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The why. Well, only some of it.

Courageous.

I have seen many of you write that to me over the past few days.

From Webster’s Dictionary online courageous is: mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.

It is so very hard for me to hear this word because I do not think of myself as courageous.  I think of myself as merely wanting to share in hopes that this will help someone else.  But I can see now, reading the definition, why people would think I am courageous.

I see the word persevere and think I am great at that.  I will try and try and try again.  I may have my lows, but I never truly give up.  I can say that about myself.  Somewhere, along the way, I learned this perseverance.  With my mom, I never stopped trying, but I did accept at one point, that I could not save her.  If I am being honest though, it still breaks my heart.

My mother had been in and out of hospitals for as long as I could remember.  But even now, I do not think she ever had an actual diagnosis.  I am not a therapist or a doctor, but I knew and loved my mom for all of my twenty-seven years before she was gone.  I can say with 100% certainty that she suffered from severe (major or clinical) depression.  When things were bad, they were very very bad.  I do not know if she suffered from bi-polar disorder or not.  She did fit some traits. She had manic phases when the house would be clean and spotless, and she had days when she did not get out of bed.  But she never had that actual diagnosis, so I cannot be certain.

This next part will probably come to a shock to those of you who even knew the tiniest bit of what was going on.  My mom did display traits of multiple personalities at times.  I have no medical background, and again, I say that though she was admitted (several times) to psychiatric wards at hospitals, she was never under the full care of a psychologist or a psychiatrist.  I hate to say it, but her medical doctors did not help, as they were often the ones who were prescribing her the medication and well aware that she was abusing it.

All I can go on, is my memories and what I have seen.  I have seen my mother change completely in front of my eyes, on multiple occasions.  Sometimes I was left to wonder if it was because of drugs or alcohol or if something else was going on.  But several times she also told me that I was not talking to Sue (my mom).  The person that I saw some of the time—the anger and extreme emotions—that was not my mother’s true personality.  So it confused me very much when she turned into this angry person that I could not reach.  Like I said, this started to make more sense as I became older and was more aware of such disorders.

Out of all of her addiction, battles, and depression, this haunts me more than anything.  Because when I research multiple personality disorder (or dissociate-personality disorder) she actually fits some of the traits:

  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Suicidal tendencies
  • Sleep disorders
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Alcohol and drug abuse

I will never have answers.  What I do know is that my mom experienced trauma at a very young age and very much of it.

My mom was molested as a child by a close family member.  There is no other easy way to say this other than to just put it out there.  She never received proper therapy for this and it was a family secret for years and years.  I can only imagine the pain of keeping that secret and what it must have done to her.  I know it sounds totally cliché, but back then—the 60’s and 70’s, I think this stuff was just swept under the rug.  You just dealt with life—things happen!  I agree, to a point.  Life does happen.  But abuse, any abuse is hard to recover from.  What was done to her…I cannot fathom.  When I think about it (I try not to) all I can feel is her pain.  I know that she did the very best she could for as long as she could before she gave into her pain.

My parents married young and my mom had my brother at 18.  She had me when she was 22.  They built a brand new home together, next to my grandmother (my dad’s mom).  They ran a party store together and probably, by all accounts, had it together pretty much and were successful.

I know that my mom also suffered from severe post-partum depression.  She told me.  We had long talks about how she felt after delivery—it is even written in my baby book.  I know that she got it more with me then with my brother.  I’ll admit, for a long time, for a very long time, I wondered if I was the source of her pain.  Why did she get post-partum depression so much worse after having me?  Did I cause her that much pain?

As an adult, I KNOW better.  But as a child and teenager you start to wonder about the WHY of all of it.  You look for answers and when the answers are not written out directly in front of you, sometimes you look inward for answers—because there simply is nowhere else to look.

So my parents “seemingly” had it together.  I am sure, some of those days were the very best of their life.  They were young, they had a home, and they had a business.  But they were young.  And they fought.  And they both had tempers.  And my dad drank.  And life is HARD.  I think there is no one answer, but the want to numb her pain grew and took over.

