An advice column for folks who don’t like to be told what to do.
Throughout my life, my mother and I had a complicated relationship. My mom was fun-loving, whimsical, imaginative, creative; she fiercely loved me and my sister and showed that love in many ways. She also lived through significant physical and emotional trauma from her childhood and in her marriage to my father, who also lived with mental illness and substance abuse disorders and perpetrated physical violence and emotional abuse against her. Not surprisingly, my mom suffered from clinical depression that was, at times, severe, and had bouts of alcohol and substance misuse throughout her adult life.
Under enough duress, my mom could also engage in abusive behavior, which sometimes involved physical violence, but was more typically verbal and emotional abuse. This was particularly the case late in my mom’s life, when she was abusing prescribed medications which caused her to act bizarrely and exacerbated her angry outbursts. Eventually, these outbursts became so severe that I felt increasingly unsafe around her and spent less time with her out of a desire to protect myself. I never explained exactly why I was distancing myself, because I was afraid that would simply invite more vicious invective. I know that this was hurtful to her, and confusing.
Eventually, my mom became psychotic as a result of her misuse of her prescribed medications and she was involuntarily hospitalized. Prior to her hospitalization, her frightening language had escalated and she had become so difficult to live with that my stepfather, who loved her dearly, had temporarily moved out of their home. After my mother was released from the hospital, I did not make contact with her for several days, again out of fear of being a target of her rage and abusive language. I know that my mother was frightened, alone and felt abandoned by those she loved and who loved her the most.
I understand why I made the choice that I did: self-preservation, yes, but I now know that I made that decision in part because my own personal boundaries were not solid enough to maintain my own integrity in the face of my mother’s disorder and pain. I did not know how to support her without getting lost and overwhelmed by…