It’s been a long time since you’ve asked me to comment on the book you wrote about your mom’s suicide. I think you are amazing to write about it and I’m glad that you did. I don’t enjoy bringing that chapter of life to mind, given the chaos of those years, but I’ve thought about it often. Especially when I think about what it means to be a mother and uncovering fresh layers of fucked up that we both learned from our mothers.
I know it’s not fair of me to judge them now — but it’s hard not to.
I took your mom’s suicide hard.
Talking about my relationship with your mom is hard for me because I admired her very much — I was flabbergasted by the way that she slipped back into drugs and addiction.
I was shocked that she abandoned you like that. I was just shocked.
I couldn’t believe your mom would die by suicide.
I still can’t.
I remember the first time I met your mom, I was playing in the front yard while she moved in across the street. She introduced herself from over the fence and told me that she had a daughter just my age, with my name: “I have a Sarah too.”
By the time you came to visit for the summer she had already arranged that we would be playmates. She even arranged a phone call between us before your visit.
When you showed up at my front door, I knew we would be lifelong friends.
My mom worked a lot and my dad was physically or mentally absent most of the time, so your home was like a second home to me.
During these years, your house felt like a Norman Rockwell to me, though now I see that it was far from it.
My mom remarried a man who was addicted to heroin, while at your house, your mom packed lunches, set up the tent in the backyard for us to “camp,” and made goody bags filled with candy. She took us to the zoo, the mall, and the flea market. She prescreened movies, took us for mint chocolate chip ice cream cones, and insisted that you wore a bike helmet. I remember going with her to an NA picnic in the park and how proud she was of her sober chips. We’d to admire the shiny metal coins she earned for racking up months and years of sobriety.
I envied the amount of time and attention that your mom spent with you when she was sober As a kid, I saw your mom as kind, fair, the type who would take the time to listen.
When your mom died by suicide, I was glad that she had doted on you those years before she started using again.
As my home life became marked by violence and fear, I began that the world was full of bad people. I quickly became withdrawn to protect myself.
Beth was a reminder that there were safe adults in the world.
When my stepfather and my mom first started fighting, I called your house in the middle of the night. I was so scared. I didn’t know what was happening or what to do.
It was very late and your mom answered the phone and insisted that I tell her what was happening. My stepfather hadn’t started hitting my mom yet, but the yelling was really over the top. She gave me a speech about how adults sometimes argue and it can be scary for children to hear and explained that my mom and step dad would never want to do anything to scare me. She told me to go downstairs and tell them that they were scaring me and I couldn’t sleep. They told me to go back up to my room.
Many nights of fighting followed with growing intensity and I tried to call you but ended up talking to Beth.
Beth eventually called my mom and told her that she was concerned about me – I was in big trouble. I was forbidden to speak about “private family business.” It worked: I didn’t speak of the violence again until after his death.
The violence escalated and my stepfather began beating my mom and my brother when he was angry. We moved on several occasions to get away from him.
The emotional abuse from my stepfather became our new normal and we began spending school nights on random people’s sofas, hiding our car down the street.
I spent as much time as possible at friend’s houses and took up babysitting to get out of the house on weekends.
Beth was the only person who knew what was happening; I’d assumed that she would be the person to help me out of that situation. I’m no longer sure she understood how bad things had gotten. She provided me a safe place to go whenever I needed one and a reminder that there are kind people in the world. She told me that I should become one of them. She affirmed that there were a lot of fucked-up things in the world and they would probably never make sense.
Honestly, I don’t know how I would have turned out without Beth as a moral reference point during those years.
Beth became addicted to codeine cough syrup and her behavior changed: she didn’t take us on outings she slept all day everyday. One occasion when she woke up, I remember her running down the hallway singing “boo boop be boo.” This is when I learned that there was something wrong. I was pretty sure that people with bronchitis didn’t do that kind of thing normally.
I knew things were coming unhinged for you, but was too young to appreciate the full weight of what was happening.
I lived in Beth’s house twice, once for a short time when I ran away after my stepfather died and for the school term after that.
By the time I officially lived with Beth she was pretty far gone in her addiction. She slept or was gone most of the time.
It seemed that you were on your own, too.
I still cared what Beth thought of me. She seemed one of the few people who didn’t see me as a lost cause and so I didn’t see myself that way when I was around her.
On Fridays, Beth would take us to the grocery store. She taught us how to grocery shop and some very basic cooking skills.
Things went sour when my mom suspected Beth was using the money she gave her for things other than my upkeep. You and Beth were at odds more often than not. I decided it was best to move back home. Home was a sort of hell, but it was my own hell and I knew how to navigate it.
I didn’t see much of Beth after that.
