For All the Scapegoats
This is undoubtedly the most painful post I will ever put out. I have no doubt about that.
I got a letter from my mother last week. It was truly delusional. I am not joking.
She started out by saying that I was wrong for expecting her and my dad to come get me from the emergency room that they had landed me in. She said Dad was having a hard time breathing and that they were more injured than I was. I am the widow of a man with Huntington’s Disease. If he had had a hard time breathing, I would have called 911 or taken him to the hospital myself. My mom and dad don’t have the common sense to seek medical treatment? What kind of morons do I come from? If they were truly more injured than I was, then we all should have been in the ER together. To know that my elderly parents don’t have sense enough to seek medical care doesn’t reassure this middle-aged daughter at all. I only needed to make certain that I was capable of going back to work. My parents are beyond working age, so maybe they don’t relate to people with jobs anymore. To be told by the driver at fault in the accident that I shouldn’t have taken an ambulance to Sparrow Hospital (because I “should know how they are”), shows a bizarre total lack of empathy for the passenger whose door got hit in the accident. My mom is clearly not the brightest bulb in the box. To say I was stunned would be an understatement.
Then she painted my alcoholic brothers as innocent victims while I just basically have a nasty attitude and drive everyone away. She said that they really struggled financially, while I had everything handed to me. Yes, they struggled–because they spent their money on beer, cigarettes, pot, and cocaine. It’s called “being irresponsible.” Even back then, cigs were $4/pack. Did I have an attitude problem? Definitely. My brothers were literally killing themselves with alcohol and drugs and nobody cared. And my mother basically raised my oldest brother’s girls for a decade or more for free.
Then she painted me as the immoral one because Barry and I lived together before we got married. Reality check: all three of my brothers had pregnant brides and the youngest one did it twice (both of his wives were pregnant on their wedding date)! Out of the four of us kids, I am the only one to use birth control properly. I am the child with the closest thing resembling morals, yet she paints me as the Whore of Babylon!
She also wrote about what a horrible housekeeper I am. She talked about how much dirt was under my bed when helping Barry and I move out of the house and how I wasn’t even embarrassed. That struck me as hilarious. That is her antiquated value system, not mine. I was completely overwhelmed with a sick husband and a house I did not know how to care for (husband or house). I truly cannot imagine caring about something less than my housekeeping abilities. I am getting better, but it is a lot easier cleaning up after just myself and not having a husband to clean up after.
Here’s the kicker of it all: she sent back the gift card I sent her and said I would need it more than them because Joe Biden is the worst President ever (her words, not mine)! And President Biden has what exactly to do with all this weird family drama?…..What? Huh? I cannot imagine anyone more irrelevant to the letter than Biden. Bringing him up just felt so random. She may as well have thrown in Kermit the Frog for good measure.
Lesson: it made no difference whatsoever what I did or did not do. She needs to make me wrong. And it is not working. Scapegoating me won’t help her in the days to come. Now I see just what a deranged, delusional, bitter old woman she truly is. She has no connection to reality. At all.
I actually sometimes laugh at the letter because she still doesn’t get it. Her sons will be dead in a few short years and she is going to want a relationship with me. Not. My. Problem. I was so ambivalent a couple weeks ago. “OMG. Dave is going to be in the hospital dying and she is going to want me to go with her. What am I going to do?” No ambivalence now. She is on her own. Her unmet needs can only gratify me at this point. My compassion for her is history, not current or future reality.
I have spent my entire life trying to make her feel better at my own expense. No more. When I was ten, I decided that my brothers were such f**k ups that my mom should have one child she did not have to worry about. It is now 44 years later and I am just now undoing some of the damage from the worst decision I ever made.
The mystery of where my crippling, toxic shame comes from has been solved. My brothers can literally kill themselves with alcohol and drugs, but shame on Cindy for being a bad housekeeper! Too funny. I am an utter failure as a 1950s housewife and I am good with that.
While talking to a friend, something hit me hard: my nieces and nephews have alcoholic fathers. As the sibling of alcoholics, I can walk away guilt-free. They are grown men. I bear zero responsibility. But my nieces and nephews have a different road to travel as Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOAs). The son of my oldest brother, in particular, has a tough road ahead of him. He already has an alcohol problem that one of sisters recognizes. He will not even be 30 when his dad dies. Will Dave’s death wake him up? Or speed him down the path of self-destruction his hard-core alcoholic father took? Either way, it is ugly. Dying young is never a good thing, but neither is it fun being the only water-drinking adult at the family get-together where everyone else has a beer or glass of wine in their hand. I can say that from personal experience. There is no easy outcome. There is no way to reject your entire family’s lifestyle without basically giving the finger to their underlying value system. I also know that from personal experience.
This scapegoat is out. Once you realize that whatever you do or don’t do will be perceived as wrong, things become so much simpler. Imagine a sacrificial lamb getting up off the altar and walking away. I know my family would like to have me back. I have a role to play in this family. It just happens to be a role not worth playing or sticking around for.
Part of me wants to see my mother one last time, as she walks away from the grave from the last brother to die so I can tell her a few things: 1) I am the good one! The one that did not self-destruct with substance abuse. 2) I am the moral one, the only one to get married without a baby on the way! And 3) I am the educated one! The only one to get a college education. By her standards, I always was a total failure. Back at her: by my more reality-based standards, she is the failure. I got held to the highest standards and fell short and my brothers got held to no standards–EVER! I am not the failure here. And I never was.
My heart bleeds for all those people that get blamed for things they have nothing to do with. When you realize you are in a no-win situation, get out. NOW. Don’t look back. Time only takes these problems and makes them worse. Time alone has never fixed any problem. Period. Get whatever help you need. The shame isn’t in getting help; the shame is in desperately needing help and refusing to get it and allowing dysfunctional family crap to destroy your life.
It took me too long to figure this stuff out. I always knew some of the stuff going on just made no sense. As I got older and healthier, my tolerance for dysfunctional crap took a nosedive. It’s not just that I don’t deserve this. No human does.
My mom did me a favor by eliminating all trace of ambivalence. Her letter showed me who she really is. There is nothing she can ever say or do at this point to make me want a relationship with her again. No strong-arm tactics or guilt-ridden manipulations will ever change a thing, no matter whom they are done by. It is so too late.