THE SOLDIER THAT I AM

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Submitted Date 10/23/2018
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I’m not an alcoholic or an addict, but I went to my first NA meeting last week with my boyfriend.

Since, I find myself reflecting on my own experiences with the addictions of those I love.

Addictions varied: alcohol, drugs, gambling, or pain pills.

Some admitted their addictions. Others denied them.

In the past, I can only recall one time knowing someone who seemed to work on their recovery. Even then, I only knew about it from a distance. I only knew enough to know the facts, not anything much deeper than that.

How I Met Addiction

Initially, I think the first time I was given a glimpse into addiction and recovery was when my parents became foster parents to children whose mother struggled with alcoholism.

I was only a child, too young to truly understand addiction. Knowing addiction and drug use ran on both sides of my family concerned me. I worried if I would be able to escape a possible genetic predisposition to addiction.

Nowadays, I find myself looking back at the challenges my foster siblings faced as I come to terms with my mother's death while learning to understand addiction and recovery to be supportive of someone else I love.

How I Met My Mother’s Addiction

After the foster children went back home, it seemed as if life started spiraling out of control for my family. First, my parents struggled in their marriage. Then, my mother threatened to kill herself one night when I was about 16 years old.

After that night, I remember my parents separating for a short period of time. I do not remember how long, but I remember feeling like it was not long enough. I was happy that the fighting stopped and found myself wishing they got divorced. Instead, they got back together.

Even today, after her death, I wonder how things would have been different, perhaps better, for my mother. If only she had the courage to walk away. 

The story continues.

When I was in college, my mother was in a car accident and suffered injuries that required her to take pain killers to manage the pain. Early on, she told me that doctors warned her that she may become addicted due to the extent of her injuries.

Her addiction did not happen immediately. It was only years later, after more and more pain pills.

Our relationship progressively got worse. We went from being best friends to distant ... I do not know how to describe what we became. 

When I went away to law school, she felt like I did not have time for her. I didn't. I barely had time for myself. My mother could not relate to me, something that I am not sure can be blamed on her addiction. Or maybe it can? 

One time, she told me she blamed God for taking me away from her. She was extremely depressed, moreso than ever before. I could not get it out of my head how she threatened to kill herself when I was a teenager. I worried, was she going to kill herself for real this time? Phone calls continued to get more and more uncomfortable as I tried to manage her moods. 

It became difficult when I studied abroad. One night while I sat in my dorm room in London, my mother told me the doctor thought she had cancer. As I tried to manage my classes and my concerns for my mother back home, I was overwhelmed. I decided to transfer law schools to be closer to home, so I could help my mother. On top of that, I felt like other parts of my life were falling apart, but none of that mattered more than my mother.

It was not until I returned home that I discovered my mother was lying. Or, I at least think she was. After I kept asking her when she was going for the so-called tests the doctor needed, I realized she had no intention on checking up on it. Something was wrong, but it was not cancer.

It was Christmas time in New York, and so it was winter time. My mother was chain smoking (as usual) even though she knew I had allergies. I opened the window a crack to get some fresh air inside so I could breath. The next thing I knew was my mother was kicking me out of the house because I opened a window.

Over the years, I got used to my mother’s rage and learned how to deal with it. As a child and young teenager, I did not know this was not normal because it was my normal. I now recognize this as emotionally abusive. But this is another story. At the moment, I merely want to emphasize that the rage she had that night was worse than ever before; it was something that I did not know how to manage.

I remember that it was around two in the morning, and I was lucky enough to have a MetroCard to take the subway to my friend’s apartment in the city. That winter, I spent Christmas Eve alone and Christmas Day with friends. For the first time in my life, I did not spend Christmas with any blood. 

After what happened at “home” that Christmas, I decided to focus on myself and return to law school in Florida rather than give up a career in law. Part of me still wanted to help my mother, but I did not know how without hurting myself.

Back then, I realized part of her anger was the result of perhaps empty nest syndrome, an extreme one at that.

Anyone I told made me feel like I did something wrong because I was still the child (even while in my twenties) and she was my mother. It felt as if no one was willing to provide me or us with the help we needed. Maybe they thought it was not their place. Maybe they simply did not want to get involved. Maybe they thought I was once again exaggerating.

