Mother Issues Redux

I wrote this for another venue, but I liked it so much that I thought I’d post it here. Anybody who’s read this blog for awhile knows I have issues with my mom, but I realized that while I have several articles about her and my feelings, there hasn’t really been a complete run down of our relationship up until now.

So, if you’re tired of hearing about my terrible childhood, you should probably skip this post. However, if you want to read about my mom some more, dig in. There’s a lot here.

I’ve been thinking about my mom a lot lately. I haven’t really spoken to her since my college graduation in May 2007, and most of that time has been wonderful. But lately, I find myself despondent, thinking about her, wondering what she’s doing, wishing I could talk to her without inviting a shit-storm of chaos down on top of me.

Logically, I know that she’s a mentally ill drug addict, that the things she’s done, the effects she’s had on my life have been overwhelmingly negative, but I can’t tell my heart that. When I accept my sadness about her, I just feel sad. It seems not to end. When I try to ignore my sadness and act as if I am happy and well-adjusted, I find myself getting truly depressed, feeling hopeless and pushing away every significant relationship in my life, obsessively dwelling on how painful my experiences with love have been, trying without success to be independent of humanity – an old self-preservation method.

When I was a baby, my mom left me with her mother and step father, a man she knew was abusive, a man I later learned had raped her, although she seems not to remember this. I was not allowed to walk on paths that he might walk on, I was not allowed to talk – ever – and if I did, I had better have something really important to say, and I better be able to support my claims with evidence.

While a good policy for adults, and one I wish more adults valued, it’s a terrible policy for a toddler, as toddler research is almost always incomplete. So I would get yelled at for being stupid, I would get told that I should never open my mouth, and I would get punched in the head for my insolence.

It was made very clear to me that I was an unwanted burden. My grandmother and I had calm, logical discussions about how much better it would be had I never been born.

In our house, the grandparents had a couch, and the dogs had a couch; even the 1970’s art-sculpture pillows had a couch, but I sat on the floor. Major things about self-grooming and social habits that parents are supposed to teach children were taught to me way too late, by teachers and other family members appalled at my constant state of unmannerly wildness.

When my mom got sober, I was 9 years old. I spent about 4 years waiting for her to disappear as usual, then I grew to trust her. Against all instinct, I began to think my secret dream had finally come true, here was a mother to love me and care for me. She may have been damaged, and she may have been late, but I didn’t care. Here was the loving mother I had always seen other children with, here was the myth that I’d cried about and mooned over, believing that if I only had a mother to love me, I might not be such a horrible kid. And I was a horrible kid. Abuse and neglect will make a child into a monster.

Suddenly, my condition improved, my teachers were amazed. I did things like cut my nails, comb and wash my hair. I wore clothes that actually fit me because my mom took the trouble to take me shopping. I could look people in the eye when they talked to me. My life was still not perfect, my mom didn’t really know how to be a mom, we had fights and we didn’t really know each other. But her clear insistence that I was loved was enough to transform me.

I got involved in my own 12 step program around 13 and life got even better. I took responsibility for my own actions, I stopped fighting everyone for any reason, I suddenly had a sense of right and wrong that I had never known before.

It was only 2 or 3 years until she started using Vicodin, at first for her back, but then for her “chronic pain.” A condition that seemed very much to mimic the symptoms of prescription opiate addiction. At this time, I felt that we were best friends. I had moved out of my grandparents house (I was actually pushed out because, as I learned later, my grandmother was afraid that the older I got, the more likely it would be that my grandfather would rape me too). I finally felt safe in my home. I was accomplished at school, I had excellent grades, was in several clubs and activities. I was a completely different person than the dirty, creepy kid I had been.

My mother’s behavior got more and more erratic. She was taking a lot more than just Vicodin. She started staying up nights, but not remembering being awake. She got angry at the slightest things, and would scream at me, or throw things. She started a routine where she would come into my room crying at night, telling me she wanted to kill herself, detailing her suicide fantasies, leaving me terrified. Then in the morning, she would run into my room yelling, some transgression had happened while I slept. Before I could wake up, she would grab me by the ankle and haul me out of bed onto the floor, where she would stand yelling down at me while I tried to get my bearings.

