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A ramble.

The comments and support I have had through sharing this is amazing.  So many of you have reached out to me to let me know that you appreciate my sharing.  Some of you have shared that you have gone through a similar experience, some of you have apologized for not seeing the signs, and some of you have just sent wonderful and heartfelt messages.  I truly appreciate them all.

Please, if you knew me back then, don’t apologize for not knowing.  I pushed most people away on purpose for that very reason—I didn’t want anyone to know.  Only certain members of our family even knew what a fraction was going on.  It was a very big secret for a very long time.  Could things have been done differently?  Of course.  But it isn’t anything to dwell on.  I’m not dwelling on this stuff now, just simply sharing.

The experience I described in my last blog was not successful (thank goodness) and I was left to wonder what to do.  I actually attempted to do something like that and I failed at it.  I remember falling asleep with a picture of my parents next to my head.  They were going through a very difficult time in their marriage, in addition to what my mom was struggling with.  I felt very much alone and withdrawn, and I felt there was no other answer.

I think back to that now, and I am unbelievably lucky that I survived that.  When I awoke, I remember seeing the picture of my mom and dad and for one minute believed that I had been successful at such a horrible thing.  But then the phone rang.  It was my mom calling to check up on me.  She had left for a few days (I can’t remember where she went) and she wanted to see how I was doing.  I remember crying with her on the phone, saying I missed her.  She promised me she was coming home soon (and she did).  I remember my dad being devastated with her being gone because even though it felt like they fought ALL THE TIME, he couldn’t stand to be without her.

I saw my dad in pain and heard my mom in pain and I it dawned on me how much more in pain they would have been had I been successful at such a thing.  Even though I felt low enough to attempt it, it resonated with me that I wasn’t successful.  I saw and felt their pain, and never once  attempted to do such a thing again.  It didn’t mean I had answers.  It meant at that point in time that was not my answer.  As low as I felt, and as distraught as I felt, I believed there was a reason I survived.  Even though I wasn’t sure what the reason was yet.

I am not a perfect person.  I am certainly not a perfect mother and I know I was not a perfect teenager.  Yes, I had to deal with a lot of issues going on at home.  But I am sure, on more than one occasion, my nasty side came out.  I know it did.  I remember having fights with my mom and dad.  My mom especially because a lot of moms and daughters fight during the teenage years.  But at one point, I took on the role as caregiver and our roles were reversed, for lack of a better word.  No matter how angry I got at my mother, I still felt empathy and sympathy.  I still wanted to fix it.  I think I accepted that this was my world and there was a reason I was put there.

I survived school, but did not thrive in it.  It wasn’t until my senior year (more on that later) that I came out of my shell somewhat.  I did what I had to do to get done.  I even attempted to ask for help from our guidance counselor, which I am sad to say, was not helpful at all.  Her solution was for me to go to my room and work on my homework when my parents were arguing or my mom acting strange.  That only solidified to me that no one could really help me.

When I would find the empty pill bottles of Xanax, Vicodin, and Esgic, I called each and every pharmacy and asked to speak to the pharmacist.  I told them that my mother had a drug addiction problem and begged them not to fill her refills anymore.  Some listened, I think…or I hoped.  But one pharmacist blatantly told me that she was going to get the prescriptions filled somewhere, so why not there?  I am still stunned by this comment today.

I called individual therapists and doctors in the yellow pages, begging for help.  They all told me the same thing—and they were correct.  That I could make any appointment for my mom, but that it had to be up to her to change herself, and if she was not ready, she would not change.

I cried at my mom’s bedside and begged her to change.  Begged her to stop.  BEGGED her to stop.  “Please mom, it doesn’t have to be this way.  I can help you. I can help you.  I can help you.”

I couldn’t help her.

A memory came to me, while writing this.  My biggest fear is that people will see my mother as a monster, which she was not; in any way, shape, or form.  She didn’t get the right help.  But my mom was not a monster.  She was loving, affectionate, and kind…until she lost her strength.  Her resolve.  Her will to live.

