Category Archives: beating the odds

Mother’s Day is Hard……

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Mother’s Day is Hard……

Mother’s Day is hard for me.  My mother lives close by in a small house that I bought for her. It’s in a retirement community and is a 10 minute drive from me. And it is kind of a remarkable thing given our history. Let’s be clear though, I mostly bought the house for me, not her. I need to be OK with myself after she passes.

My mother has been mentally unstable my entire life. As a young child I watched her drink alcoholically, drive drunk, and create drama. There were the standard saturday morning thrashings if my brother or I woke her up too early. If I’m honest, my brother took the brunt of that. I would scurry away and he would try to reason with her, smack. When I was in first grade she was brushing my hair and got so frustrated with me that she hit me hard on the forehead, which caused a bump and a surprising amount of blood. I was told to say I walked into the door so mommy wouldn’t get in trouble. Most of the abuse was mental. She would routinely say “I wish you were never born”. That’s hard to reconcile as a child, hell it’s hard to type that now.

It was just the three of us – my mother, twin brother and I. My parents divorced when we were two years old. We saw our father on a regular basis until we were moved out of state at 8 years old.This move followed a custody battle between our parents and as soon as the ink was dry from the case our mother moved us to Florida with her charismatic and somewhat insane boyfriend. So we went from 3 to 4 for one drama filled year.

I remember crossing the state line in a red convertible Cadillac “Welcome to Florida – The Sunshine State”. It was pouring and the irony or perhaps it was foreshadowing was not lost on me. That year was filled with insanity and contradictions. We moved four times in 10 months and went to two different school districts. There were snakes and palmetto bugs, lizards and a trip to Disney. We had a 40-foot boat and I learned to fish and went snorkeling, it wasn’t all bad.

The bad was really bad though.The relationship between my mother and her boyfriend was volatile. I saw him beat her. I listened to countless loud, uncontrollable arguments. At one point my mother left with my brother to go back to New Jersey. I was left in Florida with a family that we barely knew.  They had rented one of the houses we had lived in and they had 5 kids, I was 9 years old.Who does that? Who leaves their 9 year old girl in another state with strangers for a month. A desperate crazy person, that’s who.

My mother came back in about a month and was promptly hospitalized after a suicide attempt. I was sent to a foster home for a week. Soon after my mother had another breakdown and destroyed the place we were living in. I watched her get arrested and placed in the back of a police car. A few days later I was taking my first ever plane ride back to New Jersey, alone.  My brother and I stayed with our grandparents for the next year until mom could get a place for the three of us.

The roller coaster continued throughout my formative years.Mother continued to drink and spoke of suicide often. Each day when I got home from school I would walk into every room in our apartment. Honestly, I did not connect the dots on this behavior until I was an adult, but I was looking for my mother’s body. There were also plenty of nights when I found her passed out on the floor with the telephone cord wrapped around her or in the bathroom. In between there was lots of yelling, uncertainty, acid laced gossip and talk of bankruptcy. I would be filled with panic when I heard my mother’s footsteps coming home at night, we never knew what to expect.

The high level of dysfunction continued until 1983. That year I was sent to rehab after a brief but intense bout of teenage rebellion. My mother had just gotten sober and once again introduced an insane man into our lives. Eventually that union caused the original three to be scattered in different living situations. My year consisted of institutions – including a cult working farm which portrayed itself as a recovery half way house. My brother lived with a friend’s family and mom couch surfed. The three of us never shared the same roof again – my brother and I were 15.

I grew up fast out of necessity, with little familial guidance. I learned how to “adult” in AA. Truly the 12 steps are a nice road map for life and I sure as shit wasn’t getting solid pointers at home. I learned about taking responsibility for my actions and my emotions. I became financially independent while I was a teenager and harnessed a strong work ethic. I put myself through college and really have done OK for myself despite the enormous odds stacked against me.

So how is it that after the shit storm that was my childhood am I able to care for my mother in a way that she never did for me? I don’t know maybe I get the illness part of mental illness. I mean if she had cancer or lupus I wouldn’t abandon her. I know it isn’t the same because the cancer patient doesn’t typically destroy others with their narcissistic ways, but I do know this, the woman is not well. So for the past 20 years or so I have managed to find a balance between compassion and self preservation.

So once again I will opt for the funny Mother’s Day card and some flowers, maybe a meal out for mom. I will not blubber on about how wonderful she is or post pictures on Facebook of smiling faces. I don’t do fake but I can do compassion.

