My Tender & Troubled Mom: Being at peace with her chaotic & turbulent influence on my life



This is my mom in 1978 with her friends’ child, not me.
 
She must have been 26 or 27 years old here.
 
A family friend sent me this photo yesterday.
 
I look at this photo & the emotions it stirs up inside has nothing to do with the mother I had.
 
I see the mother I didn’t have.
 
I’m at peace with that.
 
I see the youthful side of her I connected with the most.
 
That hurts, knowing that she’d hardened up more by the time she had me 8 years later…
 
…..& I only got bits & pieces of this softer side in her turbulent rollercoaster of emotions.
 
At the same time…
 
It’s relieving to know THAT is the side most people saw.
 
They saw the optimistic, idealistic dreamer…
 
…who loved The Beatles, bonded with animals, watched Dancing with the Stars, admired Cher & Barbra Streisand.
 
No one else ever saw her monster side other than myself.
 
(& perhaps my dad, who also had a WHOLE different monster side, too.)
 
None of her internet friends cultivated from over 3 decades saw it.
 
Perhaps a few family members saw it a few times, but kept their distance.
 
A good friend of mine saw a glimpse of it when I was 17…
 
… & I never had her around ANY of my friends since.
 
No one ever saw her at her absolute worst like I have.
 
They only caught glimpses.
 
So, reframing my narrative around her felt challenging at first…
 
… as I felt gaslit at every turn by the well-intentioned messages I received.
 
“Your mom was such an amazing person!”
 
“She was so kindhearted and pure!”
 
I’m glad they have fond memories of her.
 
Of course I do too. Many of them.
 
They’ve been overshadowed by her outrageous & tumultuous behavior over the years.
 
Was she a narcissist? Pretty sure.
 
Did she have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)?
 
I am almost positive.
 
Was she an alcoholic? A high-functioning one, absolutely.
 
Here’s the thing.
 
The times *I* was in desperation is when she could be at her best as a mother.
 
It was truly her time to shine, to be the “rescuer” & save me from the cliff that, at some point, she pushed me close to the edge of.
 
I lost focus at work with her incessant messages, trying to balance being there for her and being “on” for my boss & coworkers. 
 
I lost track of time when I was engaging with her rollercoaster of emotions on the weekends, turning to drinking by myself to relieve the stress.
 
I lost emotional connection with whoever I was dating when I’d pull away from a relationship after another one of her meltdowns.
 
Now, I *did* all of these things.
 
She didn’t “make me” lose focus, time, energy, relationships, sanity.
 
While it was easier, in some ways, to hide from the world than to face my problems.
 
It was harder being in denial & putting on a show for everyone that my mom was the best when I rarely felt my best around her.
 
Any “highs” we had together were marked by very bad lows.
 
Any time she’d act like a mom to me and care for me in ways I thought were nurturing.
 
Within days she’d say, “You never do anything for me.”
 
While going off on a rampage about how irresponsible, unattentive, cold-hearted & rude I was to her.
 
It hurt. Every single time.
 
I thought I was doing my best.
 
Was I an angel? Oh hell no.
 
I had plenty of meltdowns, too.
 
I shouted back, nearly every single time.
 
I fought her, every chance I thought I needed to defend myself.
 
But…
 
I always apologized & tried to make peace, first.
 
The last words I spoke to her after moving all of her stuff from her 2 bedroom apartment, by myself, into Assisted Living was…
 
“I’m tired of carrying all of your shit…. Mom, I’m sorry, I love you. I’ll see you later.”
 
I felt like I gave everything I could possibly give.
 
I didn’t know what else to offer.
 
I gave her love, or the attention her mom never gave her.
 
I gave her time, or periods of her life where she didn’t feel alone.
 
I gave her energy, or the life force sucked out of me so she could share with her friends how much of a “good daughter” I am.
 
I gave her money, or a sense of security when she needed it.
 
I gave her forgiveness, when she did unforgivable things throughout my childhood AND adulthood.
 
