Sunday, April 4, 2010

I woke up crying

Lately I've been having bad dreams about my mother.

First some background...

I didn't know my mother was really my mother until I was about 5 years old. Until that time, I was raised exclusively by my grandparents. It's a long story, and not one I know all the details about, but I'll just say it was confusing to find out the woman I thought of as mommy was actually my grandmother and the woman who would sometimes babysit us, and seemingly follow us around the country as we moved, was really my mother. This was an ongoing situation--my grandparents would move, and my mother would soon follow several months or even years later. Eventually, we would live with my mother for a while until she couldn't handle taking care of us any more, and we would be shuttled back and forth between mom and my grandparents.

Several years ago my mother experienced liver failure as a result of poor health maintenance and a lifetime of alcoholism. I knew my mother drank sometimes, and that she was often depressed or sad or grumpy, but I never thought about alcoholism. I guess maybe I was naive? My grandfather would sit for hours drinking beer after beer, but I never saw my mom do that, so I guess I figured she wasn't an alcoholic. However, when I did see her drink, she often drank excessively in a short amount of time.

I remember one time shortly after I turned 21, my mother wanted to take me out drinking. I had to work, but promised I'd meet her at the bar. It was a strange experience. When I got there, she was already pretty gone and playing pool with friends. Her speech was slurred and she was stumbling around. Her friends weren't much better. I told her I'd take her home, but she insisted I stay and have a drink. I told her that I didn't want a drink, and she told me that I wasn't any fun and that I should just go home, which I did. I found out not too long ago that she would often take my teenage sister (who is now in her mid 20s) out to the bars with her.

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised when I found out she was dying because of her liver. However, my mother had also been diagnosed with diabetes, hepatitis (C? I think), and other health problems that she didn't manage very well. I was so angry at her. I had visited her in and out of jail, when she was living with friends, etc. It always made me so angry that this adult woman couldn't or wouldn't take care of herself. She wasn't a stupid woman, but she had no faith in herself. She put all her faith in her kids, but never really gave us the tools to believe in ourselves either.

So, in October of 2009, I found out my mother was back in the hospital. She was found lying in a pool of blood after several weeks of illness. My baby sister, who still lived at home, found her and called an ambulance. My baby sister also found her the first time she got ill. By the time I found out about my mom being sick again, it was too late- her brain had stopped functioning and she was non-responsive to any stimuli. She was hooked up to machines that were breathing for her and keeping her heart beating.

What hurts most is that I hadn't talked to my mother in about a year before this happened. She had called me just a few months before and left a message on my voicemail. Her speech was slurred, and I could barely understand the message. I thought she had been drinking again and didn't want to talk to her. Then I was called home and told that my brother and I had to decide whether to keep her on the machines or to let her go. We chose to let her go because there was no evidence that she would recover. It was a horrible situation to be placed in, and I would never want children of mine to be placed in it.

I was the only family member who spoke at her funeral. I was incredibly angry at my mom for forcing me to take care of her and make important decisions (yet again) about taking care of her and my brother and sisters. I was the child, and I deserved to be a child, but I never really felt I had the chance because I always had to be the responsible one in the family. Here I was once again, having to take care of my mom and of the family. Thankfully my brother was there to help out too this time... but in any case, I didn't speak in anger about my mother. I spoke with love and talked about the few positive things I remembered-- her unflagging love for her children, and her love of laughter and having fun.

The past few months have been very stressful for me. I don't drink often, and when I do it's usually a drink or two with dinner, or a couple of beers at the bar with friends and my wife. I think experiencing alcoholism with my grandfather and with my mother has made me constantly worry that having 'just one more' could push me over the edge, and that's something I don't want. I need to be in control of my life, and not let an inanimate object like alcohol do that for me. So, anyway, I've been having a lot of stress lately, and sometimes that turns into bad dreams for me.

Three or four nights ago, I dreamed that I was driving through fog trying to get to my mother when I lost control of the car and smashed into a wall, which propelled my car out over the water. I woke up just as my car hit the water. Two nights ago I dreamed that my mother was drinking like crazy and I was trying to get her to stop. She wouldn't, and when I would try to grab the drink from her she would just float out of my reach- over and over again. She would ask for help, and I couldn't get to her to help her.

Last night I had a dream regarding something that happened between the two of us when I first went to college- I had just received my first credit card and was using it sparingly. She begged me to let her use it to buy the girls some clothes for school, to which I agreed. She maxed out the card and never repaid it. It took me years to pay it off. So in my dream last night, she was sick and dying. I was helping her by going through her mail looking for information when I discovered that she had opened up credit cards in each of her children's names (all four of us), plus in the name of the nonprofit group I started. Each card was over drawn and overdue, and she had no money to pay them - or so she claimed.

Then in my dream I found a pile of checks- hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of checks from strangers and businesses- written out to my mother. She had refused to cash them because she didn't want to take charity. I tried to rationalize with her saying that taking money from someone who offered to help you was much better than fraud, but she wouldn't listen. she started mumbling incoherently and drifting away from me. I tried to get her, but she started floating away and I couldn't reach her. I woke up crying.

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