My entire house has been sick. My son got sick with a bad cough, then I got it, then my husband and now my son has it all over again. I’m exhausted. But this is a normal scenario for any family with children. So why do I struggle so much? Every now and then, I google, “why do I struggle when my son gets sick”. I think I’m searching for someone to tell me, “it’s ok, you’re normal, we have all been there”. The more I attempt to find that reassurance, the more I realize, I just need to write about it, in hopes that maybe this feeling will help someone else feel less alone. Because when my son gets sick, I simply shut down. I get anxious, overwhelmed, isolate myself and feel like I simply suck as a mom.
Some might wonder, why? Why am I so incredibly hard on myself? An answer that I already know, but have to continually remind myself; there are lifelong effects of losing a parent at a young age as well as growing up in a family plagued by addiction. Effects that I am still learning to cope with. Some months, I balance my own history of trauma so well, that anyone on the outside looking in would think wow, she’s got her shit together. But the reality is, I don’t have it together. I fight for it EVERY SINGLE DAY. Not to mention, I am on the doorstep of early menopause (that will be an entirely separate post), so every month comes with its own new adventure!
When you lose your mom at a young age, you lose much more than the presence of your mother. You lose your guide, your rock, your unconditional support that is supposed to be there no matter what. Right? But what if you never really had that in the first place? Losing my mom at 15 was simply devastating, but as I’ve written before, I honestly lost her when I was much younger. I really don’t remember her a presence in my life other than holidays, which were some of my fondest memories. But when I was sick, when I was scared, I have no recollection of my mother comforting me or being there for me. Part of my childhood, she worked full time, and the other part, she was far too sick to care for anyone. At 15 years old, continuing on without her with a father that pretty much worked his way through his grief, left me lacking that feeling of security that a parent often provides. My dad did the best he could, but he was just keeping his head above water, raising two teenagers.
The consistent presence of a loving, caring parent disappears not only upon the death of a parent, but given my mother was an alcoholic most of my childhood, I had to grow up pretty quick. Instead of having a caregiver, I was often left figuring things out on my own while trying to stay under the radar so I was not a burden. Sad that I remember feeling this way. In doing my own research, I understand that one of my biggest triggers as a mom is when my son is sick. When he gets sick, I shut down. I get anxious, fearful and often tell myself, “I’m clueless, what if I don’t know what to do?” It is a vicious cycle, one that I am working on, but when I am in the thick of it, I simply lose any confidence as a mom. Sadly, 30 years after my mother’s death, I am still feeling the effects of it. But when my son gets sick, I really struggle. I struggle between being afraid of not knowing what to do and being there for him in a way that I never felt. Being there for him with whatever he needs as I have absolutely no memory of my mother being there for me when I was sick, or scared or upset. I struggle to ask for help from my friends because when you are the Child of an Alcoholic, you never ask for help. You simply do everything you can to make everyone else happy. Plus, sometimes, I actually don’t even know what kind of help to ask for. Sometimes, I just want someone to come in and unconditionally take care of me like a mom would. I think I’m just craving something that I honestly never had.
The feedback I have continued to get from caring friends who see this cycle continue like clockwork is generally, “you should have told me”, or “you have tons of friends that would help”. I honestly don’t know why it is so hard for me to ask. Probably because when I do, it comes with a mountain of guilt that I don’t deserve the help. I don’t know why? Maybe because my entire childhood was pretty much spent taking care of myself. From a very young age, I learned how to stay under the radar. I learned how to do my own laundry, make my own meals and pretty much do as much for myself so as not to be a burden on my family. That is how you exist when you are the child of an Alcoholic. Much of my childhood, I believed that the source of my mother’s drinking stemmed from my very existence. I didn’t understand that her illness was something that had absolutely nothing to do with me.
Sometimes I feel like I’m just maneuvering my way through motherhood so as not to cause a wave in the lives of others…pretty much until I reach a breaking point that leaves me feeling completely overwhelmed and like the biggest failure of a mom. Yes, I know dramatic, but this is what a wave of anxiety will do to you during what I call “my perfect storm”. You know, it’s times like this that I am so thankful for those friends who refuse to take “I’m ok” as the answer. Those friends who have no idea that the simple gesture of dropping off soup even though I said “I’m ok” can turn a day of sadness into an evening of joy and gratitude. Because some of us say we are ok, but we really aren’t. Some of us just feel undeserving. Some of us never had a cheerleader or an advocate at a young age. Some of us feel like a burden. Some of us fear that if we are honest with how we are truly feeling, that those whom we care most deeply about will just go away. Because sometimes the realities of having had so much loss can just be too much to bear. Some of us so desperately want an unconditional love that only a parent can give and the reality is, we don’t have that option. While I understand that even some who have both of their parents do not have this, just knowing it’s not an option is a feeling I would not wish on anyone. I can’t tell you how many times this week I have prayed for someone to just give me a hug and say, “I’m so sorry that you are feeling so overwhelmed, go rest, I’ll take care of everything”. Because when your entire house is sick, no one is an option. Not even your spouse.
My therapist recently told me that I am way too hard on myself. She reminded me that while everyone has their challenges, I have managed to build an incredible life for myself, have a thriving career, a beautiful family and always find a way to help others. She encouraged me to remember all that I am accomplishing on my own without the support. Upon listening to her encouragement, I burst into tears. My rational brain knows all of this, but damn it’s nice to hear it out loud. It really is.
The other day I was at the bus stop with my neighbor who also has become a dear friend. As I spent a moment venting to her about how tired and overwhelmed I was (which was funny given she is a Nurse and works 12-hour shifts…talk about tired!!). She got very quiet and tears began to well up in her eyes. She went on to say that she usually sees her mom every day, and she knows how lucky she is to have that relationship with her. Next without even realizing what an incredible gift she had just given me, she breathlessly said, “you don’t have that, and I’m so sorry”. That small acknowledgment meant the world to me. Her empathy. Her true, genuine care and emotion that came through that morning carried me through the rest of the day. This is one of the biggest reasons I always stress the need for empathy and the need for kindness in our society. Sometimes, you never know how much the impact of one’s words might have on another person, positive or negative. Choose your words wisely and with the best of intentions….what a difference it might make in someone else’s life…
As always, thanks for reading….