Category Archives: recovery

Making Space for Forgiveness

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Making Space for Forgiveness

I told her it was OK as my mother sobbed on my shoulder. I turned out fine, my life is far better than anything I could have dreamed. I told her that I forgave her and I understood that she just did what she had been taught, modeled patriarchal behavior. The same shit that her parents did that tore her down. Now she feels regret for repeating those awful behaviors.

Women are so eager to take on the blame. She’s crying over the bad wiring in her brain. The structure and synapses which were created by her own traumas, one by one, they formed a new way of thinking; alcoholism, rationalization, self-preservation, victim-hood, depression and decades of regret, at 73 the guilt is smacking her in the face, hard.

It’s sad and predictable, I remain calm and reassuring, while simultaneously hoping I can get home before the ice cream melts in my car. I know that sounds callous but I’ve been living with this drama my ENTIRE life. My head wanders in several directions: my recently deceased father and the damage he inflicted on all of us, groceries in the car, company coming over and being a witness to my mother dissolving in front of me, again. It’s almost too much to take but I’ve taken so much more than this when I was little.

She laments about her mental illness and the limitations it has caused. Her brilliant mind is her best worst enemy. She talks about her long ago marriage to my father and how brutal he was…he’s been dead less than 5 months. She begins to tell me about the rapes, the beatings, how awful he was and I don’t want the details. She holds the worst of it back and I am grateful for that. I already know too many terrible things about my parents, I don’t need more. I do ask for clarification on a few things, the answers surprise me.

I asked her why she left me in Florida when I was 9 while she and my brother went back to New Jersey for a visit. She has a puzzled look on her face and says that I wanted to stay. I was 9 and calling the shots apparently, I stayed with friends that we barely knew for those two weeks. She asked me if anything bad happened during my weeks with Kay and her family. I tell her no, remembering that is when I started smoking and I kissed a boy for the first time. I don’t mention these things, she has enough on her mind. She didn’t want me to stay with Frank, her then live-in boyfriend. She asks me if Frank ever made a pass at me. He didn’t, I was never assaulted by any of her boyfriends which, in retrospect, is sadly miraculous.

Then she confessed one of her biggest regrets as I stood there. She regrets how she handled it when she found out that 16 year old me was in a relationship with a 32 year old man. A man who 6 months prior, had been my counselor. So predictable, the textbook definition of a vulnerable girl and a predatory male. She’s mad at herself for not lashing out at this man 34 years ago. Instead she gave me the anger and disgust because that is what she was taught. It’s the females fault, it always is, men are the way they are. It’s OK mom, you reacted the way you were taught, I forgive you. She seemed to calm down a bit and I told her I loved her and left to go home.

A few hours later, I’m in my kitchen making a damn good tomato sauce with sausage, eggplant and roasted garlic. I have the echo blasting 70’s music, I’m in my happy place. Then I have one of those ah-ha moments. My mother doesn’t hate me, she hates herself for all the ways she’s failed me. Somehow this awareness removes a burden and I have more space for forgiveness.

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Far, Far Away

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Far, Far Away

Scene: A middle-aged woman walks into an upscale chain restaurant (is that an oxymoron?).

Me: Hi, I’m meeting a friend for lunch, we would like a table for two.

Host: Do you have a reservation?

Me: (Slowly turns head from right to left and counts 5 patrons on my left hand as I spy with my little eye a dozen or so bored employees standing around) No sir, I do not have a reservation, think you could squeeze us in?

Host: Right this way Miss. (He knows I’m not a Miss but guys in any kind of service industry know better than to say Ma’am to any woman under the age of 80 In New Jersey. Southern friends you get a pass and with that accent you can say Ma’am and no one gets offended however, if you bless my heart, I’ll know we have an issue.)

Me: Super, thanks.