I was playing on the merry-go-round, I think in the fourth grade.  When I jumped off my knee hit it in just the right way and I sliced my knee straight open.  I had to have stiches put in and went to the doctor’s office, the one that she actually worked in.  She held me, the entire time, while the doctor put the stiches in.  She rubbed my forehead when they put the shot in and I cried in pain.  She comforted me.

Another memory flashes.  I had an asthma attack after or during a basketball game.  But she is there, calming me down, making me breathe, and talking me through it.

My senior prom night.  We joke around in the front yard and take pictures.  She tells me I am beautiful.

My wedding day flashes.  She tells me that she is so happy for me, and can’t wait for me to have babies.  I laugh with her and joke…”Mom, I’m only getting married.  No babies yet.”

My graduation from college.  The first one in my immediate family to finish a higher degree.  She is proud, but she is ill.  But she is still proud.

April 28th, 2005.  I am driving to the hospital and a feeling overwhelms me that I cannot and will not be able to ever describe in words to anyone.

She is gone.

March 2nd, 2007.  2:36 am in the morning.  My son is born, followed by my daughter in one minute. I think of my mom.  How I wish she were here to be in this moment.  To hold me and tell me how beautiful my babies are.  To hold both of my babies, but especially my baby girl, whose middle name is after her, and tell her that life will be different.

It will be.

Christmas morning, 1980 something.

Christmas morning, 1980 something.

Family pic, 1980 something.

Family pic, 1980 something.

 

My babies.

My babies.

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.

Why?

I guess I want to preface this blog by saying that I do not feel sorry for myself for my experiences, nor do I harbor any regret or anger towards my mother.  It will become clear why I could have these feelings, but I do not.  I love my mother very much and always will.  That’s not to say that I didn’t have moments of anger with her.

I share this as a therapy of sort (though I’ve had plenty) and given the opportunity that Jason and I had—I feel like the audience missed something.  If you have ever attended a casting call for a weight loss show, they inevitably ask you why you THINK you are overweight.  It did not have to do with my husband.  It had to do with my mother.  My personal story.

Jason’s personal food issues and mine—those are separate in certain ways.  Yes, we found a way to be comfortable with each other and bad food habits—and it grew.  But my struggle started long before I met him.

Forgive me for this sounding possibly too “cheesy”, but I share also because I “feel” that I have to. Yesterday (April 28th) was the ninth anniversary of my mother’s passing.  Today (April 29th) would have been her 58th birthday.  Around this time anyways I am inclined to speak and talk about her, but never about her personal issues.  It isn’t just something that I bring up in everyday conversation.  I just say I miss my mom simply because I do.  But something else has been nagging me to write and share.  It just won’t go away.  Maybe someone is reading and my story will resonate with them.  Maybe someone is reading this and is ready to change their life.  Maybe some people are just simply reading this.  And that is okay too.

But I struggled where to start writing.  Do I tell you all the wonderful stuff about my mom (there is so much) first? Or do I dive right in to the not so great stuff?  Do I share a horrible memory from my childhood or a tender one?

I wasn’t sure exactly where to start, because it all plays a part.  Everything I experienced in my childhood played a part in shaping who I have become today.  The good, the bad, the ugly.  All of it.

Lastly, I share for hope.  I may be the ever optimist, but I always believe that someone can change their life if they truly want to.  The want takes courage, desire, and determination, but I firmly believe that we all have it in ourselves.  I know this from first hand experience.

It isn’t simple.  It isn’t fun and it is definitely not easy.  When we are at our darkest hour the road seems beyond rough ahead.

But it can be done.

Tomorrow, I will share more.

As a side note, if you know me personally I may come across as an open book.  I know I am pretty open and social to everyone.  But choosing to share this this publicly, is actually very hard for me.  I do so for the purposes I stated above, but is still hard for me to do.  I appreciate that anyone takes the time to read this.