Complicated Grief

After My Mom passed away, my emotions were complicated.

We lost her on a rainy day at the end of June. I still remember the rain on my face, as I ran down the driveway. Running by the ambulance in the driveway. The group of people gathered there speaking in low voices. Walking into that living room, and the jolting moment when my life was split into a before and after.

Losing my Mother left me with a deep sadness.  The grief that follows the death of a parent is difficult to explain. It is permanently pulls from your own childhood. In the aftermath, you are faced to face your own mortality in an intimate way. As a young child, you believe that your parent is invincible. When that is proved wrong, it changes you.

 Yet there were other feelings too. In the days following her death, I developed a deep sense of closure. A heavy weight that I had been carrying my entire life was lifted. It felt good but was at odds with what a daughter is supposed to feel after her Mother’s death. I kept those complex thoughts and feelings hidden. I did not want to be judged. It was easier for me to sit and nod at the condolences.  Yet as I listened to mourner’s kind words, I became uncomfortable. Our life as a family was being idealized. There was more to the story, and it felt like that uncomfortable truth was being ignored.

Healing and time have given me a deeper understanding of my mindset.  Those complicated feelings were valid given my childhood environment. Living with someone in active addiction is a nightmare.

I was 24 years old, when my Mom passed away. She struggled with Alcohol the entire time that I knew her. Our relationship was unpredictable, confusing and painful. There were days I could feel her love deeply. There were also nights where I feel asleep crying, hating her.

When she was sober it was a mixed bag. Some days were good.  Where there was warm food and a smile waiting for me when I got home. Where I felt loved and cared for. It would never las though.  The longer she went without drinking, the more rigid things became. She would snap at us for being late to dinner or laughing too loud. She had lost control of her life due to addiction. She compensated for that by exerting an iron will on us. It made life suffocating and unbearable.

 Yet that was still better than the alternative. When Mom drank, she was a monster. She would blame us for things, invade our privacy, and scream for hours on end. In high school I would hang out at school, avoiding going home. When I got a cell phone, she called me constantly. I did not pick up, she left screaming voicemails. Our entire life as a family revolved around the uncertainty of her addiction.
For years we knew that her death was inevitable. She drank close to 30 beers and smoked an entire pack of cigarettes in a day. She was running herself into the ground. It was hard, but we knew that it was only a matter of time. You cannot cheat death indefinitely. It catches up with you.

When it happened, there was part of me that was ready.  I had been thinking about it deeply for years. Mentally preparing myself so that when I was faced with it, it did not hurt as much. My reaction to her death surprised me though. I had expected the pain, but not the relief.

Yet looking back, I understand why I felt that relief. Life close to an alcoholic is hard. Her death closed out a difficult part of my life. I no longer had to worry about what I would walk in on at my parents’ house. The fights were over. I would never have to call 911 when my parents got violent.  I did not have to prepare for her cruel words. Or worry that she would get behind the wheel of a car and kill someone. That vicious dynamic was finally at an end. It makes sense that I felt relief.

I understand it, but it is still hard to share that.  I worry that people will judge me for it because it is hard to understand. We are not supposed to feel a sense of relief that our parents are no longer here. I usually keep it secret because it is easier. I still feel a certain sense of guilt for it. despite our differences, and her addiction, I loved My Mom. People do not understand the complicated nature of coming from that legacy of addiction.
But I have come to understand that my feelings are valid. They make sense. They are part of me.
I miss her deeply. There are moments when I feel her loss deep within my bones. When I silently cry in my car, wishing I could hear her voice again. Yet I also feel a sense of relief. That I no longer have live within that dysfunction. That that pain and dysfunction is done. That she is no longer in pain.  I am thankful that now I get to look towards the future.

There is peace and healing now. I miss her deeply. But there is a sense of closure and relief.

I have realized there is room in my life for both.

New Year’s Reflections

  Yesterday was New Year’s Day. We left the challenging year of 2020 behind.  Over the last few days, I have been taking some time to reflect. For me, the past year was a mixed bag. I am still working to come to terms with all that it meant.

One thing that is bothering me is the typical stuff that you see at New Years. The predictable, typical New Year, New Me! posts. Which honestly have me disappointed. It makes me sad. So much has changed, yet we are still falling into this end of the year pitfalls.

