This post will be hard to write. It was certainly hard to live through, but this was from my perspective. I can only imagine what it was like for my Mom, who suffered from the inside. This story is real, and it’s raw, and it’s from my perspective. This is a first-hand account of what it was like to watch someone suffer from mental illness, and addiction, from the outside.
My mom was the most endearing and loving person I knew. Yes, I’m speaking in past terms. Again, this will be hard to write. My mom passed away, much before her time, On October 23, 2013. She died alone and in pain. And, I will never forget being told (via phone call) that she was no longer on this earth. My world fell when her life ended. I wanted more time. You see, I didn’t have my mom in my life my whole life. No, our paths drifted from the time I was 6 to when I turned 18. But that’s a different story altogether.
In doing the math, I was 34 years old and had only 15 years of “known” memories with her at the time of her death. Not enough. And, I must say, these years were tumultuous. They were hard. They weren’t all rosy. But, then again, dealing with mental illness isn’t meant to be easy. It’s not understood and certainly not predictable. There lies the problem. I didn’t understand; no one did. I knew my mom suffered – I knew she had her demons, and I knew she had her good days and bad days. I just always wanted the good days, and I was mad when the bad days reared their ugly heads. And, they often did. But, this wasn’t constant in these 15 years we had together. Some years were smooth, and others were bumpy. Really, really bumpy.
My mom suffered from many things. But one thing she never suffered with was showing love to others, even when those same people didn’t show love in return. She was the epitome of a true “lover of life,” even when she didn’t always love her own. Oh, how she loved.
When her world rose and then crashed, all in the same year.
When our paths crossed again in 1999, when I was nearly 20, she was happy. Not just because her only daughter came back into her life after spending over 12 years apart, but she was in a good place. She was married, ran a business, and lived a humble life on a modest piece of land in coastal Virginia. She lived a comfortable life and was well known for her generosity. There’s nothing she wouldn’t have done for someone she cared for, and she did many, many things. She enjoyed helping others. She had her little girl back (me), and life was smooth, until it wasn’t.
After spending nearly a year getting to know my mom all over again, my then fiancé (now husband) decided to start a new adventure in Georgia near Rich’s family. I was an adult and had spent my whole life up until this point in Richmond, Virginia, so change was welcome. My mom genuinely understood our decision. Our move isn’t what crushed her. No. It was everything related to the day-to-day life that suddenly decided to 100% uproot on her.
Her then-husband decided he wanted a different life. So, he left and took everything with him. Everything. The money. The business. All of it. He even took her Maltese puppy that was her heart and soul, Princess. She named this puppy after me, well, the nickname I was given as a young child before our lives separated. We picked this puppy out together in Augusta, GA, on one of her visits to us after we moved. He wanted to ruin her, and well, he succeeded. She fought back. We fought back. But, in the end, it was pointless. What was done was done, and the demons were coming out, just as they did when her father, my “Pa-pa,” passed away when I was three. My mom was a human being. A sensitive human being (where I get it from) and, like everyone else, feels pain in all forms. Emotional pain is damaging, and I genuinely believe this was the impetus behind all of her life’s “failures,” as others would call it.
Coming back into her life at the age of 19 was surreal. It was honestly a re-birth of sorts for both of us. Her world was right again – Until it wasn’t.
Myrtle Beach – Where it unraveled
By the time my mom’s divorce was final, Rich and I had moved to Myrtle Beach for work. Our lives officially started as young adults on our own and in a new city with no outside support. We were up to the challenge, and we were pretty proud of the lives we were creating for ourselves. My mom, who was living with family in Virginia, moved out of state, and that’s when things became unraveled. She was ostracized, ridiculed, and made to feel unworthy by nearly everyone around her, and I was part of this. Sadly. I saw my mom on this pedestal and then to see her fall; well, it was confusing. To others, this was a vicious cycle, and there was nothing I could do about it. So, I may as well feel like everyone else. I wanted her to bounce back. I wanted “happy Mama” back.
The pain would come and go. When the pain didn’t take over her, she was a ball of energy and had the most infectious personality. You wanted to be around her. There was nothing she wouldn’t do for you and a perfect stranger, and that’s precisely what she did. In one of her good months, she took Rich and me to Disney World. It was my 1st time, and it was for my 21st birthday. I was over the moon in love with Rich, had a newfound, loving relationship with my mom, and life was good. As I said before, she would do so much for others, even when it was hard for her. Going to Disney was hard for me for many reasons. While it was a “happy” trip, I believe flashes of what could have been from my childhood were hard on her, even if she didn’t want me to see it. It’s almost like she was trying to make up for missed time, although I didn’t need nor wanted her to do that. We both knew we lost out on valuable time with one another, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from relishing in the budding relationship I had with my mom now. Not by a long shot. I didn’t care one bit that she treated me like an eight-year-old while walking around Disney. I’m a kid at heart anyway, even when drinking my first Long Island Iced Tea, or maybe 5 of them. I did say it was my 21st birthday.
