Name: Tessa A ...
From: Tucson, AZ
School: Pima Community College/ Pima Medical Institute
The unfortunate truth of my mother’s life and her untimely death
The unfortunate truth of my mother’s life and her untimely death
Throughout life I have learned that it does not always matter how much you love someone if their love for drugs is greater, you will never be first. Addiction is something that not only affects the addict, but their entire family, this has been reality of mine since I was a pre-teen. It hurts the family, the kids, and the people that have tried to help. They can try do anything in their power to help but in the end, it is up to the addict to accept or not. You never really realize how much one person’s actions affect so many people until you are affected by it and at times it feels like your hands are tied. You always have hope that they will see how their actions have hurt everyone around them and decide to clean up their act, maybe they will hit rock bottom, or maybe something worse. My mother has been an addict for most of my teen and adult years. She was not always a “bad mom” so where did things go wrong, what happened, what did I do wrong, how or can we fix this? Unfortunately, these are things you ask yourself when you are a child of an addict. Somehow you blame yourself for their usage of drugs. You might think if you did something different or behaved differently maybe they would not be doing this. You might ask questions like these, but you get no response. What you do not know is that it has nothing to do with you, but it is their inner demons. They are living in a prison, not a physical prison but a mental prison; this prison is a prison with the locks on the inside. Through my teen and adult years my mother hurt me in ways I never wanted or wished to imagine, not physically but mentally and emotionally, the toll her addiction took on me was tremendous. I have learned many lessons. For starters, I learned that I was not responsible for my mother’s actions; that it is ok to set boundaries from family members and to take care of yourself; and that its ok to tell your story because one day it might help or inspire someone else.
My mom lost sight of what was most precious in her life and took advantage of all who loved her. I wish I could say she got better, that she got and stayed clean for herself, her kids, and grandkids. My mother struggled for years and I truly believe that she wanted to do better and to be the mother and grandmother she should have been. She had been in and out of jail and rehabs multiple times, but it just never stuck. She was a very toxic person when she was using whether it be alcohol or drugs, I had already dealt with this most of my teen years and was not going to allow my children to be exposed to that. She had been dependent on me to take care of her during my teenage years, quite like role-reversal. She was a very selfish mother, to all three of her children. Once I was out of the house my mother looked to my little brother to take my place and relied on him despite his age. She was a very angry person and would at times become physically aggressive. She never took responsibility of her actions and always blamed someone else for how she was feeling or why she was doing something. My mother liked to create drama and tell everyone parts of her life, but not the bad parts just the good, because she wanted to be validated. She wanted to know she was doing nothing wrong. It was because of her dependencies and actions that I decided I needed to distance myself from her. This affected everyone involved, myself, my kids, and the rest of my family. I became withdrawn from my family because they did not agree with how I handled the situation with my mother. But I did what I felt was right for my kids. I did what I thought would protect them and help them grow as individuals. I have looked back and asked myself if the decision to keep her distanced from our lives was the right one. Regardless of feelings at different times I held strong to my decision and truly believe it was the best for myself and my children. My kids or family may not fully understand my reasonings to my decisions but one day I hope they will understand. They will understand that what I did was the best choice I could make with the cards that I was dealt. That all my decisions have my kids’ best interests at heart, that it will one day benefit them. I loved my mother, but I could not love her addiction.
Despite my lack of a relationship with my mother, I hope that one day my daughter and I will have a strong unbreakable relationship, like the one I had hoped with my mom. The relationship that had gotten striped away from me the day my mother decided to pick up that pipe. I wanted to have a regular “mother-daughter” relationship. I wanted to be able to go to my mom and discuss hard topics or get her advice. Or talk to her when I was having a bad day, and her just tell me it was all going to be ok. I would have loved to go to her house and have dinner or watch her favorite movie, Hope Floats. She missed special dates because of her addiction, like my wedding, or my daughter’s birth. This we will never get back.
Recently after a couple sessions with a counselor I decided to write a letter to my mom and ask some of these questions. This was more for healing myself than anything else. After all these years I was still very angry and was not forgiving. I was at the point in my life that I was not going to let it control me any longer. I sat down and wrote out everything I wanted to say and ask my mom and decided that if she did not want to write me back that that was an answer. I needed to make peace, to find it within myself to not hate the person that gave me life. Rather show compassion and start to heal from childhood trauma. I asked her questions that were very hard to ask, and I knew they were going to be very difficult for her to answer. I asked why; why she loved getting high more than her own three kids; why we weren’t good enough; how did she not see anything wrong with the situations; why is this the new normal; why she can never finish a rehab program; and why I was never enough for her, why her kids were never enough for her to get clean.
