When I was young, I was home alone with my mother during the day while my older brother was at elementary school. Sometimes, I would be home, even if enrolled, because I didn’t wake up on time or for some other reason. As a young child, I was incapable of know the time, a schedule or logistics. That’s what parents are for.
Often, my mother would stay in her room with the door locked.
I would sit outside her room waiting for her to emerge. I waited for food. I waited for acknowledgment, a nod, an embrace, interaction. Something that would break my preschool solitude. Sometimes I would wait all day. Still in my nightgown, bed head, waiting and napping.
I’m not here to abuse my mother’s memory. That’s never been my intention. If you’re still reading, you’re likely wondering what this is about. It’s about confronting raw and long-ignored patterns of behavior that I swore I’d never repeat.
Because I grew up with a mother who suffered from mental illness, substance abuse and alcoholism, I was left to do a lot of growing up on my own. I was also subjected to the surprising and ephemeral bouts of rage or affection she would manifest.
I pledged to my children that I would be present. That I would be aware. That I wouldn’t abuse alcohol. That I would not take prescriptions needlessly. It takes me MONTHS to go through a 60-day supply of extremely low dose Xanax. To give you perspective: my mother could burn through a 30-day supply of 2mg bars in a weekend. I promised them and myself I would be a Good Mom. That I wouldn’t leave them waiting for me after carpool ended, that I would always tuck them in when I was home; that I would greet them in the morning and that I would be real. I pledged that I would be everything she was not and that they would never have to wonder if their mother was ok or sober or alive or coming back. I SWORE THIS.
I was pretty good at it actually. I didn’t have a hard time not getting drunk or stoned. I would run errands when the kids were at preschool and then we’d come home and nap or walk the dog or live life. Was I perfect? I didn’t grind wheat to make bread or spin the cotton I grew to make thread nor shear a sheep to knit their blankets, but I was a pretty damned good mother and I did my best. I was winning. I was doing all the apparent things that brought my children and marriage security. It wasn’t that hard, because these were all the obvious things: get up, shower, dress, coffee, eat, function repeat.
The thing is: most of us play this part REALLY well and no one would ever suspect that anything was amiss. I didn’t. But you and I both know that there are people out there every day, sometimes me or you, that are in a shitty mood and driving around that way. That we are exhausted and driving around that way. That we are ill or have mental distractions or demons which occupy our minds. BUT WE LOOK GOOD DOING IT.
All of this said, I feel pretty confident that if my kids go to therapy, it’s not because I was hammered all the time and freaking out on them. It would be because I tried REALLY HARD NOT TO do those things so much so that it may have become a little bit much. I never shouted “WE DO NOT SCREAM AND YELL IN THIS HOUSE!!!” but I am sure it might have felt that way. I screamed and yelled plenty; I did what I could to get them to be ready to leave with 10-minute warnings, “do you have your homework?,” to put away their dishes, to clean up their rooms, to not be assholes to each other. I also sang and danced and joked and hugged and romped and played, so I hope things are pretty balanced. Still to this day, our home is open to their friends, to their own bad moods and I am utterly available to them so long as they don’t sneak up on me or if they knock first.
It’s the shit that happens to us that we don’t realize has taken a hold on us and kicked us around on the inside where the bruises don’t show. I spent about a dozen or so years believing that they all felt loved, safe, secure and INTENDED. That they all felt safe because I was f l e x i b l e and fun and present and open minded. Why? Because I said it to them and they said it back. Simple as that: “I love you, ___…” response: “I love you too, Mom.”
Not so fast. I said “I love you” to my mother plenty without meaning a syllable of it. Or maybe I meant it, but I didn’t feel safe. She never asked me that: “Maaally, do you feel safe here? Do you feel as though you have a predictable life and that you don’t worry about your family…?” To that, the answer would have been AW HELL NO.
When I was about 38, I began going through “the change” of perimenopause and pre-menopausal hormone shifts. This is a known medical phenomenon that happens to all women and the symptoms vary as much as sunsets. I’ve written about this humorously and candidly in this blog.
So I’ve established that I was a child of an alcoholic and mentally unstable mother. My father was also a self-professed dry alcoholic who stopped drinking but still manifested all the erratic and mania without the added destabilizing booze. I’ve also established that I the believe I tried to do all the right things.
Here’s where the road completely detours and the GPS starts to twitch. This post is a flawed personal account of the power of epigenetic trauma, genetic addiction and love.
In my research for the blog and while recalling my own issues, I began to manifest what is called “Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder” which I’ve also written about as humorously as I could. If memory serves, I also believe I wrote about an incident with one of my children during what was PMDD but was unknown to me — it occurred before my diagnosis. When I wrote about PMDD, I also ran across an article stating that there’s a link between higher incidences of PMDD amongst female Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOAs).
