I never forgave my mother for her alcoholism. Through my childhood and adult years, I didn’t understand why she drank. I thought she was pathetic and weak. It was only after her suicide, when I was crying in a therapist’s office, that I realized I had never shown her any compassion for her illness.
It never dawned on me that my mother drank to escape a pain so intolerable that she simply couldn’t face it. I seemed to have a high threshold for emotional pain. Sobs could wreak havoc through my body like an emotional seizure, yet I could endure the intensity of emotional pain. I judged my mother for not being able to do the same. I basically had no respect for her.
My mother’s self-esteem was shattered. She was an emotional Humpty Dumpty. Just out of college, she married my father, a serial womanizer. Within months of their marriage, my father was having an affair. She then remarried a few years later to a much more suitable man who cherished her and treated her well, although he too ended up leaving her for another woman. I never blamed the man for leaving. I assumed my mom’s developing alcohol dependence drove him away. Yet now I wonder if it was the affair that triggered my mom’s drinking. Regardless, she couldn’t handle the perceived rejection. It had been hard enough to deal with my father’s betrayal; a second misfortune ruined her. Her own father had not instilled a strong belief in herself, so two failed marriages later, she felt unworthy as a woman.
I have no idea how or why my mom’s second marriage fell apart. Two people can be the wrong fit and/or can grow apart. People can have different perspectives about the relationship that are at odds. And sometimes people simply give up and bail. Regardless, my mother struggled to understand her second divorce.
I remember wanting to slap sense in my mother when I witnessed her weepy drunken monologues about how men were always leaving her. I wanted to scream, “So what! They left. Deal with it! You still have your life. Get a grip. Get it together! Who cares about them? YOU HAVE YOUR LIFE! YOUR WORTH ISN’T DETERMINED BY WHETHER YOU ARE SINGLE OR MARRIED!”
What I didn’t realize was that at age nine, I’d already made the decision that no man was ever going to hurt me. When Jimmy R., the sweetest boy in my fourth grade class gave me a porcelain unicorn as a gift, I politely told him, “Thank you, but no thank you.” I gave the gift back to him because I feared the implications. Would he expect me to go steady with him? Would I be obligated to do anything?” My mother and the boy’s sister were horrified, claiming I’d broken his heart with my callous rudeness.
But I’d been taking note how my father treated women and swore I would never be a victim. My father was beyond a serial womanizer. He was pathological, narcissistic, and a sex addict. Women were there to serve his ego, to boost his self-esteem, and to be used and discarded. However, because he was rich and charming, no matter who he hurt, there was always another woman right there in line waiting for him after a relationship ended, so he never had to feel any kind of loss, rejection, or loneliness.
The woman he treated the worst was me. He paraded me around, adoring me as his golden child. I could do no wrong except when I mirrored back to him who he was. For that, I was promptly cut out of his life. When I went off to college, he couldn’t forgive me the betrayal of leaving him to live my life. He raged at me, then stopped talking to me. Within weeks, our young, live in maid from Mexico, became his beloved. She became my replacement. The two had a child by the time I was a sophomore and for years, she supported my dad cleaning houses, after my dad became disbarred for drug use and lost everything: his career, his money, and his sanity.
The present is not the past but the past can certainly be triggered by the present. When there are overlays from previous relationships, it is a marvelous opportunity to heal. And healing can be a bitch. If you have to walk back into the pain and rejection of an early childhood experience, it can leave you feeling like you want to drink, or feeling like you want to die.
Dear Mother, I forgive you.