Something’s not right
31-01-2021 05:54 PM
Can anyone offer an unofficial diagnosis/best guess?
Hi guys. I don’t know if anyone here can help me but here goes.
I want to crowdsource opinions from mental health-minded people, as to what might have caused my mother’s bizarre behaviour when I was young. This isn’t about getting her treatment (she’s never believed she’s mentally ill and won’t go to therapy). It’s more about finding closure around a difficult part of my life by putting her behaviour into some kind of context.
I’ve looked for answers online with little success – you can’t Google as complicated a personality as my mother’s, which is why I thought posting in forums might help. I realise nobody can tell me exactly what her issues are based solely on my descriptions but I’m interested in knowing what you think anyway. I apologise if this is long-winded, I’m bad at editing and unsure what details might be useful.
The TL;DR is, are there any disorders, conditions, etc that would help to explain a otherwise compulsively loving mother becoming viciously hateful towards her kids every time she drank and then claiming not to remember any of her behaviour once she was sober? She had a flat affect when drunk but would also become giddy with rage. Also she would cook and clean manically.
The long version is… When I was a teenager my mother went through long periods of abusing alcohol, and when she was drunk she acted like a completely different person. I don’t mean that she was simply uninhibited or unreasonable; I mean she acted deeply unwell whenever she drank and she would snap right back into her regular personality once she was sober. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde-style.
The woman who raised me is very anxious and very loving. She can be a little smothering. By all accounts her own mother was cold and sometimes violent, and she pulls in the other direction, constantly checking that everyone around her is okay. When we were kids she seemed tortured by the thought of any of us being sad or uncomfortable even for a moment, and she would bend over backwards to soothe us. Socially she’s quite nervous but will tell strangers her life story if they ask. She cries easily and has few emotional boundaries. I always saw her as fragile and warm.
When I was 15, right after my maternal grandfather died and my parents separated, my mother started drinking heavily. For maybe a year she was “fun Mum” when she drank, relaxed and silly. Then something changed abruptly. She would turn and give me these dead-eyed glares out of nowhere, and ask in a flat voice what I was staring at. She started picking arguments over nothing. She would ask me to do something she knew was impossible like change a lightbulb without a chair, and as we began to argue she would get visibly excited and talk in a strange, mocking schoolgirl voice. She always drank at night and she started routinely barging into my sisters’ or my room as we tried to sleep, forcing arguments about any dumb little thing, sometimes raging until morning. Her face would somehow look dead behind the eyes and lit up at the same time, like she was an empty shell possessed by an angry spirit. As she shouted and gesticulated she would pull these contorted, hateful expressions and sometimes laugh with anger. It really did feel like she was possessed. Over the years she would call my sisters and me every name in the book, explain in detail why she hated us and why we were disgusting, how thrilled she would be to see us fail in life. (I can’t exaggerate how unrecognisable this person was from the loving, super-sensitive person we were used to.) Then she would wake up the next morning as herself and apologise. Over and over and over.
The morning after, she often seemed embarrassed and swore she couldn’t remember a single thing from the night before, even if she had seemed fairly lucid for most of it. Sometimes she would cry her eyes out as she apologised, sometimes she would try to frame it as “quirky Mum and her zany drunken antics” which felt like gaslighting, then eventually she settled into a habit of avoiding us the next day until we each signalled in some way that we weren’t mad at her. Either way she always seemed unable to reconcile with her own actions, even when she was repeating them consistently. In the early days I remember her swearing on her life that she wouldn’t be confrontational with us that night, even giving my sister a safe word she could use to tell my mother she was “doing it again” and make her snap out of it. She seemed to genuinely believe that she could control herself, but that night she was out for blood again, calling my sister profanities and laughing off the safe word.