I gave her the benefit of the doubt, when her actions didn’t deserve it.
 
I gave her what she needed, not what she wanted.
 
She wanted a best friend, so I gave her my best as a daughter.
 
She wanted a confidant, so I gave her my confidence to come through as a mother when I was in need.
 
She wanted a life partner, so I shared with her as much of my life as I could.
 
Not because I wanted anything in particular from her.
 
I thought I was “supposed” to be there for her.
 
I felt obligated to be what she needed, even if I couldn’t be what she wanted.
 
When I turned 18, the last thing I wanted to do was move back in with my mom after her absolute meltdown during the time of my high school graduation.
 
…but little did I know, I was living with my dad during a time of a downward spiral.
 
So, after he died by suicide just 2 weeks after my 18th birthday, she promised to take me in.
 
This was after about 2 months of trying to convince me to move in back with her while he was alive, by the way.
 
She rescued me from my plan B of becoming a stripper at the local nightclub in Santa Ana, or so I thought.
 
Then she wanted $500/month for me to stay in her living room, only 2 months after he died.
 
Then she physically pushed me out in a drunken haze, only 2 months after that.
 
I lived with her for another year, while paying rent, until my then-boyfriend convinced me to find a roommate and get my own place.
 
He had only seen her in action for a whole 30 minutes to come to the conclusion that I couldn’t bear to face for another 15 years.
 
She put me down & talked about me negatively.
 
She didn’t care about my feelings & picked on me.
 
Now, she said terrible things to me when she was drunk…
 
… but it was FAR worse when she wasn’t drinking.
 
When she was in a good mood, she was a doting mother who cooked for me, sewed up holes in my clothes and listened to my stories.
 
When she was in a bad mood, all hell would break loose.
 
Whether she was drinking or not.
 
Yelling, screaming, hanging up on me, raging two inches from my face, slapping me across the face, slamming doors, forcefully trying to cover my mouth, pulling my hair, dragging me across the room, pushing me out the door.
 
That’s what would hurt the most.
 
Believing it wasn’t the drink…
 
….that it was me.
 
I was the one who was “treating her like shit”
 
I was the one who was “rude and disrespectful.”
 
I was the one who wasn’t “there for her” when she “needed’ me.
 
Her expectations for me went well beyond what I was capable of.
 
It took me 34 years to say that to her.
 
If only because I was caught up in the fantasy that maybe someday, she’d change.
 
Maybe eventually, her good moods would happen more than the bad moods.
 
Maybe we can have a normal relationship, after all.
 
Once she has more money and she could live somewhere nicer, then she’d be happier.
 
Once *I* had more money and can take her to Hawaii, then we’d bond more.
 
Needless to say, it didn’t happen that way.
 
I was like her spouse, in many ways.
 
When I’d tell her I’m not her husband, that pissed her off — a lot.
 
I was her daughter, she knew damn well that was a truth.
 
She always wanted a daughter & even told my dad when they met how much she wanted a teenage daughter around.
 
….but of course, it wasn’t for the *right* reasons.
 
In this photo, in which I know she was practicing for having her own daughter, me…
 
…. there’s a tenderness she was giving here to her friend’s child that I only felt from her in fantasy.
 
The idea of my mom being there for me was far better than the reality.
 
Knowing she would be “there” when I needed her was always better than receiving it, along with the strings attached.
 
I loved needing her, if only to “get” the “good” side of her.
 
Most of all, I loved being needed by my mom when it appeared I needed her.
 
My desperation would fuel her ego.
 
…but we both pretended it was a mother-daughter bond.
 
We did bond.
 
Over her needs, not mine.
 
We did have a mother-daughter relationship.
 
Most of the time, I was the mother.
 
I felt like I had to speak up for her in ways she didn’t know how to do without being overtly aggressive, or oblivious to social cues.
 
I felt like I had to check on her & make sure she didn’t drink herself to death each Saturday night.
 
