Let me start by pointing out that I’m a capable person who takes pride in overcoming the challenges of life. That’s how I excelled in the military and that’s how I’ve built a life for myself. I’m responsible, hard-working and very goal-oriented. I’m the person in my family every one turns to for problem-solving, for steady reassurance in a crisis.
But, even with all those God-given attributes, I couldn’t fix my mother’s gambling addiction. And after years of beating myself up, repeatedly feeling frustrated and angry with her and disappointed when nothing seemed to help, I’m finally able to say it. Her addiction was never mine to fix.
You might think that moving out-of-state will make it easier to deal with the problem gambler that you love. Sadly, I can tell you that living farther away and serving my country did not deter or slow the frequent calls to beg me for more money. It’s so hard to say no. After all, this is your parent, the person who cared for you and raised you. Shouldn’t you pay it back?
But the other lesson I learned as a child was that my Mom had mental health issues. She constantly fought and feuded with others in our family, and she was a pathological gambler even back then. Like all kids, I desperately wanted peace and stability in my home. When Mom couldn’t provide it because of her disease, I tried to step in and duct tape everything back together. She broke it. I repaired it. It became our pattern. As I grew older, I realized how dysfunctional this pattern was – for her and for me.
I started getting a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach every time caller ID let me know my folks were phoning me. Sending a check didn’t ease my stress and anxiety. Not sending a check seemed heartless and out of the question. I never felt peace. Finally, I realized, I just had to get some help from someone who understood my pain and who would never judge me.
Thankfully, that’s when I found Maryhaven.
Now you may be wondering why I sought out an expert counselor. I don’t have an addiction or even a mental illness – and I’m very grateful for this. What I do have, though, is a lifetime of confusion, chaos, guilt and frustration. The continual stress and anxiety took a toll on my mental, physical, emotional, financial and spiritual well-being. I suffered constant nausea and headaches. I couldn’t sleep through the night. Life seesawed between one dead-end feeling after another.
I did the best I could with all the strength I could summon on my own. But my strategies for coping clearly fell short of healthy. I needed an objective expert to help me separate real from invented and find a better path.
Maria was the first person who brought home to me the fundamental necessity to set boundaries, delineating between what was my issue to handle and my mother’s. Why? Because me taking care of Mom’s debts only freed her to keep gambling. I was adding to the problem, not solving it.
Just as important, always attending to Mom didn’t leave space for my first responsibility – myself and my own family. I spent money to bail out Mom rather than set aside savings for a house, car and other things we wanted for our lives. I spent hours unraveling wound up tensions from bitter fights among all of us, hours I could have spent learning new skills or just taking a walk in my favorite park. This reality led to a lot of resentment toward my mom, really toward my entire family, because I felt like they had no right to expect so much from me.
When I learned to say no kindly, or at least respectfully, a weight fell from my back. I finally understood that I could be a loving daughter without hurting myself in the process. For many people, this step vastly improves their relationship with the person who is addicted. Sadly, for me, it was not enough.
My mom had been in the throes of her addiction so long and our unhappy partnership was so ingrained in her thinking that she could never accept no from me. She continued harassing, begging, throwing in a dash of guilt and a pinch of sweetness. I had to take the next step and just simply withdraw. I stopped taking her calls and disengaged as much as possible.
I still pray for Mom and love her and my family dearly. For now, the best thing I can do for them is keep working on living a happy, healthy life. I hope that things change but, even if they don’t, I’ve found something so special for the first time in my life. I found peace.