Category Archives: alcoholism

Trying to balance compassion and self preservation…..

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Trying to balance compassion and self preservation…..

I’m trying to balance compassion and self-preservation and it’s a bitch. My mother has certifiable mental illness. She has a long history of mental illness issues including hospital stays for suicide attempts and alcoholism. She is generally miserable and unable to maintain long-term relationships. She has seen doctors and specialists by the dozens, she’s had inpatient stays in psych wards, has more than 3 decades into 12 step recovery and has tried every pill known to big pharma to treat depression. She has been on disability for at least 25 years for her depression so it’s well documented. Sometimes though, the lines blur between her mental illness and her just being a shitty human. Other times she is amazingly thoughtful and generous, mostly to strangers or acquaintances. She saves the gnarly stuff for my brother and me, we are the only relatives that have stuck it out.

I’m not sure when her mental health issues began. She has told me a lot about her life (too much if I’m honest) and I know she always had a terrible relationship with her brother. In fact she had a rough go of it with both of her parents as well. Was that due to their treatment of her, her mental illness or some other sad combination….I don’t know. I do know this, misery is her most frequent companion. If there isn’t something to lament about, her razor-sharp mind will find something obscure and mold it into a formidable monster.

She’s smart, so very smart that it makes pitying her as a sick person near impossible at times. Master manipulator and rationalizer extraordinaire, check and check. She can twist the most innocuous situation and turn it into filth and wretchedness. She has left a wake of destruction behind her. When she goes, she goes big, in a huff…..a cloud of confusion, hurt and anger swirling around her like her own personal tornado. It’s sad, infuriating and exhausting.

I have to mentally remind myself that she is sick. Like cancer, diabetes, MS, lupus, fill in the blank…..except it isn’t like that at all. If your mom has cancer she doesn’t typically say “I wish you were never born” repeatedly to you as a young child. Diabetes doesn’t abandon you in the state of Florida to go to New Jersey when you are 9. MS doesn’t call you a “whore” because you over did the eye shadow and lip stick at 14. Cancer won’t leave you and your brother homeless at 15  because mom doesn’t have it together. Lupus doesn’t tell you that you’re a bad person because your husband bought his dream house, the one he worked his ass off for, but it’s too big so you’re all horrible people. Mental illness and alcoholism does that, not the other diseases. So I’m a bit tired of the mental illness is just like any other disease line, no it fucking isn’t.

So now I have a 72-year-old broken down mentally ill mother who has basically treated me like shit most of my life. And as much as I want to let go of past bad experiences, they keep reinserting themselves into present day. Every time she makes an unreasonable demand or is inconsiderate I am haunted by the ghost of reason that says – “seriously, why are you doing this for her?”

Why indeed. I’m a good person and I don’t want her to haunt me when she dies and she would. I have had my share of obstacles that I have overcome and I basically cheer for the underdog. At this point I’m not sure which one of us is the underdog. I think it’s me today. Yesterday I told my mother to “fucking move then”.  What got me to this point beyond the cumulative effect of 49 years of insanity?

I bought a house at the beach in New Jersey in 1999. It was a struggle to purchase it and I did it on my own before I got married. That house was a testament to my financial and emotional independence. It was one of the most empowering things I ever did as a young woman. Fast forward 14 years and I no longer needed the house. We hadn’t lived there in years. My brother and his family lived there for 5 years and they moved away. My husband and I have a beautiful home in a neighboring state. After Hurricane Sandy, we began to worry that at some point it would get destroyed in a storm and we would lose the financial appreciation. I sold the house a few years ago and tripled my investment. As someone who had been a reluctant, accidental SAHM for a decade it felt great to make a financial contribution to my family. I also used a portion of that money to buy a small house in a nearby adult community. I bought a place for my mother because she was so unhappy where she lived. For nearly 10 years she complained about her living situation.I also thought it would be more practical to have her closer to me as she aged. My brother moved to Maine so he can’t help with medical or other issues that require hands on assistance.

Fast forward another 3 years and there isn’t a week that goes by that she doesn’t complain to me about something. Some of it is normal life stuff, a few ants, a nosy neighbor, the air filters. The air filters get to me. My mom smokes about a pack a day but INSISTS that the air filters in her house get changed on a monthly basis. She complains a lot about her financial situation which has always been awful. I bought the house so there is no mortgage but there is an association fee that she pays. She also has utilities and other bills. It is a stretch for her and I help with some of it.