The short of it is that I was suffering radical hormonal swings on a daily to an hourly basis wherein I would go from girl next door to Joan Crawford within the blink of an eye. Add to this, the unresolved pain of living a life where I felt invisible and unheard by the very people who elected to get their groove on and make me. Not only was there the invisible stuff, but then when I was visible, it was mostly as a scape goat or to be yelled at, or as a miracle salvo to some invisible problem and that just my mere presence would FIX EVERYTHING BECAUSE YOU’RE A MIRACLE…. talk about instability.
So enter the evening when I was in my late 30s. I was preparing dinner, likely one that would be rejected by my team. No matter. I was doing what needed to be done. One of my children got my attention in the very deepest wrong way possible. So as a result, I chased him, screaming, raging, blind. This tiny body, those big eyes, that sweet nose and beautiful lips and skin; the entirety of him weighed no more than 40 pounds. His little striped shirt, slippers, overalls swishing to get away from me. I gave chase from the kitchen into another room in the house where he threw himself into a corner, unable to run any farther away, and collapsed, cowering, covering himself as if I was to hurl everything I could find at him. My eyes enormous, my face red, veins popping out of my forehead and neck, my lips curling and my voice murderous. Insults, crazed accusations, venom flying from my crazed mind and mouth at this little kid who only did something age appropriate that rubbed me the wrong way.
I recall his brothers looking at us both. Fear in their eyes as well. I registered that awareness, but it didn’t stop me. Finally, my husband entered the room and had to peel me away from this singular child and the deep caverns of insult I felt at being bothered by him while I was exercising that all-important vow of being the best mom I could be. I felt invisible. I felt inconsequential. I felt worthless and here was this little kid reminding me just how worthless I was because if I’d been doing my job right, I he’d have everything he needs and I would be a great mom. Now add to this that HIS FATHER had to come in to save him from me… who’s going to save me from him...? What about me? When is enough good enough…?
What I had done is renewed the cycle of rage. I created a space >just like that!< that shifted from “I love you you’re the best I want to be the best Mommy ever and you will never feel unsafe” to “you little shit do I not matter do you not see how fucking hard this is???” When all he was doing was being a little kid. He wasn’t misbehaving, likely. Or if he was, he certainly wasn’t doing something that rightfully conjured a response like that. Crying and shaking, his father returned to him. I went to bed, hearing his little voice saying “I’m sorry mommy.”
Fast forward (because that’s how time moves). I am certain I apologized. I am certain I still didn’t understand what happened and as some defense mechanism I managed to downgrade it in my memory. Three days later, I got my period. My mood had completely reverted back to Miss Elaine from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. It was also at least a week early and it was karmic payback I guess. I was exhausted and in pain and out of sorts. But I wasn’t a maniac, so that’s good.
Continue to fast forward. This son goes to school. Suffers from anxiety and separation issues. Has trouble concentrating. Has trouble not distracting others in school. His grades are adequate, but he’s SO SMART — we know this, but he’s unable to lock down and get in gear. So he suffers. We get tutors. We get time after school. We have conferences. Thanks to the clarity of hindsight, his story echoes mine so much it’s creepy.
To tie off my PMDD issues, I was diagnosed with endometriosis in 2018 and had a radical bilateral total hysterectomy that August. So PMDD is no longer a thing for me because: I ain’t got no more baby maker parts. Now I take a low dose of hormone replacement. Life is good. If I’m an asshole how, I am fully aware.
The reality of this post is that it doesn’t matter when it happened or who is involved. It could be about your family, it could be fiction, but it’s not. I try my best always to protect identities while securing candor. It’s a balance.
I’m still excelling at Operation Good Mom. Sober, clear-headed, still fun and now I’m expanding into practicing yoga, meditating, helping out my elderly parents, raising dogs, making friends, doing it all. ISN’T IT GREAT?! But this beautiful boy continues to suffer slings and arrows. He makes missteps. He’s incredibly talented. He’s really smart. He struggles still, but he’s handsome, charming, funny, intelligent and very lovely.
Years go by. He gets out of bed, he goes to school, he checks all the boxes, but inside: he is UTTERLY DISINTEGRATING. But he smiles. He jokes. He has friends. Deeply wants to be a part of something. BUT YOU’RE A PART OF US! WE ARE THE BEST TEAM!
His friends? They all seem cool, a little aloof and cliquey in middle school, but who isn’t? They also seem to be not what I would consider mutually interested in his friendship. As though it’s an awkward fit. Contrived. He is sweet but he seems so sad. We try more therapists.
