Monday, September 15, 2008

On the Island with Mom

Earlier this summer, my mom called me and bitched that we never get any time together. “There’s always a kid on your lap,” she said. “They won’t let you talk on the phone. And then, every time you come to my house, you wander off and take a fuckin’ nap.”

“Well, I’m tired,” I said.

“Too bad,” she wailed. “Make some time for me.”

These moments for authentic relating between me and my mom only come about once every five years. So while there were a lot of things I could have said, like “I don’t visit often because you depress me ,” or “your house smells like a bar,” I decided to make this moment of genuine talk work to our advantage.

We made plans to go away for a weekend together. To a cabin in the woods. On an island. I questioned the intelligence of this over and over, but stayed with the plan because it felt right. I wanted to seize the chance to have a real conversation with my mom. I could sense that she really needed time away from her life. I wanted to make that happen for her. I also wanted to chance to change our pattern, which goes something like this: she reaches out in a rare moment of vulnerability, I try to rescue her. She professes a desire for a different kind of life, I encourage it, offer to pay for it, give her inspirational books, and believe it might actually happen.

Dysfunctional people and addicts are not known for their ability to manifest their true desires. In fact, they are not known for even being able to contact their true desires. They lost that skill a long time ago, or maybe never even got the chance to develop it. And, it must be said, self-reflection gets in the way of cocktail hour. So it is with my poor mother. After Part I of the pattern passes, inevitably, Part II arrives: the same old BS. And the daughter, who has been so devoted and giving (and superior and judgmental), despairs and hates her mother again and stops calling.

It’s a fine line to tread for someone who loves an addict or a very injured soul. How does one make space for a self-destructive loved-one without falling into what may be an old habit of Rescue and Reform? Anyone who has grown up in a dysfunctional/alcoholic family knows what a dead end that is. (Or if you haven’t figured that out yet, please give yourself a much-deserved gift and call your local Al-Anon chapter.)

So I told myself that I would not try to fix her this time. I have finally come to believe that I truly do not know what is best for her. I only know what’s best for me. I told myself that she and I would spend time together, but I would keep certain boundaries.

1. I would do what I wanted to do regardless of her level of sobriety or inability to get off her ass.
2. I would not tell her what to do with her life.
3. I would remember that she is in pain that I can’t begin to understand.
4. I would take care of myself.
5. I would expect nothing.

My report to you, Reader, is forthcoming.

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