You Can’t Pull The Plug on Trauma

On Monday, I saw my mother for the first time since last year. I’ve spent the last week recovering both physically and mentally from seeing her. It took me exactly six days to realize that both my mind and my body are swimming upstream in a current of PTSD…saturated and cold and slow.

I’m anxious for no reason. My blood pressure is high. While lying in bed, I had chest pains so badly that I wondered if I could reach for the phone if it didn’t stop. Everything aches and I’m mad at my body for hooking up with my mind and turning on me.

The last time I saw my mother she was wearing her too-long white and grey hair in a pony-tail, like a child. She was handcuffed and her feet were shackled. Her translucent hazel eyes were surrounded by black and blue circles, evidently punched in the face. She was standing between two court officers who brought her into a court room to speak to a judge. In Massachusetts, under Chapter 123; Section 35 the court can involuntarily commit a person for up to 90-days if their alcohol or drug use puts them or others at risk. I don’t know why we put ourselves, or the judge through this. Everyone knows that this process is broken, that there is no real help to be had, and that she doesn’t even want help if it was available. She’s so far gone she doesn’t understand what the fuss is. It’s entirely fruitless, except that someone’s conscience is alarmed. Someone wants to help.

The concerns were shared. I listened, not surprised. No stable living situation, no electricity or heat. She was surrounded by drug dealers and prostitutes. She was stealing from people who trusted her (old people with money or prescriptions). A picture is painted for the judge. It was a shit-show, really, but I imagined he hears all matter of shit. I wondered for a minute whether he has to physically was the gross off at the end of the day? I remember supressing a “blah, blah, blah” as the facts are read off. I’m so pissed that she evokes so much anger from me, and energy from the world. I was annoyed that I was missing work and that I could hear my own blood moving somewhere between my ears. I was using a breathing technique to slow my heart and she looked like she had no idea where she was. She was blinking a lot. Pleasantly confused. Maybe she was high. I was embarrassed that she’s such a waste of resources. Appalled that she’s not already in jail for a million other reasons.   Isn’t this system sophisticated enough to be able to type her fucking name in and see everything she has ever been arrested for?   I sat. I listened. I tried to control my facial expressions. I reminded myself that I would be out of there soon. I tried to leave my body and then I saw that she was asked who I was. Someone was pointing at me. She answers with “That’s my daughter.” And inside I come undone. I give my best “I have no idea what she is talking about” face, and I begin to mentally will away the looks of pity and apology. These poor people are listening to this story of her reality like it’s terrible. And, now they’re feeling bad for me. Her addiction is not worse, people. Her judgment, morals and other guiding principles have not deteriorated. She is using drugs and alcohol to self-medicate the same way she always has, she’s just doing it in a different place now.

Once, her alcohol, cocaine, prescription and crack-cocaine addictions were masked by beautiful Cape Cod. We lived in a three bedroom one-story ranch on a cul-de-sac where we rode bikes and cought the bus at the end of the street. She smoked crack in the basement, had sex with random men in the living room, and accumulated clothes, burnt spoons and garbage like a transfer station. Now, she’s doing it in a three-family house of whores and junkies in Brockton. Nothing is different, it’s just a change in geography. But, on that day last year, someone’s conscience needed to be freed, and I was asked to be there to speak to the “history of behavior” if needed. I wasn’t needed. I should have waited outside. I could understand the desire to help, and the internal need to take action. I’ve been there, a fucking bazillion times. On that particular day they committed her for “up to 90-days” and sent her to Framingham for women. Not a treatment center. Not a mental health hospital. A jail. She was allegedly released after 5-days for passing a drug test. According to the FDA crack cocaine is detectable for 2-3 days.  Testing on day 5 makes sense right? By the time she had been arrested and brought to court, it had probably been 2 days since she used.  Genius plan.

I tried to feel sorry for her. I looked for any indication that she wanted more for herself. I wondered if she was sad, or embarrassed? I tried to look at her and force a feeling, because I know there is one somewhere. I tried desperately to come up with something other than rage and absolute disgust. It’s only a matter of time before she dies. I’m amazed she is still alive rather than sad at the thought of her life ending. I don’t know how she hasn’t been shot for stealing from the wrong person. I can’t understand how her body hasn’t failed her after so many years of constant abuse. How hasn’t her heart just stopped? I know that on some level I probably love and care about her…or, at the very least loved and cared about her.  She’s weak though.  I have no respect for weakness.  I despise people who don’t look to solve their own problems, and I’m the last person you’d want to invite to a pity party.  I would do anything to help anyone…provided they want to help themselves.  One’s mother should be an exception.  There should be some kind of natural soft spot, I think, but I could not find it.

I am void of kind emotion for her when I see her. I wonder if she wants to die every day?  Or if she uses because she wants to live…but can’t face herself every day?  I used to say that the punishment for all her wrongs might be that she has to live with herself.

I stopped reading about cocaine, addiction, helping people in recovery, how to be supportive, and how not to be co-dependent long ago. I employed every intervention technique I read, and then walked away. Attempting to hold us together hurt me. I reached the point where I hated her more than I wanted to help. It took years to break ties with her, and I still get pulled back sometimes.  It’s amazing how quickly the human brain remembers bad stuff.  It’s a bit like riding a bike.  You can always learn new things but you can’t unlearn.