So this friend and I haven’t seen each other in a handful of years. We’re both 50 now, we met when we were 15 and became roommates in an adolescent rehab in Long Branch, New Jersey. You probably would never be able to guess this if you were looking at us from afar, just two humdrum moms or perhaps business associates having lunch. I was wearing nice pants and a chenille sweater (I know, I can’t believe chenille is back in style! I love it until you wash it and then the material disintegrates like makeup melting in the summer sun). My friend wore a cute blazer and a beautiful necklace, we were quite civilized, at least if you were judging us on our apparel.

A friendship that spans more than three decades is equal parts decadent and comforting. There is an easiness and a candor to our conversation which surpasses most friendships. We talked about some awful things yesterday; death, health issues and politics. We shared our inner most feelings about our parents which would surely be met with some shock and disdain by a more casual observer, someone who didn’t know our individual histories. There is nothing casual about this friendship though, we have been in the trenches together and on separate paths, and damn it if we both aren’t frickan’ amazing.

The world was not kind to either one us when we met. She came from a family that looked perfect on the outside and was the stuff of nightmares once you pulled up the rug to take a peek. Her father physically beat her, her mother enabled it and added her own emotional and verbal abuse to the toxic mix. Both of her parents worked full time and lived in a desirable neighborhood in Monmouth County. It was a sprawling suburban oasis which bordered more rural areas. They were the kind of people that would send out a Christmas letter which contained a recipe for something delicious while listing the academic achievements of their two children. The letter would include a photo of all four wearing LL Bean with a festive backdrop. Lies, all lies.

My crazy was less subtle. I came from a broken single parent household with a mother who had stopped drinking a few months prior. I didn’t have a tattoo, if I did it would just be three letters – FTW. I was writing that on everything jeans, notebooks, walls, this was in the 80s so I feel like I should get partial credit for the rise of WTF, but I digress. I was a hot little mess and there was no mistaking me for the future Homecoming Queen. I was goth before goth was a thing and the chip on my shoulder was the size of a flying saucer.

So here I was goth girl with the yuppie who wore Ocean Pacific. We found common ground as we were both taking French at the time and shared a tutor named Maximilian. Max was great. He treated us like we were worthwhile, had a genuine interest in our well being and didn’t try to sleep with us (that was shockingly rare). He was keenly interested (or at least made me believe he was) in my profoundly dramatic and somewhat awful poetry. He even gave me a journal so I would have something special to write my poems in, it was incredibly thoughtful. In return, I introduced him to blueberry Hubba Bubba which may have been the single worst gum ever invented. Max, always the gentleman, accepted this token of my affection as if it was a Parisian gourmet treat.

Sample of profoundly dramatic and somewhat awful poetry:

You can never catch me

I’m never within your reach

you just have to set me free

like the waves on the beach

It was March of 1984 when Genevieve and I crossed paths. It was her first stay and my second. My first introduction to our juvie resort was in October of 1983 when I, by some miracle, actually decided to get sober. I got out in December of 1983 and my mother immediately got remarried. That marriage was incredibly brief and led to a cataclysmic shake up of what was once a family of three – my mother, twin brother and I. Our little family was scattered into the universe – my mother trying to find a safe place to start over, my brother couch surfing with friends and I got sent to a cult farm in upstate New York which claimed to be a recovery halfway house (that’s a book all by itself). I ran away from that place after a month and was basically homeless. The rehab in Long Branch agreed to take me in until I could get into another halfway house (one less cultish, Koolaid optional).

From fifteen until now, so much life has been lived, good and bad times. We used to go to AA meetings and often found ourselves at the same one on Tuesday nights. It was there that I found out that Genevieve went “out” again and used. I was devastated, I sobbed and feared for the worst. We had both been sober a couple of years at this point which was remarkable. We watched the revolving door of recovery enough to know that plenty of people never make it back. She did though, a testament to her own strength. I don’t think I have another recovery in me which is why I have been sober since 1983, I’m pretty sure I would lose myself into a permanent oblivion if I ever “slipped”. Slipped isn’t that a nice word for the potential to destroy your life…moving on.