I’d spend weekends at her apartment while she agreed to leave us totally unattended. The last time I saw her, she’d picked me up from my house to bring me back to your house for the weekend. I remember her being warm and chatting with me for the ride, though I can’t remember what about.
I remember her smiling and I remember that she mentioned that you were unhappy with her these days.
The next time I saw her she was in a coma.
Atrophied hands, hair cut short, dead to the world.
No warm smile, no more sun-kissed freckles, no more frizzy bun atop her head.
She was gone to the world and she couldn’t recover. That’s the last I saw her.
I couldn’t talk about her death with you. It didn’t seem like you wanted to and then you were gone I knew that she let you down and ultimately abandoned you with her suicide. You have every right to be angry with her; hell I was angry on your behalf.
I was just shocked and sad. I think I felt abandoned too.
The next few years were hard for us; the one person I saw as a safe adult had succumbed to drugs and took her own life. It didn’t add up.
Suicide was cruel and yet I remembered her as such a kind person.
There was nothing I could say that would lessen the pain for you so I said nothing.
You remind me of her because you look so much like her now. If you want to talk about what happened, I’d let you start.
What is there to say now, after all of these years?
That was fucked up. There is some fucked up bad shit in the world and it will never make sense, but there is some wonderful stuff too. I think that, despite it all, we both turned out to be people who contribute more to the good than to the uglyl.
I hold you close in my heart, my sister and my dear friend.
With much love,
Having addiction run in your family is one of the hardest thing to shield our children from. Sometimes, we just can’t help our children.
This is part one of a three part series from one of our amazing Facebook friends.
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My daughter Katy was always a challenge – she’d not left the Terrible Twos – and when she got older, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). As much of a challenge as she could be, she was also very pretty, smart, and funny. One of my favorite memories is how she loved to eat so much that she’d eat in her sleep – sometimes she’d fall asleep and wake up and continue chewing. No one came between her and her food.
My very favorite Katy moment was right after she was born, they laid her on me, and she lifted her head and looked right at me. Crazy, right?
I still hold that moment close to my heart – has gotten me through a lot of tough times.
Addiction runs in the family, her father was an addict, and by the time she was five, we divorced. He was a terrible, mean person, but never did anything that kept him from seeing his kids. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t just pack up the kids and leave.
By the seventh grade, Katy had begun doing drugs and skipping school.
We fought a lot and when Katy was 16, she told me that she wanted to go live with her dad. Instead of my usual, “you can go when the judge says so,” I said,
“You can go and you can come back if you change your mind, but if you do this again, you cannot come back to live with me. I can’t keep doing this back and forth.”
And that was exactly what happened, she stayed a few weeks and came home. Her father moved in with Katy’s grandfather, who was dying of cancer, and Katy helped out with him and the problems caused by cancer. She decided to stay with her dad and go to school there.
Her grandpa was on hospice which meant that he had a lot of morphine around. Later, I realized that her dad was taking his father’s morphine and giving it to Katy.
Morphine turned into methamphetamines and our relationship began to crumble.
By then, I’d gotten remarried and my new husband didn’t want her to live with us when she asked to move back in. I enforced my previous statement, telling her that she couldn’t come home.
Shortly thereafter, she moved back in with her dad.
In 2007, she married a nice guy; one who complemented Katy well. She was very manipulative and he was able to deal with it. Unfortunately, after he joined the Army Reserves and was deployed to Egypt, which left Katy alone with my newborn granddaughter, Rae. Her daughter’s birth, of course, was crippled with complications; she developed a uterine infection and a week after discharge, her uterus burst.
After her major surgery, the doctors told Katy that she probably couldn’t have any more kids.
Katy was a fierce mom. She was a good mother – very firm but fair. Rae still has excellent manners and is very well-behaved because of her amazing mother. During her ten day hospital stay, she fought the nurses to make sure she could nurse Rae. Once home, she was in huge amounts of pain. This is when I believe her addiction to opiates began.
With her husband away in Egypt, Katy got involved with an old friend and with her pain pill prescriptions used up, she turned to heroin. Our relationship was still very shaky – when I told her she wasn’t allowed to come to Easter, we didn’t speak for over a year. Even still, she let me see my granddaughter.
Drugs had rotted her teeth and beautiful smile. The poor thing had to have them extracted and get dentures. I was with her and it was gruesome.
For my own mental health, I had to distance myself from her. I couldn’t deal with the drama in her life – especially the drama with her father. He, and I believe Katy as well, had borderline personality disorder. She was a difficult person – always talking, needing help, wanting something, craving love, starved for attention, and it drained my husband and son. I’d try to avoid getting drawn into her drama, but she’d sense me pulling away and she’d draw me back in.
When Mike, her husband returned from Egypt, Mike began using heroin as well and the three of them moved in with my ex-husband.