As he gets into high school, his friend group shifts from the cliquey jocks to a more kaleidoscopic group — all types of kids. He spends a little time out more than I ever did at his age (and I was a mess), but times are different, so I just watch, while all the while…. hearing the nagging thoughts of “something’s not right… something is wrong.” But he’s so reactive that we don’t bother sometimes addressing his obvious coldness toward us and his defensive demeanor. We chalk it up to adolescent assholicry. Now he is a young man; I am no longer “a parent” in terms of the traditional sense, I am like a counselor, consigliere. So I have to tread softly.
As this goes on, his missteps become greater and more dangerous. The crevasse from doing OK to doing NOT OK is deeper, wider and rocky. I become an asshole and I shift from consigliere to private investigator. I renew my certification from my childhood and resume my filial operations of looking for evidence of wrongdoing. I become an asset. I discover things I shouldn’t. I start snooping and spying. After all, I pay for the technology. I own the house. I bring them up, we have fights. He rages about privacy violations, I tap my toes beneath my crossed arms, purse my lips and raise an eyebrow: I am unimpressed.
Incident after incident after incident. To the point where I am truly wondering, “Do we have a mental disability or illness on our hands? Have the stripes of all our fucked up ancestral genetics come calling on this sweet kid who is spiraling?”
I go back to my understanding of “adverse childhood experiences” or “ACE” scores. But my scores are MY scores, not his… What is the cause here? Did someone molest him? We are still married and a solid family… we have TWO dogs now… I’m not addicted to anything… no one else is… We haven’t moved, no one is in jail or facing a long-term illness… surely it’s NOT US! So what could be the genesis… ?”
Calls to the police’s non-emergency number. I have it stored in my memory, as a contact on my phone. We try visits from the police into the house. I speak to my therapists. Let’s talk about these things. It gets quiet, but I know he’s still up to something. Because he is a minor throughout all of this, we have legal obligations to him which the police remind all of us.
In my head, I am spiraling: this can’t be happening again. This can NOT be the way my story goes. I WILL NOT be the peanut butter and jelly in this fucking addiction and dysfunction sandwich.
Knowing that if we decide this particular person needs some form of professional intervention I can insist on it, but after living with my parents and witnessing that never materialize and watching as much “Intervention” on TV that I can get my hands on, I know that it won’t work because it’s not his idea, I threaten it at least.
declines rejects it. After the third visit which also included some zip ties placed on his wrists to contain his rage and to keep him safe and unarrested, the police leave us with a sheet of paper that has a a certain phone number printed on it and if we need to, we can call it and then refer to another number on the form which will fast track us to a judge to “Baker Act” him: request a three-day psych hold if necessary. But that “Get Into Jail Free Card” is good only for 72 hours.
For the next few weeks we all walk around on egg shells. His brothers are suffering — it’s all too much. But he’s still a minor and evicting my own kid is not my style (plus it might violate my Good Mommy pledge). Over time, things calm down a little and we all sleep and make some changes. Get him into therapy. He improves. But the truth has never been truer: It’s Not His Idea, So It Will Not Stick.
We could throw all the money at therapy. It wouldn’t matter. Buy more gear, it doesn’t matter.
He continues to live, breathing day by day, his heart continuing to beat. Month by month and year by year, he gets up, goes out, eats, comes home, eats, sleeps, wakes up, leaves, goes out with the friends we know of to then go see God knows who to do God knows what until God knows when.
He does this thing, where he lives in zones in the house where no one else is. He’s hiding something. More months, more years…
His prickliness has returned. Did it ever go away? Most recently, he is defensive and emotionally ugly again. His clothes are dirty. All his vanity has disappeared. His teeth look like shit. I used to brag to him about how perfect his teeth were. He never needed braces and they were so perfectly proportioned and healthy. He is falling apart before my eyes. He is plainly, a dick, and very hard to be around. He repels. It’s like living with Trump. Whatever he’s doing is working for him.
He makes requests for things, we honor them so as to help his future professional endeavors because we ARE GOOD PARENTS. We continue to coexist until his disrespect and shitty behavior will no longer be tolerated. This continues for three days which will now be referred to as the Weekend from Hell.
Because of my predilection for rage, nagging and my deep trust issues from being raised by assholes, I don’t let up. We fight like badgers. He tells me and his father, “it’s her or me. I can’t live like this. She ruins everything. She’s the problem.”
His father and I balk at that. I scream, “I’m not the one who ___ or ___ or ___. In fact every time ____ happens, I am a simp: I get you some fucking reward for it because you state you do ___ because you feel unseen in your craft so I buy you what you need to help you with your craft. But it’s all manipulation. It’s all lies. I WILL NOT LEAVE MY HOME. YOU CAN GET OUT, if ___ and ___ mean so much to you.”