When life is good and good things are happening, I think we can obviously handle more that is thrown our way.  But when you are already a vulnerable person and bad things happen, it takes an incredibly strong person to overcome that feeling of emptiness and depression all by yourself.  I am talking about deep, deep strength that unfortunately, she did not have on her own.  It pains me very much to say that.  She was STRONG and she overcame so much, but her pain overtook her life.  I know she felt alone and I know she felt no one understood her.  I know she felt shame.  This also began during a time when there was a stigma attached to depression, anxiety, mental illness and therapy.  Some people still have that stigma TODAY.  I can’t imagine having to face that stigma back then.

How did she cope?  She turned to prescription medication, and later, alcohol.

How did I cope? By trying, at every possible turn to help her.  And fix her.  And fix ME, if that was the problem. I could be perfect.  By running away, several times, though only for a few hours–because who else would fix it? By coming back and trying again. To fix her. To help her.  To SAVE her.

And finally, with food.  Because I promised myself long ago that I would never be addicted to pain medication, that I would never be an alcoholic, and I would NEVER let my children see some of the things I have seen.  I was so busy trying NOT to be an addict with pills and alcohol that I didn’t even see I was an addict with food.

It simply never occurred to me.

A favorite picture of me and my mom.  From the 1980's.

A favorite picture of me and my mom. From the 1980′s.

 

Ripping off the band-Aid

I have been writing this entry in my head for days, or trying to write it as I still am unsure where to begin.  To be honest, I thought about chickening out because that is how difficult it is for me to talk about.  But I am no chicken and though this is hard, I still feel that it needs to be done.

What I share will mean different things to different people and I cannot control what people will think once they hear more  of my story.  If I can ask one thing—I ask you to not feel sorry for me.

My mom was a wonderful and loving mother.  She had often told me stories that growing up, her own mother ended up divorced and single, having to raise four children on her own.  While her mother was able to provide for them financially, she wasn’t an overly emotional or affectionate mom.  My mom never spoke badly about my grandmother, and in fact, I believe they had a good relationship until my grandmother’s death.  But she missed the extra affection.

My mom wanted something different for me and my brother.  She told me time and time again that she always wanted to know that we were loved.  I have fond memories of my mom brushing my hair in front of our wood burning stove or rubbing my forehead to help me fall asleep.  I remember wonderful talks with her—talks when I felt I could tell her anything.  She succeeded in letting us know we were loved in many, many ways.

At one time, she was also involved in our extra-curricular activities.  She was the leader of my brothers Boy Scout troop and my Girl Scouts for a period of time.  She attended field trips and was our lunch mom.  By these accounts, she would seem like any normal mom.

I thank God for these normal memories—and these normal moments.  I use the word “normal” loosely because really, who is perfectly normal?  But without these moments of “normal”, I feel that my life would have turned out much differently.

I went to a Catholic elementary and high school.  From kindergarten to the eighth grade I pretty much grew up with the same people, give or take a few.  When I look back, I have fond and wonderful memories, especially of elementary school.  When I think back to this time, around sixth or seventh grade, is when the not so great memories start.

My first memory of something being amiss—and I didn’t realize it until later, was finding my mom in our laundry room—on the floor, in her bra and underwear, passed out.  I woke her up.  It was morning, time for school, and I think I had just wandered down to the laundry room to get something and I found my mom like that.  At the time, I remember thinking it was funny.  I was a child after all, and it wasn’t until later that I started to put things together.  I had no idea what drunk looked like at that age.

I would later learn (all through high school and beyond):

  • What drunk looked like
  • What “high” looked like
  • What Esgic was (prescription medication)
  • What Vicodin was
  • What a seizure looked like from an overdose of medication
  • What it looks like when someone gets their stomach pumped
  • What Xanax was
  • Where one would hide pints and fifths of vodka and whiskey
  • What several suicide attempts look like and how to stop them

I would also learn (as an adult, as her daughter, and as a mother myself)

  • My mother was in pain
  • She didn’t know how to get help
  • I didn’t know enough to get her the help she needed
  • She tried very hard, lots of times to get better
  • What years of abuse does to your body
  • Forgiveness
  • Acceptance

I hate to throw all this out there in bullet points because they are not bullet points.  They are significant parts of my life that have shaped the person I have become.  I wish I could forget some of them.  Truthfully, some memories are gone.  But some stand out as clear as day, as if they only happened yesterday.

I will stop for today and continue tomorrow.  Please, if you are reading this, be patient with me.  I am going to share the “why” of it.  Why my mother turned to this dark place in her life.  I find it near impossible to share all of it at once because there is simply SO MUCH.