The other day she called to tell me that I “had to pay” her Comcast bill so she could pay out-of-pocket to see an eye doctor that isn’t in her plan. If she said “can you help me” or “I want to go to….” that isn’t how it was presented at all. It was a command given with a bitchy tone and she went on and on about how horrible Pennsylvania Medicaid is compared to New Jersey and……..I just snapped and said “fucking move then”. Granted I could have delivered the message in a calm tone minus the expletive but she wouldn’t have heard me then. I’ve tried that approach for two years, no luck. She heard me this time.

Later I got an email from her telling me how she doesn’t expect me to pay ALL her bills. She then went on to describe how she is the victim of a corrupt government of evil ne’er-do-wells. Blah blah blah I’ve been reading and hearing this crap for years. I’m worn out I tell you, worn out. She has never taken financial responsibility for herself and she is seemingly incapable of any consistent emotional stability. This life long inability or disregard (not sure which some days) has left her facing her “golden years” pretty much broke and alone.

The biggest barrier for me though is her complete lack of interest in me or my family. She has two kind, funny, smart, beautiful grandchildren 10 minutes from her home and she could not care less. Soccer games, shows, Sunday dinners she is frequently invited and rarely shows. When she does attend a dinner she is consistently late. She shows absolutely no regard for how her actions or lack there of could have an impact on others. Again, I don’t know if this is part of the mental illness or just someone so self-absorbed that they are incapable of basic consideration. Either way the end result is the same.

So here I am again trying to balance compassion for her with my own self preservation. This isn’t new territory I know what I need to do. Take a break, don’t call her for a few days or minimize interaction until I can fortify myself enough for the next round. Once again I remind myself that this isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. I just hope I can make it to the finish line.

 

 

 

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It’s Complicated

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It’s Complicated

So today is a shitty day. It is actually the anniversary of a very shitty, horribly tragic, mind numbing day. One year ago my half brother hung himself, he was 25. I feel I must utter the odd disclaimer: we did not grow up together and I was born more than 20 years before him. We were not close in the traditional sibling way. We didn’t share Christmas or birthdays, we did not jockey for the best passenger seats in the family car or get jealous over the attention one got from mom. I barely knew him but I liked him. Circumstances led us to be primarily facebook friends and let me tell you the kid was funny as hell on facebook. I used to love his posts. He was a musician, a bartender, no doubt a player – the ladies loved him. He was adorable. And he killed himself, I’m still angry about it.

Before you get on my case for being angry let me just stop you and say, it’s a process. Perhaps I should be further along than anger but I’m not so let me be. I don’t have the ocean of sorrow, the missing expected and vastly hallow memories, sadness for new memories that won’t happen, it wasn’t that kind of relationship. What I do have is my own bizarre experience of how it all went down and I am curious if others have been in this particular and peculiar spot. I’m going to try and keep it as brief as possible but it is um….complicated.

So my parents got divorced when my twin brother and I were two years old. Drama. Physical fights, multiple moves, betrayal, screaming, drunks and chaos from my earliest memory. My father saw us on a scheduled and somewhat regular basis until about age 8. He got remarried when we were young, maybe 5 years old?

His second wife, we’ll call her Jenny was so pretty and kind. I remember her long thick, straight hair – brown with some reddish blonde highlights. She used fat hot curlers to achieve her look. She drank Pepsi and had a little dog named Scruffy and she had a birthday party for him. She made me feel like a super model before that was even a thing. She was a teacher and she knew how to work kids, we loved her. Of course we couldn’t tell our mother that.  She was a rage filled, jealous alcoholic. I learned to read her from a young age and I knew that I could not act as if I liked my father or Jenny around her.

When my brother and I were 8 years old my mother and father had a custody battle and mom won. That’s how it was in the 70’s kids went with mom most of the time regardless of how F’ed up she was….we soon moved from New Jersey to Florida with my mother’s then boyfriend.  Now that span of time is a whole other story that I don’t have time for right now but my god the insanity was at expert level.

We were in Florida about one year before that situation imploded in a cops taking mom away in cuffs kind of way…..We wound up back in New Jersey. My brother and I were so excited to see our father again we went to his house at the shore as soon as we could. A different man showed up. I mean the guy looked like my dad but he didn’t act like him. He opened the door, did not invite us inside and talked to us on the stoop. It was obvious even to a 9 year old that he didn’t want us inside the house. Well I determined at that moment that he would not get the better of me and an internal emotional wall was erected to protect myself. My brother chose the slam his head repeatedly against the wall approach. The necessity of either approach sucked.