He turns into a child and runs away. Literally in the middle of the night. He takes his clothes that he’d recently separated for donations and tosses that plastic bag into a large blanket we have. He takes his phone and a bottle of water. He’s wearing his designer sneakers he bought with his own money. I decide I need to take off. Something has woken in me and it all feels too familiar. I have to get away. So I hop into my car and drive into the next state. I’m about 40 miles away when he calls me. We continue to warp and manipulate and hurt each other with defensiveness, accusations, rage and plain hurt.
As I continue to drive around the beltway, it dawns on me, at 2:15am, that somehow this IS about him and me. It’s not about his siblings, or friends, or cousins or anyone else. That somehow I am deeply involved in this. He only reaches out to me or his father. His brothers are asleep (not likely) in their beds. I continue to drive around. He doesn’t like that I’m out. I am in so much psychic pain. Things: thoughts and feelings and memories are coming at me as fast as I’m driving. I hear his voice, I just want him home. I don’t want to be out here either, but I can’t live there without him. There is still an umbilicus between us. I can not break it. I am broken if he is broken.
What was it my therapist said, “You’re only as happy as your least happy child…”
I sigh. I keep my composure. I hear his voice. How I miss those earlier days when it was so much simpler. When I could pick him up and reroute him with a smile or a hug or a kiss or a piece of chocolate.
The beltway is mostly empty, but I look down and I’m doing 89mph. I phase back in mentally and I hear him from the speaker. He’s calling my name again.
He says, ironically, “it’s unsafe, you belong at home, where you can be safe. I belong out here. If I’m out here I can’t hurt you anymore. I can’t break your rules and you can’t enforce them. It’s best. I will live this way until the pandemic ends. I will get a job and sleep on the streets, I know people who do it. I will be ok, Mom. I will live in the woods. No I will not tell you where I am. TELL ME WHERE YOU ARE. If you go home I will tell you, you shouldn’t be out driving on the beltway late at night alone in your car. You are vulnerable to all sorts of things. Mom, go home. If you go home I will come home. Turn around and I will too.”
I turn around. He calls me again. I tell him I’m turning around. I tell him where I was. He still won’t tell me where he is. We go back and forth. He says he will come home when I come home. He says he will watch for my car on the big street outside our neighborhood and when it goes by in the correct direction he will know I’m returning. I say, “it’s not home with you out there. This is not the way to do this.”
I pull into the driveway. He says he sees me. He says go home and give my phone to Dad so that he will know I’m there. I do. Then he says, “I’m not coming back. I wanted you home. It’s not safe for you.”
I feel like throwing up. I am so sad. This is the worst thing that could have ever have happened to me. My family is being destroyed and I have worked so hard to be present and clean and mindful. I fuck up, sure, but I own it. WHY WON’T HE OWN HIS SHIT?!?!? WHEN WILL THIS GET BETTER?
I get back into my car and scream into the night, “I AM LEAVING. YOU HAVE WON. YOU ARE RIGHT. I AM WRONG.” I decide that I have basically a full tank and I am going to wind up on the doorstep of someone I know when the sun is up. Screw the quarantine. I will just go. New York. Ohio. Maryland. I have masks, I have money, I have GPS. This is for my mental health.
My husband calls. “He’s home. Please turn around. We need to sleep, all of us. I know you are jazzed up, but in an hour or two you might start to falter and wind up in a ditch somewhere. He says he won’t leave again tonight.”
It turns out that my runaway had some technical issues during his jaunt: his plastic bag tore and as he scrambled to stuff his clothes back in his bag, or capture them in the queen size blanket, like a giant kit bag, his water bottle burst all over his clothes and blanket and he needed to come back.
We talk a little and agree to adjourn to our chambers. A few minutes later he comes into our room asking for lotion because he hurt his hand when he fell down and burst his water bottle. I go into my medicine cabinet and I see my bottle of Xanax and I see him see it. I don’t think much more about it. I give him the lotion and he departs.
Because poor sleep was not an option this evening / morning, I resort to my last resort and take .125mg of Xanax. I had maybe 12 whole .25mg pills left amongst a handful of .125mg halves. Luckily I didn’t have to teach yoga in the morning. That evening had started out so nicely too: my husband and I went to a Friday night pasta station at a restaurant and had a fabulous night. I’d fasted all day so I could carb up. We were home from that event by 9:30 and then all hell broke loose because he was stoned or something but refused to do what I’d asked him thrice to do. Video games took priority.
The next morning, it started fairly normally but he continued with his insistence that he get to smoke pot whenever he wanted as long as it was out of the house. His father and I continued to NOT allow that at all. For me, it isn’t the substance, it’s the asshole he becomes when he does things like this, because he gets addicted and it’s awful. We’d been around this before with vaping.
