They were always there; on the table, in her purse, and forever in her hand. The hand that was meant to hold mine, ever-consumed by that which will kill her. They were always there, taking up space – silently drawing her in. Menthol filling the air. Tainting the walls of her delicately conceived dream.
Though they were accepted as a normal part of our lives, I never took a liking to them. I detested them! Still do. She never understood how her choice of friends affected me. She ignored the signs. Desperate to fill the void and calm the chaos, she never considered who she was hurting.
Toxins and Death
I remember the doctor visits, the incessant ear infections and pain. I remember the overnight stays at the hospital. I was five when I had my second surgery, and I remember being all alone in the dark. This memory makes me uncomfortable. I remember questions repeated – ‘Ma’am, do you smoke? If you do, do you smoke around your daughter?’ I don’t remember a time when she answered honestly. Too ashamed to own her part in it all.
A childhood of illness and anxiety, ignited by the choices of another, one of many – others and choices. A time when it was normal to have your children hold your lit cigarette. Born into a generation that thought family time meant filling the air with toxins and death. Sharing the oozing stench of poison with every passing soul. All the while, greedily taking another drag. They didn’t know any better…
Until they did. I can’t pretend to understand the struggle of being a smoker, or how difficult it must be to overcome the hold nicotine has on a smoker’s body. I do know that cigarettes are not the only vice we as a culture struggle with. Addiction has become the norm, maybe it always was. We embrace excess in any form, desperate to fill time and space with comfort. Whatever that may look like. It differs for us all.
But the struggle doesn’t. How we react to the struggle is where we differ. Are you willing to own your part? Are you willing to take control of your choices? Your actions? Are you willing to stop placing blame? Are you willing to fail? Are you willing to try again? Are you willing to surrender? Can you live in the discomfort?
It’s all a smoke screen, all these things we attach ourselves to. I imagine we think these things have attached themselves to us, as if they were sucker fish, spending their days tagging along on our journey. Unwanted passengers in our lives, but that’s a lie. Every vice and every burden we carry; we carry by choice. As adults, there is no one else to blame. There comes a time when you must own you part. There are no good excuses for living a life of excess and destruction.
Labels and Vices
I never liked my Mom’s best friend, the one she would keep by her side, my entire life. Unfortunately, after turning away from booze and drugs, she promised to never abandon the last friend she had. Always announcing to those willing to listen, ‘I’ve given up everything else, I deserve one vice.’ Speaking an untruth over her life, a spell cast so long ago. A spell repeated in response to any effort made to kick them out of her life. ‘It’s too hard, it’s been too long.’
I don’t know when it happened, I feel like it was in 2006, after I moved to Montana. Whenever it was, there was a moment when my Mom decided to start giving in. A life of trauma and self-inflicted pain, finally leaving her resolve in shreds. Bipolar Disorder, Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and more. A laundry list of diagnoses and labels, paired with a bucket full of addiction and comfort.
Thoughts and Choices
Somewhere along the way she decided to stop living. Fear consuming her. Labeled with fibromyalgia at a time when there were no real answers. A time when someone should have explained. When someone should have sat her down and told her how her thoughts matter – her choices matter. No one showed her the steps she could take to ease the pain, to calm the triggers. If someone did, she wasn’t listening.
Little by little, excuses were left like crumbs at every corner. Reasons for quitting work. Reasons for quitting exercise. Year after year I watched my Mom strip herself of everything good, all for the love of death. I will never understand it. My Mom had it rough (I don’t know the half of it), but what I saw in my Mom, was a strong independent woman who never let anyone keep her down. She’d stumble and fall, but she always picked herself up and pressed on.
There was a time when my Mom could be found at the beach or the fair. Fall festivals and rodeos. Dinner out and movie night. Mall crawls and mini golf. My Mom spent very little time sitting still, and she certainly shunned the idea of imprisoning herself to four walls and a window. Yet, 12 years later, here we are – her days spent moving from bed to patio to recliner. A cycle of sleeping, smoking, and sitting, repeated all day. She says her body can no longer hold the weight of her – a decade of weight gain and obesity wearing on my Mother’s brittle bones.
Joints and muscles deteriorating beneath the surface, screaming to be moved and touched. A decade of solitude and sedentary living creating a vicious cycle of pain. 100 pounds of discomfort weighing on her lungs. The lungs that were only twelve, when introduced to the toxicity of bad choices. The lungs that have suffered four decades of menthol madness, at two packs a day.
She says she spends most of her days in bed now, as her fibromyalgia pain is too bad. If only I could explain the cycle – if only she could see. Life was not meant to be lived in extremes – too much and too little; the twisted sisters of confusion and lies. In my experience, the distance between too much and too little is drastic, but the result is almost always the same. Pain!
The Light in Her Eyes
Somewhere along the way, she decided to give in and give up. The light in her eyes is gone, the eagerness to fight, snuffed out by consequence and circumstance. Now her fight is with the world, a marriage of pain and resentment turned towards anyone but herself. Or maybe it’s her own self-loathing lashing out. I wish I knew.
There is no explaining. There is no helping. She has resigned herself to this life, and as much as she hurts, she refuses to care for herself. I sit helpless on the sidelines, desperately screaming all I know, all I wish I could show her. But I’m trapped in a silent picture; she looks at me and smiles, as if to say, ‘it’s okay, I know.’ Does she? Does she know what she’s doing? Do some of us choose to punish ourselves? Why?