Compassion from Afar
Those of you that are newer to my blog won’t know that before I was diagnosed with cancer in February 2011 I was dealing with some gut-wrenching issues with my mother. You can catch up here if you’d like all the details. If not, the nutshell version is that she’s an addict who, despite MANY physical afflictions, is still practicing her addictions with an amazing amount of vigor. If only my yoga practice were as rigorous as her addiction practice I would have figured out how to levitate by now!
As George and Harold from Captain Underpants would say, before I tell you the rest of that story I have to tell you this. My mom has smoked cigarettes since she was a teenager. She has had problems with vodka, pills, vodka, meth, vodka, pot and I don’t even know what else. Oh, vodka. I would bet that if there is a drug out there that alters your mood in any way she has tried it. I can remember when I was a child she would alternate between sleeping all the time (vodka, downers and pot) and being up (speed!!!). She is only 56 but her body is probably pushing 80 on a good day.
I haven’t had a lot of contact with her for the past couple of years because I can only hold compassion for her from afar. When I interact with her regularly I dive down the energy elevator shaft into anger and grief and it’s not helpful for either of us. When I’m away from her I feel loving toward her because I’m far enough back to see that she is suffering and she hasn’t reached the point of being able to love herself out of that suffering. She might not ever reach that point.
Back to the present. A couple of weeks ago my sainted grandmother, who is NINETY, called to tell me that my mom couldn’t breathe well and that she was going to take my mom to the emergency room. I asked if she wanted help and she declined. They diagnosed my mom with COPD and pneumonia, which is common with COPD because it makes you prone to infections. While in the hospital my mom was trying to pull everyone’s strings and continuing with her victim mentality mindset. For twenty years I have been pointing at her behavior and saying to the rest of the family, “See this? This is the behavior of an addict,” and nobody would see it or deal with it. But this time a miracle happened. Everybody else saw the truth about my mom.
I have taken my grandmother to Al-Anon twice. Once when I was twenty, in 1993, and once in 2010 when my mom was in the hospital and we discovered she had been smoking meth. My grandmother was unable at those times to accept that my mom is an addict. I’m sure it’s difficult to see that about your own children. She feels guilt, as though how my mom is now, at 56, is somehow her fault. I keep telling her that if parenting skills were the deciding factor in how children turn out as adults then I would either be dead, an addict, a prostitute or in jail. Both of my parents are addicts. My dad abandoned me when I was three. He came back into my life when I was fifteen, but that’s a lot of no daddy years. (He’s been sober since 7-7-77). I grew up taking care of my mom’s emotional needs and she did not take care of my needs physically, mentally, or spiritually.
My grandmother has finally had enough. She sees how my mom has manipulated her and lied to her all these years and she is not participating in that enabler-addict cycle anymore. We had a painful week or so with crying and hand-wringing but now I think she and my uncle and my brother feel relief. We have relieved ourselves of responsibility for someone who is not taking responsibility for herself. Phew. That was a heavy freaking load.
At Christmas I wrote my mom a letter telling her that it’s never too late for a redemption story. A friend said that to me when I was in chemo and it changed me. I hope I planted a seed for her. Giving her that loving letter at a time when she has absolutely nothing to offer me was healing for me. And I have noticed that since Christmas, when I see myself in the mirror and realize how much I look like her, or I hear her voice in mine, or even as I type this with the same lightning-fast fingers that she has, I am grateful for the beautiful parts of her that carry on through me instead of being resistant to them. I have come to the awareness that even though I share many of her qualities I do not have to turn out like her.