Thursday, July 5, 2012

It's not me, it's you

I've worked long and hard to gain emotional distance from enmeshment with my mother and her hoarding. (Geographical distance helps too. I now live 700 miles away from her and my childhood home, which I can only imagine is filled to the rafters by now.) I don't visit much, as the visits are unpleasantly laced with dysfunction and weird interactions between my mother and me. There's a lot of verbal tap-dancing going on with my attempts to derail her before she gets going on topics that set her off and make me crazy. Religious discussions go something like this. Mom: "I wish you went to a Bible-believing church more often." Me: "I believe there are many paths to God." Mom: "I'm so sad that you're going straight to hell!" She's a very conservative Evangelical Christian. I'm about as liberal as you can get without being Noam Chomsky, so politics are also off-limits. Discussions about other members of the family aren't so great either. Me: "No, I think my younger brother is doing pretty well. He likes his new job a lot." Mom: "I just don't understand why he would want to work for a morally corrupt institution like a bank. Do you think he's morally corrupt too?" Oh, and the holidays. Mom: "I'm setting a boundary and have decided that I'm not going to allow you in my house. Why don't we meet on Christmas Eve at Carl's Junior?" Me: "WTF?" (Note: The first few were just examples. The last one actually happened, minus the swearing at my mother part. And let me tell you, there is nothing more depressing than eating greasy hamburgers in a fast food joint on Christmas Eve.) 

Still, once in awhile, the guilt kind of gets me. When I was younger, I tried and tried to help her get the house clean. But her hoarding brain takes over and gets in the way. I might need this someday/it's still perfectly good/I'm keeping it to read later/my mother gave it to me/I don't know what to do with it, so I'll just move it into this pile over here -- her inability to make decisions about letting things go gets in the way of making any progress. Add to that her anger and recrimination over my attempts to help (how could you do this to me/you're just like your father/you love everyone else more than you love me/I never should have had kids) and I ended up in a situation that was very damaging to me. To both of us, really. So I got really pissed off and quit trying to parent her, which also pissed her off.

Over the years, I've gotten less angry and more sad about the way she's choosing to live. (In case you were wondering, she's still on the angry wagon, albeit in a passive aggressive kind of way.) I wish I could help her, and sometimes that wistful, wishful thinking starts to steer me down the wrong path. I understand that she has a mental illness (well, at least two of them, by last count) and that it's not her own doing. That's where the guilt gets to me, a bit. I know that she's sick and that I would never wish her illness on my worst enemy. Maybe I should be a better daughter, I think. And then I remember. It's not her fault that she's mentally ill, but it is her fault that she refuses to seek help for her illness. It is her fault that she uses it as an excuse to be nasty and verbally abusive. It has nothing to do with me. The guilt here isn't even a little bit mine. It's all hers.


  1. I get it. All of it. There are moments where I resent my Mom and the way she behaves now. It's not how I want to remember her. It can be tough to remind myself "it's not her, it's the illness."

    Sometimes, I think it would be easier if the problem was alcohol. At least there are 12 steps and more support and understanding from the general public for that.

    I'm sorry about Christmas Eve at Carl's Jr. My Mom & Sister were going to go somewhere for Thanksgiving dinner last year. They picked the restaurant because Mom had gift certificates. Last minute, Mom can't find the certificates, and so neither of them went or celebrated together.

  2. I don't think many people understand the angry psychological aspect of hoarding. You make a good point that some of this does come from guilt they have over themselves and the situation they are so carefully hiding. The children are put into a unique situation where they are mentally tested (constantly) and are made to feel like they are wrong. It seems like you are in a peaceful place for now! Sometimes distance is the best thing to have so you can clear your mind and see everything from a normal perspective.

  3. Carl's Jr for Christmas? C'mon. Even Joseph and Mary had better food in the stable.

    Next time, can you say no? Or did you gather for your children to see grandma?

    There's not an easy answer, but it sounds like you're in a healthy place. Stay strong.