Note: this post talks about suicide, emotional abuse, child abuse, and addiction. If you are triggered by any of these subjects, please be aware and make sure you’re in a safe headspace before reading it.
I have been thinking about the past today. It started pretty mundanely–a friend mentioned a book that I haven’t read since tenth grade. But that led to the realization that tenth grade was some nine years ago, nearly a decade. And that, in turn, led to the realization of what was actually a decade ago.
In June, 2003, I was twelve years old and my sister was ten. We lived with my mother, my father, a dog and a rabbit in a small apartment in urban Winnipeg. My father travelled quite a bit for work–and does still–so it was often only my mother taking care of us.
I say she took care of us. In reality the opposite is almost more accurate. My mother is an alcoholic with a severe mood disorder (my sister and I are also mentally ill, but in different ways). She expected us, from the time we were very young indeed, to support her in her depressive periods, to be the ones who reassured her that we loved her, cared about her, were there for her when our father was away. She would regularly go out for groceries and come back hours later, empty-handed but wildly drunk, and spend the rest of the evening dancing to cacophonously loud music in the living room until she passed out.
This pattern was years old, in June, 2003. It was familiar. We coped with it as well as we could manage.
Until one day in the middle of June, 2003, while my sister and I were trying to recover from her most recent bout of emotional manipulation, she sat down at the dining room table, and proceeded to take every prescription pill she had.
We realized almost immediately–in fact, as soon as she had taken the pills, she called us in and told us what she had done. When my sister called 911, our mother helpfully told us exactly what pills she had taken, information we relayed to the emergency responder.
She survived. She set everything up very deliberately so she would; it would have been the easiest thing in the world for her to take the pills when we weren’t home, if she was so inclined. It was never about her wanting to die. It was about her wanting us to prove that we cared enough to save her. Shortly thereafter, we moved out of that house–our grandmother took care of us until our father returned from work, and it didn’t take long for him to secure sole custody (for obvious reasons). Mom spent some time in a mental hospital, where we visited her regularly until moving halfway across the country that fall.
I still saw my mother regularly after June, 2003. I only completely severed contact with her nearly six years later, in early 2009. But after that June day, while she was still my mother, and I still loved her, I was never able to trust her again. I was never able to persuade myself, as I once could, that she cared about her children as anything other than a tool for her own emotional validation.
In June, 2003, a woman failed to commit suicide. But my relationship with her, nonetheless, had started to die.