Recovering, Archiving, and Telling

From left to right, this is me with my mama. She and I took that photo strip together two springs ago.

My mom is an addict in recovery. She’s been sober for six years, which is the longest she’s ever been sober as long as I’ve been around. There were short windows of sobriety here and there, but most of her life (and nearly all of mine), she was this sort of half-person, deeply under the influence of alcohol, street drugs, and Oxycodone. Her addiction was large and violent, and other parts of her personal experience like seasonal depression and childhood trauma only fanned the flame. It almost killed her several times. It almost killed me a few times. It drained bank accounts, decimated relationships, destroyed houses (literally), and forced me to grow up very, very fast. It wasn’t until a long string of crimes sent her to prison that she reached a real, long-term state of sobriety. She and I fervently agree that if she hadn’t been caught, or if she had served a shorter term, that she would likely be dead.

But she isn’t dead. She’s alive, and sober. She was really lucky - one of those success stories where you go through the judiciary system and come out the other side better than you were when you went in. She has a job at a nonprofit. She has a husband and a dog, and they live in a house in the suburbs. She was given a real second chance that she is fully taking advantage of. We have a good relationship now that she is sober and we’ve had some time and distance from each other. She did a lot of harm to me, but I also have a clear understanding that her addiction is a mental illness. I believe that we have a good relationship now for two reasons: the trauma of my childhood intersects with the trauma of her addiction, and my nature is forgiving (probably because all of these things happened, probably because of my dad). Her second chance at a relationship with me is also my second chance at a relationship with her. 

Here’s what I’m getting to: 

1. This crazy thing happened to me, and I feel like there’s something there, this story. I used to have to tell it all the time because it explained why I wasn’t always getting homework done, why my friends couldn’t come over for sleepovers, why I spent so much time crying in the bathroom, why we suddenly didn’t have a car. A monologue existed, and it was there to put the pieces together for pretty much everyone in my life at that time.

2. Now, I’m an adult, who writes and composes, and I can look at this story abstractly because my mom is sober and I don’t have to live and breathe the fear of her addiction in its active state. 

3. The time and the distance, the lack of recounting it again and again, is also making parts of it slip from my memory. In a weird, fucked-up way, I’m afraid of forgetting what happened. 

So last weekend, I invited my mom to stay with me at my apartment for three days. I asked her if it was okay if I started working on telling that story, and if she wanted to help me tell it. She said yes. We asked each other a lot of questions about her life and mine, and I recorded all of the conversations. I’m going to do more of that. I’m going to use that material and what I can recount from memory as reference for a song cycle. 

I have no idea when I’ll be done.

If you had told me as a child that I would not only grow up to live a normal adult life, but that I would be a professional musician, and my mom would be alive and I wouldn’t have to worry about her, AND that I would be opting to tell this story to an audience, child-me would have grabbed you by your collar with her puny child-hands and told you that you were crazy and you needed to tell future-adult-me that I was even crazier. Honestly, future-adult-me has her doubts about this whole thing. But I can’t shake this feeling that this is an important thing to do. So, I’m doing it.

If you want to read a little bit about the project in a more formal way, there’s a project page over here. I want to post work samples and updates there when I have them. In the mean time, I’m around, and I’ll be writing. 

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