On Monday of this week, I saw her again. I watched her cross the street with long wiry white and grey hair, even longer than mine, blowing around in the February wind. I quickly tied my hair up into a twist, fearing people would think we were related. Most 61 year old women would wear their hair up. Or trim it. Maybe she’s forgotten her age? More likely, she thinks she looks pretty. She looks like Gandalf. Smaller and crazier. I hear someone say she sleeps in a homeless shelter now, still smoking crack and drinking every day. The condemned house she was living in was recently raided and boarded up.  I think she looks like she has showered, so that’s good.  I guess.  She isn’t pushing a stolen shopping carriage.  That must be hard to do, I think, with all this snow.

There was a time when this woman didn’t leave the house unless her heels matched the belt that matched the hat that matched the lingerie. I want to grab her hair and make her look at herself.  I want her to see what I see, but she can’t.  Today, her clothes are too big for her now tiny body. I wonder at how much is left of her. She’s slowly disappearing. You can still tell that she was once beautiful, but her face is like a skeleton, and her skin looks grave. I imagined grabbing her face and her cheekbones turned to dust in my palms.

I don’t sit around wishing I had been loved more. I don’t wish for someone else’s life and I don’t feel regret for mine or entitlement to some other kind of life. I don’t want to understand PTSD and I don’t want to feel it either.  I was nurtured. I was loved. I was breastfed and held. I was potty trained and hugged and kissed and snuggled. I had my hair braided perfectly, long before she pulled it to punch me. I know I gave her joy long before the weight of motherhood smothered her chances of happiness. She taught me to cook before she stopped bringing home food.  She showed me that women could mow the lawn, before she proved she could not survive without a man or drugs.  She handmade Halloween costumes before she started leaving holiday decorations out year round. She told me I was smart and pretty, before she told me how much she hated me. I was kissed and touched on the forehead when I was sick before I ever had to roll her on her side to prevent her from drowning in her own vomit.  On my 17th birthday I left home and The Cape for the last time.  I took only the good stuff with me.  At least that’s what I thought.  But today, the bad shit creeps back into my head and my heart and my bones and I’m angry that she’s infiltrated.

My mother was a woman with limited to non-existent coping skills. She was wild and simple. She has always needed more love and attention than any one person could sustain. She did the best she could with what she was made of. She loved me. She loved us, the best way she knew how. To the surprise of some, I never questioned whether or not she loved me. She was once good intentioned, beautiful, passionate and fun. She just couldn’t deal. With anything.

I’m grateful to her for life. I just want out now. I want the right to decide who is in my life and who is not. I would like to never see her again. I don’t want to help her, and I don’t wish bad things for her, and in my opinion that’s relatively gracious of me. I don’t want to field calls about her. I don’t want to be asked “mother’s maiden name” on websites. I don’t want to explain each time I’m asked for medical history. I want her out of my mind, and I want the weight of her lifted from my body.  I just want my sentence to be over.

I want to draw my hands back and blow the dust away…for me…and for her. If there was a plug, I would pull it.

7 thoughts on “You Can’t Pull The Plug on Trauma

  1. The descriptions are so beautiful even when the things you are describing are not. In your writing I can see the woman you see now and the woman and mother she once was. Also, exhaustion and wear and tear on the adult is evident. You don’t want pity or even, at times, this connection and yet it is yours.

    I love it all but this is my favorite paragraph:

    “I don’t sit around wishing I had been loved more. I don’t wish for someone else’s life and I don’t feel regret for mine or entitlement to some other kind of life. I don’t want to understand PTSD and I don’t want to feel it either. I was nurtured. I was loved. I was breastfed and held. I was potty trained and hugged and kissed and snuggled. I had my hair braided perfectly, long before she pulled it to punch me. I know I gave her joy long before the weight of motherhood smothered her chances of happiness. She taught me to cook before she stopped bringing home food. She showed me that women could mow the lawn, before she proved she could not survive without a man or drugs. She handmade Halloween costumes before she started leaving holiday decorations out year round. She told me I was smart and pretty, before she told me how much she hated me. I was kissed and touched on the forehead when I was sick before I ever had to roll her on her side to prevent her from drowning in her own vomit. On my 17th birthday I left home and The Cape for the last time. I took only the good stuff with me. At least that’s what I thought. But today, the bad shit creeps back into my head and my heart and my bones and I’m angry that she’s infiltrated.

    This line too:
    “I don’t want to understand PTSD and I don’t want to feel it either makes me wince, laugh and want to cry all at the same time.”

    No one WANTS TO and the oh no of realizing that the body has been infiltrated even if the personality seems to be at peace (or o.k. with not being). SO POWERFUL. That conflict. Just want it to BE and FEEL over. And it doesn’t always happen despite that willingness or desire or need…

    This line kicked me in the gut because I so believe and can feel the truth of both and how real and at odds they are.

    “I was kissed and touched on the forehead when I was sick before I ever had to roll her on her side to prevent her from drowning in her own vomit.”

    Keep writing PLEASE. YOU ARE AN AMAZING WRITER and TRUTH TELLER and it will help the heart pounding at least some!!!!

    Love,
    Cis

  2. Your a talented writer, your style describing what you see and feel is very articulate and has a gracefulness to it. I hope you continue and I look forward to the next entry.

    T

  3. When someone writes something as compelling and raw as this piece, plus is able to do so with such eloquence, it is a rare gift to all of us who have in some fashion shared her journey. I hope Heidi continues to write. Her words reminded me of a female vocalist belting out a song with incredible strength. Keep on singing, girl. People need to hear this.

    1. I’m sorry you share a similar journey. However, I firmly and strongly believe that experiences like ours have the potential to create feeling people. People who feel stories, music, places, experiences and people more deeply and more passionately. “Sensitive” is a word I don’t always love, but I tend to think trauma survivors are more acutely aware of (sensitive to) the world.
      Thank you for your sweet sweet words of encouragement!

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