Denial in the Glass Menagerie

Our mother had problems with addictive behavior – alcohol, food, pills – whatever the substance, she was not familiar with the concept of moderation.  Since she never was one to admit her powerlessness over anything, she was not a candidate for a 12 step program.

AA Big BookWith her drinking problems, she could have benefited from Alcoholics Anonymous, but you have to do the first step of admitting your powerlessness over alcohol.  Knowing Mother, one can only conclude that this would not happen.

One of the things about Mary was she lived in denial for most of her life.  If a doctor told her she had a life-threatening condition, she refused to believe it.  If confronted about her lack of parenting skills, she would always say

Well, you and Abby turned out just fine.

And so her life went from one catastrophe to another with her never accepting responsibility or admitting she needed help for any of her chemical dependencies or mental issues.

We sometimes both laugh and marvel at her strange resilience, and her unreality bubble. After smoking like a chimney for over five decades, a doctor told her she had COPD. Her response was simple:

No I don’t. There’s nothing wrong with me.

When in her mid-eighties, she was admitted to the hospital for a “tune-up”. While being triaged in the ER, her oxygen levels were drastically low. The attending doctor had a nurse hook Mother up to oxygen, and the second the medical professionals left the room, Mary tore the oxygen tube out of her nose and flung it to the floor.

The Glass MenagerieI have always said she operated in a glass menagerie or bubble of her own reality.  I guess not dealing with the harsh reality life often throws our way worked for her. Her coping skills were minimal, thus all the out of control fits.  And her problem solving skills lacked any kind of reason.

Looking back, where hindsight is as they say always 20/20, it’s tragic that she was unable or unwilling to ever seek the help that was available. Through her life, our mother struggled and was always a “tortured soul”; I think that was a significant factor in both her addictive behaviors (seeking to calm the torture inside) and in her lashing out at others (seeking to transfer her pain to those around her). Attempts by many to help her get help came to nothing.

It is amazing that she maneuvered through life as well as she did with all her impairments.  Her damage to herself and to those around her though are legendary.  But she was a survivor and, if nothing else, set an example of what not to do.

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