Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Tale of Two Mothers, Part 1.

I have two mothers.
No, I'm not the product of a lesbian relationship. It goes more like this.
I was born and raised by a man and a woman, who shall be referred to as my Dad and my Mother. They are still married. They do not live anywhere near me. My creation wasn't intentional - I was an "accident" - an "antibiotics" baby. But more on that theory later. I have no official siblings from these parents. I didn't have a hideous childhood, but the relationship between me and them is fraught with issues. It always has been this way, if you looked at it honestly. I spent many, many years overcompensating for these issues, to my own detriment. I don't do that now.
My father is a recovering alcoholic. He has not consumed any alcohol in all my 36 years of life, to my knowledge. When I was growing up, he was working, traveling for work, or busy working on something at the house, some woodwork or home improvement project or whatever. He's a worker. He's a quiet guy, not the life of the party, not the funny man. He's a loyal friend, almost to a fault, and expects the same rigid loyalty from everyone in his inner circle. If you say you are going to do something, by GOD, you do it, come blizzard (he walked 2 miles in one to get to a friend's house he promised to help move, when his car couldn't get out of the driveway), or any other potential obstacle. My father was rarely ever the disciplinarian in the house, but when his voice was raised, you'd best be at attention.
The first thing I should mention about my mother is that she has bipolar disorder. But it doesn't manifest itself in the manic way that we read about in extreme stories of people thinking they are the second coming of Jesus Christ, or they jet off to Washington to save the whales in Congress, or go on a shopping spree to end all shopping sprees. She obsessively did needlework. The other times, when she wasn't in this OCD needlework frenzy, she was depressed. I'm sure there were times which were more even keeled, but in those days, she was entirely undiagnosed, unmedicated, and untherapized. My memory of a lot of that is foggy. I know she didn't play with me, other than an occasional game of cards, and I grew up with a sort of apathy toward her. I didn't hate her, I didn't "love" her, I just lived with her. We had lots of bad moments, in which her depression turned ugly, and many times turned ugly toward me. Many kids grow up shouldering the responsibility for causing depression in depressed parents, but somehow, through what I like to think of as the grace of God, I did not. I remember around age 9-10, it was Christmas. It was snowy (we lived in Iowa), and dark outside. Christmas Day. My mother was in a depressed funk, initiated by I don't remember what. I bundled up, and went walking outside, down to the cul-de-sac ending which had no houses built. On the border of a cornfield. I sat for an hour or better, being aware that something wasn't right about how our Christmas was going. Having my mother sleeping all day in her bedroom, or crying, was not the way it was supposed to be. But I knew I didn't cause it. I knew it was her. Perhaps that is where the apathy came from - if I let myself get sucked in and too involved with her depression, trying to fix it, it might destroy me too.
I wasn't physically abused, but I went through some episodes of some pretty harsh verbal and emotional abuse. My father was aware, in a guy sort of way, that this was going on, but tried to ignore a lot of it, and didn't really think there was much to be done about it. When I would be excessively punished for some fault or other by my mother, he would generally reduce the sentence upon returning home. I was mouthy, I talked back. I played her sometimes, knowing I was right, she was irrational, and would dig my hole as deep as I could, just to see how deep it could go, over an infraction like not wiping down the baseboards under the cabinets when mopping. She claims she knew she was doing wrong, she just didn't know how not to do it, and frankly didn't really try.
Fast forward. I grew up. My mother went through a major depressive episode and was hospitalized for 3 weeks. She went through some intensive therapy then, but still thought she had just chronic depression (who knows, maybe that is actually what she has, I don't know). In the middle of her doing so, I was going to college, trying to figure out who I was, what I wanted in MY life, instead of trying to be whatever my parents needed at the time, or thought I ought to be. I wasn't into figuring out my relationship with them through counseling. I had had enough of all that. Eventually she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and has been on various medications since then, with periodic success. From what she tells me, things will be working fine, and then they will stop working. She'll go to the shrink, get on something else, go through a period in which she feels like crap, until the new medications take hold and help out. In a desperate attempt to keep me somehow close, to validate her existence, for me to try and make her feel better, she and my father did a lot of "strings attached" things to lure me to their house, and keep me around as long as possible, get me to help with this or that as much as possible, with the implications that I owed them.
Eventually, my mother tried to kill herself, twice. Evidently she didn't try very hard, as she wasn't successful. I doubt she took as many pills as she claimed she did, as both doses would have been lethal. The first time, she claimed that she did not want to go on vacation in the travel trailer my father had pushed for them to purchase, to enjoy the country in their retirement. She took them one night, went to bed. Was still asleep when my father got up and went to his part time woodworking job the next morning. When he tried to phone around noon, and she didn't answer, he became worried. He went home, found her stumbling around in a stupor in the house. He called me at work and I went right over. I got her dressed and into the car, and we took her to the ER. The drugs had been in her system for so long, a stomach pump would have done nothing. They did give her charcoal to absorb whatever it could, and then checked her into an institution overnight. Needless to say, that was bogus, did nothing for her but keep her from hurting herself. She recovered and continued on with her medication and doctors. The second time she tried to kill herself, it was because my father had had a very close brush with fatality, falling asleep at the wheel on a drive to Houston. He totalled their SUV, but was basically unhurt himself. She didn't want to face possibly living entirely alone, and tried the pill route again. I was in Atlanta on business, my father found her and took her to the ER. The shrink there at the hospital agreed to see her professionally and they went home. She hasn't tried since, but continues on her rollercoaster.
I realize that my mother has a big struggle on her hands, with this disorder/disease. It's not her fault she has it, and it must be hell. I thank God I didn't inherit it. I do not blame her anymore for the things that happened in my childhood, as I know she didn't even know what she was doing or how not to do it. The thing that bothers me is that there are parts of a person's behavior which are due to illness, and parts which are personality flaws. And when a depressive person is not feeling bad, and regulated with medication, it ought to be that they can carry on normal relationships. They deserve some wide berth when they are struggling and not feeling well. But there ought to be times in which they do things while not depressed, for which they ought to be responsible. Even those things done while depressed - ultimately they are still responsible for their actions. And my mother claims zero responsibility for herself, for her actions. It is all the bipolar disorder. It's never HER, she can never be asked to not do something unhealthy, to not lie to me, to not attempt to emotionally manipulate and blackmail me. I see right through it. It's a crutch, this bipolar disorder. It's got to be hell, but it ain't no picnic for the rest of us either.
As a result, I have an arm's length relationship with my folks. I never shut the door to them, I never have cut them out of my life. But, I do not let them cross my boundaries anymore. I had to set the relationship aside for a few months about 5 years back, in order to establish what the boundaries were, but I did it, and came back, and told them what it was to be. Of course, you can imagine their devastation, upon hearing how callous and self-absorbed I needed to be, for my own mental health. But I have been so much happier as a result of doing that.
Part two, soon to follow. About my other mother. Who shall be called Mama.

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