For My Mother
I wanted to write you a letter to tell you what's been on my mind.
First, the judgment you see coming at you is all in your own mind. People don’t think those things about you, you do.
People aren’t inherently greedy. People don’t look at you and see what you are afraid of them seeing. They look at you and see you.
They see a tired mom, a fighter, a weirdo in the best way. Some of the people you think hate you most are the ones who’ve explained to me the best qualities about you. They’ve told me how incredibly intelligent you are, how you are strong, how lucky I am to have you as my mother. And I am lucky. I’m glad my mom isn’t someone I can put on a pedestal, instead she’s a real person. She’s someone I can tell my own children stories about, not boring things like how I was tucked into bed sweetly every night and always ate my supper- more like stories about how my mom was brave enough to leave, how she asked me to do things that challenged me, how she had faith in me every day. I think you are angry with people because they refuse to hate you. They don’t agree with you about your shortcomings, they believe in who you really are, and that must be scary for you because you are afraid you’re not a good person.
But the thing is you don’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations. People aren’t expecting anything from you. Seriously, you’re unpredictable. We’ve all given up trying to guess what’s next. And anyway, everyone is too busy wondering how you could have done all you’ve already done. They are in awe of how you raised three kind, proud, intelligent, strong, and passionate daughters while struggling with addiction, while being abused by your ex-husband, and while working your ass off to pay the bills. People can’t grasp how you could have taught us to love so fiercely, to care so much about the kind of people we are, or how we could possibly be so strong from such young ages.
I used to think I was strong and kind and brave in spite of being your daughter, but I’ve realized that it is actually the opposite. I am strong and kind and brave because I am your daughter. And so are my sisters, even if they aren’t ready to believe that.
People admire how you’ve managed to work on yourself, to approach life from a new perspective and face your faults and flaws- all while mothering two unique and rowdy little boys.
Mom, I want you to know that you’ve been a major source of pain throughout my life. You already know this, but we've never said it out loud and I think it's time to get that out of the way. It was a roller coaster growing up, not knowing who you were going to be when I came home from school each day. It was a nightmare listening to you rant about the things you could do, should do to this and that person who wronged you. Your habits affect me more deeply than I probably understand, still. It’s hard for me to stay in one place sometimes, to stay with one person, to trust. It’s hard for me to believe that my friends are my friends even when they show me nothing but love and kindness and honesty for years on end.
And sure, there’s probably some suburban soccer-mom who takes her kids to every sport and club they care to try, who spends her mornings getting kids ready for school with perfect braids and brand new bags and shoes, who spends the day preparing snacks for them and going to the gym, taking care of herself just in time to pick the kids up and drive them around town... who spends her evenings cooking and tucking them into bed and stays up late to clean and drink wine and maybe read a book or watch a show. Sure, maybe there is some 1950s-sitcom mother judging your parenting, but I’d choose you over her as my mother any day. Sure, you’re pretty messed up sometimes and there are things you could do better. But I’d be a lot more messed up if I thought I was the only one who was a little messed up or who could do a little better at everything. I have friends who’s parents put on such a show, and those friends are spiraling through hell as young adults realizing for the first time that their parents aren’t perfect, that life is kinda messy, and that things don’t actually always go like you planned. I’m lucky to have come from a household where the messiness of life wasn’t some big secret. It’s a relief to not have to pretend.
You think I’m judging you when my words are blunt, but I’m just being who you raised me to be. You raised me to see life as it is, the best that you could at least. Sometimes your perspective was toxic and believing you caused conflict in my life, but sometimes you were right. Sometimes it didn’t matter what those other girls thought of me, sometimes my English teacher was being a snob because her niece didn't like me, sometimes people at church were avoiding me because who my family was would be bad for their Christian image. But S wasn’t just showing off her money when she took care of me. She wasn’t just a hypocritical Christian who saw me as a neatly packaged charity case for her ego. She loved me so much, and what you told me about her sparked fear that has caused so much pain and difficulty in my relationship with her. I know my decisions are my own, but I want you to know that I was listening when you planted that seed of doubt, and it sprouted. Be careful what seeds you plant in my brothers' and sisters' minds; we listen more than you realize.That’s why I wanted to write this letter, to tell you your fear has hurt me more than anything else you ever did. And to tell you I love you anyway and I forgive you.
You taught me from the beginning that life isn’t fair no matter how loved you are. You taught me that addiction is a both disease and a choice- not 100% up to the addict, but also not impossible for the addict to learn to cope with if they are willing. You taught me that a past with drugs and alcohol doesn't make a person evil. You taught me that there’s more to life than status, money, and a degree- but that having those things also isn't evil. You showed me that even in poverty happiness can shine brightly. You taught me that it’s important to share my joy with others, especially with people I might have preferred to avoid when I was younger.
You taught me that I have to think for myself, that it’s okay to fight a system of expectations. You taught me to question everything, to look at a situation upside down once in a while, in case there’s something I didn’t see before.
When my words are harsh, I don’t mean for them to hurt you. I speak freely in your house without realizing it, because I believe you are strong and brave and you prefer to face the truth. You appreciate cynicism and brutal honesty, and sometimes I get so comfortable being in the only place I can comfortably share my own satirical thoughts, that I forget you need to hear the positive, plain thoughts too, without any veil of sarcasm.
I want you to know that I’m telling my story. I’m a writer, and I want to write about this journey. I want the other mothers who are addicts to know their children can still love them, that their lives aren’t over, and that they have a choice. I want the other addicts’ daughters to know they can heal and move forward. I want them to know that they are not their mothers, but that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if they were either. I want them to know it’s okay to hope and love and have faith in their mothers, even when they feel they’ve been let down a thousand times. It’s okay, because there’s something good in everyone, and there's no shame in having a little faith.
I know this part is hard to hear, but I really think you should talk to the people you think hate you. You’ve changed and come so far, and you’re angry that they don’t see it and say something... but how can they see it if you keep hiding? Your family loves you and they have missed you.
You haven’t apologized to us, mom. I know the program says to do it in a way that causes no harm, but don’t use that potential harm as an excuse. Call your aunt, your brother, whoever it is that you resent or fear judgment from, and tell them you’re sorry. Or that you miss them. Say whatever is true. But you have to own what you did. You pushed everyone away for years, you hurt people just as much as their absence has hurt you. You’ve grown and changed, you’re not that person anymore, please show them that. Your family doesn’t hate you, they are just afraid of losing you (again), so they pretend not to care. You know why you aren’t invited to Thanksgivings. You don’t have to let shame or regret or guilt keep picking at you. Be brave again, speak up.
And mom, they don’t hate NA. They hate addiction, and sometimes they don’t understand. They hate missing you, they hate that you’re suffering from addiction. You know how weird people get when faced with suffering; it’s awkward trying to help someone with something you know so little about. Listen to your thoughts, start picking out the mean ones and ask if they are true. When they aren’t true, kick them out. When you don’t know, ask. I have a quick little message to your thoughts today- maybe you can write it down and stick it somewhere.
Dear mean little thoughts,
Please stop bullying my mom, she’s great and you are wrong.
I don’t want to share my story (or your part in it) to hurt you, I want to share it to help others. I want to share so my sisters don’t feel like they have to keep their struggles a secret, like some unspoken thing they have no right to be upset about. Their feelings are valid. What happened was real. Our family started in a rough patch, but we are digging ourselves out, each in our own way and at our own pace. That’s something to be proud of.
And finally, I just want to say: you are so loved. You just have to learn how to see it.
I love you.