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Memories

My story is coming to an end.  There will be no long breaks and I will finish it soon.  I thank you for hanging with me if you are still reading.

When I left off, I had described transferring to a new school and looking ahead towards new goals.  I enjoyed my time at John Glenn, but when I started school back in September something changed.  I missed my “small” Catholic school even though I felt like I hadn’t quite fit in.  My classes at John Glenn were a pretty decent size and for some reason I thought about graduating with 400 people and it didn’t appeal to me.  I did miss Ladywood and I did miss the relationships I had.  So yes, I transferred back.

But my senior year was different.  I came out of my shell more and was less hesitant to push people away.  I wasn’t the me I am today, but it was more like me.  I felt, for the most part, okay.  I was learning to deal with things differently.  Well, mostly.  Yes, food was still my comfort after dealing with stressful situations.

That year was also hard on my mother.  Her mother had been ill for quite some time.  I grew up living next door to my dad’s mom, so yes I was closer to her.  I remember my mom’s mom and have good memories of her, but I really wish I knew her better and we were closer.  She was close to my mom and she did not live far away at all.  She would visit us and we would visit her.  I have memories, somewhat cloudy, but memories of my mom taking turns with her sisters to stay with my grandma.  I have no doubt she was still self-medicating herself at that point in time, but she was able to help take care of her.

I feel so guilt ridden that I cannot remember the timeline.  I cannot remember how long my grandmother was sick for. I remember when she did pass we were all at the hospital together, being there all night as a family together.  I remember feeling bad that I wish I had known her better.

If there was something to just push my mom even further into a depression it was the loss of her mother.

The loss of a mother…I cannot put that pain into words.  I know this, of course, because I have lost my mother.

Now, I have to point out that I had 27 ½ years with my mother.  Good times.  Bad times. Traumatic times. Wonderful times.  I was lucky I had that long with her, despite all of the issues and problems.

But the loss of a mother.  I have said these actual words to friends before: “It just plain sucks.”

And it just plain sucks.  There are moments in your life, when you only want YOUR mother.  There are moments in life when you want to just call YOUR mother.  There are moments in life when you want to YELL at YOUR mother.

But she isn’t there.

At eighteen years old, I knew my mom losing her mom was hard.  I did not realize how hard it was until I lost my own.  For a person who was already in such a deep depression…who had already experienced so much loss and pain, I think it was simply too much for her at times.

My senior year of high school 1996 and beyond…there are so many memories.  So many “incidents”. So many hospital visits.  So much I simply don’t remember.

One memory in particular, an overdose, which it usually was, led us to U of M.  She had overdosed.  On what, I cannot remember.  I remember anger, from her and lots of it.  Anger that she was being taken to the hospital. Anger that she was being questioned about her mental health.  Anger that she was being asked if she had tried to commit suicide.

I remember approaching her to talking to her while she was in one of the emergency beds.  She had charcoal on her face and she was just SO angry.  The look that she gave me when I walked up, I will never forget it.  I always told her the same thing—that I loved her and I was sorry and we didn’t want to lose her.  But wherever she was at that point in time, it wasn’t my mom.

This particular visit had resulted in a discussion with the doctors about possibly committing her.  Did we think that she was a threat to herself?  Yes, we did, of course we did.  She was a harm to herself.  My dad didn’t want to lose her and my brother and I did not want to lose her.  I was eighteen at the time.  Yes, I was legally an adult.  I was mature in more ways than I wanted to be and I only wanted to get her REAL help.  I signed emergency commitment papers with the thought that she would be treated at U of M.

She was not.

She was transferred to a facility that to my knowledge, is no longer in use.  I will not mention the name, but if I gave the location many people would know where it was.  I was upset because I did not feel that my dad or I had been properly told about her being transferred because at the time they did not have a full capacity psychiatric unit.  She was transferred all alone.  I cannot imagine that ride.  And I cannot imagine what she thought when they brought her in.

I came to visit her and she would not look at me. She would barely speak to me. The people surrounding us were not like my mom.  Not really.  They had deeper and bigger issues going on.  She did not belong there and as soon as I set foot in there I knew that.  But couldn’t she see, I only wanted to help her?  I only wanted to save her.  I didn’t want her to die.  But she didn’t belong there.

Did I mention this was days before my graduation party from high school?

All I can remember then, was a race against time to try and undo what I had done, with the promise that she would get real help.  I remember phone calls and begging, and meetings.  But I cannot tell you everything in detail.  I can tell you that my party was on a Saturday and my mom came home on a Friday.  The party didn’t matter, of course not.  But it all blends together for me.

What do you do, when a loved one is trying to hurt themselves?  What do you do?  While I felt that I had no choice at the time, I regretted doing it.  It may have been the thing that saved her that night, but for so long my mother looked at me with anger.  I know she realized at one point I was only trying to help her.  But despite everything my mom and I had gone through, I hated when she was angry with me.

There are so many memories.  So many hospital visits that I can remember as clear as day.  But I know there are so many that I have blocked out.  Do you tempt recovering these memories?  Or do you leave them be?  I have sat here, trying to remember certain things, forcing my brain in any way I can…and then I think, some things are really just meant to be left alone.

