Our parents can’t save us, no matter how much we wish they had, or could.
When I was 27, I descended into madness. It didn’t begin then. That process began so many years before, perhaps when I was born: the same and yet so different.
There were stages to this madness: a child so serious in her mind, so multi-faceted, and yet so plain, so vanilla, so unassuming on the outside. Nobody could know the havoc I wreaked on myself behind closed doors.
Don’t tell. No one ever told me that – and yet, there are other ways of instilling the silence, the desire to please, to fit in, to become invisible. Don’t cry, don’t feel, don’t talk too much.
When I was 21, I drank for the first time. By 23, I was an alcoholic. My world shattered. I moved almost 500 miles away, to another state, another city. And yet, invisible as I felt, I wanted my parents to see me. Even as I pushed them away. I self-medicated my shattering and then I turned to medicine. Doctors turned to shrinks, and shrinks turned to prescription drugs.
I became physically ill as well. I gave up a job, and got another – a good job. I took the pills that held me together and pulled me apart. Ones that saved me, ones that nearly killed me. I was the epitome of the walking wounded, only no one could see it.
I skirted away from admission that first time, not knowing what was happening to me. Months later, I embraced it: the thought that ECT would somehow render my shattered self together. Not logical, yes, but there’s no logic in madness. They didn’t administer ECT, in fact, they didn’t treat me at all. They sent me back for more years of medication and therapy. It was only private cognitive therapy that restored me from the brink – doled out in carefully measured appointments by train, tram and foot – ones that saved me, but earned me criticism from my boss for taking too much time off work.
At 28, after suicide attempts, divorce and my father’s death, I began to collect the pieces of what was left of my twenties. Nothing much. Around about that time, I realized that the only one who could save me from that abyss – as much as I longed to be saved – was me.
18 years after that last hospitalization – I still skirt the edge. There are good days and bad days. Since those days I’ve been fortunate to have found someone to love – someone who embraced and loved that shattered self – even if I couldn’t yet. I’m still learning.
And me – that 24 year-old self that knew that I was too ill for parenthood – somehow ended up as a parent of daughters who are now in their twenties with their own struggles.
The little voice says: don’t tell, don’t share too much.
I thought I would be different. I thought I wouldn’t be my parents. I thought I would be there for my children: I would see them; I would be proud of them; I would raise them up; and I would make a difference in their lives. I have tried to do that for the past 13 years.
So when I see them self-medicating, as I did, who am I to be the hypocrite to say “stop”? I see the ghost in your eyes and it scares me because I see my younger self.
We don’t live 500 miles away. We live in the same town, in the same house at times, and I still feel invisible on the other side. It doesn’t make a difference my being here.
This is my lesson. I can’t save you, as much as I love you – as much as I want to. It drives me crazy that coming at parenting from such a different angle: I just made a slew of other mistakes. I have to let you live your life as I try to live mine. And yet, you still teach me a lesson in your distance – as I see my younger self – and realize it’s not too late to embrace her and pull her back from the brink.
I have to find the courage to say my words – to rebuild my shattered house – to find the parts of my soul that have been thrown to the wind in an effort to save others who didn’t ask to be saved. I have to do what I should have done so many years ago.
I have to save myself.