I had a dream about my mother last night.
I was visiting her at the assisted living facility where she’s lived since July, only instead of it looking like the Ritz Carlton as it actually does, it looked like a college dorm room: Cinderblock walls painted a shade of institutional white, a twin sized bed, a desk, a chair. Mismatched rugs covered the floor, and three or four lamps in various states of disrepair were scattered throughout the 10x12 sized room.
When I first walked in, a few of the ladies who live there encouraged me to decorate the room for her. “Even if she’ll just let you paint the walls, it’ll make a difference,” they said.
My chest got heavy when I saw the conditions she was living in, a sensation which was immediately followed by the internal conflict I feel when I want to say or do something that I know won’t land well on my mother. I ignore this tension until it’s so tight that I can barely breathe. Then, invariably, my measured words come out more emphatically than I intend which ensures that Mom and I will follow the pattern – no, the perfectly rehearsed choreography that’s imprinted in our respective nervous systems. No amount of mindfulness on my part can extricate me from that dance. I play my part like a pro.
What happens next goes like this:
ME: Mom, I brought some paint (in my dreams I can manifest any material items I need at will. What I can’t do - in my dreams or in reality - is control myself in the presence of her).
MOM: No. I don’t want you painting. Just leave everything alone.
ME: Mom, it’s your favorite color. Blue. I can paint the room for you and make it so much nicer.
MOM: No, Darcy. Absolutely not. It’s fine the way it is.
ME: OK, well at least let me fix some of the lamps in here. The lighting’s awful.
And that’s all it takes for us to go down the road of no return.
The dream is a metaphor: My mother is broken. Has been my whole life. And I want to fix her. Save her. But she won’t let me.
I will never make peace with the fact that the person I want to help most in the world is the only person in the world who I can’t help.
I don’t say that with arrogance. I’ve never had a client who did what I suggested and didn’t leave therapy feeling significantly better. Twenty-three years and counting.
She won’t let me help because she won’t have an identity if she’s not broken.
That’s what the shrinks have told me.
That’s what I would tell a client.
I know this at some level.
But as a daughter and as a professional problem solver and as a motherfucking relationship expert I can’t wrap my head around it!
I don’t just teach relationship skills. I try to LIVE the principles. Everything I do in life – in and out of the office – is in service of walking the walk of a relationship expert.
All of which is to say, I can’t understand how someone – anyone – could live their life with a complete disregard for both their mental health and the quality of their relationships.
LET ALONE MY MOTHER.
How is it possible that I came from someone like this?
To which a voice inside my head responds, it is because you came from her that you’ve dedicated your life to the work you do.
Which sounds a little convenient, the bitch inside me says.
My mother bonds through portraying herself as a victim – and by character assassinating those who love her the most. She was gaslighting long before you ever heard the term, which makes her less a trendsetter and more a cautionary tale.
Nonetheless, she is my mother. And despite the fact that she was not born this way – rather, over time, she learned to get her needs me this way - I do love her.