He manages to disclose that he’d actually been smoking multiple times a day for several days for several weeks before we had this blowout on Friday night. So he was pretty addicted to it. Which is his genetic cross to bear.
We have another fight and he leaves again. This time he leaves his phone. But it’s daytime and I’m less concerned. But I’m so tired of this shit. I can not tell you how many times either one of my parents were disgusted with the other or one of us and threatened to leave and never come back or inflict self-harm or kill themselves, or oust the other and never let them back in or get rid of the dog or say we might come home to an empty house. AS A CHILD I heard these things. I literally CAN NOT tell you how many times. I would go to sleep hearing them yell this stuff at each other, calling out to one of us, their children, as witnesses to the charges. At this point, I realize that I was wavering between my personal past and my current present and at times unable to know which emotions were coming from which situation or memory. I make a note to tell my therapist about this.
When he leaves he says he doesn’t want his phone because he wants his body to be discovered by dogs or something and that the only way we’d know it was him was by his dental records. Shit like that. So he takes off. Again: I am reeling and nearly unable to function, but there is this part of me, the Mother Energy that doesn’t give up and that also props me up and snickers about his “found by dogs” comment.
One brother takes off on foot to look for him. Another brother stays home by the phones in case something develops and he can be command center. My husband and I drive our cars looking for him. The other brother comes back and changes up for a bike to search. We are dispersed, looking for this kid who thinks no one cares about him.
Wherever he’s off to now, he has access to email because he sends a note to his father: “NOW WHAT?” Still raging against me and still wanting things his way, with the help of a friend, we manage to triangulate where he could be and where he could have access to email. My husband finds him and they start to talk. He sees my car and tells me to get lost.
No problem. Bye.
I leave him there with his father to disrespect and fight.
I return home and text this friend with an update.
Because I reach out to some friends of his, one mentions a situation that may be bringing my son a fair amount of shame or confusion. This friend agrees that perhaps it would be best to alert the police. That his threats of suicide can no longer go unnoticed (WHAT?!?). So we call the non-emergency number because I honestly don’t know if this is an emergency — because my bearings are off. In the same breath, this friend accuses him of manipulation and then tells me to call the 5-0.
Who are these people he hangs out with?
I explain to the dispatcher everything I know. Physical description, clothes, the last known place I saw him and my husband’s description. I’m crying to her, she’s a mom, she sympathizes. I tell her about the concerning comments, dental records, the secret he is carrying that might be shameful, she says, “OK, I have heard enough. We need to find him. I am putting out an alert to all officers in the area. We will find him, Mom. Don’t worry.”
As I hang up the phone, my husband walks in the doorway, an utter wreck. It did not go well. Their conversations were hostile and circular and defensive and riddled with angst. They were at an impasse and he had to make the hard choice of leaving our son where he was, with him calling after him. The last thing my husband saw in the rearview mirror as he drove away was our son calling out to him and crying. Between guttural sobs and heaves and cries, my husband relays his actions: “I had to do it. He has to hit bottom. If I picked him up we’d just go through this again. I have to let him go. I have to move away, it’s killing me and ruining our family. He doesn’t care. I have to choose us. I just left my son to die or live and I have to do it because it’s killing me to live like this.”
My heart sinks. This generous and gentle man, who comes from his own family with its own stories of upheaval, has had to endure it again in the family he created. He slumps down from the sink, where he was heaving and sobbing, releasing long-held trauma and pain from who knows where and when; on the verge of vomiting, heaves. We cry together, like Karen and Henry Hill in Goodfellas after the FBI raid on our bathroom floor holding one another. This is marriage sometimes.
“Mom, the police are here. Mom.” Says one of my other sons. I get up and go to speak with the female officer at the door. She’s in a mask. I have to turn around and get mine to join her outside our door. She’s asking questions about our son, last known place, last known clothing. I tell her my husband just left him at this location. She radios it in.
My husband joins us on our front stoop. I step inside to read a text. It’s from another friend of his. I tell her about the disagreement between our son and his father. She says she’s going to go look for him. I say, “ok, thanks. Be careful and keep an eye out for the police.”
As we are talking, my son’s friend pulls up the street with a squad car behind her. She has my son in her passenger seat. He gets out and greets the officers. He pulls a mask from his pocket and puts it on. The officer who was interviewing me and my husband excuses herself to speak with our son. At the same time I am both so proud of his composure and respect for the police and enraged that he is putting us all through this again.
Everyone is six feet apart, this all feels like a dream.
He walks to sit between them, gesticulating and explaining things. He makes, loudly, some comment about how marijuana is no longer a criminal offense and that it’s just a $25 fine. The officers agree with him, he looks at me smugly. I already knew this. I can’t believe that I’m being shown up in front of police at my own house.
He’d make an excellent lawyer, I muse to myself.