This went on in cycles for maybe eight years. There were long periods where she would acknowledge she had a problem and quit drinking, then claim that wasn’t exactly what she had promised to do and slowly begin again, then she would agree to quit simply because I was pushing her to, then weeks later look me in the eye and swear we never had that conversation. To this day I don’t know what’s real to her and what isn’t. What she genuinely blocked out or couldn’t remember, what she lied to herself about, what she lied to me about. When was I speaking to my mother as I know her and when was I speaking to her addiction, or to some mental illness.
There were other features of Mr Hyde mode – she would often stay up all night cooking and cleaning, which she seemed able to do even as she stumbled and slurred. She would play loud music all night, until someone fought her tooth and nail to turn it down. But the focus was always on having someone to fight with. I noticed that if she was in a weeks- or months-long routine of drinking every other night it only seemed to take a few sips before the warm, clingy Mum disappeared and the scowling, dead-eyed one showed up. If she hadn’t been drinking as much around that time it would take 2 or 3 drinks.
My siblings and I are adults now and she rarely drinks, and never around us. For all intents and purposes Mr Hyde is out of our lives, gone without any meaningful explanation or apology. I think we’re all, to different degrees, damaged by our childhoods but moving forward. But years later, my mind is still snagged on the “why” of her behaviour.
I know my mother is an alcoholic and was emotionally abusive. I’ve dealt with that as well as I can. I’m not here in need of consolation, honestly. It’s the analytical part of me that wants to take her apart like a broken clock and simply understand. I want to know if there is a word for what I experienced, or a group of potential explanations, even ballpark guesses.
From the research I’ve done, Bipolar 1 makes some sense. That would explain the manic cleaning and wild mood swings when she drank. But it would seem odd that I never saw any traces of similar behaviour when she was sober. I’ve also read about alcoholic psychosis and psychotic rage, which I imagine could explain why her erratic behaviour seemed to show up cumulatively after she had been soaking in alcohol for a while, but she never seemed to have broken from reality in any obvious way. She did occasionally accuse people of stealing from or trying to undermine her when she was at her drunkest, which sounds like delusional thinking, but this was when she was slurring so badly that it was hard to understand her speech, let alone her logic.
Maybe there is no handy phrase or disorder that can tie this all up. I don’t know. All I know is that after years of being told that what I saw with my own eyes didn’t happen, or happened differently, or happened and was normal, piecing together my own narrative and understanding of those experiences has helped me feel more sane. I’d like as much language and psych jargon as I can find to continue filling in those pieces.
Any thoughts or suggestions are welcome.
02-02-2021 08:09 AM
Re: Can anyone offer an unofficial diagnosis/best guess?
Thanks for posting and sharing. I'm.judt wondering on the hypothesis of knowing why your mother was like this and what was "wrong" with her, what positivity would it bring in your life to move you forward and bring you peace? What would it mean for you? These questions are more for you than me.
I don't always talk about my life. Sometimes I just can't because it's too painful. I had different circumstances. I guess for now after a long time I've come to understand that trying to understand why and what was wrong with my mother and father is never going to make anything better. It's me that's damaged and it's me that I need to focus on. Looking to them for answers or the external word to their own complexities and abuse is not going to make me better at all. The focus is still in them when it shouldn't be. It has to be in me now.
I have no contact. It's hard, very hard. However it's unfortunately right because they cannot stop abusing me.
All the best with your journey.
02-02-2021 08:55 AM
Re: Can anyone offer an unofficial diagnosis/best guess?
Hi there, thanks for the kind words and for sharing your experiences.
I've gotten those questions before - how will understanding my mother help me heal, am I dwelling on the past instead of healing, etc. The best way I can explain it is, experiencing my mother's mental health issues up close and without context for years was surreal and disorienting. I haven't even gotten into the specific ways it caused pain and dysfunction in our lives because that would be a whole book, all I've described is the behaviour itself because that's what I'm trying to understand. But it was a very long, traumatic situation that made me feel insane at times and the more context I've gained for it since then, the more sane I've felt.
I am in therapy and working on myself in a bunch of ways, related to my childhood and not. We're all works in progress. This question is secondary to my healing - something I don't expect a definitive answer to, but it is worth a try.