Motherless Mothering

Three years ago today I became an ‘official’ Motherless Mother.  I thought I should share the words I wrote two years ago about Mother's Day. 

 


 

 Her last Mother's Day alive,  I had purchased a card for my mom, it was sarcastic and had a picture of a blue haired, heavily pierced girl and said: “Hey Mom, It could be worse, right?”  

I’m infamously bad about buying cards and never actually sending them, so instead, we texted back and forth a little bit. I wished her a happy mother’s day and an I love you. Which was way more than she had gotten from me for many many years. I really couldn’t imagine that only two months later my mom would die.

I remember discovering the card I bought a few weeks after she passed and I realized she would not ever get another Mother’s Day card.  In many ways, I missed my chance to fulfill that part of her that just wanted to be acknowledged for her role as a mother. But in my gut, I wonder if I didn’t send it because it felt so fake to me.

My mom was a beautiful woman; with a vortex of darkness within her that nothing could fix or fill. My mom had more diagnoses’ than I can list, but I think the first few will lay a bit of a foundation for understanding as to what level of dysfunction I was raised. 

A few of those diagnoses I became familiar with included Borderline Personality Disorder, Major Depression, Bipolar, Munchausen's, Anorexia, Bulimia and not to mention Prescription drug and alcohol abuse.

Don't be mistaken, I do have lovely memories of her......if you take them out of context and out of the whole story... 

Borderline Personality Disorder gave my mom a mask that she wore for many years. To the outside world, she was a shining light. She was beautiful, talented, outgoing, and well-liked. She loved to sing and act. She was heavily involved in the Christian Church and maintained active roles as a member.  

 But secretly she was manipulative, angry, spiteful, immature and reckless. She had experienced arrested development and emotionally hadn’t matured much past maybe 13.  I have a mini novel of stories that are textbook examples of this behavior. 

 To the outside world she could look like mother of the year, but in reality, she was stealing money to buy booze and taking us to school while drinking and driving. She bankrupted our family three times, she was hospitalized constantly for everything under the sun. My mom spent much of my life in the hospital for different reasons. 

She needed attention from everyone, all the time. She didn’t want just attention, she wanted sympathy, empathy… she wanted people to feel sorry for her and for the pain she felt inside.

 My mom grew up with dysfunctional parents. Her brother was put into a group home at a young age after suffering irreversible brain damage as a child. Her parents were in a loveless marriage and neglected her. She was molested as a child by a neighbor and was teased relentlessly through school for being overweight. Heavy shit for anyone to have experienced. She never was able to move on from being a victim of these events, she never became a survivor. 

 Those things were too much for her. Her eating disorders were fully developed and full-fledged by the time she was a teenager. By the time my parents met, my mom had learned to put the mask on. She moved two states away to go to college. Met my dad, they fell in love and then one day she up and left him. She moved back home to her parents. My dad went after her and brought her back and they got married. They were 19 and 21 years old.

 Two months into marriage my mom was institutionalized for the first time.  Being from a heavily religious upbringing, it should be noted that the church came to my dad after she was institutionalized and offered an annulment.

My father believed until the day she died that it was his job and duty to stay with her and he committed to her. My sister was born after they had been married for two years. I came two years later, my brother four years after that.

My mom was probably hospitalized at least 2-3 months a year from the time I can remember.  Surgeries, infections, recovery, more surgery, more infection, more recovery. She was noncompliant and would disobey doctors orders, but then put on the face of “ woe is me and why does this keep happening?!” when she’d get more. Again this was because her motivator was attention in the form of sympathy. 

I could list a million stories of how that MASK was so goddamn good at convincing everyone she was fine and just to ignore the vortex of darkness underneath. She was a master of this mask. But it's unnecessary, just something you have to understand about me. My only tool against that mask was intuition.  

By the age of eight, I saw the mask.  I began to try and pry it off, to attempt to heal the wounds that were underneath. I began to mother her. It sounds ridiculous now to think of an eight-year-old parenting, but that’s exactly what I did. I spent the majority of my childhood and teenage years carrying her burdens, in a lot of ways carrying the weight of the mask she refused to let go of.

 When I was 13 she had a huge meltdown. Her parents divorced and her father was remarrying. All of her past issues of neglect were quickly brought to the surface as soon as she stepped off the plane to attend his wedding. Since she had gone alone, none of us knew the full extent of her behavior until after the fact, but she essentially got herself so wasted she never even made it to the wedding. Instead, she got put on a plane back home and after my father confronted her about her behavior, she freaked out. She asked my dad for a divorce, moved out and I’m not going to lie, it was like a cloud was lifted off my family.  I remember being so happy. I wanted her gone. I wanted the pain she caused my family gone. I wanted my dad to be happy. I wanted to have a chance at a normal life.

 

But in true my mom’s true nature, she pulled that mask back down. She fooled everyone again, but I was never the same. She went to treatment for her eating disorders, and six months later she was back. For a long time I wanted nothing to do with her, but eventually, she had even me mostly convinced she’d finally been healed and was on the path to recovery.

 For three years I experienced what it was like to have a mom. She was active, healthy, out of the hospital, held a stable job, was supportive and loving. We got really close.

But around the time I turned 16 I started to notice her losing weight, eventually to the point where you could see her bones through her skin. The eating disorders were back.

I started to put a wall between her and I. Eventually it lead into a breaking point where we got into a fight. I called her out for the first time in my life.  

Her: “What happened to us? We used to be so close!”

Me: “You happened, look at you, look at what you are doing to yourself.”

Her: “SORRY I FUCKING RUINED YOUR LIFE”  

She slammed the door and ran out. My dad looked at me. I had hoped desperately for a “thank you” or an acknowledgment that I wasn’t the only one who’d noticed she had begun to spiral out of control again. 

Instead, he looked at me and said sarcastically, “Good Job”.

 I realized in that moment I was alone in this. I was the only one who saw the elephant in the room and noticed the amount of shit piling up. I was the only one who was like “HEY THERE IS AN ELEPHANT SHITTING IN THE GODDAMN LIVING ROOM!”

 And that was it. Until the day she died, I was the only one who couldn’t live with the elephant in the room.

I got out.

 I have dealt with many years of feeling like the black sheep in my family. For a long time, I thought it was my tattoos and more wild, free,  artistic nature. Instead, I think the separation was that I left, and they stayed.  My sister even told me that part of our rift was that she was jealous that I had gotten out. I began really seeking the healing my trauma around the age of 20. It was 7 years later before she passed and my family was able to start theirs. 

For me,  getting out was not a choice.  Let's be clear about that. 

My own depression, anxiety, and issues began to surface the longer I tried to save my mom. When I realized she couldn’t be helped, living under the weight of her mask started to make me crazy. I started to make poor life choices because I was desperate to break free.  I moved out and went through a lot of pain and struggle before finally seeking treatment in my early 20s for my own depression, anxiety, and trauma from my experiences.  

I decided that I wanted to be a survivor. I didn't want to live my life defined by the trauma I had experienced. I listened to my intuition and sought guidance. 

I would not be where I am today without the help of the many counselors, therapists, doctors, nurses and friends who have helped me throughout the years. They have filled in the role of mother, so I could understand how to be one for myself and for my son. 

 

Laurel Miller

Entrepreneur, Wife, Mom