I have come to the painful part of this story where I, my mother’s primary caregiver, went crazy.
It came on slowly at first. I tried to dismiss the symptoms. Difficulty sleeping. Hyper vigilance. Fear and anxiety began to vibrate in my body, making my heart pulsate in my throat, causing my breath to be shallow and ragged. I struggled against wanting to curl up in bed in the fetal position and pretend to be invisible till the all-clear signal sounded. But I couldn’t make it go away this time. The tsunami hit. Absolute panic and terror struck one day and dropped me to my knees. “Oh please not now,” I prayed! “This is really not a good time.”
Bad things had happened to me as a child. There it is. Mostly I coped by forgetting, a strategy all trauma victims master at an early age. I have minimal recollection of my childhood, and this not remembering provided some measure of protection for a long time, but it was never ever a solution. The demons always popped through, disguised as reoccurring nightmares for decades, haunting me from the shadow land, leaving me paralyzed and struggling to stay sane. Many times I contemplated an early death and the relief I thought that might bring.
Living in the same house with a parent who had not protected me as a child—even though she was now a frail, sweet, loving mother—had somehow triggered the release of all those raging demons I thought I had managed to subjugate. One morning, in a panic, I got up early and drove to Craig’s house. “What am I going to do? I am living under the roof of my perpetrator,” I sobbed irrationally, falling into his arms. “I am collapsing. How can I take care of her?”
My posse mobilized. I fell into the hands of a bright, capable, kind therapist who put me on medication to stabilize the erratic swings of dopamine and plunging serotonin levels that happen during acute episodes of PTSD. He became available by phone 24 hours a day, providing an anchor that tethered me to this world. Friends and family stepped up, taking shifts, cooking and providing physical and emotional support to my mother. She was bewildered. I had been a rock. Dependable. Solid. Where did I go?
Leaving her in capable hands I went away for three days to the Buddhist center where I had been living. They cared for me and held me together. I was very, very frightened. I was walking a delicate tightrope. I knew I could go either way. Recovery was uncertain.
But I got through this first hurdle, and when I returned I knew that I had to not just survive this, but transcend it. Even in my crazed state I had a glimmer of awareness to know that this was an opportunity to heal.
With my protector, Craig, at my side one evening we sat with my mother and I tenderly held her hand. “Mom, I want to ask you a question, and I need you to be completely honest with me right now.” My heart was galloping in my chest. I wondered for a moment if I was going into fibrillation and would soon fall over dead. I think I stopped breathing. Remembering, I inhaled deeply, cleared my throat and said, “I need to know why you did not protect me?”
The long silence throbbed in the room and hurt my ears. ”What do you mean?” she finally stammered, looking confused. “You know what I mean,” I said gently, gazing into her eyes, continuing to hold her hand. “I love you very much and I’m not angry,” I tried to reassure her. “This is a crucial moment for both of us right now.” Speaking slowly and deliberately, I repeated, “Why. Did. You. Not. Protect. Me?”
She sat quietly for a long, painful minute. Then a torrent of tears flooded her face and she spoke with gut wrenching sorrow. ”I was afraid. I was so afraid. Can you ever forgive me?”
The three of us held on to each other for a long time. My mom spoke from a place of agonizing pain and regret until nothing more was left unsaid. “It is a relief to not be carrying this any more,” she whispered.
“ I also know about fear, mom; we’re old friends,” I responded. “Each of us in some way is wounded and that fact will forever inform our lives, but some, like dad, acted from that brokenness and caused great harm.” I paused to strengthen my resolve. “Now, I am going to do the work so that this fear and violence will stop with me. I am not going to be a very good caregiver right now, because I am not well. I will do my best, but there are others here to help. I am doing this work for both of us, and everyone else out there who suffers so. I love you.” We hugged and did not let go for a long, long time.