I was at a loss. My grandfather had always hated me. He was never kind to me, he was always violent and nasty. My grandmother had always been silently tolerant of me, caring for me physically and providing for me financially (her way of being a loving mother, I now know.) But no one had been both my best friend and my enemy like this before. No one had told me they loved me most in the world, and that I was worthless in the same breath before. And to make matters worse, she was constantly accusing me of abusing her. She would say that I was an ungrateful daughter, I was a spiteful, cold bitch who hated her own mother, while she loved me so much, and worked so hard to make our home a nice place to be so I could destroy that peace because I was a monster. In fact, she was sure I was stealing, that I was on drugs and probably sleeping with men for money. Things that were all completely against my character. My head spun.

Frequently, she would come to me in a quiet moment and take my hands. Gently, she would tell me how much she cared about me, and how worried she was for me. She would go on to tell me that even though I was applying to some great colleges with a substantial chance of acceptance and significant scholarships, she didn’t think I should go. She would tell me that she thought I was deficient, that there was something fundamentally wrong with me, that I was incapable of success. I should stay home with her and continue to pay her the $300 a month that she charged me in rent.

Now it seems so clear, but at the time I had no idea what was going on. The erratic mood swings, the sleepless nights, the jolting mornings, the fighting and the throwing things and the shoving, then the tender apologies and promises of love and acceptance followed shortly by more screaming and accusations putting me on the defensive, kept me in a state of perpetual confusion.

It took me years to realize how she would erupt in screaming whenever she wanted me to do something, how she would accuse me of doing drugs in order to get me to do the dishes that she didn’t want to do. How she would feign illness, writhing in bed with her chronic pain until I told her that I couldn’t stay at the house and take care of her, that I had to go to work, that I had to go to a school function or a meeting and she would fly out of bed, seemingly cured enough to shove me around and tell me I didn’t love her, that I wanted her to die, that she might as well because I was such a horrible daughter. Whenever I was feeling any confidence, when I was doing my homework or otherwise taking care of myself is when she would come over and tell me she didn’t think I was capable of handling college because I was stunted, immature and possibly clinically disordered. She constantly told me that she thought that there was something clinically wrong with me, a statement I never believed, but which sunk suspicions into my head and made me more and more uneasy over a period of months.

Eventually, I came to a point where I realized that either I would kill her or myself just to be finished with the insanity. I left while I was still in high school, living in my friends garage until sophomore year of college, which I was accepted to with a scholarship and massive grants and very favorable state loans. Although I was scared to leave her house, especially considering all the things she told me to make me mistrust myself, to make me think that she was my only friend, that I would never survive without her, I excelled.

I still talked to her until I finally got tired of her dishonest promises to stop using drugs, her late night calls crying, threatening suicide and begging me to tell her she wasn’t a terrible mother. Her scheming to get money and things out of me, and her assumptions that I would do things for her that she could do for herself, that everyone in my entire family ‘owed’ her finally took its toll. I stopped talking to her, and up until this year, I’d tell anyone who listened what a wonderful decision it was.

Maybe I’ve forgotten how evil she really is, how hurtful and malicious she is, how every conversation I’ve had with her since I moved out has been about how she wants something of mine that she can’t have and how I’m an ungrateful bitch for not giving it to her.

But lately, all I do is cry over her, and wish I had a mom. I care for my grandmother as she gets older, but she still talks to my mom, and she has a younger boyfriend who is very good to her. She’s a strong, interesting, smart lady, but she is not the loving mother I remember my mom being and it’s hard to go through life without that feeling.

It’s true when people say that you only have one mother. It’s not an excuse to put up with shitty behavior, but it’s true that no one can replace her, as terrible as she ended up being, the love that she gave me for the few years that she was in her right mind is irreplaceable.

I’m dealing with my grief, I’m going to a therapist, and trying to do a lot of journaling, and walking through my sadness, and not avoiding it since that seems to do more harm than good. But I get tired of mourning a bad relationship with an abusive woman who would have let me ruin my whole life so that I could take care of her and facilitate her drug addiction without a single thought to me or my health and welfare. I feel like a complete fool.