After Disney, things took a turn. Her divorce was final, but the pain from it was far from over. The husband was gone. Sure, that part was easy for her to progress through. What wasn’t was trying to rebuild your life from scratch after someone stole everything from you. He owed her so much, by law, mind you, but that didn’t matter. She had nothing. And besides my brother and me, she had no one, which was a lot of pressure, not for her, but me.
I was a young adult trying to find my way, working like crazy, while building a relationship with my new husband. We got married in November of 2002 at the courthouse in Myrtle Beach. We didn’t need a fancy venue or party, although that is exactly what my mom planned for us until she could no longer provide for us. I understood this, and it was honestly a relief. We pressed on and began our life as husband and wife. Mom came to live with us for a brief period while she was “in-between.” In-between what, I wasn’t sure, but I couldn’t turn my mom away. She stayed with us for a few months, and we could see her suffering. Not from being with us, but from seeing our happiness and wishing she had the same. I could see she felt worthless, needy, and defeated. I tried everything I could to get her mind right, but I had no idea what I was dealing with and to what extent. The dark side was starting to show itself.
The Pain Sets In
I came home one night from work, and my mom wasn’t home, although we were expecting her to be. Her room was a mess, and her things were scattered throughout the room, although she was the neatest person you’d ever meet. I knew something was wrong. I started to see other areas in our apartment were scattered too, not immediately evident, but still noticeable. Then, I noticed our checkbook was missing (remember those?), and I knew something wasn’t right. I went through her room to see if I could find anything that would tell me what was going on, and under the bed is where I found something I wish I hadn’t. A medium-sized, bundled piece of foil next to other “items.” I felt out of my body at this moment. I had no idea. None. I knew she smoked pot, but I didn’t care about that. She smoked cigarettes and drank a few beers during the week, but big deal. But I had no idea she was using. And I didn’t even know what it was, but I knew it was hard drugs. And, I knew it had no place in my home. Or my mom, for that matter.
I didn’t know what to do at this point. My mom stole from us and was using drugs, and most likely in our home when we weren’t around. Of course, this didn’t sit well with me. I didn’t want her to leave, but I didn’t want her to stay either. At the time, the only thing I could think to do was find her help, but what kind of help? I had no idea where to turn for help but found a group therapy home for her near our apartment. The idea was she’d stay there for a couple of weeks for “cleansing.” It hasn’t a rehab center per se, but certified counselors operated it, and they offered to help her find the cause of her depression and get to the bottom of why she turned to hard drugs. Well, let’s say that she didn’t stay more than two nights. She was back at our door within three days. While I was happy to see her, I was disappointed she didn’t see the program through. After the next few days, she stayed with us, and everything was “OK,” but we had not forgotten what happened. We were all on edge. Would she steal from us again? Would I come home from work to find her on the floor? Or would I come home and not find her at all? Then, one day, it happened again. She stole again, for what, I could only assume. I didn’t see her again for over a week, and it was the longest week of my life. I had no idea if she was dead or alive, or even still in Myrtle Beach. This was my pain.
I’ll never forget her knocking on our door, again, about a week or so later. It was raining, and there she was, on my porch, crying and begging for forgiveness. But, I was now numb and refused to listen. I felt, at the time, I was enabling her by continuing to accept her back into my life, but I also felt very torn taking this hard stance with her. I had to put up boundaries as she broke our trust. Word got out back home in Virginia about what happened, and everyone essentially told me to disown her. I couldn’t do that, but I couldn’t allow her to stay with us either. She left with her things, and we told her to please get help and keep us posted, and it was a mutual understanding that she would do just that. Her next destination would be the state she later died in.
We’re now in 2003, 10 years before her passing. The following ten years were a mixed bag of emotions. But for now, this is about all I can handle for one night/post. This post has been therapeutic, though, and if I can help just one person with my story, specifically her story, then the pain of reliving this would have been worth it. Part 2 coming soon.
There are resources for those who need them. Please, don’t be silent.
Thank you for reading.