I felt like I had to take on her burdens & face her demons FOR her…
 
….as she never chose to face them, head on, in this lifetime.
 
She refused to take anxiety medication after it was prescribed.
 
She never went to therapy, or anything remotely resembling counseling.
 
About 6 months into her pancreatic cancer diagnosis– she still drank cheap wine, beer & champagne.
 
When I told her I refuse to take care of her after an ER visit when her cancer was worsening, I still *did* take care of her.
 
I got into her bank accounts & made sure she had enough saved from the 6 figure settlement I secured for her to go through with Assisted Living.
 
Then I hustled her in to get the best care she could get for what she had.
 
At Assisted Living, she could no longer hide her mood swings.
 
I could tell she was becoming a real pain in the ass for the workers with her erratic behavior & meltdowns.
 
The front desk, nurses, cleaners, 24/7 crew — everyone was exasperated with her.
 
“Just imagine dealing with her for 3 decades,” I thought to myself. “She’s their problem now.”
 
….but, she was still “my problem” as I put my life, work & dating life on hold to move her into the facility.
 
Not only 6 weeks into living there & only 2 weeks after the last time I saw her when I moved the final pieces in…
 
She went to the ER & passed away from complications.
 
A week before she passed, the facility doctor called me with concerns about her mental health.
 
It was the first time in my life that I heard a professional or authority of any kind say that my mom was emotionally unstable.
 
I let him know this has been a lifelong thing, & it’s undiagnosed as people in our family don’t care for doctors, therapists, or anyone “in our business”…
 
….not even practical helpers like realtors, tax advisors, financial professionals; no one.
 
“When someone is already having struggles before, you’d think they’d mellow out but it usually becomes worse when someone becomes terminally ill,” he told me.
 
I knew that already from a coach I worked with at the time…
 
…along with dozens of Google searches late at night.
 
After she died, he left a solemn voicemail with condolences.
 
What I’ll never forget is hearing this…
 
“She was a very… troubled person and I hope she was somehow able to find peace at the end.”
 
After receiving messages of a very different nature…
 
…to have someone tell me, who saw her, that she was troubled — felt like the only person in the whole world who understood what I had been through, at that moment.
 
I don’t know what he looks like, I never met him.
 
I don’t know what he saw exactly, but I am sure he saw more than one erratic meltdown I was very much used to seeing.
 
….& it was very much the opposite of how she is in this photo.
 
I do believe the peace she found is exemplified here.
 
With all of the unhealed trauma and turbulence, this photo is a representation of her true essence.
 
When I felt a warm embrace as I was half asleep the very early morning hours of June 29, 2021….
 
….I do believe this shows the spirit of who was coming through.
 
I believe holding this belief for her, after everything she did (& didn’t do)…
 
….. is doing WAAAAAY more than enough.
 
I don’t sit up late at night wondering if I did enough anymore.
 
….but what I do think about is the awkward silence.
 
No yelling.
 
No fighting.
 
No screaming.
 
No messages on my phone.
 
It’s uncomfortably peaceful, at times.
 
It’s the peace I always wanted.
 
I can only pray her soul has been exonerated & the demons have been extinguished.
 
That my mom, Patricia Cecelia Stephens, is at peace with the ocean waters I gave her to when I spread her ashes — the nautical spots she loved so very much. 
 
That she is swimming with the sea lions, otters & dolphins she adored.
 
That is she is finally free to move around wherever she pleases, with no restrictions.
 
That her pain has been removed, she is light & she is dancing with the angels of her mother & her best friend Donna at a Senor Frogs to the “Tequila!” song …
 
…. like a psychic medium told me she was in August.
 
Knowing that is a possibility along with the current reality I am experiencing…
 
… I am even more at peace than I ever have been.
 
I feel more loved & supported than I ever have.
 
I feel symbols & signs of angelic watchers around me.
 
I feel guided by her in ways she couldn’t on this Earth plane.
….& that is MORE than enough, for me.
 
💓

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