We all have them. Whether we have suffered major abuse, we all have places where we are vulnerable, and when touched, even lightly, we erode the calm, the together, the serene...and we go to that place where we are untethered. I was there this morning at 4:34 am.
Usually, I wake up and I spend the morning in quiet reflection. I am the only one up and I am free to begin my day quietly, with a cup of coffee, the pets and my writing. It is lovely. I need it and can’t really live without it. It is as much a part of me as my skin, my bones, my flesh now.
This morning, I was awakened at 4:30 by my son screaming FUCK at his PS4. He was up all night again jacked on sugar and caffeine and I am pretty sure that is it. Overloaded and flying high on the opiates of teenaged life. Gaming, sugar, sex and lack of sleep. I remember those days...I do. Not the gaming, that wasn’t a thing in my day. We just talked on the phone all night long. Occupying ourselves with each other for countless hours. What did we talk about?? I really can’t remember. I guess those things that one has the luxury of not knowing at 15...life, love, sex, dreams, futures. I guess, on second thought, there is a lot of ground to cover.
My son does not see his behavior as a problem. Does not see his sugar consumption as an issue. Thinks that drinking energy drinks is ok. Thinks staying up all night multiple times a week is ok. Thinks that he and I are on equal footing and that me listening to him is more important than him following the rules.
I handled it well this morning. I called him and told him to get off the PS4. Then I hung up. As I figured, he came into my room immediately. He was defensive (aren’t all addicts?) at first. He defended his position and gave me a whole bunch of reasons why it was ok that he stayed up all night: it was the weekend, he is 15, it the only way he can engage with friends, it is his right, he was helping a friend in need, blah, blah, blah. The more I filled the holes of his delusional thinking, the more delusional he became. It escalated. He began yelling at me and calling me names. I cautioned him that he was going to wake the neighbor who hates me and will call the police. He quieted a bit knowing I was right. I remained calm. I set boundaries which he immediately crossed, blew up and violated.
I made a cup of coffee and then returned to bed. He yelled and justified, argued, defended and explained himself with and without cussing and yelling.
I told him that I thought he was an addict and that he needed help. He told me that as soon as he turned 18 he was never talking to me again and then said he was calling his dad to tell on me...that lasted all of one minute because what was there to tell at this point, all I had done was told him to get off online and go to bed. I hadn’t raised my voice, I hadn’t yelled, I hadn’t threatened or name called. I was calm. It was hard to be anything else when he was exploding all around the house...
But he kept it going. He did lower his voice and stop cussing at me. Then he just spewed words at me, one lie after another, all to justify his position, his right and his life. I realized that this was a trigger for me. It is when the crazy starts to happen and I am expected to become complicit in his lies that I begin to lose it. He throws bullshit at me and expects me to agree with him and I won’t. It goes something like this:
I had to stay up all night because you won’t give me the attention I need during the day so I have to be with my friends.
I didn’t go out with friends last night, I came home, took you out to dinner and spent the entire evening with you. How did I not give you the attention you wanted?
I wanted to go to the beach with the dogs.
And you first told me that you wanted to do this while we were on our way to dinner...
And you NEVER take me
You NEVER ask me in advance, it is always a last minute thing that I can’t accommodate in the moment. Please ask me earlier, let’s make a plan, I would love to do that with you sometime.
You don’t care about me at all, all you care about is my sister and yourself.
I am sorry you feel that way. It isn’t true. I care about you a lot.
Yeah right! I can’t wait to leave here and get away from you. You are toxic and I hate it here.
I am doing the best I can and I am sorry you are unhappy. I am really trying.
Yeah well you suck.
(Feeling completely hopeless and despondent). It doesn’t matter what I do, I am never afforded any slack. I am the one that shows up every single day and tries her best and all I get for doing that is shit.
You don’t try at all and I can’t wait to move away as soon as I am 18.
You are a horrible mom to me, you love my sister and you don’t care about me at all.
Again, sorry you feel that way and I am so tired of hearing this. Get over it!
Oh, there you go again! It is all about you!
And so it goes. Almost daily. It is exhausting. I am tired from the fight. I have no exit plan. I have no respite. And I realize neither does he. We are locked into this pattern because neither of us has a way out.
