Grief and the Hero Complex

I am so tired. I actually took the afternoon off work to stare blankly at the computer with occasional crying. Okay, more like occasional not crying.

It has been damn near impossible to keep my head up. And I mean physically. Every muscle in my body feels completely over-taxed. I sleep and I sleep but it never seems to be enough. That’s why I hardly update the blog anymore. I barely have enough energy to go to work and I didn’t even have that today.

I don’t know what the hell kind of stages of grief these are, but after my mom’s death, I felt relief. I wrote about it. Now I feel a strange child of despair and sadness. All of the emptiness of someone dying with none of the darkly sweet missing them. Just nothing. No hope. No apprehension. As much as she was never around, never a mom in any real sense of the word; this is a new level of loss. A kind of anti-grief that swallows every other emotion in its unending blackness.

Because we were estranged and because I did so much work on my feelings about her while she was alive, I got trapped in the idea that her dying wasn’t something I would have to go through like a normal person, and it’s not. It’s more complicated than that.

I have had one mission since I was born: to save her. That’s why I’m here. That’s why she made me. My infant failure to do this job is why she gave me away. She thought that a baby would change her. I didn’t. But that didn’t stop me from growing up with the sick assumption that I was the solution to all her mistakes.

I truly thought there was some combination of things I could say or do. Something I would own, some person I could become, that would break the curse and rescue the princess. Magical thinking has saved me and damned me in equal measure. Childish hope, wishing on stars, and a complete and utter disregard for reality got me through all of what I would consider my highest achievements.

Most of us are witches. The children of addicts, alcoholics, the mentally ill. We grow up watching our parents distort reality every day. We have an in-born ability to work against logic. To become an illusion. Anything we have to do to bend the light around our parents. To make a foundation out of nothing at all.

In addition to the grief I feel about my mother, I’m still processing the grief I feel for my business that closed in September. I’ve owned four businesses and closed three of them. This was the only one I didn’t want to close. Despite this, it’s one of the things I am most proud of myself for. I used a lot of magical thinking to keep that place running for as long as it did. I tied it to my heart and I willed it into being. I breathed it instead of air and I catapulted myself higher than I’ve ever gone before. Higher than an abandoned punching bag like myself was ever meant to go. It felt amazing.

I never fantasized about my future kids meeting my mother. I couldn’t, it was to painful. But I imagined my future kids in my business. I clearly saw every milestone on our climb to the top. Over and over. I had to do this or it wouldn’t have made it ten days, much less four years. But it crumbled anyway. And right after I failed my business, I failed this too.

I had one job, it was to save my mother. On December 9, 2016 I failed. My reason for being died. And now I am here, no purpose. No surrogate purpose even.

It’s not like I haven’t been to therapy. It’s not like I don’t know that it’s impossible (not just unhealthy, but impossible) to ask a daughter to save her mother. I get that my low self-worth is a result of childhood abandonment, neglect, and abuse. I find myself deeply amused by the irony that it’s lead me to overachieve in an effort to prove myself valuable to the very people who caused this situation. People who are fundamentally incapable of seeing value in anything, least of all me.

And yet, I am subject to this insufferable human ailment. Grief like black tar boiling cold in the pit of my stomach. Pushing up my throat out of my mouth, covering me completely in an invisible barrier that cuts me off and drags me down.

Just as I was starting to internalize the realization that chronic overworking and trophy-hunting will not make me feel worthwhile, I found that I no longer had the motivation to keep my struggling business alive. This is not a coincidence.

However, it is a coincidence that my mother, the origin of all this shit, also died three short months later. Here I am, starting the long journey of working backward 31 years into the belly of the beast, deconstructing the illusion that I can save the world with sheer willpower and a complete lack of self-care when suddenly, the world dies. Because that’s the truth, isn’t it?

I’m smart enough to know that I can’t break the curse and I can’t save the princess. Even if I were to die for the princess (I would have), that wouldn’t be enough. But I’m also devious enough to pretend that I know these things when, in reality I made the world my princess. Because if I can’t save her, I’ll save everything I possibly can.

I am motivated by a desperate need to fight for something and against something else. I go into battle every day because I must atone for the one I left to die. It took all these years, but the thing I’ve been punishing myself for has finally come to pass. And what do I have to show for myself? A failed business and the half-baked realization that everything I’ve ever done, I’ve done for a woman who is now dead and never cared or was affected by my actions except for when they fueled her own resentments.

In times past, I have come out of this realization with a new purpose. Years go by, and I once again awaken to the reality that the new purpose is just me trying to save my mother a different way. When do I get to save myself? How many layers do I have to peel off before I get to the one where I matter more than she does?

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