In addition to being a two-time cancer survivor I am also the child of two addict parents. Their addictions have most certainly directed the course of my life in profound ways. I was a survivor before I ever got diagnosed with cancer. My dad’s alcoholism and penchant for “eating dope” as he would call it lead to a lifestyle that was not stable for me and my mom. And he had some affairs. He doesn’t know how many, and wouldn’t mind me telling you. When I was three I saw him for the last time in what would turn out to be twelve years. In 1977 my dad got sober but didn’t feel like he could be a responsible parent so he signed away his parental rights to my mom’s second husband and promised never to contact me.
Over those twelve years he missed a lot. I missed a lot in his life, too. And my mom never really grew up. She had been seventeen when I was born and seems stuck at about age fifteen or sixteen psychologically. She was never one to miss a party or put her own fun aside to do the responsible things. As a teenager I thought she was cool because she let me drink and smoke in the house. Later I realized that this did not make her cool, it made her a terrible mom.
When I was fifteen I found my real dad and we have been in contact ever since. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago, though, that he really started being a dad. I’m sure having abdicated that role and then trying to figure out how to get back into it was difficult, and I probably did not make it easy because I learned early on that it is not safe to rely on others for your basic needs, even love. So I can build some pretty stout walls.
Fast-forward through years of drinking and divorces and inappropriate boyfriends – my mom’s, not mine (although I’ve had some of those, too) – and by the time I was in my twenties I disliked my mother immensely and wanted to be the complete opposite of everything she is. I was ANGRY. The older I got the angrier I got because the more I saw how her addictive behaviors dictated so much of our family life.
A month ago my mom was in the hospital with pneumonia in all four lobes of her lungs, advanced COPD, diabetes, high blood pressure, all of the toes on her right foot gone, and atrial fibrillation. She was in withdrawals when she got there because she had no meth or vodka to keep her on an even keel. She is extremely overweight and cannot do the basic things necessary to care for herself. The woman who came to perform her echocardiogram thought she was my ninety-year-old grandmother’s sister. My mom is only fifty-six. She has been working on these problems for a lifetime so it’s no surprise that she is in such terrible condition. If you were a reader of this blog in the fall of 2010 you might remember the amputation and meth story.
I became aware that my anger toward my mother was poisoning me and I began to observe my interactions with her with the intention of dissolving it or transforming it. Our pattern was: I would stuff my feelings until I would, at the worst possible moment, lash out at her. We wouldn’t speak for a while. Then we would pretend everything was fine. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
I have finally turned a corner with regards to my anger for her. I started looking at pictures of her from when I was a baby. I put the one of my first Christmas up in my bathroom. My dad is holding me and my mom is right beside him. They are both looking at me with complete adoration. I started to think about my mom as that person who adored me, and then I realized that she still adores me in the best way she can. If she could do better she would.
Mostly I see now that her failure to love herself is a failure to accept grace. She doesn’t see her own divine beauty. At Christmas I gave her a letter that said that it wasn’t too late for her to find redemption and that I hoped that she would see her own beautiful value and get help. I told her that I spent my life trying not to be like her, but have realized that many of the qualities that I like about myself I got from her. She is intelligent, organized and has a really big smile. And she can make you feel like you are the only person in the world when you are with her and she gives you her attention.
Last week my mom got out of the hospital. She is homeless. I had spoken with the social worker at the hospital and given her many community resources. Instead of using those she chose to go to my grandmother’s apartment unannounced. I went over the next night and told her that she could not stay there. That our family can no longer support her in any way because to give her food or shelter is only going to enable her to use what small resources she has to buy drugs and vodka.
It took about two-and-a-half hours to get her out. We packed her things into her one suitcase and a few trash bags. She alternated between yelling at me to get out of her face and crying. I remained calm. It was as if I was floating above the room, not in it. I just held the boundary, stayed calm and kept moving forward. We had to call AAA to jump the truck so she could leave. I lost my temper once, for less than a minute, in the time we were waiting. Then regained composure and was just present. When the truck had started and I turned to leave to go back inside she said, “I love you, Brandie.” And I said, “I love you, too, Mom,” and walked away.