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A Perception

April 26, 2008

Something my mother said made me see her, through a glass darkly. The reason she is chronically depressed is not just because of my father’s alcoholism generally, but most specifically because she wants to leave and does not feel she can. The reason she does not feel she can is not that he supports her but that she does not feel she should abandon him.

Meanwhile it is his alcoholism that makes her so lonely. It is her feeling she must stand by him, not an unwillingness to work or be on her own, that makes her feel so trapped. That is why she feels suicide would be her most graceful exit. Unwillingness to work or be on her own are ways she has of covering up for my father – that is, if she said she was staying because she felt bound to do so, it would dishonor them both, so she says it is her unwillingness to work.

It is easier to say that she is unwilling to work and that she wants to commit suicide than it is to say she wants to leave. Suicide is a metaphor for the death she suffers in the marriage and also the social or identity death, or transformation, she would have to suffer if she left it.

I am a reproduction of her although I do not play this dynamic out primarily with alcoholics or in the realm of marriage. I play it out elsewhere. One place I do play it out is with hostile workplaces.

  1. Chris permalink
    April 26, 2008 12:59 pm

    To me, it is often unnerving to see your parents through objective eyes like this.

    I always thought my parents were infallible and knew everything growing up, but as I became an adult and started to know what they had gone through, the idea of who they are/were totally changed.

    For your mother’s sake, I hope she finds a way to move beyond her state of resignation.

  2. Rent Party permalink
    April 26, 2008 9:33 pm

    Hi Chris! Having had in a few important ways to raise my parents, and still being in the process of doing it, I’ve always had to try to be objective but as one gets older and has more experiences, one is able to see more and more.

    Resignation, that’s the word. She’s 82, though. I just had a flash of illumination, in the midst of trying to compose an e-mail to her dissuading her from suicide, that this is why she always thought I was so arrogantly optimistic and also demanding of life … it is because she has no hope. She doesn’t understand non-resignation.

  3. Anna permalink
    April 26, 2008 11:03 pm

    Oh my – the sad co-dependency of alcoholism. I am so sorry about your mother. My former mother-in-law is her counterpart. She has lost her life to it – though she is still alive. My ex suffered from it as well. I understand the trap of feeling duty bound to someone while simultaneously losing oneself.

    I am so very sorry. Suicide – I don’t know what to say except to wish you strength in the face of this. I feel for you – I really do.

  4. momo permalink
    April 27, 2008 2:33 pm

    There’s a lot of compassion for your mother in this. At the same time, I have this feeling that when she says things like this, she is like one of those birds who is acting wounded to distract attention from her babies in danger: if you are having a hard time, she draws it onto herself and puts you in the position of being the caretaker, almost as if that would prevent you from being harmed, in a perverse way. I don’t mean to say that this is actually what is going on, just that this is what it sounds like through your story here.

  5. Rent Party permalink
    April 27, 2008 6:18 pm

    Anna – thank you!

    Momo – yes, she is doing this. We had a parody of one of my ex department chairs who would do the same thing.

    Person: Help! My a** is bleeding!
    Chair: But look! My feet have been cut off! [while his feet look just fine]

    However: that has always been obvious, that she does this. What I had not comprehended is the extent to which she really believes in resignation, really believes the entire world is that bad. But she does.

  6. Hesperis permalink
    April 29, 2008 2:23 am

    I know that what Mother wanted to tell me before she died was that she hated life. We hate life because we can’t live in its midst. And we want to live because we know we will die. But what has a solid core—rock, or bone, something dense and tightly woven, something which can be polished and modified with a rhythm different from the rhythm of death—can’t die. The voices we hear inside ourselves are incomprehensible, but they’re the only voices we hear, and there’s nothing else, except a few vaguely recognizable faces, and the suns and the planets. I understand why Mother hated life so much. But I think that if that was what she was trying to tell me before she died, it wasn’t to warn me, but to hear me tell her that she was wrong….

  7. Hesperis permalink
    April 29, 2008 2:50 am

    Oh heavens, just realized I didn’t give credit on that post …

    Juan Jose Saer wrote that.

  8. Rent Party permalink
    April 29, 2008 3:29 am

    And I haven’t read Saer, and should have. And yes – it’s interesting – my mother *also* fears death, or doesn’t really want to die, or something like this.

    I need to read the Saer novel.

  9. Adorable Girlfriend permalink
    April 29, 2008 6:16 pm

    This is the tragedy of alcoholism. It makes me want to scream. Alcoholism is something that continues to keep us all down and puts many in a cycle of learned helplessness.

    Grr. I hope your mom can find a way out. She needs something better!

  10. Rent Party permalink
    April 30, 2008 5:26 am

    Ay, too late for divorce, they’re in their 80s. But: she can nevertheless get more independent.

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