Friday, November 30, 2012

Mothers and daughters - Part 1

People who know me know that my mom and I have a difficult relationship.  I have seen her 3 times in the pas decade, one of them recently.  I have two main reasons for not being close to her, the first is that we are just not compatible; we have very different personalities and would not hang out together if we weren’t related.  The other is that my mom, until recently, was part of a dysfunctional and abusive cycle lasting at least three generations, a cycle I have been determined to break out of.

The first thing they tell a recovering drug addict or alcoholic is to avoid the people they used to associate with who were part of the habit/problem.  For me it was the same, if I wanted to break out of the cycle, I had to stay as far away (physically and emotionally) as possible from the people still in it. 

I come from a long line of women who got pregnant young, had severe daddy issues, and who were alcoholic and/or abusive to their daughters.  A quick summary:

My great grandmother: When she was young she came to Canada with her parents, her father then abandoned the family to return to Ireland leaving them to fend for themselves. Was furious and generally horrible to her daughter when she got pregnant at 15, attempting multiple times to get her to miscarry.  She would go on to treat her daughters with contempt for « dishonoring the family »

My grandmother: Got pregnant at 15 in the 50s by a married man.  This man divorced his wife and married her.  They were both alcoholics with severe mental health issues, him a paranoid schizophrenic, and her bipolar.  The got divorced, then remarried, then divorced again. He abandoned the family twice.  She never got over it, and never got treated for her mental illness.

My mother: Left home at 15, pregnant at 19 by a man whose divorce wasn’t final and she didn’t know had been married. Both alcoholics with substance abuse and mental health issues.  They never married, and I’ve never known my parents as a couple.

All three of these women were an important part of my childhood.  My great grandmother was only in her 50s when I was born.  My great grandmother was wonderful to me; I would only realize how she treated my grandmother once I was an adult, long after her death.  My grandmother and I were never close, but I loved her and learned from her mistakes as much as I could.  My mother, well, things were harder for us.

One thing I was certain of, I would not repeat their patterns.  I did everything possible to avoid unplanned pregnancy and became the first person in that family to finish high school in the normal timeline.  I started working as soon as possible to gain as many skills as possible to avoid having to go on welfare.  When I decided to break away emotionally, I cut off contact and moved closer to my saner family.  Throughout the years, my mother and I re-attempted contact a few times, but she had never really gotten her life together, and while I had forgiven her long ago, and I understood now that she had done the best she could with what she had and that she gave me all she could, I could not have that toxic cycle in my life, and I could not clean up her messes for her or watch her destroy herself.  She understood, even though it hurt.  She was proud in a way that I had the strength to break out.

A few years ago she started therapy, and started working on her issues in earnest.  She no longer drinks the way she did, and she has her life mostly under control.  She told me that the isolation I had caused her was a good thing because it forced her to focus solely on herself.

This past year my grandmother died.  It was hard for my mom, and my grandmother had many regrets, most of them regarding my mother and I.  When she was hospitalized, we were going through some pretty heavy stuff with the kids, and I made the decision not to go see her one last time.  We had not seen each other in over a decade, and had spoken on the phone for the first time in about 8 years a few months before.  I decided that I had to take care of my present family, I made my choice.  I explained it to my mom and grandmother, and my grandmother understood and even stood up for me to any other family members who made comments about my absence.  The only thing my grandmother asked of me was to see my mom, to try again.

I talked it over with my BF and he agreed.  She could come down for a couple of days.  My mom was overjoyed at the chance, and assured me that it would not be like before.  Nonetheless I was stressed in the week leading up to it.  I even broke out in hives.  I’d be lying if I said the thought of cancelling never crossed my mind.  But I am a firm believer in second chances, especially when they are earned.  She had been working on her life for almost three years now, it was the least I could do.


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