I waited weeks to hear something, anything. Once again, I felt like it was not as important to my mom as it was to me. Even though I told myself I would be ok with the fact that she might not respond, deep down that was not good enough for me. I wanted answers. I wanted to know why, even if it hurt. I wanted to move on from this chapter. This was me finally being selfish. About two months later I got a letter from my mother, and I could not even read it. It was like something inside me froze. I sat there and contemplated. I left the letter alone and unopened, it sat there like a big elephant in the room, I needed to see what she had to say but no courage to do so. I waited a couple of days and then decided to sit down and read this letter from my mother. She apologized that it took so long for her to write and how she reminisced on how close her and I were when I was a child, and that her hopes were one day for us to be close again. She apologized for relying on me to take care of her at such a young age, that in some odd way she felt she needed me because she was falling apart. She said, “in my heart I know that I didn’t think things through, I didn’t realize the hurt and pain all of this was going to cause, and how very horrible and responsible I feel”. She expressed how because of this guilt she has continued to self-medicate throughout the years. She mentioned that at first, she was just wanting to “live life” but did not realize how quickly that would send her into a downward spiral. I almost felt that she did not clearly answer my questions, not the way I wanted at least, I felt she danced around some subjects. I re-read her letter and my letters over and over to try and see if I can figure it out. I realized that what my mom had to say was enough. I realized that she was enough. That if she could try to understand what I was saying I should give her the same respect. That she deserved love and respect, compassion, and forgiveness.
“At first addiction is maintained by pleasure, but the intensity of this pleasure gradually diminishes, and the addiction is then maintained by the avoidance of pain.” Frank Tallis
On January 25, 2019, my mom went into the hospital, which was not unlike her my grandma always said she had a personalized parking spot at the hospital. This time was different though. This time she would not be released. This time we would be saying goodbye to our mother whom we have loved and cared about. Her death was not a drug related death. But you must wonder if somehow it is why her heart stopped or why someone’s body just gives up at 48 years old. She had so much potential and so much to look forward to. If she could have just seen that. She had kids and grandkids that loved her but now all we have are memories and pictures. Her death shook us all. How could my mother so young and beautiful be gone? As my mother laid in that hospital bed taking her last breaths, I was saddened to know I would never be able to hug her or tell her I loved her. All that was remaining was missed opportunities. Missed opportunities to make things right, or to have a good relationship.
I have learned to love and to cry, to hate and to forgive. To detach myself from those I love, because it is easier to distance myself than to love someone who cannot love you back at that moment. I have learned that even if you are self-destructive there is still family right by your side routing for you, even when you cannot see it. I have learned that a family goes through all of this together, that no matter how bad we just want to break down and cry, we still will try and be strong for one another. I have learned that just because someone is smiling or laughing does not mean they are ok; it does not mean they are not fighting something. I have realized that sometimes people cannot ask for help and that you really need to realize the way you treat everyone around you because you never know what they are dealing with.
I never got to say goodbye to my mom or tell her I loved her one last time. In my mind I replay the last time I saw her and wish I could just give her a hug and hold her a little longer. I am sorry I did not want my mom to know where I lived, because I did not trust her. I am sorry that my kids will never know her the way I did. She will never sing to them before bedtime, like she did me. She will never know how much my daughter loves unicorns or slime. And how all my son talks about is games. I am sorry my kids must grow up without their grandma. And I am sorry that her demons were too much for her to overcome. I am sorry she did not feel she could ask for help, or that she did not ask for help. Addiction hurts more than the addict, it hurts families. It seeing someone destroy themselves right before your eyes. It is not being able to forgive yourself or the situations. Its realizing that the only way to heal is to forgive yourself and take back ahold of your life. To grow from your experiences rather than let it hinder you. Its learning how to love yourself again.
My mother’s addiction affected every single person in our family. From my grandparents to my children. Addiction is a horrible disease, and its damage is endless and can affect anyone. But that does not mean to stop there. We all have an opportunity to do better than the day before. We have a chance every day to lend out a hand to someone who is struggling. My hope is that one day I can help those that were in similar situations even if it is just by telling my story. Although my story is not what I had imagined, I have learned many valuable lessons. Love as much as you can and never take it for granted. Always take it one day at a time, no more no less. There can always be better or worse outcomes, but it is how you react to the situations and outcomes that define your life. It might be a bad day, but it is not a bad life. Learn how to be a better person, do more for others, and offer help more freely. I learned how to be a better mother, how to protect my children from those we call family, and that its okay to set and keep boundaries to protect yourself.