acceptance · adulthood · family · fear · generosity · recovery · relationships · the middle way · truth

People are Not Projects.

Damnit. There goes my favorite hobby. What will I do with my
afternoons, now?
I’ve heard the phrase before, and it recurred to me this
morning. My mom sent me an email back on Monday, qualifying why she’d replied
so “vehemently” on Friday that she wanted me under NO circumstances to tell her
whether I had the genome for Alzheimer’s, if I were to get the genetic mapping
thing I said I was maybe possibly going to do someday.
Even before she emailed me on Monday, I got the chance to
work through some of my anger at her refusal for clarity, her refusal to do things the
way I’d do them, or the way I’d want her to do them.
I even got to see that there is perhaps a part of me that is
in fear that she will have it. Watching what she went through with her mom, I can’t imagine it. Though I know I’d have the resources internal and external to do the best I could, if she does.
On Monday, she wrote me back and said, as I knew, that her mom was
around the same age my mom is now when she began to show signs of it, and that
she’s “very frightened.” I was amazed that my mother could let herself admit
I wrote her back that, of course, I understand, and will respect
her feelings and wishes around this. Obviously.
And so, I’m reminded that people are not projects. She is
not on this earth, this lifetime, for me to fix her. As I’m also reminded
often, people are not broken, and I don’t need to fix them. She isn’t broken.
She is human, like me, like you. I have faults and assets, she has faults and
assets. Mainly, those faults are just calcified fears and defense mechanisms.
And it’s not up to me to fix them. They
are not “problems.” They just are. They are part of the map that is my mom.
They are part of the challenges and opportunities she has in this lifetime. And
it is part of my own challenge this lifetime to leave her be.
This is new behavior. Not alien, but new. We, I, grew up
enmeshed with her, her feelings were my own, and I tended to and acquiesced to
and modified myself in order to attend to her feelings. It was my own defense
mechanism. And, it was also in some ways what was needed. She was an
undiagnosed manic depressive, self-medicating with prescription and non-prescription tranquilizers
and uppers. Her feelings and mood swings were uncontainable, palpable, and able to wash a small
child overboard the ship of normalcy. So, I learned how to stand by the
rigging. I learned how to read the waves, to anticipate them, to ensure that
things were precisely as they needed to be. I learned to ensure life was easier
for her when she was in her clinical depression by not having or voicing or
owning my needs. I learned to ensure that she not retreat into that state by
allowing her manic times free reign, and stand tensely in the wings of her
life, egging her on – because mania meant some more of her, but not really. It
just meant she moved more quickly in her neuroses. And was hard to be around
That was probably harder. It was like a live wire. Every
vibrantly theatrical gesture and every squeal of delight was like a hammer to my heart, knowing
that it was inauthentic, fleeting, and often, embarrassing. More than the
typical teen angsty, my parents are lame kind. More like, this person isn’t aware of herself and how big she can be, and I’m sorry she’s hijacked your conversation/this movie theather/…our vacation.
I went on a trip with her a few years ago to Sedona. I’d
begun to heal some of my own self-destructive patterns, and this was one of the
first times she and I were getting to spend any significant time together. It
didn’t go well.
Diagnosed, and newly (doctor prescribed) medicated as she
now was, she is/was still my mom. Even today, even though the swings have
lessened, the grooves in the thought patterns and behaviors are still there,
engrained over a lifetime, and I’ll suddenly find myself talking to a weepy child where a minute before stood a fierce New Yorker. But, in Sedona, we decided to do one of those Pink
Jeep tours, where they take you out in a jeep into the gorgeous red rock
My mom had to be the entertainment. There were maybe 6 of us
in the back of the jeep, and as my mom continued to make herself more and more
“heard” and “seen” by this group of strangers, as she put on her mask of entertainer
– witty, loud, invasive – I began to feel myself shrinking in her wake. I began
to notice that I was doing what I’d always done, and detach from the dramatic
entrance of my mom’s persona. I didn’t like it.
I didn’t like that I was reacting that way, and so instead,
I began to get sullen and angry. She
picked up on the anger. And she couldn’t understand why – she’d been being who
she’d always been, acting (double meaning intended) as she always had, why was
I mad with her? I didn’t answer her. I didn’t know what was the “right” way to
answer that in my new recovery language – I simply said that it had more to do
with me than with her, and that was about it. She didn’t like this answer; I
knew it was true, but I didn’t like it either. We’re a “processy” – or we had
been – kind of pair. (She is a shrink, after all…) And I wasn’t going to or able to process this with her.
What is there to process? You’re not being the mom I want
you to be? You’re behaving so falsely, and invading these folks’ space? THIS
No, I couldn’t say those things. There is and was the truth
that it does have more to do with me
than with her. How able I am to accept and love my mom as and who she is
without trying to change her. Without needing to be right. And without pitying her.
There is the truth that people are not projects, and that
she is not broken. There is also the magnanimous truth that my mother is also
brilliant, witty, stylish, and bold. Yes, she is also desperately scared of
everything, self-defeatest, and paralytically despairing. She is all of these
things. (She’s also a Gemini, if that helps.)
My mother is a human, with places she falls short of the
ideal, like me, like you; places where she excels, like me, like you. And, in
the end, just wants to feel loved, and at peace. Like me. And like you. 

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