t had an open conversation.

How often do you see your mother?
We’ve had almost no contact since I turned sixteen. I don’t want to know how she’s doing, it fills me with anger.

What are your feelings towards her?
I never had feelings for her. Only fear. Now that I managed to overcome it there is nothing between us anymore. You said she always knew what she was doing. What do you believe drove her to all that violence? She planned the torture and she enjoyed it. I know she didn’t grow up under the best circumstances, but that doesn’t excuse her behavior against her own child. Any child for that matter. I don’t know what I was to her… Maybe an obstacle or maybe a way to satisfy her sadism.

Where did you grow up?
I lived in Germany until I was thirteen. That is when my aunt made my father bring us to Greece.

Did you have any friends?
In Germany, my cousins and I were growing up together. Our parents spent a lot of time together. So they were my only friends until I turned thirteen.

What did your father and your relatives do about the situation?
My father didn’t want to know or see what was going on. Despite the many indications, wounds and scars, he continued to act like he didn’t know anything. It was the same with the relatives. Everyone knew or suspected but they believed that anything that happens behind closed doors should stay there.

Did she let you go to school?
Yes. I always went to school except for the days when my scars were visible.

Giannakopoulou1What did the teachers say?
Every time they even touched the subject I would make up an excuse and put the blame on myself. “She” taught me well. At some point the school called social services but it didn’t make any difference.

Did you ever ask for help?
One day, after school I tried to tell my aunt. I begged for her help, but she just called “her” to pick me up. When I saw her I took it all back, I was too afraid of what she would do to me. When I was fifteen I tried to talk to a social worker, but to no avail.

How did you decide to free yourself from that situation?
I had tried to leave before. She would open the door and challenge me to leave, because she knew I didn’t have the strength to. At sixteen I couldn’t bare it anymore. I left. I took a lot of difficult jobs but everything was better than the “hell” I had been living.

Have you ever thought of reciprocating?
I can’t even imagine consciously causing someone such pain. There are times when I want her to go through what I did, but then again, I don’t think there is anyone on this earth capable of causing such pain. Even if its revenge.

Do you think someone can move on after being in a situation like yours?
Yes. If you have the right people by your side, you can move on. Now, there are a lot of institutions that give solutions to such problems. While writing and then publishing my book, I met a lot of psychologists and social workers who are very sensitive to the subject and really want to help children who have been the victims of abuse.

How is your life now?
I have a great family with three children that taught me how to love and be loved. Every day with them is an adventure and I thank them for that.

What do you think should be society’s and of course the state’s role against violence at home?
The social services, the prosecutors and anyone else involved should double check every report made and also perform unscheduled visits. Sometimes it is necessary to take a child away from a violent environment even if that is their family. Child abuse is a crime and should be treated as such. This is something that must be understood by society and the media so everyone can move towards the same direction.

What do you plan to do from now on?
Besides being completely devoted to my children, I have so much more love to give. There are children out there who don’t have unconditional love and care. My goal is to create a place where children in need will always be welcome. Through guidance from psychologists and social workers, we will help them find their way. Greece is in need of places like that. Maybe someday I can achieve my goal, until then I will volunteer to help abused children.

Would you write a book about your new life?
Maybe someday. It would certainly support children, make them understand that they don’t need to suffer alone and they can some day be free to live their lives.

Is there something you would like to tell your mother?
That I miss her. I need her, I always did and that’s what hurts the most. I needed her by my side to hold my hand when I was getting married and having my children. I don’t miss “her,” the woman who gave birth to me. I miss a MOTHER. How can you bring a child in this world and then hate it?

Lydia is currently volunteering in shelters for abused or abandoned children. She keeps herself busy with dancing and theater. She says: “I wanted to keep myself busy so I wouldn’t think about my past. Even at home I always want to do something, to create.”