I wish that we would slow down. Takes some time to pause and come to terms with how the year has shaped us. I think it is great to look forward, but that this should be part of a larger reflection. I personally feel that before we surge forward into a new year, it important to take inventory of the past 12 months.

 This year I have come to recognize that the only permanent thing is life is change. Everything else can easily change. The jobs are not permanent, and societal shifts happen quickly. If nothing else, this year has shown that we need to be flexible.

 It has helped teach me that the permanent parts of our lives are much less tangible.  It is the relationships, the memories and the moments that make our lives rich.  That sometimes the best adventures are those that are unexpected. Our existence is a miracle of the universe. We do not need to prove that we have value. We are worthy of love, regardless of what we create. Our creations and works should be an expression of our experience, not something in which to prove our value.  This year, I learned to be thankful to be here.

 For me it was a year of discovery. I spent a lot of time learning how to listen to the rhythms of my soul. To recognize my passions. To express my needs. This year was challenging, and I felt like I grew from it. for me, 2020 was a year of modest growth. I am thankful for that. For me, 2020 was a year of modest growth and for that I am thankful.

Yet I also want to hold space for those who struggled this year. 2020 was incredibly challenging. It is okay if you fell short of your goals or were not as productive as you wished. It is ok if you simply survived. If 2020 was a year where you kept your head down and waiting till the storm passed, celebrate that. By keeping your head down, you made it through. Celebrate that, sometimes that is what victory looks like.

  I approach the new year, with compassion. For me, 2020 taught me about patience, strength and reflection. It was a hard year, but it showed me how to persevere. I look forward to bringing these lessons into the new year.

Breaking Free of Codependency

 Growing up, my Moms Alcoholism set the pace for life. On her good days, things were quiet. Life was relatively normal. But the chaos and dysfunction were never far away.

 There is a closeness that comes when people experience trauma together. You get too close. Growing up we spent too much time together. My Mothers addiction created an environment where we depended on one another for survival. So much time that our personalities melded together. We became enmeshed, our individual traits unrecognizable. One unit simply just trying to make it until tomorrow.

We survived. I made it to adulthood, but the problem is that in the process of surviving I never learned who I was. That created so many issues for me in early adulthood issues that I am still overcoming. Children are supposed to become independent as they grow older. They are supposed to be given the time to explore the world around them. To build confidence in a safe, supportive environment.  They are supposed to be given the room to discover what they like and who they want to be.

My childhood lacked that. My life was centered around addiction, uncertainty and chaos. It was geared toward survival, not growth. I grew up in a survival mindset, and that is limiting. I learned to be cautious and to hold back. I learned to be quit and not to assert myself. Walking on eggshells was safer than getting hurt by putting my neck out there.

I learned that if I took care of others, I could assure my own safety. My value was derived from helping others, to protecting them. My value was derived from what I could do, not who I was.

All of this shaped who I became. My personality was geared towards survival. I did not take chances. I stayed quiet. I did everything in my power to fade into the background because that is where I felt safe.

 We live in a very individualized society, and I grew up with no sense of self.  Naturally I struggled. I thought I could find happiness in making others happy. I lacked boundaries, and overextended myself, and became miserable. I could not find my place in the world or set meaningful goals. I saw those around me doing well and thought there was something wrong with me. As I reached my late twenties, I became hopeless.

Thankfully, In my darkest moments, I started to look backwards. I discovered the ACOA program, and the work about Childhood ACES and Codependency. I began to realize that my childhood was having a direct affect on my present.  I was so used to serving others, that I had no idea how to take care of myself.

I have spent the last two years coming to terms with that legacy. With the damage that codependency inflicted.  I always gave too much, and it was rarely reciprocated. It brought me to a place that is hard to remember. Where I was tired and sick constantly. When I was depressed and thought I had no value as a person.

I had to fight my way back from that place.  In many ways I am still fighting my way out. I still struggle with my self confidence, and boundaries.  But now I recognize that I matters. That I deserve to be happy without having to prove it. I am still working on what that looks like, but I believe that will come with time.

After so many years of being helpless I am free.