But I shift back to this situation: “I don’t give a crap. It’s not allowed here. It’s a nonstarter. It won’t be allowed here.” Before I turn away, I throw up my arms, look at the officer with the “THIS IS WHAT IT’S LIKE” and she said to him, “it’s not your home; their rules.”
She comes back in to inform us of our rights and his rights and to remind us of the executive order in the commonwealth against lawful evictions due to the pandemic. So that’s out. Even so, a lawful eviction requires a 30-day process which includes him being served by a sheriff’s deputy and judges do not look favorably upon parents who want to punt their kids.
Things calm down, he goes to his room and seethes. I go to my bed and seethe. His brothers are walking on egg shells. I go for a run on my treadmill and exhaust myself that way. I call for a family meeting at 6.
It turns out we are all together (this is what he does — he fills space with his energy if he wants to manipulate and turn people off) so I said, “should we just start talking now?” I get a wooden spoon which is meant to be the “talking stick” so that things can be relatively calm or at least orderly. That was a silly idea.
We go ‘round in what’s becoming something on A&E television. We are having an intervention in my family room. One of his brothers COMPLETELY lashes out and tells it like it is. The other says, “I have nothing to to say because he’s laughing at all of us…” so he leaves. I start crying and his father explains to him what it felt like to abandon him early in the day. “I had to do it.”
The bickering and defensiveness is like a cinder block firewall. He rejects everything we say. Refuses to meet us on anything. Mocks us, causes hurt and pain. Then … something cracks.
“I have NEVER FELT loved here. Do you know what it’s like to walk around in the house populated with people who are supposedly your family and feel like you’re a stranger or a distant cousin who causes hushes around the table when he enters a room?
Ever since I can remember, Mom, I have never felt as though you love me. I have never felt safe around you. I have to BUST MY ASS to get a compliment out of you. Do you not think I don’t feel it when you and others have your private jokes or New Yorker cartoons and you don’t even BOTHER to share them with me?
Ever since I was small. When you came after me with a knife and chased me into the playroom yelling at me, calling me names and telling me you’d rather be dead…”
My defenses go up.
“Are you talking about that time when I was preparing dinner and you were pestering your brothers and I had to come in to get you to cut it out?! Are we going over this again? I have apologized to you for this…
A KNIFE?! I never had a knife. Your father had to pull me away from you, yes, I was enraged, but I thought I explained this to you, I had PMDD — an episodic hormonal disorder which changed my moods and is like postpartum depression — and I was having an episode. I thought I went over this with you…”
I am exhausted from having to defend myself again about this story. I have always owned my part in this. My walls start to go up.
He is crying. It is unbearable for me. I resist EVERY urge to be impatient, to get up and be offended. He gets up, with tears in his eyes, streaming down his face, says, “Did you ever love me? Was I a mistake?”
His face contorts into shapes and colors I hope I never see again: wracked with emotional pain, ruby, muscles doing things I didn’t think were capable since his birth, when we spent those first early breaths together. That place where my uterus was aches and contorts as well. My insides are twisting.
I am in a different place now.
I sort of stand up and make room for him on the couch next to me. I take him in my arms. We are one. It is like no one else is in the room and I feel him, his pain, his heart, his breathing and crying. I hold him and I say, “I get this. I get this. I did this to you. I know it now. I scared you. I didn’t meant to scare you and I am so sorry that I did. I knew it must have been frightening, but I thought my explanation was enough. God, I have done it — I undid the very thing I hung up as my credo to be as a mother: a protector and I violated that. I know what it’s like to feel like the blame or reason for your mother’s rage, I know what it’s like to feel unsafe amongst the very people who brought you into this world, who profess to love you unconditionally and without reservation and then make you wonder what’s wrong with you and if you will ever be OK. And I scared you. I make you wonder if I ever loved you or if you would be safe with me. You had to prove and enforce your presence again and again for me: loudly, through action, shouting from the safety of your cave to your MOTHER. The very person who says she loves you — you fear. Why? Because she scared you and you never know if she will be there because if she leaves, you’re the one to blame, so why not fuck up your life? No one loves you, no one has expectations and dreams for you. Why dream? Why try? ‘I’m going to leave anyway, may as well make it sooner rather than later.’ No fun waiting for that other shoe to drop. I get it. Oh my sweet sweet boy. I am SO sorry. I understand it all. And I have done it to you. And in doing it to you, you are my teacher. You are showing me CLEARLY how I —even in the midst of trying not to— have set us on a course for ruin as a unit. You are putting things back together — right now. I love you. I love you more than you will ever know and I am different. RIGHT NOW, I am different. You were NOT an accident or a mistake. I wanted three kids. You fit in here in your own way. Just like I do or your brothers do. No one has straight edges, we connect. We make this beautiful broken mosaic. I love you.”