We got sober as teenagers, we are both living, breathing miracles. We did the stuff that teens do – dated inappropriate guys, most of whom were not worthy of us. I say that looking back at a girl who had no self-esteem and shitty role models. I was the poster child for the fragile no-daddy girl, she hated her father, we were both ripe for bad relationships. She married her worst mistake, I dated mine off and on for 4 agonizing years. In between we commiserated and went out to clubs with big hair, high hopes and short skirts.

She had her first baby when we were 19 and she married a guy that beat her when she was pregnant. I threw her baby shower and saw some suspicious bruises, she never admitted it, but I knew. By the grace of God she left that relationship. She worked and put herself through college while her daughter was a baby and into the toddler years. She became a CPA and made her way up the corporate ladder. She met a nice guy about 25 years ago and they got married and had two children. Her path was slow but steady and she fought tooth and nail for everything she got.

I was in a bad relationship in my early twenties that held me back from my own potential. When it ended, I set up a 5 year plan which included finishing my BA and purchasing a house. The most empowering thing I ever did was to buy a house at age 30 and wouldn’t you know it, I closed on Genevieve’s birthday. A few years later, I married the right guy and we have two teenagers, a large dog, a gecko and a carnival goldfish with a will to live which defies logic. When I say that I am living beyond my wildest dreams, it is sincere. I didn’t dare to dream of the life I have now.

So here we were, having lunch…two miracles sitting at the table speaking our minds with the freedom of that invisible safety net of a friend who knows your history. Someone who saw you as a phoenix rising from the ashes…we both flew far, far away.

 

 

Fear

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Fear

My brain is a swirling mass of bad ideas, thoughts that want to tell me the worst. Imagined bad scenarios pile up like cars on an untreated highway during a rush hour ice storm in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s an unexpected, unanticipated disaster threatening and menacing, I could be taken out at anytime by what I don’t see in the blind spots, navigation is treacherous. No actual cars, just the thoughts in my head that I struggle to not breath life into. I keep them locked up in the darkest recesses of my mind where they ricochet like a vintage game of Pong on meth or speed or whatever causes the most damage and chaos.

What happened? Nothing much, it doesn’t take much. My husband could go out for a walk or to meet a friend for coffee and sometimes my damaged mind assumes diabolical situations – mostly that he is cheating on me or dead in a ditch, perhaps mangled in a car crash. Sometimes I think it’s a girlfriend or a hooker, other times I go full blown psycho and imagine the “other family” like a plot from Brothers & Sisters where I play Sally Field’s character. I try to distract myself from my own wicked thoughts and it’s exhausting. Like the duck which appears calm on the surface of the water but if you go underneath you see the frantic kicking of the webbed feet. I’m the duck cooking dinner and answering homework questions while my mind is imagining horrendous scenarios.

I talk myself off of my woman made mental ledge by giving myself an internal pep talk. He loves me I tell myself, knowing that isn’t enough. I mean plenty of guys that love their wives cheat or die in a car crash, statistical fact. I go deeper into my analysis – what time of the month is it? Last menstrual cycle was 22 days ago – interesting, the math works. Didn’t sleep more than 3 hours, got maybe 4 hours the night before last. What did I eat today? Have I exercised? I do much better when I sleep enough, eat well and get in a work out. Has anything different happened to make me feel vulnerable – why yes two family deaths in the span of six months, some collateral drama.

Much like the pilot of an airplane, I have a pre-flight checklist. If any of these items apply I note them and the demons of my mind step back a bit. It has taken years of self introspection and observation to acknowledge these pitfalls. Inevitably though it always comes back to fear of abandonment.

The scars of a dysfunctional upbringing are the echos that haunt me. In the arrogance of youth when I had more energy, was physically more attractive and had complete financial independence, I had the naivete to think the ghosts of my childhood wouldn’t haunt me. I remember my own mother telling me that there was a certain level of her own damage that she had come to accept as insurmountable. Late twenties me thought what a bunch of bullshit that was and how if you had awareness then surely you had the ability to make some changes.

