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It all started 16 or so years ago, around the time I was born. A strong, intelligent, composed woman reduced to an incoherent mess. A woman known for her grace and poise suddenly experiencing violent mood swings: uncontrollable rage and then unexplainable despondency mixed with times of irrational joy. What could explain it? At the time, no one knew nor wanted to know, though they all prayed for it to end.
Though I can't remember any specific incident (the memory of a toddler is unreliable at best) I can remember a general atmosphere that pervaded my house. I was unable to comprehend the language, but I could sense that something was wrong, very wrong: the arguments spanning hours, the endless incoherent screaming. Worst were the threats to pack up and leave: the suitcases brought down from the attic, the pleas to stay that fell on deaf ears. The total disregard of my feelings cut me to the bone. How could a normally loving mother become this unfeeling monster at the drop of a dime? Why couldn't she understand that the arguments were hurting me? And, worst of all, why wouldn't God hear my prayers to end this? Why didn't He come and fix mommy?
The Seasons Change...
The Years Pass
As I grew older, I began to grapple with the issues I overheard my mom yelling about. "Bounced check" and "mortgage" now became endowed with importance in my developing mind. I was able to gather the apparent cause of Mom's distress: money. Apparently my dad felt that it was better to lie to my mom about the money in order to avoid upsetting her and provoking a confrontation. This obviously angered her and provoked my dad into revealing the truth; which angered her more. In short, it was a self-perpetuating cycle of anger and argument.
There were of course other excuses for my mom to go off: abundant family problems, the arguments over going to the doctor, the lament over doing all the housework herself. I began to vacillate between sympathy and disgust; was my mom right in getting angry over this? Was Dad right in keeping things from her and attempting to avoid the inevitable arguments that followed? I eventually came to the conclusion that I simply didn't care. I prayed to my God that it would just stop, that I could be left alone in peace.
The Years of Unfeeling...
Of Studied Ignorance
The years went on and I grew older and more hardened to the arguments and incoherent battles. I treasured the 75% of the time my family was at peace. I studiously ignored the 25% of Hell. I ignored the sobs of horror that racked my younger brother's and sister's faces when they were upset by the Family Circus. I ignored the entire days squandered by the fighting, days that could've been spent in happiness and fun. I laid a brick wall and placed it between my emotions and the rages; nothing that she said could affect me. But I was only fooling myself: in my heart of hearts, I very much cared about the insults, the screaming, the cursing, especially the ones hurled at me.
Disguised as a Curse
God often works in mysterious ways. Sometimes, what can be considered a curse in fact turns out to be a blessing in disguise. The day was unimportant. The events, however, would change the course of my life.
It began as an ordinary episode but with one difference; it was focused on me. I must have done something that set her off; she transformed from a lovable mother to a monster in a matter of minutes. In a slow escalation spanning several hours, I was transformed from her beloved son to this hideous monster of Hitlerian proportions. Usually I can ignore the rages and the screaming but not that time. She struck a nerve and, as if she smelled blood, kept digging and digging until she reached bone. I usually don't let it affect me; this time she had me huddled in a ball in a corner of my room, sobbing.
The night just kept getting worse. I could take the screaming and meaningless insults hurled at my face for hours on end, the threats and the curses. What set me over the edge was the actual threat of physical violence. When she tried to knock down the bathroom door to get to me, all belief in her sanity fled from my mind. How could a mother attempt to physically attack her child?
Later that night I told a friend for the first time about my problem. Amid tears and working through shaky hands, I managed to type out what had happened that night to Lisa. She only confirmed what common sense had planted in my head; something was seriously wrong. Though I didn't act out of this revelation, God had finally begun answering my prayers. A solution was being formed from out of the ashes of despair.
To the Encounter that Changed my Life
Change did not come quickly. Because she settled down after that one, horrible night, I convinced myself that there really was no problem; it was just the combination of being under stress and having a bad day. I happily went off on my band trip and forgot about the whole thing. After all, it could never happen again, right?
I would probably have kept heading on that path of self-denial were it not for my fortuitous encounter with izubachi, a sufferer of bipolar disorder. After getting to know him better over the course of several discussions on E2 and off, I finally broached the subject that had been percolating in the back of my mind: was my mom suffering from a mental problem? I spilled my guts like I have never spilled them before; I went into full detail of what happens during my mom's outbursts, desperately begging for some knowledge. The prognosis: my mom had a serious problem. It's simply not normal to suffer emotional abuse at the hands of one's parents. I could no longer claim ignorance; I now had a calling. I had to help my mother.
And a Convoluted one at That
Now that I knew there was a problem, my mind naturally sought a solution. Obviously, I had to convince my mother that there was a problem; how else could she get help for herself? But I had tried convincing her that there was a problem. She had managed to laugh it off and even poke fun at the idea. However, an idea did begin to take shape during my conversations with izubachi: go to the Church. After all, the Church is the largest non-profit aid organization in the world, devoted to helping God's flock, especially the poor and distressed. Why couldn't the Church help me? I therefore resolved, with the encouragement of Adam, to see one of the local priests, Father Jack, and enlist his help.
Father Jack is quite possibly the coolest priest I know. He is totally in tune with "normal life:" he thinks the Rolling Stones are a gift from God, he drives a Range Rover, and loves wearing Hawaiian T-shirts. Fr. Jack is the epitome of the approachable priest, one who is totally in tune with daily life but also one with a deep and abiding faith in God. If there was one person who could convince my mother that she had a problem, it was him.
Or Lack Thereof
Making the decision to see Fr. Jack was easy; actually executing it was hard. I went one Saturday with Laura, an amazingly supportive friend, providing moral support. I survived a minor panic attack and gathered the courage to knock on the door. Unfortunately, it turns out that the Rectory is closed on weekends. While I wasn't overjoyed, I resolved to try again. To make an exceedingly long story short: I tried again...and again...and again...