He was me, waiting outside my mother’s bedroom. Sitting, cold, hungry and I never knew. Was he “keeping me company”? Had I just re-created myself at 5 and let it multiply over and over and over again. We must have held each other for half an hour, crying and hugging and holding each other. I stroked his hair. We had to come up for air and my other son said, “Mom’s not crazy. She’s just a crazy strong mom.”
With runny eyes and a puffy face, I sniffled, “Without going into details, none of you were a mistake. You all know how that goes on, but you were all sought, prayed for and planned. Never anything but a gift.”
Eventually we unpeeled ourselves from one another, snotty, tired and raw. I took a shower. He went to his room. He stayed home that night. Exhausted.
I wish I could say it ended there.
He asked me for half a xanax (.125mg) to help him sleep and I said I’d think about it but that he would likely be ok without it. That moment at the medicine cabinet when he saw my pills the night before jiggered in my head and the notion occurred to me to move the bottle, but I didn’t.
A few hours later he comes to us as we are watching Fargo (trying to have a normal night) and says he’s good — he doesn’t need the Xanax and starts acting all weird and talking about how people just need to get over shit and that he is over everything and that he doesn’t care about what his friends told me and they just have to get over it all.
His father and I look at each other. My radar is up: He’s on something. Again. But I’m exhausted and as long as he’s home, I’m not going to sweat it. Going around the block again with him will do me in. I will commit myself to a facility if I have to go through last night and earlier today again.
We go to bed. I lie down.
I have a suspicion. I go to my medicine cabinet and reach for my Xanax. Four halves remain. Out of the dozen or so full tablets and handful of halves I had not 18 hours before, four halves remain.
“My Xanax is almost all gone.”
“Shit” says my husband.
“I’m not going to make a stink, but he won’t get away with this.”
Because I want to keep the peace in the household for the night and I know that what was remaining was largely low dosage, that if he took it, he would mellow out, but because we’ve moved all the alcohol out to our shed and hidden the liquor cabinet key, if it’s just Xanax, he should be largely ok. But my filial operative mode kicks in again and I won’t let this slide and I go confront him.
“My lawfully prescribed Xanax is almost all gone. I have only four halves from roughly 20 tablets remaining from when I took a half of one before I went to sleep after last night’s shit show circus.”
”I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t do it.” He says, but it’s more like he murmurs, man. Like Jim Morrison is saying it.
I say, “Ok,” and leave for my bedroom. “Whoever took them is in violation of federal law.”
In my mind, I wonder if what I told him a long time ago is on repeat in his mind: “the day I don’t give a shit and fight with you is the sad day for you. That means I’ve checked out. That I am done trying to help you and that you’re on your own.”
Naturally, he starts to follow me. He protests to my accusation, which I didn’t make. His father tells him it’s all good. Go to bed or do your thing…
The next morning I wake up at 4:45. I can’t sleep anymore. I feel powerless and I have to shift myself back into a space where I do not feel like a victim.
I come down here, to this office and open my iPad and start a document that outlines rules for allowing him to stay here. I need something that feels real.
It starts off humbly enough and then I decide, “shit, I may as well just go for it and make some really awesome rules… rules that will turn him off so much he will leave as soon as he gets a job…”
At 6am I wrapped it up. It was deeply therapeutic and I printed it. Brought it to my husband who was beginning to wake. I fell back to sleep.
An hour or so later, I woke up to the sound of my husband putting on loud pants — they’re like warmup pants.
He announced, “I’m taking him to the Lamb Center. He said he can’t do this anymore. That he isn’t sleeping and that he is destroying our family. That he has to leave.”
“Ok.” I say, barely able to speak from exhaustion, drama and hurt.
Our son comes in, asking to say goodbye.
“Goodbye,” I say. Whispering and exhausted. I feel like I looked like a haggard octogenarian in her bathrobe and nightgown under her sheets. My hair a mess, my voice barely audible. Like the elderly woman in Moonstruck when Johnny Camareri is visiting his mother in Sicily on her death bed. Her.
“I can’t do this anymore,” he says.
“Do what?” I ask. “There’s a lot you shouldn’t be doing, so which is it? I won’t fight you anymore; I am depleted. I have given you my A Game. Your life is yours to live however you want it. I will print up the lawful eviction papers on Monday and get that process started, so that if you change your mind, you can’t come back — I won’t ever have another weekend like this again. I will leave all of you if you pull this shit, so you’re right: it’s best you leave.”
I ask his father, who is at his wit’s end to hand him my Magna Carta for living here. Immediately he starts to snort and scoff and balk. “Are you serious?? This is so … OMYGOD. You are like the worst…”
“No. See, these are all optional. You don’t have to do them because you have decided you won’t be living here.”
