I had a good mother. She was kind and thoughtful. She loved our family very much. Even in the midst of her own suffering she made sure birthdays and christmases were celebrated. But the woman in this story was not my mother. The woman in this story was controlled by mental disease and was sick all the way down to her soul. In her darkest moments the only comfort she could find was pulling others into her hellacious world, because at least then she wouldn’t be alone. My mother was plagued with bipolar disorder, mild schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, manic depression, morbid obesity, diabetes, nerve damage in her arms and legs from cutting herself, sleep apnea, and at times, hearing voices. At the height of her sickness, which fell squarely on my young adolescent years, it wasn’t uncommon for her to take out her pain on those around her, as we have all done. She was a deeply loving woman with a tormented soul and we all had to learn the difference between mom and her disease.
My brother and sister left home about the same time. Jay went off to college and Missy married young. Both of them began to move on with their lives as young adults are expected to. My father was working a lot, as he had been doing for years, and so Mom and I spent a lot of time, just the two of us. I was for the most part my mother’s primary caretaker. I would make her food, get her drinks, pick up the random item from the store that she would be craving for that week. I still can hear her banging on the wall of her bedroom with her cane and calling my name at 3 am until I awoke. “Scottie! Can you get me a Jello?” There were some awkward parts too like dressing her, giving her suppositories, and putting lotion on her feet, but I learned to take it all in stride because of something my uncle Ralph had told me. “Scot, there’s going to come a day when the tables will turn and you’ll take care of your parents the way they have taken care of you.” He was right, it was a part of life, I just didn’t anticipate it happening so soon.
In light of my mother’s dependence on me while Dad was working, you may imagine that one of the areas of friction was when I would want to go off with friends. Like any young man, newly licensed, I found myself wanting to spend more time away from home than at home but that wasn’t really an option with my mom’s condition. We tried to compromise but it seemed like she always knew what to say to keep me at home. Admittedly, at times I chose the victim role acting like Cinderella crying out for a fairy godmother to rescue me but my mom would raise the bar and appeal to my people pleasing with statements like “Fine, i’ll just stay here alone and rot in my room.” I was much too sympathetic to walk out on her then.
In no uncertain terms, I hated my life. I hated feeling captive. I hated that I wouldn’t be able to go to college because I felt that I needed to stay and take care of her. I hated the limitations it all put on me. I hated getting phone calls at school and wondering if she had actually killed herself this time. I hated hiding sharp things in the house. I hated the feeling of guilt that plagued me when she cut herself because I knew I could have done more. I should have done more. I had watched how she sought resolution through suicide for so long that it began to look like a viable way out for me too.
One night we were in another fight about wanting to go out and she was pleading with me to stay. For whatever reason I got bold and decided to express to her my hatred for being stuck at home all the time. She reminded me that it was no picnic for her either, being bed ridden, taking 20 prescriptions a day, having to lay in bed alone watching TV, with a cat as her only company. I was tired of the guilt and so I fired back with my own list of grievances which culminated with a statement that still makes me shutter, “Maybe I should just take a bunch of pills and kill myself like you! Then we’d both be happy!” And then it happened. She called my bluff. I tried one of her manipulation tactics on her and it backfired in the worst way. She threw a bottle of pills at me and with disbelief in her voice said “Go ahead.”
In a foolish and chaotic act of “I’ll show you” I swallowed about 30 pills and sank into her bedroom floor weeping over the fear that suddenly flooded me. Realizing her own part in this potentially life threatening tragedy she called 9-1-1 and then we waited for the ambulance to come. I drank a thick black ooze out of a styrofoam cup that tasted of charcoal that caused me to throw up repeatedly until I literally was emptied out.
While I can look back on the dramatic nature of this episode and see the ignorance of it, in the moment all I knew is that I wanted the pain to end and that I was willing to take drastic measures to find relief. This may not make sense just yet, but in many ways, that is exactly where I needed to be to find healing. You see in recovery we often say, “You’re not ready till you’re ready.” The fact that I was ready to end my life that night meant that I was willing to do anything it took to overcome my pain. Thankfully, God had a different means of providing relief than suicide.