So for the next 20 years or so my relationship with my father consisted of a Christmas card and a birthday card each with $50 and an obligatory brief thank you from me for each. There were a few skirmishes on the phone when my mom would prompt me to ask him for money for necessities. When I was 15 I went to rehab (I know what a shock) and he came in to sign insurance papers, didn’t bother to visit. My mother made sure to tell me that. At 21 I wrote him a letter as an adult. I acknowledged that I heard one side my whole life and invited him into my life. I got no response. No. Response.

In my late twenties relatives started to die, the old ones mostly. I would see my father and his family (which included 5 kids with Jenny) at funerals and weddings and other large family events. Eventually it became less weird to see them and we started making small talk. My siblings from my father’s second family didn’t even know I existed before then, that must have been an interesting family meeting. In 1997 my aunt became terminally ill with cancer and that increased the sightings. In early 2000 my twin brother and I were there on a random Friday night for pizza. Three days later Jenny died in a car accident leaving 5 kids behind. Ben, the youngest was just 11 years old.

My twin brother and I tried to be there for them. On the day of the accident we rushed to the hospital to meet our father. His oldest daughter from his second marriage was in the car with Jenny and required surgery. A friend of my father’s was with him and when he was introduced he commented that he had never known about me. I was 32, that kind of crap happened all the time but clearly there were other things to think about so I swallowed it down. Made sure the doctors knew that my sister needed to be able to attend her mother’s funeral. I could tell my father needed to communicate that but he wasn’t capable at the time so I said it out loud on his behalf.

My twin and I went to the wake, the funeral, the lunch all the sad events. At one point we were at the wake surrounded by family pictures of our father, Jenny and their five kids and we weren’t in a single photo. We both felt so many mixed emotions in that room that after an hour or so we needed to leave. I felt like I was choking. I mean I wasn’t but I was dry drowning on my own anguish. Jenny was a teacher for 30 years, she had 5 kids and was active in her church there were probably 1,000 mourners. Highway lights were blocked off for her funeral procession it was intense and horrible in all the ways you imagine it would be.

Fast forward 14 years and Ben kills himself. Once again I have a back stage pass to someone’s tragedy. I have expected rights to rituals based on my family label with just a fraction of the closeness the tasks should require. I heard the news from my twin who had stayed much closer with dad’s second family. He lived in the same town for several years and had more things in common like, sailing, beer and music. I’m a stay at home mom who lives far from the beach oh and I don’t drink alcohol, practically another dimension.

As fate would have it I had plans to go to the same shore town that day to visit a friend. So I took my kids to visit with my friend and went to my sister’s house where I had never been before. My father and his girlfriend were there along with my siblings (minus the one I grew up with who was 12 hours away) and Jenny’s best friend who always gives me and my twin death stare daggers when we are in the same room. My sisters were writing the obituary. It was awful and I was useless, awkward and in the way most likely but I felt like I should be there. I didn’t want to make a statement by not being there in my mind that was worse.

The wake was awful as you would expect. People waited for hours to pay their respects. I waited outside for a good amount of time before my twin got me and shuffled me inside. He wanted to get me to wait on the receiving line which just would have been too weird. I felt the building sway with the grief in that room it was surreal and yet here we were again. Another room filled beyond capacity with broken souls aching in their grief filled with pictures of a happy family that I was not really a part of….. I just waited it out feeling like some kind of fraud. I was there for my father and twin brother but the others probably wouldn’t have noticed if I wasn’t there. I say that without malice it’s just a reflective thought.

The next day was the funeral. I started the day with a last stop at the funeral home where the “family” was saying their last good byes. Those poor kids having to bury another pivotal family member far too soon. My heart broke for each of them and my father. I can’t imagine having to bury my son. It should not happen to anyone. Eventually we cleared out and went to the church for a Catholic service. I took my own car and planned on ducking in the back. My twin was a pall bearer and I just wanted to blend in somewhere.

That didn’t happen. My father saw me outside the church and motioned for me to come over. He had his longtime girlfriend on his left and me on his right. He held my hand and walked me down the aisle to the coffin where a fabric was draped on top he then led us to the front pew. I sat next to his girlfriend and my twin for the service and was motioned to sign a book at some point, it’s a blur. So many emotions swirling through my head it was like an out of body experience.

After the service we went to the cemetery. Once again there was a several miles long procession with a police escort and a salute from the fire department (he was a volunteer), highway lights blocked to other traffic. Eerily similar to his mother’s funeral procession. It was hot and the grief was palpable.  It was as prevalent as the steam coming off the asphalt of the cemetery parking lot. The sobs came in waves, a sea of mourners. They buried him next to his mother.