Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Bit Lit

Getting drunk and getting sober. Becoming a mother by letting go of a mother.  Mary Karr, you had me at hello.

Immediately upon reading the back cover summary of Lit, a memoir by Mary Karr, I knew I wanted/needed/should read this book. And stat. I wasn’t expecting, nor was I prepared, for the stories I would read, the stories I would not-so-surprisingly relate to, and the emotions and fears of a woman so out of my orbit yet a mirror image of myself. I was looking for refreshing, and refreshing is not what I got. The book had these one or two line sentences that just grabbed me – words that shook my soul and slapped my mind into action, and by "action" I mean truthful thinking, further realization of the work I must continue to do, the journey I must walk and walk every day.  No bull. No excuses.

The way in which Mary drinks - her week long benders, stashing liquor and secretly drinking before important events - this is all so different from the ways in which I drink.  But why Mary drinks comes from the same broken places as me.  I've had trouble putting a finger on exactly what my relationship with alcohol is.  I don't think I am an alcoholic (and no, these aren't the famous last words of an alcoholic).  I do have control and I have the ability to say no.  The thing is - usually, I just don't want to.  I want to drink to oblivion.  I want to numb myself of reality and get lost in the drunkenness.  This book helped me realize that my struggles with alcohol aren't cookie cutter issues that fit perfectly into one box or another - and to stop wasting time trying to define where my drinking fits on the "drinking problem scale".  This applies to my other struggles as well.  I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what my deal is.  How am I broken?  How much am I broken?  The fact is, I am broken.  There is healing in these words.

When a professor approached Mary about a graduate writers’ program he thought she’d be a good candidate for, she thought, “It was either bogus, or I’d never get in.” “I don’t deserve”, “I’m not good enough”, “why bother?” - the foundation from which I base every opinion and decision in my life. For Mary to so nonchalantly have this negative, passing thought when a professor is encouraging her talent, I wanted to yell at her “Are you crazy? You are an amazing writer, and I've only known you for 60 pages! It would be a loss on the program’s part not to have you!” Oh, how easy it is to give advice rather than take it. How easy it is to see the good in others while shaming yourself.

Mary shares her talks with her therapist, and this stirred conflicting emotions. This woman is hurting; she is hurting herself and hurting her son and her husband – I don’t want her to hurt. But I also don’t want to be alone. There is comfort in the suffering of others, especially when that suffering has the same origin as my own, and a part of me feels disgusted by this comfort. The rest of me feels comfort. In one particular session, the therapist is asking Mary whose fault it was for some of Mary’s mother’s behavior. She replies with, “I don’t know. Probably mine, like I said. I was a pain in the ass.” This resonates with my blaming self – with the self who questions why my own mother did the things she did, and when no solid answer comes to mind, assuming it was my fault, because wasn’t it always?

The therapist's next words will stay with me, hopefully always (I have a tendency of forgetting the good and remembering the bad).  "For a mother to be expected to show up sane and reliable is the least any kid deserves."  I truly believe that had I heard these words earlier, way earlier - like 20 years earlier - in the midst of a blaming fit on the part of my mother, in her fit of anger and hate and reasons why I didn't deserve X and Y and Z, I would have said to her, "For a mother to be expected to show up sane and reliable is the least any kid deserves."  I savor this imaginary moment in time.  I reach out and pull myself out of my mother's swing; I hug that little girl like she's never been hugged, with the unconditional love and comfort that should never be discovered through the suffering of others.  

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