Regrettably, it has been a few weeks since my last blog post, but on the positive side: much growth has occurred.
“He knew one thing only, and it was beyond fear or reason: He was not going to die crouching here like a child playing hide-and-seek; he was not going to die kneeling at Voldemort’s feet . . . he was going to die upright like his father, and he was going to die trying to defend himself, even if no defense was possible. . . .” – J.K. Rowling ‘Harry Potter’ series
In a previous post, I spoke about the choices I have recently been confronted with in my relationship with my mother. I made the decision to agree to speak with her over the phone, with my objectives being to clarify the boundaries I’ve set to protect myself as well as to make clear the contingencies that need to be respected if she desires to have a physical presence in my life. Our conversation was successful on this behalf, but not very much so beyond that…
From the beginning of our conversation, my mother insisted upon the fact that she has been doing SO MUCH WORK on herself. She spoke about the past 6 months as if she had resolved all of her childhood issues, adulthood issues and urged me to “forgive and forget” any of her maternal “inconsistencies.” She noted that she has been going regularly to church, to include a Wednesday night Bible Study as well as working one-on-one with a “spiritual adviser.” She expressed that she is now able to understand the Bible and that she uses her understanding to guide her in her everyday life.
Okay, so…when does the alcoholism and mistreatment get directly addressed?
It didn’t. Because…it doesn’t. Meaning, it won’t. In a 45 minute conversation, my mother spoke about her relationship with her church and spiritual adviser as if she just naturally arrived at this interest. Like she just woke up one day and felt inspired to establish a connection with (Christian) God. As if she just signed up for this Bible Retreat because it seemed promising and *boop* everything damaged within her has become shiny and brand new. This is problematic for two reasons…
For one, her story is not true. She did not embark upon this religious journey because it felt right and she felt intrinsically motivated to do so. She has sought out this religious journey because 1) Ever the narcissist, it looks good to other people. It maintains the desired image she wishes to wield and hopefully makes me appear unreasonable for distancing myself from her, 2) She thinks I will be impressed by it or at least my ‘rebellion (i.e. the decision I’ve made to be direct with her about my childhood pain, her alcoholism and my newly established boundaries for emotional protection)’ will be pacified, and 3) because the man she is currently co-dependently-ever-after with is a religious figure. And since she has successfully meshed both of their identities into one (meaning, his..) she is no longer using her own words or ideas to navigate herself through life. I need a whole nother day to blog about her co-dependent relationship pattern with abusive men and its presence in my childhood…
Secondly, this is problematic because it slaps anyone who has ever genuinely walked the rocky path of recovery hard across the face. Myself included. I might not be recovering from direct alcoholism, though alcoholism played a prominent role in my childhood environment, but I know that 40+ years of alcohol abuse doesn’t just miraculously become resolved in 6 months. Sometimes I think she must still see me as the naive 8 year old that used to clean up her vomit in the middle of the night and change her pajamas for her whenever she got black-out drunk. The same 8 year old who made a game out of playing doctor in the morning and kept a journal of her symptoms when she’d tell me she was suddenly ill (though, as an adult I realize that she was just hungover–I still have that “doctor” journal to this day. It chills me to see how blatant it was then.). But that’s unfortunately what she does…manipulate the other party’s lack of access to knowledge about something by strongly claiming that things are the extreme opposite of what they seem.
Anyone who has genuinely walked the path of recovery knows that it is a lifelong process. You don’t feel the effects of your recovery so immediately. In fact, you spend the first year or so feeling so uncomfortable about all that you are challenging yourself to do differently that you can’t even tell if it’s really working. That’s how I felt in the first year of my own journey in recovery from my childhood. I still continue to grapple with how much I’ve really progressed. Less-so as I get stronger and stronger, but I’ve accepted that the grappling is just something that will constantly play a role in my journey.
So for my mother to get on the phone and claim that everything is perfect and fixed and if I could just get over myself and forget what happened and stop bringing it up into everything and be her best friend, is absurd. I told her that if she is really doing the work that she says she is, that it will naturally manifest in her behavior towards me and furthermore that that would be the “evidence” I’ll require in order to begin building trust. I told her that in the meantime, there is going to continue to be a distance between us, because while I can and have forgiven her, it is impossible to forget what has all happened between us because it has had a major role in making me who I am today. The bad goes right along hand-in-hand with the good. There is no magical delete button that I can press and then all of my deepest fears and anxieties just disappear. Trust me, if it existed I’d have pressed that shit 9 years ago when I left Boston to escape that household. I wouldn’t press it now, though. I have grown an appreciation for all that I’ve been through. It has provided me with a unique lens through which to see the world; interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships.
I made the point to mention to my mother that while it sounds like she is feeling supported through church and her spiritual adviser, it would be valuable to share her alcoholism with them OR to at least seek a form of therapy via Alcohol Anonymous, Al-Anon, or–especially–private professional therapy. I acknowledged the fact that since alcohol has played such a huge role in her life and her coping mechanisms have been built around it, she would be remiss to leave that out of any dialogue. Her response was that she has too much going on in her life and doesn’t have any time to do anything like that.
What that says to me is that acknowledging her alcoholism and seeking help is not a priority to her. In one sentence she made it very clear to me that while she is doing some things to give the outward impression of progress and growth, she is still protecting her disease. And while she’s certainly got a lot going on, alcoholism stands boldly at the core of her arbitrary issues. Thankfully, I went into our interaction not having any expectations for her to acknowledge or work on her alcohol abuse. I stuck to my guns and to my goals. By the end of our phone conversation, I made it very clear to her that while I can’t control whether she continues to drink or not, that she will not drink around me. If she were to make the choice to drink in my presence (while in the company of other family or otherwise), I would promptly remove myself from the situation and leave from wherever we may be. I also reinforced to her that my wife & I will no longer be staying in a house with her, to maintain a healthy emotional boundary.
It felt really good to assert myself and stand up to the biggest bully of my life. It felt great to protect my emotional and psychological stability and articulate an contingency. Because I can’t tell her how to live her life. I can’t be the person that holds all her shit together for her while she continues to be reckless. I can’t be her emotional punching bag when she’s upset or attack dog when she feels threatened. All I can do is create a safe space for myself and make the best choices I can to maintain that sense of stability and security I yearned for as a child. It’s okay that she could never provide this environment for me, because for once in my life, I realize that I have the power to provide it for myself.