The decades since have softened my views on this…certainly as individuals we have some control over our outlook on life. I have also come to view these deeper flaws in a way that I view grief. You cannot jump high enough or dig deep enough to get around it, you must go through it. You need to absorb your personal truths and recognize them when they float to the surface. By all means fight the demonic bastards with everything you’ve got, just recognize that they will continue to be unwelcome and hopefully infrequent visitors.

So as much as I hate to admit it, mom was right. Some of my fuckedupness is just a part of me and I need to make peace with it. Not panic when the – damn is he cheating on me or why are they late, did they crash the car thoughts come in, because they wilI. I need to glance at my pre-flight checklist and acknowledge that I have a fear of abandonment which is stoking the flames of the negative fires burning in my brain. I need to go after them one thought at a time – dousing them with logic and pragmatic reflection until they are just smoldering embers waiting for the next opportunity to ignite.

I’ll Buy My Own Flowers

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I’ll Buy My Own Flowers

On Monday I went to visit a Medium (I’ll insert the eye roll for you). Personally, I would love to believe in magic, the Tooth Fairy, comprehensive affordable health insurance and “the afterlife”. Truth is, I don’t know what happens when we die. My father died in September and I’ve been struggling with the aftermath so I figured why not see someone.

I got the name from a dear friend who lost her husband several years ago when he died suddenly at 39 years old. Someone dragged my friend to see this woman and it was an amazing experience. My friend is more of a skeptic than me so I was intrigued. I got the number and made my appointment.

While I didn’t expect a miracle, it would have been nice to get a clear cut sign. A little wave from the people on the other side that I think of often. I was most curious about my father since we had some unresolved issues. Well, now I guess it’s just me with the unresolved issues, he’s been pretty quiet about the entire thing.

In my grief, I’ve had some heated one-sided conversations with my father and his second wife (she died twenty years ago). I basically cursed them both out for neglecting myself and my brother. I give my father the bulk of blame for this…as a woman and a mother, I can’t let his wife off the hook entirely. Abandoning us for a couple of decades until they figured out what to do with us (not much). Justifiable anger is the stuff that will rot your soul. I want it gone. So I thought perhaps seeing a Medium would help.

I did go in there as a cynic, a non-believer if you will. I have no poker face, and a very thin filter. My resting bitch face may have given away my cynicism. She immediately told me to uncross my legs so she could look for breaks in my aura or energy or something. I don’t know, apparently I have a 50 foot red aura which indicates some anger (thank you resting bitch face).Later in the conversation (not a reading) she said that she hoped my aura would change to green for emotional healing.

She also acted kind of weird at one point. Not sure if this is normal for this setting (OK, nothing is normal) but here goes:

Medium: You are the most spiritually evolved person I have ever seen, what could you possibly want to learn from me. I’m an asshole, you’re a saint.

Me: Um, whaaaaat?

Medium: You’re a saint, I’m a pig. Why are you here?

Me: I wanted to see if you saw any…um, relatives around me.

Medium: That’s not my specialty. Do you have photos?

Me: I do.

And she looked at a photo of my father and of my father-in-law (he passed away in May). She talked about them both made some observations. I was pretty quiet as I didn’t want to feed her information (still a cynic despite her pegging me as the most spiritually f*cking evolved person EVER).

In my one-sided chats with my deceased father I have requested a very specific sign and it is pretty ridiculous. Let’s just say that I demanded to see a-black-lab-juggling-flaming-swords type of ridiculous. (Psst…that’s not it, I can’t tell you the real sign because then if I see it somewhere I’ll just assume one of my blogging friends engineered it. Yes, I realize that is also ridiculous, don’t judge me I’m grieving, damn it). Let’s just say my new Medium pal suggested another sign as reassurance from my father, flowers. I may have rolled my eyes out loud when she suggested this because it was so far removed from the sign I envisioned and it’s just so damn basic. Bitch, I am not basic.