How Everyone Else Met My Mother’s Illness

After two years of pleading with people (who I will not name) to form some form of an intervention, my mother fell one day and cut her head open. She eventually agreed to go to the hospital to get stitches to help stop the bleeding. After they performed a routine CT scan, they discovered a massive aneurysm that they initially diagnosed as brain cancer.

To this day, I wonder how things would be different had she admitted she had a problem and gone to rehab. Would she have developed a brain aneurysm? Why did this happen?

From the time of her initial diagnosis in 2012 to her death earlier this year, I admit there was a lot of anger. It infuriated me that doctors warned her of the addiction but when the time came, she would not get help. It made me mad that unnamed individuals thought I was exaggerating, telling lies, or being a disrespectful daughter. No one seemed willing to admit my mother’s addiction when I tried to bring it to their attention. Rather than confront her addiction, they had no choice but to face her massive brain aneurysm which eventually led to her death earlier this year.

I am saddened by the fact that recovery was not an option for my mother. By the time doctors became aware of her addiction, recovering from her addiction seemed out of the question for fear it would put too much stress on her body and aggravate the aneurysm. Before that moment, I never gave up on my mother. It was only when it became more dangerous for her to recover from her addiction that I finally let go.

Meeting My Own Recovery

In a way, my mother died a long time ago. The strong woman I knew died in her addiction. When she died, I was at the airport waiting to board my plane back to Florida.

Many people were shocked. I did not go to her funeral. In a way, I felt like I had been morning my mother for years while others were only just starting to. Why did I need to mourn them, on their terms.

I must admit. I was a bit angry. And maybe I still am.

While there are some loved ones I like to think would have received comforted me, there are others who would have offered comfort years too late. Maybe now you can say I am exaggerating but I mourned my mother in my own way and in private, just as I was expected to deal with her addiction and the emotional abuse I endured years ago. No one thought I needed them back then, so why do I need them now.

I do not know if I will ever fully recover from what I faced all those years from trying to help my mom take better care of herself to managing her emotional abuse. Even though I told myself it was the medicine or possibly her depression, it was abuse nonetheless and left lasting marks.

Now, I have my network and friends that taught me family is more than blood.

Thanks to my boyfriend, I have discovered the value of meditation in recovering from this loss, a loss I felt years before she even died. And after having attended my first NA meeting as a non-addict, I have a better understanding of the battle between addiction and recovery.

You may not choose addiction, but you can choose recovery.

I know my mother did not choose addiction. Addiction is not that easy. It is not something one wakes up and decides to allow happen to themselves. My mother never wanted to be an addict. She just wanted to not feel pain.

Even though I wanted my mother to get help and to recover from her brain aneurysm, I had to walk away because the abuse was too much for me. It may be easy for others to judge from the bleachers, but I had a front row seat. I had to learn to come to terms with the good and bad. It was never easy to walk away from someone who abuses because it may not always be bad; it was harder for me because this someone was my mother. I walked away years ago without ever being able to fix our relationship. I did not just walk away because of her. I walked away to take care of myself, and try to get my life back on track.

Yet, I still think of the what if’s from time to time.

What if my mother was able to choose recovery before she a brain aneurysm formed in her brain (possibly from weakened arteries).

What if only there were better regulations on the sale of controlled substances.

I am grateful to have found meditation and a way to understand how addiction has affected me, so I can be a better version of myself.

I am grateful to the man I love for seeing how I was struggling to come to terms with my mother’s death and her addiction that tore our relationship apart. I am grateful he helped me find meditation and welcomed me to meetings.

I applaud anyone that goes to an NA or AA meeting because making the daily choice to live clean is a sign of strength and character, two things I admire in you on your path of personal growth.

While I never felt like I could save my mother, I have learned I can save myself. I may not be an addict, but I choose recovery over anger.

To end, I would like to share a quote my boyfriend recited to me after I read my story to him:

"Anyone who chooses recovery over addiction is a mother f*cking soldier.”

-Anonymous 

Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

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