For Mother’s Day this year, I reported my mom’s “pain specialist” doctor to the DEA. I honestly don’t know why it took me this long, because I don’t remember a time when my mom wasn’t addicted to painkillers, an addiction this doctor has enabled and supported for about two decades. Make no mistake, she’ll judge anyone for being addicted to heroin, or even smoking a little weed now and then, but she will take her daily time-release dose of oxycodone, with her additional as-needed oxy chaser –– because she “needs” them.
I’m willing to believe that she was once a reasonable person capable of functioning in society, but she hasn’t been that person since I was 11 or 12. I’m also willing to believe she suffered or suffers from chronic pain, but at some point, the lines became blurred between her actual medical problems and the toll that 20 years of opiate use takes on the body and mind.
You may be familiar with my mom. She’s rather infamous among my friends and acquaintances for her hilarious/ridiculous text messages. But the amusement she provides comes with some much darker shit. I have never been the child she wanted –– the girly girl, her best friend, a heterosexual, a virgin until marriage, a Christian, a married baby factory by 25, etc. –– and she has never stopped trying to change me into that person.
When I was a child and teenager, arguments over simple things like her doing my hair routinely turned into full-on meltdowns where she cried and yelled and threatened suicide. Simple questions or minor criticism brought meltdowns, too, usually of the “you and your dad don’t appreciate me” or “you just don’t know how hard it is” variety. At one point in high school, I got so sick of her threatening to blow her brains out that I rounded up all the firearms in the house and hid them from her, not because I thought she would actually do it but so she’d shut up.
She relied on me for purpose and meaning rather than addressing her obvious mental health issues. Telling your teenage child that she is the only reason you get up in the morning isn’t a compliment –– it’s manipulative and incredibly burdensome. So I turned to my dad for support, and found other mother figures to do the mothering she wasn’t.
Even now that I’m an adult, she asks me to support and advise her as though I were her friend, not her daughter. It’s like she knows what she thinks a mother is supposed to do and how one is supposed to act, but she can only mimic those qualities –– like how she tells me I’m beautiful and perfect, and then fat shames me or criticizes my hair; or how she loves to brag about how I work for a “human rights” organization, but won’t say it’s an LGBT rights organization; or how she thinks she loves and supports my queerness, but routinely says things that suggest I’m some sort of sexual deviant or there’s something wrong with me (like telling me not to sleep with my cousin who is also queer –– my COUSIN –– or saying that I’m only bisexual because a lesbian raped me, which is not even remotely a thing that happened, for the record).
My mother is manipulative, volatile, irrational, racist, homophobic, childish, and the most narcissistic person I know. She completely lacks self-awareness and blatantly lies to get attention. She’s a toxic person and a terrible mother. She’s unreliable and inept at nearly everything while simultaneously judgemental as hell. She hurts me and angers me in ways that no one else in the world can. But she loves me, in whatever way she’s able, and maybe that counts for something. I honestly don’t know.
I often wonder how she became this way. My grandparents were sweet, kind, loving people, but my uncle is a fascist and my aunt is an even more severe version of my mom, so there’s something going on there. Mostly, I blame the combination of untreated mental illness and drug addiction, enabled by a doctor who encouraged her hypochondria and pumped her full of drugs that should only be given to someone dying of a terminal illness.
For Mother’s Day, I struck back at her enabler, probably because I don’t know how to fix her, help her, deal with her, or make her go away. I can’t bring myself to either love her or hate her completely, and that’s a complicated emotional space to be in. I hope that one day I can apply my abundant capacity for empathy to her, that I can see her as someone who hurts me and who has broken me because she is herself a hurt and broken person. Ultimately, on some level, I know that she, like everyone else, is doing the best she can with what she has. And I hope that knowledge will one day bring me comfort and allow me to forgive her for the many things she will never apologize for. But it’s going to take a few more Mother’s Days before I can get there.
All photos provided by the author