I don’t know what to do or how to do it differently. We fall down the same holes repeatedly. This is not to say that we haven’t made progress, because he and I have. But when things happen, like this morning, where I, as a parent, have to call him out for violating the rules: staying up all night, disturbing the peace, drinking energy drinks all night, consuming large amounts of sugar, cussing, being disrespectful, having food in his room and he just ups the ante and blows it all to smithereens, I am not sure what to do.
I try to walk away, he follows. I try not to talk about it in the moment, he won’t leave. I try to disengage, he refuses to leave. I tell him I can’t talk anymore, I am upset and it isn’t going to go well. He refuses to stop. He keeps pushing and pushing and pushing until I can’t take it anymore and I yell. I am triggered and over the edge. I don’t ever hit him or act out in any other way than yell but yell I do. I lose my emotional composure. I allow myself to be edged over my own emotional ledge and I do not know how to stop it. It has always been this way with us...always.
I am the kind, respectful mom for attack numbers one through ten, but on eleven I lose it. I try to walk away at three or four but he keeps coming at me and I can’t get away, I can’t disengage, I can’t get even a minute to find calm and peace. He stands stubbornly in my path and will not leave, will not stop talking and will not give me what I have now asked for repeatedly...a minute to collect myself.
How are we to right ourselves when the other person brings the storm? How are we to keep our footing when the other person is nothing but quicksand? How can I keep myself grounded when he is helium, filling me so completely that there is no oxygen, and I can’t even breathe?
This is where the trigger turns to meltdown. Where the toe hold on sanity erodes to wasteland. This is the place where I go far too often. I go to therapy, take my meds. Insist he goes to therapy, take his meds. I try to take care of myself but mornings like this one, I feel defeated, I feel like it is never going to end. I feel like it is hopeless. I feel like I am always going to fail. I feel like no matter what I do, it is wrong, not appreciated, fought at every turn.
But thankfully feelings are not facts. This was just another emotional storm. As I stand amidst the wreckage, I evaluate...
Well everything is still standing. Police were not called. Blood not spilled. Relationship in tact, kind of. He is now coming in to take a bath. I am able to ventilate my heart and mind here. We are talking calmly. I feel like I can call “no harm, no foul” but I can’t. I see the toxicity and the aftermath, while falling below the level of Defcom 1, still makes my cortisol level way too high and my emotional exhaustion too great to continue.
I don’t like this part of my life and endeavor to do it differently every moment of my life. Some days I do better than others. Today I only went over the edge until I heard my own voice raise, then I stopped talking. Then I stopped everything, shut my eyes and got quiet. Today I won the battle of being triggered. I didn’t do the stuff, say the stuff that decimates my own opinion of myself. I didn’t cause further damage to an already fraught relationship. Today, I just handled it and will now move on.
It is a lot. And I would be lying to say that today’s early morning battle is over. I have to admit that I am tired. I, often times, want to run away. I love my child. I will never give up. But I have to own that it is hard. I do it poorly, far too often and hate myself for it. But I do not know how to do it differently. The triggers are buried deep within our flesh, the love felt a poor shield for wounds that can’t ever be completely healed, only addressed and redressed. I long for another time, another place where peace prevails for both of us. I am more hopeful for me than him. I am older and tired and the fight burns not so brightly anymore. For him, it is just beginning, and the fire in his belly, his justification and entitlement in tact and growing. I pray for him, I pray for me, I pray for us because I literally can think of nothing else to do. I notice the trigger and I try to disengage but find myself like one of those coin pusher machines in an arcade, you drop the coin in (which is every interaction we have) the coins (interactions) pile up, until they cascade over the edge, except in our case, there is no great payout of cash, only emotions unleashed without control or containment. Each of us being pushed over our emotional edges despite the strong desire for this time to be different.
So I start the day over, triggered but fading. I try to reset the day, reframe it so that it can be some other type of day. A new start. I may go back to sleep if my interior will let me, and hope, beyond all hope the love I feel for him will find a way to be greater than the challenge I face. And so I begin again, triggers be damned, because ultimately what else is there to do? I will walk forever towards the love...simply because I know of nothing else to walk toward that is more worthwhile than that.