So I left there pretty much the same way I came in, a non-believer. A deeper realization that if my father didn’t put the effort in while he was on earth, why would I think he would change now. This isn’t new information, I know this, so today I bought my own flowers. Heal thyself.

The Man on the Bed

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The Man on the Bed

I made a new friend yesterday, his name is Lenny and he’s 85. He happens to be dying of lung cancer but we didn’t talk much about that. I went to visit him as a hospice volunteer. Lenny’s house is a treasure trove of art and dust. His room smells like urine and his clothes are in a pile on the floor near his bed. If you can look past that, you are rewarded with art from several cultures and genres.

Soon after I arrived I noticed a copy of “The Man on the Bed” painting. This painting was created by Robert M for the December 1955 Grapevine (an Alcoholics Anonymous publication). I commented on the painting and informed my new friend that I was sober 35 years though I don’t go to meetings anymore. Lenny also got sober in the 80’s and attends 6 – 10 meetings a week.

The man is on oxygen and has a catheter and it doesn’t stop him. We joked about the car he drives which happens to be a Ford Escape and we decided it was the perfect name for his vehicle. Indeed he is escaping every time he leaves the house. For an hour or so he is welcomed into a warm room full of people he is fond of, embracing the humanity of it as a respite from the confines of his bed.

We talked a lot about Lenny’ s life, he’s had a fascinating life. He was born in Copenhagen in 1934. He spent his childhood in institutions as he was abandoned by his parents. His country was under German occupation during World War II when he was a child. He has vivid memories of interacting with German soldiers as a young boy. He recalled one memory when he was affectionately picked up by a German soldier and placed in the sidecar of a Zundap motorcycle which had a machine gun attached to it.

He never sat in a traditional classroom, he taught himself to read by working out the captions under illustrations. He has always been drawn to art and artists. He credits his time at the Summerhill School in Suffolk England for encouraging his creativity. He described it as a free range approach to education, no classroom required.

He became a mason apprentice at 14 and got his Mason Certificate and Union Book four years later. He traveled the world through his trade and spent time in Sweden, Norway, Germany, Greenland and Australia. He came to the USA in 1963, he arrived on old freighter which was riddled with bullet holes. He disembarked in Hoboken, New Jersey and got his green card.

We didn’t spend a lot of time talking about his three marriages. He did tell me that each of his wives was wonderful and that the blame for failure was his alone. He had four children and two died from overdoses. We didn’t dwell on it, he took the blame for that as well. He told me he was a lousy father, not at all present for his children when they were growing up. Three decades of sobriety has a way of smoothing out the rough edges of self acceptance.

Sometimes you need to spend time with the dying to fully appreciate living. I can’t wait to visit my new friend again.

Troubled

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Troubled

Something was posted in the New York Times recently, no, not that. Something that struck a nerve in me which, is still reverberating from the pluck.

Liz (pictured in the article) and I have gotten to know each other over the past year. We share a common horrific thread of having known Tony & Betty Argiros who ran “The Family” and founded the Family Foundation School (FFS). Trust me I can see the humor in FFS as the acronym. Sadly that is the only humorous take away.

I met the Argiros in the winter of 1984 as a homeless teenager. I was basically sent to their group home/working farm in Long Eddy, NY because I had no where else to live. My family imploded due to a recent disastrous second marriage for my mother. I was newly sober and not one relative would take me in.

This place seemed like a reasonable option, it wasn’t. Since I couldn’t live with my family, I was sent to “The Family”. It was a cesspool of abuse on a level I had never previously encountered. I grew up with an abusive alcoholic mother and no father so I was pretty familiar with neglect and abuse was no stranger either, this place was next level horrible. The atrocities I saw/heard/experienced there nearly 35 years ago can still cause me tears or make my blood boil with anger. I say this as a person who has been sober for over three decades. It’s a dark, depressing rabbit hole I don’t dive into often these days as my life has been blessed beyond anything I could have imagined.