Do I need more memories of my mother wanting to hurt herself?  Do I need another memory of her standing before me and my cousin with a gun to her head and me PLEADING with her not to pull the trigger?  Do I need another memory of finding her completely passed out wondering if she is dead or just drunk?  Do I need another memory of her having a seizure right in front of me because she took too many pills?

No, I do not.

What I need, I have.

Me, sneaking a peek at my mother’s journal on her bedside. She wrote about how much she loved me and my brother.

My mom comforting me.  About what I cannot remember. But my head is in her lap and she is rubbing my forehead.  I feel safe.

Her laugh.  A great laugh that came completely from within.  She could not fake a laugh.  If she was laughing, you knew you were getting the real deal.

Her telling me on my graduation day from college, how proud she was of me.  It was a major accomplishment for my family.  But she is frail at only 46 years old.  She looks aged and time has taken a toll on her body.  I have no idea that I will only have three years left with her.

Her wisdom at times most needed.  She was not perfect, but sometimes when I needed JUST the right advice, she was able to give it.

Her good memories, which far outweigh the bad ones.  Or I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

There are days, like today, that I would give anything to see my mom again.  To talk to her.  To just see her. But I know that will not happen.  So I write. I share. I open up and hope that my story can help someone.

Please, I am not trying to make a commercial out of this, but if you are struggling with depression or addiction there is HELP.  Trust me, people want to help you.  Seek it and find it.  Talk to your family.  Talk to your friends.  You are not alone, I promise you that.

My mom and grandma (her mom) on her wedding day.

My mom and grandma (her mom) on her wedding day.

wedding

Me, my mom, and grandma (dad’s mom) on my wedding day.

The connection

Wow.  So I knew it had been awhile, but I did not know that I was nearing thirty days since my last blog.  I know I have repeated it over and over again.  I could say it is because we are busy (we are, very), I could say that it is because of kids activities (it is, partly), or I could just be honest and say that it is hard to write about.

It is hard to write about.

Writing is one of my most favorite things to do.  When I was younger, I would write short stories endlessly.  And in a bit of a cliché manner, most of my stories involved some sort of family heartache with triumph in the end.  There always needed to be a triumph.

I recognize now, as an adult, that I was exercising one of the very few outlets I had to get out my emotions, my anger, and my pain.  But to me, back then, it was just writing.  I could pick up a pen and write in my journal or on pages of loose leaf.  When I was tired of writing, I stopped.  There was no audience.  No readers.  I wrote for myself.

I realize now, that while I AM writing for myself still, I am now sharing this journey with others.  So it isn’t necessarily fair to take so long to finish the story that I started.  There is an ending.  But it is hard to write about.  It is emotionally draining.  But I know that this truly is the least of my problems nowadays, so I am forcing myself to “pick up the pen”, so to speak.

The loss of Jerry was tremendously hard.  The only healing that has come, has come from time.  I was a teenager when that happened and it rocked my entire world.  I have learned to cope with it, as we all must cope with loss in some way.  But it wasn’t easy at the time.

I remember I was starting my junior year of high school and the last place I had wanted to be was in school.  I felt separate from everyone else.  When friends were talking about boys and parties over the summer, I thought of Jerry.  And again, I talked to no one.  Only one friend at my school knew about Jerry, and so, I withdrew further.

Oddly enough, with all of my family issues, we were a close knit bunch.  I spent a lot of time with my family.  The boyfriend I had, at the time, lived down the street and he spent a lot of time with my family.  So despite (or in spite) of all of the issues, we were all close.  While I had lots of friends and outside sources of comfort in elementary and junior high, I did not have that in high school.  Part of that comes from me simply pushing people away because I did not want anyone to know.  But that only furthered my isolation and it really lead to nothing good.

Now might be the time that I make the connection for you in regards to my comfort with food.  It is very simple, yet incredibly powerful.  To me it is powerful.

Most often when my mom was “normal” she cooked dinner.  She cooked big, large meals that were more than enough food for five people and my grandmother living next door.  A family of four might peel 4-6 potatoes for a side with dinner.  My mom peeled the whole bag.  I don’t know why, but everything was in mass proportion.

Also, usually before some sort of large holiday or family gathering there would be a BIG slip up.  She would usually overdose when she had been doing very well for some time.  Or, to be blunt, she would get drunk.  The drama of the situation always caused concern about the upcoming holiday.  But, to my memory, she was always able to pull off the holiday in full form.  Full dinner, full everything despite being high days beforehand.  So holidays were remembered with joy.  With comfort.  With normal.  With hope.

I can almost remember my own thoughts back then.  My silent prayers of “This is it!  She has decided to change!  It will be better.  SHE will be better.  It ALL has to be better.”

And then.

Better never came.

Not really.

Family dinners equaled comfort.  Safety.  Family.  NORMAL.

And then, when there was no family dinner, there was always food.  Chips, pizza, corn dogs.  Every possible processed food you could think of.

And then, when there was no family dinner, sometimes there was pizza night.  Or Chinese night. Or fish and ribs night.  Or pizza night.

My family loved pizza.

