I can only imagine that it’s a mother being a mother

For mothers of boys, it must seem like much of existence is devoted to making sure their male offspring don’t hurt themselves. Men need women in their lives for many reasons, but steering us away from our intrinsic, self-destructive stupidity masquerading as curiosity ranks near the top. “I wonder what’ll happen if I stick my whole forearm in that anthill.” Mom wasn’t there to stop me, but she was there to coax me out of hysteria and apply ointment to the bites.

Someone recently asked me about the self-destructive nature of addiction, and I shared the old adage about touching a hot stove. Like I had been told before, I told him that a “normal” person will stop after getting burned once, whereas an addict will keep going until both hands are ruined. I didn’t think much about that incident with the anthill until I got clean. I couldn’t have been more than 5 years old, so chances are I was no different than any other curious (read: stupid) little boy who stuck a fork in an electrical socket. Nevertheless, once I learned about mental illness and addiction in general and myself in particular, that childhood memory came back as a perfect analogy. I kept sticking my hand in anthills, and my mom was always there to doctor the wounds.

Fathers play their roles too, but more often in traditional family dynamics mothers serve as the caretakers. Hell, father as a verb is a synonym for sire, as in “be the male parent of (an animal).” The Cambridge Dictionary definition for mother as a verb: “to treat someone with kindness and affection and try to protect that person from danger or difficulty.” That sounds like my mother to me, and it also sounds like being a mother is a motherfucker of a job.

If you’re not familiar with addiction being called a family disease, that title isn’t really meant to describe the genetic component. Whether you believe addiction is a disease or not, it’s undeniable that drug and alcohol abuse takes place more frequently in certain families. That’s an important concept to note for better understanding, but the family disease model refers to codependency. You’ll hear the popular psychology phrase “enabling” used to describe someone who cleans up after the addict (literally and figuratively). In this scenario the addict keeps using, and some perverse sense of homeostasis is maintained.

Few people do this deliberately, but on a subconscious level codependents find a sense of purpose in caring for a sick loved one. Again, plenty of men serve as codependent caretakers for female alcoholics and addicts, but this seems to occur more often with women. Even when it’s the wife or girlfriend doing the enabling, we tend to view it as role change in which she has become more of a mother than a significant other. You’ve probably heard of enabling, but we in recovery call it “loving someone to death.”

No matter how vast the personal void might be that leads an individual to attempt to fill it with severe codependency, few people intend to love others straight into the grave. But that’s what happens sometimes. That protection can prevent development of coping skills, and that kindness and affection can distort an individual’s sense of reality and consequences. A lot of mothers love their troubled sons the best way they know how, but ultimately we, not our mothers, are responsible for our actions.

Did my mother enable me at times? Of course. Did she do it by following her maternal instincts to love me and protect me? Absolutely. If I hadn’t made it, it wouldn’t be her fault, but she has everything to do with the man I am today. I hope that’s still a compliment. I love you, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day.

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