On and off drugs, Katy was overwhelming.
At 56, her dad died due to multiple overdoses. He’d been a heavy drinker and drug abuser all of his life. As Katy had bought the drugs that killed him, so her half-brothers blamed her for their dad’s death. They became estranged, which broke Katy’s heart as she loved family above all.
Both Katy and my son, Chris were very relieved when their dad died because he was so cruel to them. Katy replied to someone who said that “he was in a better place” by saying that “no, he was in hell.”
In 2017, Katy began the process of getting clean and sober and had moved to a city with a friend to get away from her husband who was still using.
She’d gone to the hospital for something and called me afterward, stating that she’d been diagnosed with lymphoma – a kind of cancer.
I didn’t believe her.
I thought she was faking it and using the lymphoma as a way for us to take her in. We had a huge blowout and she turned around and left my house.
Thanks to the heroin, her husband Mike had a bad heart valve and needed open heart surgery, and, being a caregiver, she moved back in with him.
That summer, she ended up staying with us in our cabin in Pennsylvania and I noticed she was tired. Always so tired. She slept so much and so often that I wondered if she was on drugs.
Concerned, we took her to a hospital in Pittsburgh on Father’s Day 2017 where she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).
I remember staring at those three awful words written on a whiteboard in her room. She had been within days of dying. Days.
And I hadn’t believed her.
The hospital started her treatment and we had her transferred to the Cleveland Clinic closer to our house. From then on, I was on auto-pilot.
I was a caretaker too: my mom was bipolar which meant that I had to take care of her when I was a kid.
I was the oldest of four and my parents divorced when I was 15, so becoming her caretaker fell into my lap. She’d made numerous suicide attempts and was in and out of the inpatient psych ward multiple times a year.
My dad had a stroke 12 years ago and was in and out of the hospital and nursing homes for seven months before he died. I went multiple times a week to visit, it was nice to spend time with him.
I was raised to be a caretaker.
I stayed with Katy constantly from the moment she had been admitted until the day she died. There were a few nights that her friends would spend time with her so that I could rest. Otherwise, I slept on a chair that converted to a bed. I showered in the family showers and drank coffee from their family lounge
Katy’s first treatment course lasted five weeks and she was stuck in the hospital for the entirety of it. The staff was awesome. They didn’t even mention the track marks on her arms or asked if she’d done drugs.
And that was the beginning of the end for us all.
That’s the hour she woke me up, screaming. Still going on about last night’s argument. When I realize it, I shrug it off and ignore her while she screams obsenities at me.
Just another one of her episodes, I tell myself. But another one on Christmas. Usually these episodes last for one week to three. If I’m lucky, that’s getting away easy.
“Ungrateful stupid child, I do everything for you. *Curse word* and you get mad because I say this simple word in front of your son that isn’t even a curse word. All the things I do for both of you, you should be ashamed of yourself.”
It’s kind of hard to shut off that voice from my brain when it’s waking me up at that hour. When it’s shouting at me so hotly, hurting my ears. Still, I ignore her because I’m genuinely tired; I put my son to bed almost at 2 AM and managed to fall asleep at 4:30.
“DRESS UP! YOU’RE COMING WITH ME.”
No, simply no. That’s all I said. There was no power on earth that was going to move me from that bed in that very moment, like there was no power on earth last night that was going to make me do as she said.
This triggered one of her episodes, which I had coming for two days now. My cousin had been staying over for two days doing all she commanded and asked, making him do chores. Simple things she could do herself, she just loves saying to someone “do this” and they go like well-trained puppies and do as they are told. Kind of funny how sweet and nice she was to him and how sometimes she was actually nice to me.
Until he left. That’s when the screaming, cursing, putting-down began.
*Hears keys in the door.*
And this is when my peace is over. Shame, I thought my son was finally going to have a day off to run around.
I don’t know how keys still don’t trigger memories and anxiety…. Oh wait, never mind. I realize just now how much I dread hearing them every time at the door. It makes me jump whenever she comes home.
I went to my psychiatrist today.
Through our one-sided conversations where I talk while he writes, I realized that through my childhood and adolescent years I felt like I was never wanted. I was just ‘there.’ A nuisance. A pain. Not a being – but a thing that was part of life. How awful for a child to go through life feeling like this.
Then it hit me that the child I was sympathizing with was me. I was distancing myself from MY actual life by thinking of myself as a ‘thing’ instead of a being.
Self-loathing takes on so many forms … it mutates in your brain to become something from another world. A world of hate.
Why would I feel this way? I don’t want to ask “who made me feel this way,” but rather, why? Why did I – why DO I – not hold myself to a higher standard in my own mind? Why do I hate myself so much? When did it start? I have so many questions today that I wish could be answered.
“Is it my own fault?”