When I envisioned my mother dying, I predicted that I would be… “okay”. That I’d be strong, prepared, and in all complete honesty—I thought there would be a sense of relief. Not because I didn’t love my mother, didn’t care, or didn’t want her alive. It wasn’t that.
I wanted her to make it—I so desperately wanted her to make it. I wanted to have faith that God was bigger than our situation, bigger than her disease, bigger than my predictions and fears. I wanted to believe people when they told me there was always hope, always a chance, that there was always a way out of the darkness and bondage of addiction.
I wanted a mother.
Truth is, I had many mothers—an army of mothers. My Nanny, Grandmother, Aunts, mentors and friends parents all circled the table. Piece by piece they all helped puzzle together the person I am today.
Still, I wanted my mother.
I wanted her to be a part of my life. I wanted her to wake up sober so I could get to know the woman that everyone told me stories about. The woman that everyone else got to know except me. Despite everything that happened, I wanted her to stick around because maybe… maybe there was hope. And maybe this time it would be different. I wanted her here so that I could call and ask if she had stretch marks, how often my chronic childhood ear infections occurred and what type of antibiotics worked for me. I really wanted her to watch me raise my babies.
But… the suffering—her endless, all-encompassing suffering was almost to much to bear. No one deserves to live in that type of pain. I also wanted her to be free. I wanted her spirit to be free. Whether it was in this lifetime—or the next. So, I mistakenly thought that when her time came…I’d be okay. I wasn’t.
My mother was hospitalized and in a nursing home for a few months before she died. We were battling pneumonia, emphysema, empyema, COPD, infections, withdrawals, induced comas and when she awoke and was stabilized… her addiction—the ever-present battle.
I kept leaving the hospital in the middle of the night, crawling into bed next to my husband, quietly crying myself to sleep. On one occasion I came sobbing into our bedroom moments away from a full-blown panic attack. I couldn’t remember anything good. I dropped myself into his lap, sobbing, trying to catch my breath while mumbling, “I can’t remember anything good. Why can’t I remember anything good?”
When the doctors assured me there was nothing further they could do for her, I signed her DNR. I remember going back and forth from the nurses station to my family in the waiting room holding the worlds heaviest pen in my hand. Am I making the right decision? Is this what everyone wants? Does everyone understand? I must have asked the doctors and nurses twelve times if they were sure— if they would sign it for their own family members. I held that heavy pen over the paperwork, looked at the nurse and made her promise me that they would keep her completely sedated and call me the moment all her life-sustaining measures began to fail.
It was at that moment when I remembered. As I walked away from the hospital memories began to flutter up from within. I finally remembered the mom she was before addiction came trampling into our lives. My mom… was a GREAT mom.
My mom was the type of mom that only bought educational toys for Christmas. The type that taught me how to read and write before I entered kindergarten. She was nostalgic and hoarded every memory that could be shoved into a bag or box—every wrapper, every shoe, every toy, every permission slip, receipt, card, or doctors note. She was a keeper of memories… our memories. I remembered the way she cradled me over the toilet when I was sick and throwing up, sitting on the floor behind me, holding onto my stomach and catering to me. I remembered how, despite her addiction, she tried to show up for all the events in my life. How I always woke up to milk that was dyed green on St. Patrick’s Day. How I was dressed in accordance with every holiday real or self-proclaimed. How she always had a plan for all the fun local events in town to drag me to. That trip to Disney she took our entire family on where “dreams [really did] come true.” I clearly remembered the way she would point to herself, cross her arms in an x over her chest, and point to me to tell me she loved me.
That is the last vision I have of her before she died. Laying scared in the Richmond University Medical Center ER, my best friend Gina pulling her nursing strings to make sure she was cared for. She was unable to talk and as I turned to leave, she made that I love you gesture to me with her hands and arms. I had no idea that was going to be our last moment together. I thank God for that beautiful and perfect goodbye—that last moment where she silently told me she loved me.
From the moment she died I began panicking. This panic was unexpected. I soon realized that I was panicking because
I didn’t want people to only remember her the way I feared they would.
As an addict.
I wanted people to know that yes, we endured horror together. There were portions of my childhood that sometimes resembled a Steven King novel. Segments that made me crawl up into a ball and refuse to share myself with anyone. Even the people that loved me the most.
It was hard.
It was painful.
It was worth it.
This February marked twelve years of sobriety for me. Being sober was a rather quiet and personal experience for me until a year ago, when my husband came home and informed me that he’d be joining forces with some close friends and opening a Substance Abuse Treatment Center. (Which also meant I would be opening a treatment center.) So, my quiet sober life become rather public over the past few months. Not that I mind…almost everything else in my life is publicized. (People often joke that my daughter Emma is “Facebook Famous”. ) The truth is—I’d rather my journey be public and possibly save someone else’s life, than hide in the dark with it, pretending it didn’t happen and bask in the glory of the new life I’ve been given.
