Wednesday, September 15, 2010

September 15: Our Lady of Sorrows

Having a person you love be diagnosed with a mental illness sucks.  Having that same person suffer from addiction (alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography, whatever) doubly sucks.  I can vouch for that.  It all becomes a vicious cycle:  my loved one is out of control; my loved one is sucking down bottles of tequila (substitute your addiction of choice); my loved one is in the hospital; my loved one is getting help; my loved one is starting to do better; my loved one is great; my loved one is having problems; my loved one is out of control ... You get the idea.

One of the hardest parts is not knowing which came first--the illness or the addiction.  Is the addiction a symptom of the illness?  Or is it a matter of the two coexisting like Palestine and Israel, constantly at war, both claiming ownership of the same piece of real estate.  I don't know if my wife's struggle with sexual addiction is a result of mania or if it's an independent entity, a scoop of chocolate on top of the scoop of vanilla that is my wife's bipolar.

The thing that I find most exhausting about my wife's illness/addiction is pretending.  In the morning, when I leave the house for work, I have to put on a mask:  the happy worker.  I deal with patients and coworkers, listen to complaints and concerns, and struggle to silence the voice in my head that's screaming, "You think YOU got it bad?1?  Let me tell you something!!"  Then I have to go teach my writing classes at the university, and I put on another mask:  the concerned teacher.  I listen to mostly teenagers moan about the B's they've received on their papers, since they've always gotten A's in all of their English classes before this.  I fight the urge to let my eyes roll toward my forehead as I listen to their worries, and I entertain the idea of simply saying, "I'm sorry.  You must be mistaking me for someone who gives a shit."  Then I go back to my happy worker mask for a little while longer.  And then, at 5 p.m., I go home and put on another mask:  the daddy.  This mask is more comfortable to wear as I feed, bathe, dress, pack lunches, and march my son and daughter off to bed.  Only after my children are snoring in their respective sleep spaces do I take off my last mask and let myself just be me.  Frazzled.  Sad.  Worried.  Angry.  Hungry.  Bone tired.  Me.

It's tiring being so many people during the day.  It's especially tiring when all you really want to do when the alarm clock goes off is roll over and hang a huge "Do Not Disturb" sign across your ass.  I understand why Greta Garbo said, "I vant to be alone."  If I'm alone, I don't have to act like a phony, to quote Holden Caufield.  I can be my authentic, true self.

And that authentic, true self sometimes feels a little lost.

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.  It's a day that commemorates the seven events of great sorrow and loss in the life of the Virgin Mary:
1)  Prophecy of Simeon
2)  Flight into Egypt
3)  Three Days' Loss of Jesus
4)  Meeting Jesus on the Way to Calvary
5)  Mary at the Foot of the Cross
6)  Jesus Taken Down from the Cross
7)  Burial of Jesus

 Mary had a lot to grieve over.  However, in that list of seven items, right between numbers 3 and 4, sits about 30 years in which she had Jesus to herself.  They sat down like any Jewish family in Nazareth and had lamb omelets for breakfast.  Jesus built chairs and entertainment centers (or whatever carpenters made) in His dad's workshop.  And He was devoted to Mary, probably told her He loved her every day.  Probably several times a day.  And they were happy.

That's what I cling to in my life:  those small, happy moments at breakfast or supper when I love and feel loved.  I'm sure Mary did that.  It's what brings you through the sorrow.  It's what helps you see through mental illness and addiction to something true.  Something full of hope.  Something normal, like apple cider or a hot bowl of oatmeal.

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