I’ve decided not to get out of bed today. I’m just wiped out. Too many nights in a row where Mom suddenly needs to crawl out of the bed for some reason, and if I weren’t such a light sleeper, she’d have fallen and broken something by now. That’s the last thing we need.
According to Wikipedia, C-PTSD, (Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome) isn’t currently recognized by the DSM-V, which is super helpful. The page does explain how C-PTSD is distinct from PTSD, in that PTSD is generally connected to a specific triggering event, whereas C-PTSD is connected to numerous and varied events, like ongoing childhood abuse one would find in an alcoholic household—as an example. An important quote from the page states that, “Some researchers believe that C-PTSD is distinct from, but similar to, PTSD, somatization disorder, dissociative identity disorder, and borderline personality disorder. Its main distinctions are a distortion of the person’s core identity and significant emotional dysregulation.”
In my case, I grew up in an unsafe environment that did involve alcohol, but not always.
There is a history of undiagnosed mental illness on both sides of my family, including depression, and probably bipolar disorder. Most days, my brothers and I never knew what would trigger an event. It could be something as insignificant as a stain on the kitchen counter that had been missed when we did our chores that afternoon, noticed upon our parents’ return home from work around 5:20 PM, that would escalate far into the evening, leaving everyone emotionally drained around 11:00 PM. Declarations of wanting to divorce the entire family would have been made at some point (by my mother), that we all had ruined her life, were making her miserable, and there would be so much incoherent yelling. Things that had been said months ago perhaps in passing would be brought up as accusations and proof of our hatred, or of our lack of moral fiber, and it would all end with everyone in tears, that we would each retreat to our separate rooms to sob and wonder. Nobody would have eaten. Homework would have been left undone.
The majority of the time it was between me and my mother that these events took place, but others would be circled in should they try to defend or cry foul. Too often I’d be left on my own as it would be difficult to face the inevitable onslaught should they try, and thus they’d stay quiet in their rooms.
At these times, I’d feel the outrage and injustice on my own and destroy my bedroom, flinging the drawers from my dresser across the room and crashing items from my bookcase, pulling the bedding from my bed, and then sit in the mess, sobbing. Eventually, my father would come in to lecture me about how I must control myself to keep the peace in the house. How it was up to me to not trigger these events, because I knew how she could be; I understood how she could get in these moods. It was all up to me to make the family work smoothly.
It was my fault when it all fell apart.
I recall a specific incident before The Twins were born when my brother and I were trying to finish a jigsaw puzzle on the coffee table before Tante (my mother’s best friend who lived in The City) came over for dinner that night. We were already dressed for the event, and our mother was trying to vacuum the living room. We were in the way, but we were concentrating on the puzzle. We kept moving around the coffee table as we worked, thinking that we were getting enough out of her way, but apparently it wasn’t good enough for her. Our father had left the house in the family car to get some wine and dinner rolls in town, as we lived in a new development outside of town.
Mom lost it.
She started running into us with the vacuum to get us out of the way. The coffee table wasn’t substantial, being one of those “Danish-modern” styles, and she banged that around too, sending our puzzle flying, and running over pieces with the vacuum. We were terrified, and squealed and ran to the corner of the room, clinging to each other in fear.
She put up the vacuum, stomped to the master bedroom, packed a suitcase, and left the house.
To this day, I have no idea how long she was gone, or what, exactly, happened next. I think Tante came soon after, as the door was left open and we were huddled together, crying? Then my Dad came and then left, looking for my Mom, while Tante tended to us and tried to soothe us.
For a long time afterward, I remember my brother having incredible anxiety any time my parents left us alone in the car to go grocery shopping, or to run any kind of errand. This was back in the sixties, when it was common to leave the kids in the car unattended. He would always sob in terror when they would leave, and his terror would trigger mine, and we would both cry as we saw them walking away, despite them reassuring us that they’d be back soon. As such things go, I’d say this was the mildest part of what we went through, and after a few minutes, we’d make up some kind of game to amuse ourselves while they were gone.
[EDIT] My brother just stopped by to check in with me and Mom, and reminded me of another time when this happened, same circumstance, different people coming over (my Godfather and his wife), only this time Mom hopped on a bus and went all the way to Sacramento, and Dad had to spend several hours driving all the way up there to track her down and bring her back. Yikes. I’d blocked this one out. I need to point out that I’m barely three years older than The Twins, so this is very early abandonment trauma.
There was a lot of playing us off of each other while growing up. By my mother. Playing favorites. There was a definite hierarchy of beloved-ness in our family, and I was lowest on that totem pole.
My father, on the other hand, was inaccessible and remote. I have some vague early memories of sexual abuse before The Twins were born.
So I guess I ask the world to forgive me if my thinking is off sometimes. I’m entrained to not trust what I see. I’m entrained to not believe what I hear. I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Because these games my Mom has played with the family didn’t end when my father shot himself in the garage in 1995.
They didn’t end when she abruptly sold the family home and moved to Phoenix in 1999.
I went through cancer treatment without the support of my mother, because she didn’t believe I had cancer at first. She thought I had made it up for attention. So I stopped speaking to her for a couple of years because I just couldn’t deal with that. And that certainly wasn’t the first time I had stopped speaking to her since moving out of the family home.
And now? Now, I sit with her at an in-patient care center, while she sleeps on the verge of a kidney-failure coma, near death, and I write what many would consider to be horrible things to write about one’s mother when one’s mother is about to die. There’s no good time to write these things. Since my cancer, I’ve decided I need to be more blunt. It’s not pretty, and it’s not nice, but it’s the truth. I’m just telling the truth. It’s the only virtue I have. It’s the only virtue that matters, when it comes to dealing with humans. Humans are very, very good at avoiding the truth.
But as for me being the person that is here, by her bedside? I hold no actual grudge toward her. She is a damaged person, who has never confronted her fears and wounds. I think she is doing so now, in her sleep; in her dreams, before she slips away. I’m holding space for her to do that and keeping her body safe while she does so. It should be me who’s here to do that. I know my damage. I know what’s there, for the most part. I’m aware that I’m a work in progress.
I do pretty well, as long as I don’t try to do romance—that area of my life is one jumbled, fucked-up trash heap that I’m still working on. It would take a Saint’s patience to get me through to the other side.
But I do fine on my own, so I think I’ll just fly solo from here on out.