This year has been a year of transparency for me. I’m not a very private person by nature, but whatever was private got jolted to the surface. This year, this twelfth year of sobriety, supplied me with some of the hardest life experiences thus far. One being, losing my mother.
I haven’t said much on the subject. There’s a lot I wanted to say and because I struggled with it, I balled it up and shoved it into that place where I used to shove all the difficult things in my life. That small bottomless hole in the pit of my stomach where the dark painful things reside. That special place where things are shelved to deal with at a later date. And by “later date” I mean—when they burst, set themselves on fire, and start burning down the inner fibers of my being until there’s no CHOICE but to grab a hose and put out the flames. Yeah… I put it there.
It’s not being stored there any more. I have something to say. Especially to my mother.
This year is dedicated to you Mom. I want to honor you and show you how much of a difference you made. Not only for me, but for the countless young female addicts I work with. You weren’t JUST an addict and there are some things, I think you should know…
I set out in this world to do it all differently. I thought, the opposite of how you did it. But there are always these glimmers of you that come shining through in me. Your spirit and creativity, your humor, stories and wit. Your stubbornness, your roughness, and the way you stood up for yourself. Your laugh. The way you saved everything. Your eclectic and weird ability to find humor in things you shouldn’t. These were some of my favorite things about you, it’s no surprise that I ingested them and made them my own.
But along with the good, came the genetic factors that weren’t so good. For me, being genetically prone to addiction was like being told I was going to get cancer years before it happen. And sure enough, when the time came for me to have my first drink, it immediately and almost instantly corroded me from the inside out.
Thank God I had a mom that was an addict.
Thank God I had a mom that dragged me to twelve step programs as a kid—planting that seed of hope. Because when I needed the help, I knew exactly where to find it.
Thank God I had a mom that wasn’t shy about her own disease.
I want to tell you that what happen to us, made me strong. So strong that there were times in my life where I had to be taught how to be more vulnerable. How to ask for help.
I know it all happen exactly the way God planned it to happen. Everything in this universe belongs to Him. I’m so sorry you suffered. But thank you for showing me how to NOT suffer. Thank you for making me scared. You saved my life by instilling fear in me—because I knew how much worse it could and would get for me.
You saved me by showing me there was another path, even though you were unable to stay on it yourself. You planted that seed and I grew the most beautiful tree from it. YOU made that possible. You made it possible for me to be the mother I am today. I am so eternally grateful for that.
Your mistakes were the greatest gifts you ever gave to me. I never told you because I didn’t want you to feel bad. I didn’t want you to hurt more than you already did. It was water under the bridge and we had rebuilt. I wanted to spare you the guilt. I need you to know that I never questioned your love for me. I knew I was fiercely wanted and loved by you.
You have always been a part of me. And this disease… this disease that we shared, that grew inside both of us, almost took me. Almost.
But because of you, your child got sober at 19. Because of you, she spared herself DECADES of pain and suffering. Because of you I did the work, I put in the time, and I turned my thoughts and actions towards the next sufferer.
During this twelfth year of sobriety, while laying in that hospital bed with you, I finally felt like maybe I could accept Gods plan for us. You were my greatest spiritual teacher, and your struggles…our struggles— made me who I am today.
Thank you for being an addict. Because of it , you saved my life. You couldn’t save yours, but Mom… you saved mine. If you thought you didn’t accomplish anything noteworthy in this world…know that you did. I’m here. I’m the living extension of you. Sober, and out on the firing lines with a mission. You gave me purpose, a passion, and an unyielding commitment to help others. I will carry that purpose, your sacrifice, and your love with me for the remainder of my life.
Happy Mother’s Day Mom. Thank you for the beautiful gift of life-your life.
If you’re reading this, and you’ve experience the same type of pain. I want you to know that you are not alone. I’m out here. WE are out here. Our stories don’t have to end in horror, sadness, and turn into another endless cycle. You CAN break the chain and our loved ones don’t have to be remember for their human frailties. Our moms may not have succeeded. But you can. She’d want you to. I want you to.
On my 90th day of sobriety my mother presented me with a coin. The inscription read, “We can’t change the direction of the wind, but we can adjust our sails.”
Adjust your sails. Forgive and remember that this IS a disease. A disease that screams louder than any noise you, or I, or anyone else has ever heard. My mother didn’t do this to me. She unknowingly did it for me.