I have not been inclined to blog lately for a couple of reasons. The most obvious is that I’ve been spending a lot of time with my dad helping him get through the cancer treatments that have left him with many new challenges to face. The less obvious reason is that I’ve been in a state of emotional limbo. Time spent with my dad has been a blessing in many ways, as we’ve gotten to know and understand each other better. It has also aroused emotions in me that were long ago buried. Our occasional chats about what it was like to live with my mom’s mental illness have caused me to reflect more deeply about its effects on me. I’ve always prided myself on moving forward and not looking back, and I never understood the point of examining one’s childhood for clues about one’s issues today. Now I have a different view of that topic.
I am discovering that it is important to face some of those issues now, because whether I like it or not, they have shaped many aspects of my life, often leading to unnecessary pain and discomfort.
The biggest example that comes to mind right now is “the hug”. I can only recall being hugged by my mom on a few occasions, although I can recall many times when she lashed out at me physically or verbally when she was angry or distraught. That is why I can still remember one particular hug so clearly; it was the time she came into my room, sat on the side of my bed, spoke openly about her feelings, and embraced me lovingly. She apologized for the way she had acted towards me, cried and said she didn’t know why she was like that. She hugged me and held my cheeks in her hands and looked at me with sadness in her eyes. I don’t remember exactly how I reacted. I do remember how I felt. For the first time in my life, I felt a flicker of hope and promise that things might get better. I also felt incredibly sorry for her in that moment. She seemed fragile and vulnerable and if she couldn’t be strong, then I needed to be strong enough to endure the pain with her.
Recalling that memory recently has helped me come to terms with a pattern I developed as a result of that day. Even though I was the one who had been subjected to the physical and emotional harm leading up to the hug, I felt worse for her. I wanted desperately to help her change and get better, and it was those rare moments along the way that kept me always believing she could and would eventually change. It has been difficult over the years to recognize an unhealthy relationship and to set boundaries for myself, because I get caught up in trying to change and help someone else, rather than focusing on the negative impact it is having on me. I am learning to appreciate and put effort into the positive relationships in my life, and to let go of the ones that ultimately bring me down.