The FFS closed in 2014 thanks to a tireless campaign coordinated by alumni who fearlessly and publicly told their tales of horror. I didn’t even know the school opened until about 3 years ago when another person who went to the farm reached out to me through my blog. I felt physically ill when I heard that the Argiros expanded their reign of terror. I also felt guilt for not doing more to shut them down in the 80s. I told the authorities in upstate NY about the abuse when I ran away but the place was set up to avoid a lot of scrutiny and I was a “troubled” teenager therefore, I lacked credibility.

I am posting this because Liz is a champion of keeping awareness in the spotlight. She also keeps track of alumni deaths from FFS. Over 100 alumni have died that Liz knows of – many were suicide or substance abuse related. That’s over 100 people under 50 years old, many under 40, young adults. No one is sure how many alumni there are (hundreds. a thousand?) but they seem to be dying off at an extraordinary pace.

If you or someone you know is considering an aggressive treatment facility for a teenager, please be vigilant and doggedly research the program. The names and locations change but these places, they still exist.

 

It’s Wine O’Clock Somewhere!

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It’s Wine O’Clock Somewhere!

It’s Wine O’Clock somewhere…or maybe it’s Weed O’Clock, Sex O’Clock, Sugar O’Clock, or some other O’Clock I have not yet imagined. Our collective casualness with dependency is adorable isn’t it? I mean we all need a little somethin’ somethin’ to get through the day, right? I may ruffle some feathers and bunch some panties with this post.

Perhaps I’m sensitive to the topic…after all I was raised by an alcoholic mother (you may now insert all of your preconceived notions about me into your brain) and found myself in rehab at age 15 (insert more of those notions) and I’ve been sober ever since (perhaps that one was unexpected). I have a good grip on the subject of alcoholism, mostly through sober observation. I’m way past the zealot phase of recovery and I have many friends that are social drinkers. I have not been hiding in a sober closet for the last 35 years. That said the “Mommy Juice” culture is getting out of hand.

I recently got invited to a breakfast with other parents who plan to celebrate the first day of school by day drinking the minute their precious kids get on the bus. Mimosas at the country deli, won’t that be fun! Look spiked orange juice, so clever. The festivities start at 7:30am, I’ll pass. I hope they have a designated driver, Uber is scarce in these parts. I wonder if these parents will still be lit later that day, driving through car line which is a cluster f*ck without inebriated drivers.

Do your teens and tweens see these pro drinking posts? Are you buying them beer so you can be the cool parent? When is enough enough or perhaps too much…what example are you setting for formative minds? I know I sound like a cranky Puritan. Truth is I’ve joked about alcohol myself especially when asked why I don’t drink. “My gene pool is polluted” is one of my usual snarky responses. It sounds cooler than the real explanation – I made bad decisions and put myself and others in harm’s way when I drank. And I do have a sense of humor (pinky promise). A few weeks ago I got a good friend a “Shut Up Liver, You’re Fine!” t-shirt to celebrate her birthday. Hmm, I may be part of the problem.

I think my breaking point was the purse that markets itself as a wine pouch. Let’s all hold hands and recite the Serenity Prayer for this gem –

Wine Purses

If you need a purse to carry your medicine water,  perhaps things have gotten a tad out of hand. Look at it this way – substitute green beans for wine, does the behavior still make sense? Are you stashing green beans in different areas of your house for a quick bite when no one is looking? Are you stuffing your face with them in the parking lot before walking into the board meeting, the presentation, the PTA gathering? Are you disappointed when your friends decline green beans because they just can’t take another bite and they need to drive home? Have you recently eaten too many green beans at a public event and struggled the next day with a hangover and the shame of not knowing what happened? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have a problem with green beans. Just some food for thought.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credit: Through agreement with 123RF Limited

Image ID : 44357768
Media Type : Photography
Copyright : belchonock  (Follow)

 

 

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. Other nights I would find her 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.