Finally, I managed to meet him downtown about an hour before I left for band camp. He told me to just drop by whenever I got back and he would be able to talk to me. So, leaving for band camp in mid-August I had a plan, the support of my friends, and a real hope that things would get better.
A Changing Relationship...
With God and Fellow Man
No person can, or should, go through an experience such as this without being changed in fundamental ways. Coming to terms with my mom's illness also entailed coming to terms with my definition of God. Could I even believe in a Supreme Protector after experiencing so many days and nights of horrible pain?
Fortunately for my sanity, the answer is a resounding "yes;" I will never forsake my God because He doesn't wave a magic wand and make my problems go away. Fortunately, however, I encountered Madeleine L'Engle's book The Two Part Invention that helped me answer the timeless question: why does God allow suffering to occur? Ms. L'Engle, retelling the death of her husband, helped me come to terms with God and reaffirmed His love for all creatures. I realized that I frankly don't want a God that takes away all pain and suffering, for traumatic experiences make us who we are. God has given us free will to make our own choices, whether they be right or wrong. To take away all pain would be as good as attaching strings to us and making us dance like marionettes; it would take away everything that makes us human.
Instead, I believe in a God that would die on a cross as a sign of love for His people. I believe in a God who, though not waving a wand and taking away pain, goes down with us into the depths of despair, that "place of excrement" alluded to by Yeats, and is there for us:
For Love has pitched her mansion
In the place of excrement.
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent.
Though I may not understand the purpose of having to go through this ordeal with my mom, I trust that there is a Purpose and that, through it all, God will be my Rock upon which I find comfort and strength
I also discovered the value of friendship during this dark time. Both online and "Real World" friends have been so incredibly supportive of me that it's impossible to put into writing. Some convinced me I needed to get help; some helped me with their knowledge of psychology; some provided me with the use of their cars and their time; some prayed for me; some just listened. I felt that, wherever I went and whatever happened, I was surrounded by a loving cocoon of prayer and good wishes. I was enveloped in love and could almost feel it surrounding me. So many people were pulling for me, it humbles my heart and lifts my spirits. Thank you all.
When I returned from band camp, I was all set to meet Fr. Jack. Though Laura had left for college, I felt secure enough to try by myself. Unfortunately, it appears that both of us may just be the two most unorganized people on Earth. Whenever I showed up, it would be his off day and I would have to come back. When I ended up showing up enough times that the secretaries began to know me by face and name, I knew there was a problem. Something had to be done to end this interminable impasse. I was feeling incredibly frustrated that I finally came to a conclusion, had it supported by many independent people, and even had a course of action, but the course of action was never there! I finally hijacked a friend's cell phone and had him call me up with an appointment date. The time had come to settle this once and for all.
Skipping ahead several days, I finally set up a meeting for the Friday afternoon the week school began. The night before may have been the most difficult for me since I had decided to do something. All of the events of the past month caught up with me; I was more depressed and exhausted than I have ever been before. The world just seemed to be closing in and changing much too rapidly. Though the changes would probably be positive, they still represented a fundamental shift in my worldview, which I have never been very open to. Thankfully, my friends provided that safety net that had so helped me in the past: talking to me and getting me to put on some Bach concertos to calm myself down. That night, as I slipped into the dream-world, I knew that when I woke up my world would be changing, hopefully for the better.
Find a Way Where There is no Way...
For all Things are Possible with You
That fateful day arrived. In school that day, though I was a little nervous, I managed to keep myself together enough to finish off the day. Thanks to some planning beforehand, I'd arranged a ride with a friend to get me to my meeting and had gotten out of all my after-school activities. We got there precisely on schedule, and she dropped me off, awaiting my call to come and pick me up.
After the prerequisite "find the Father" manhunt throughout the Rectory, I finally ended up face-to-face with this priest for the first time in weeks. He led me into his office, and I spilled my guts again. He listened, and then said something that shocked me: "I understand, Anthony." His father was an alcoholic and though he has almost no knowledge of mental illness, he did understand what it meant to listen to the screaming, the fighting, the attacks; he had gone through it all. He was also intimately familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous and had ideas on how to get my mother to realize that there was a problem. They key to my mom, he surmised quite accurately, was my dad; I had to convince him that there was a problem for me to convince my mom. I had to sit down with him, father to son, man to man, and tell him flat out that I couldn't take it anymore. The fighting had to stop, the rages had to be controlled, and it was his duty as a parent and a husband to help my family. Quite simply, I had to shock him out of his shell and make him understand that there was a problem. He even suggested that I use a tape recorder to have solid evidence to show to my dad, and later, my mom. After this happened, I could go back to Fr. Jack and he would set us up with mental health specialists through Catholic Charities, helping us to bypass the inevitable costs of the diagnosis and treatment of a mental disorder.
Fr. Jack also provided me with amazing spiritual advice. He counseled me to seek strength from God and pray fervently that things would get better. That I could act as a conduit for God's grace and love to enter the world is one of the most joyous experiences imaginable, he told me. He exhorted me to never give up hope because God will make a way where there is no way and bring hope out of the darkest of despair. When he blessed me, I felt more relieved and at peace than at any time these past few weeks. While I had hoped that Fr. Jack would rush in to save my family, what he gave me was even more precious: the strength for me to help fix this problem in my family and the courage to surmount any obstacle in pursuit of my goal.
The narrative is not over; the ending still remains to be written. Do I know the results of my labor? Will my mom ever get help? Will my family be at peace? These are all questions which I can not answer yet. I can only put my faith in God, that He will draw good out of this ongoing tragedy and illuminate the darkness that shrouds my world.
To be Continued...