“Yeah. Right. I know. That’s why I’m leaving. I can’t make demands like ‘it’s her or me’ because you’re Mom — it’s wrong of me and shitty — my brothers don’t deserve this…”
“No, they don’t. You’ve traumatized this family. You’ve held us emotionally hostage many times. I have to make a choice and I have to let you go. I will not let you get high here, and if you continue to smoke, you will have to leave. I grew up with addicts and I WILL NOT do it again. I will not spend my life nursing one more person who has shit buried so deep they refuse to address it.”
I’m still so sad about all of this. I can’t believe this is happening. I know that the moment we shared on the couch yesterday was transformative, but he stole from me just hours later — the Xanax. I know he did. In my heart I would do anything to help him, but the only thing that will help him is to not help him. I would be in his way and I know this.
“I need to tell you something,” He says.
He moves to the opposite side of the bed and sits so he is facing away from me. “I did it.” He said.
“Ok, I’ll play. Did what? There’s lots this could pertain to.” I say.
“I mean I took it. I took it.” He said.
“Took what? Again, there are so many options. And if you’re going to admit to something, you know me better: I will NOT help you out by filling in your blanks.”
“I took your Xanax last night.” He said.
“Oh. I know.” I said. “But now you’re going to hear it: YOU STOLE FROM ME A LAWFUL PRESCRIPTION I HAVE TO HELP ME SLEEP WHEN I TUSSLE FROM INSOMNIA — A LOT OF WHICH STEMMING FROM SHIT YOU PULL — FOR MORE THAN 3 HOURS.” I have had that prescription which gets filled twice a year for three years. He stole something from me that was so hard for me to ask for because my mother overdosed on Xanax at least twice in my life.
He started to cry again. I asked “Why? You’re getting what you want now. This should be a good day for you. You get to live with other homeless people who’ve decided their lifestyle, as you call it, is more important than their future, dignity or honor. That despite having all these blessings thrown at you, you’re going to piss them away in a homeless shelter getting high with other people. I’ll be sure to drop off some toothbrushes and socks for you all every few weeks. Keep your phone, but don’t ever leave it anywhere, it will be stolen.”
He’s nodding and crying. He’s shaking he’s in so much psychic pain. But he’s not a child anymore so I can’t assuage his pain, offer him my love, or tell him it will be ok because I honestly don’t know. I don’t know where his boogeyman is.
Something shifts. The energy shifts in the room and I feel as though he’s handing me the reins for a bit.
“Do you want to stay?” I ask him.
“Mmmhmm, yeah.” He says between sniffles. He’s seen the Lamb Center. We have donated food, healthcare supplies and other items to people who go there. People don’t live there — it’s more like a cafeteria with a shower and a locker.
“Do you have any ideas for how that would look? What would you do? I know you hate the rules I wrote, and if I’m being honest, I have drafted so many papers like that which you just piss on, so I did it more for me. So what would continuing to live here look like for you? Does your therapist know about your lifestyle? How you’ve been living? I know for a fact that clients are fired for this behavior, so you might be shit out of luck and try some honesty with them for once.”
He ends up texting his therapist and asks for some time that day due to an urgent matter. We already told them about what happened the day before and the night before that, so odds are good we will get some time in.
We end up having a 28 minute call with his therapist, who is NO DUMMY. Sharp as a tack and he is lucky to be under their care. Rules are put in place, starting with a drug test in two days. Then a session, then back to weekly sessions.
Later that afternoon, I made a conclusion with him: “If you continue to want this smoking lifestyle, you are choosing those people over your family and that’s your choice, but I will not allow you to live here. I have made that clear. You are a totally different person when you are high. If you don’t think you are addicted, you’re confused. Your therapist will help you understand it all. When you get high, you are a smug asshole and disparaging and sometimes caustic. I won’t have it. But if you have to have it, if it’s SOOOO important to you, then you will have to leave. If you do not leave, and you choose to stay, I will also require weekly or random drug tests and you will pay for them.
It’s been three weeks. Things feel decidedly different. He is actively present in his own life. People, opportunities and health have manifested in a way that makes me believe more than I ever have, in the law of attraction, that what we resist persists and what we think about we become.
He made a breakthrough with his therapist yesterday: that he hates being told what to do, and until it’s his idea to do something, he won’t do it. Like anyone else: you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink it.
He is flawed, because he is human. He is a brilliant teacher. He is patient and loving. He is fierce. His life is his own.
What have I learned? That I needed to get on my own couch to heal my own wounds from my parents before I could help my son(s) heal their wounds from me. No matter how hard we try, we will screw this shit up. We have to be ready for those moments of honest vulnerability to show us our true hearts and let love lead the way.