 

 

 

 

1 out of 37………Part 10

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1 out of 37………Part 10

My time at Crawford House was well spent. A new “normal” was set for me as I attended regular AA meetings, group and private therapy and made some sober friends. The ladies at the halfway house were interesting. Every single one of them had a story. Having just turned 16, I had a lot to learn about life. Some residents were gay, some straight, some claimed to have had relationships with famous musicians, some had tattoos, some had kids, those were tricky relationships for me.  There was one rich girl and a handful of teenagers throughout my stay. At least half of the population never graduated from the program. Most were kicked out for using drugs or alcohol, others just bailed. Getting sober is a bitch and you need to be ready and willing to do the footwork.

I was lucky to have such limited residential options. My family circumstances kept me in institutions for a majority of the first 10 months of my sobriety. That gave me time to get settled into the whole sobriety thing and come to terms with a “God of my understanding”. I was kept away from people, places and things that would have likely led me to use drugs or alcohol. My sobriety from the age of 15 is indeed miraculous and it is something I could not have done alone.

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I was discharged from Crawford House in early August of 1984. As you probably guessed my family life did not magically fix itself. The first night I got out my mom and I stayed at a hotel in Hightsown, New Jersey. She left me alone in the hotel room to go on a date. My brother was not with us. He was living somewhere in Sayreville, New Jersey. That was where I lived before I went to rehab the first time in the fall of 1983. My mother’s brief second marriage imploded our trio.  So my brother was couch surfing through high school and my mom and I were still figuring it out.

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I spent a few weeks sleeping on the couch of an old family friend. Her name was Eleanore and at the time she was sober about 5 years which is forever when you are new. I remembered Eleanore as a spectacular drunk from many years prior. We first met Eleanore in the early 1970’s. My mother, brother and I lived in a room in a boarding house in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. Eleanore and her husband Frank had an efficiency in the same building….it was a palace compared to our living space.

Frank and Eleanore were really nice to the three of us. I do remember being freaked out my Frank’s war injury. According to Frank, he was a POW in World War II and the Japanese captured him and chopped off the tips of three of his fingers. He had the stubs to prove it and you don’t forget that sight when you are 5 years old. A few years later my mother had a birthday party for my brother and I when we turned 8. Eleanore and I slept in my mother’s bed and I woke up in a pool of urine. I thought I had wet the bed and had a moment of absolute panic……then I realized my underwear was dry. Turns out Eleanore got so drunk she wet the bed. At some point she decided it was time to get sober.  It was very kind of her to let me spend some time couch surfing while my mom tried to get a place together for us.

Eleanore had an apartment in Bricktown, New Jersey. I got a chance to catch up with some friends I had made in the early part of winter.  For a brief time I stayed with Lola, my original rehab room-mate and her family, also from Bricktown. I finally had some fun again and I also got into a bit of trouble. I had no interest in drinking or using but I still had a wild streak. Lola and I hitch hiked a few times to Seaside Park to go to the boardwalk. One time we got picked up by the cops. They didn’t give us too much of a hard time but it was humiliating. The last straw for me though was when I hitch hiked alone one day and the guy that picked me up offered me money for a blow job. I declined, he kicked me out and I never hitch hiked again.

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After about a month I had to pack my bags yet again. This time I went to stay with my mother who was renting a room at her friend Lorraine’s house. Once again it was all ladies – Lorraine, her mother, Lorraine’s daughter, my mom and I living in Matawan, New Jersey. Couch surfing again until my mom and I could get an apartment.

I started 10th grade for the second time in Matawan, New Jersey. I had missed about 8 months of school the prior year so I had to stay back. This was particularly humiliating for me because I have a twin brother and he was going into 11th grade at our old school in Sayreville. To make matters worse, the apartment fell through so we were delayed again in effort to hit the reset button.

Finally in October my mom got a one bedroom apartment for us in East Windsor, New Jersey. I started at another new high school in Hightstown. The first day I was there I was mistaken for a new teacher by a male staff member. I never felt like I fit in there. Somehow though regardless of the high frequency of moving, life changes, multiple schools, the institutions, the good, the bad and the unacceptable……somehow I had made through my first year of sobriety.

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I celebrated my first anniversary at a speaker meeting in Freehold, New Jersey. I remember feeling a sense of accomplishment…..that somehow I had achieved something that not many could. I suppose that is true to a certain extent. I  prefer to see myself now as someone living their life in the manner that was intended, nothing extraordinary. I do believe that getting sober set my life on a completely different trajectory. I don’t think life would look the same if I didn’t make a decision to get sober all those years ago. I will be forever grateful to everyone that had a part in my recovery, especially that first year.