And then, there was always Grandma.

My grandma.  My rock.  Truly, my rock, throughout my entire life.  My one continuous support that I knew would never leave me, would never overdose on anything, and would always be there to comfort me.  She was right next door.  Always.

She always had food too.  It was in that loving sweet grandma way—the way that you always know that grandma will have warm home baked cookies (and she did, a lot of the time), and hugs, and words of wisdom about life.

And food.

Food.  Comfort.  Safety. NORMAL.

That is where it begins and that is where I connected the dots.  In my circumstance there is no grand formula and there is no magical ONE thing that happened.  It all came down to comfort and a craving for being normal.  I wanted to be normal more than anything at that time in my life.  So even though I know I started gaining weight at a rapid pace between my sophomore and junior year (and during) it really didn’t matter because I didn’t understand the connection at that moment in time.

I just did not see it.

But I started eating.

A lot.

My grandma, Sam, Sabrina and I at her 90th birthday in July 2013.

My grandma, Sam, Sabrina and I at her 90th birthday in July 2013.

Withdrawn

When I decided to share about my mom, I honestly thought that I would be able to break it down into about 5-7 blog posts.  I was obviously wrong and it will take me longer to tell this story.  If you are reading this and waiting for the connection with food and when I started to turn to it, it is coming.  But there is SO very much I have to share and it all ties together for me.  Please be patient.  If you are reading this just because you know me and want to know more, well, no worries, you are going to get it all.  Thank you to everyone for reading.

I had every intention of finishing up last Friday and writing again on Monday.  I love to write.  I love it with all of my heart…but writing about this stuff is hard to do.  I don’t dwell on everything I have seen in my life and honestly, I very rarely think of the bad stuff because really, who wants to think about stuff like that?  I would rather remember my mom for all the good things she did in her life.

So I went back to write, and I just couldn’t.  It is emotionally draining for me to go back to that place and when I write about it, I have to go there.  So I took a break.  But now I am back.

I believe I mentioned that while I had a sprinkle of odd memories (finding my mom in the laundry room passed out) during my young childhood, it wasn’t until junior high and high school that I started to figure out something was not quite right.

Up until high school, I would consider everything pretty much happy in my life.  I grew up with great kids through school, I loved attending St. Mary’s, I was actively involved in sports and dance, and I felt safe.  I felt happy.  I felt secure.

Lots of changes happen when you transition to a high school, of course.  But if you attended a public elementary and junior high, chances are you will know people when you move to high school.  My tiny little Catholic school probably had less than 25 kids in our graduating class, and a few of us went on to the same high school together, but with the exception of those few girls, I, of course did not know anyone.

This isn’t usually a problem for anyone—it’s just the nature of high school.  You meet new friends, find new social circles—its all part of life.

Which might have been just fine if I wasn’t dealing with stuff at home that I didn’t want ANYONE to know about.  Even my best friend from elementary school—someone that I had known my entire life—I did not want her to know.

My protective bubble was gone and for a period of time, so was I.

If you know me now, you know that I am a pretty social person.  I love getting to know new people, I love making new friends, and I love being a good friend.  I love the people that are in my life and I love having these connections with everyone.  I know it sounds totally “Pollyanna-ish”, but really, I enjoy life.  I am a total extrovert (though not pushy) and I enjoy socialization.  It is a part of who I am.

This was not who I was in high school.  In high school, I recall being quiet, withdrawn, and just not that into anything.  I felt out of place and I was terrified that people would find out my secret.  I quit playing sports (which I loved) and I quit dance classes (which I was not so great at, but enjoyed) and I just…pulled away.

How could I invite someone over to my house if I wasn’t sure if my parents were going to be arguing?  Or if my mom was high or drunk? Or if my dad had even been drinking and they got into a fight?  How do you welcome someone into your life when you yourself are unsure of what you will be walking into on a DAILY basis?  My answer?

You DON’T.

Instead, you survive, in the only way that I knew how at that point in time.  I pushed people away.  A few, (very few) people knew what was going on and I was simply afraid and embarrassed to let anyone else know.  I may be confident and independent now, but I simply was not back then.  I wanted to be anything but different.

It hurts my heart now to admit how much I withdrew from people because it simply isn’t who I am.

Sharing everything and pretty much bearing my soul—I have already said that it is terrifying.  This is one of the scariest things I have ever done.  But there has been one part of my story I have contemplated not putting in at all.  It is something that I regret ever doing, but that is how low I felt at that time in my life.

I would rather not go into specific details.  But when I say I have been in that darkest place—the darkest place that one can go to?  I have.

My mom never knew this.

My brother never knew this.

My dad never knew this.

My grandmother never knew this.

It is a secret that I have shared with very, very few.

I share this for HOPE.  There is always HOPE.

I have BEEN to that dark place and people CAN and DO come back from it.

Had I been successful, I wouldn’t be able to write this for you.

There would have been no Sam.  No Sabrina.  To simply write those words brings tears to my eyes.

Thank goodness for second chances.  Which is why I always give them.

Sabrina Sue and Samuel Nickolas.

Sabrina Sue and Samuel Nickolas.

 

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.