“Son,” I say, “You slept all day and I had work for you to do.”
“Mom, I do everything right for weeks and then one screw-up and you’re all over me. Quit treating me like I’m twelve! Leave me alone. “
“If you don’t want to be treated like a 12-year-old don’t act like one!”
It’s been like this all day. “We have snapped and snarled at each other non-stop.
“Mom, I’m getting really angry, you need to get out of my room NOW!”
“My house, my room,” I snap.
My 33-year-old son, who is twice my size puffs up with rage and glares at me. He’s never struck me, but I’m scared. I turn to leave, but I’m angry, and I slam the door.
Suddenly, behind me the door comes flying out into the hallway, the frame splintering. “I can’t believe you!” I scream. Then I come to my senses and I walk away and try to calm down.
I sit on the couch, stony faced, thinking how ungrateful he is. I’m full of self-righteous anger. He has been living with us for the last three months after a year-long meth relapse. We offered him a chance to start over. Now I’m thinking, “and this is the thanks I get.”
He comes out of his room. He is silent and his face is an impenetrable mask of fury.
As I sit and use every bit of self-control to keep my mouth shut, I realize he is replacing the broken pieces of the door jam. He’s pulled out his tools and is rehanging the door. I get up and start dishes. We move carefully around each other in strained silence the rest of the day.
The next morning, I notice he is doing every chore I ask with childlike obedience, I can tell he’s trying to make amends, although he would never say sorry.
He is acting better, but I want him to acknowledge that his behavior was inappropriate and promise that it won’t happen again. This conversation makes the fight flare back up and I wonder if twelve weeks of sobriety are headed down the drain. He yells about leaving and I tell him he’ll be walking since he doesn’t have a car.
At some point I say, “watch it, I can kick you out!”
We are supposed drive into Kansas City today for his psychologist appointment and have been preparing to leave while we argue.
Finally I sigh, “We should leave.”
“Why should I bother,” he says, “if you’re kicking me out it’s pointless.”
“I haven’t decided if I’m kicking you out yet, and it’s a requirement for living here,” I say, “I’m very angry and I don’t make decisions while I’m angry.”
We drag ourselves into the car. The two of us in a confined space isn’t good. He will not talk calmly or listen to anything I say. He is irrational and refuses all responsibility for his actions. Everything is my fault and he screams it at me over and over. I pull over, in the middle of no-where, “Get out,” I say with extreme calmness. His rage in the confined space of the car is distressing me. He gets out and slams the door, I burn rubber. I drive a while and cool down. I really don’t want him back in the car, but I know I will do nothing but worry if I leave him. I turn around and go back for him. At first he won’t get in, but he finally flings himself into the passenger seat. We don’t speak the rest of the trip.
I have an appointment with my counselor at the same time as his appointment, so I drop him off first. As he’s leaving the car, I say, “Tell your psychologist how you’re about to lose everything because of your temper.”
“Don’t tell me what to do,” he snarls and slams the door.
I talk to my counselor for an hour. I go from furious, to defeated, to sad. My son had been doing so well. As I discussed his behavior, I realize he is truly mentally ill. I know he is sober, so I can’t blame his behavior on drugs. For the first time it hits me that his problems are really about his unregulated emotions. He usually gets furious and leaves and does drugs when we fight, but because he didn’t have a car and we were at the lake far from his friends, he couldn’t run off like he normally does. This was the first time a fight had been able to play out and I could see how out of control his emotions were even without drugs.
I pick my son up from his appointment and my husband calls while we are in the car together. My husband says we will discuss this when he gets home on Friday. He encourages us both to just breath and try to drop it till we we’re all together.
After my husband hangs up, I ask my son, “shall we just start over?”
“I don’t care,” he growls and stares angrily ahead. I’m hurt, but I am beginning to realize that he is in a dark place he does not know how to get out of. For the first time I’m thinking about how he is held hostage by his rage. I decide to follow my husband’s advice and just breath.
We go home and do not speak to each other. We sit in front of the TV and he falls asleep. I seethed on the couch across the room. I am still irritated and hurt. Eventually we go our separate ways to bed.
In bed, with the help of google, I study his diagnosis, Borderline Personality Disorder. I learn how a BPD person is like a burn victim with no skin and every touch is painful. Only with BPD it’s the emotions that are raw and exposed to the world and everything is emotionally painful. Today, I really saw that play out. I saw what those raw emotions do to him.
I also read how a BPD sufferers biggest fear is abandonment and I realized how threatening to kick him out, must feel like the ultimate abandonment.
Then I turn to my own feelings and realize that I am angry because I feel trapped since we let him come home. I don’t have as much freedom. But it hit me that I do not need to feel like a victim. I have all the power, it’s my home. I can make him leave at any time, no one is forcing me to let him stay. I should not feel powerless.
My son, on the other hand, has nothing, except us and a fear so big that it comes out as rage. I know that if he is trying, I want to help him. And I know he’s trying. He’s stayed sober, he’s been communicative, he’s been helpful and until yesterday he had been working very hard at not losing his temper.
The next morning, I attempt normal conversation over coffee. I ask him how his meeting with the counselor was.
“Mom, I told her how I raged out. I told her how I knew I was destroying everything and still couldn’t stop. I told her I knew I was being irrational, but I couldn’t make myself calm down.”
I was really surprised to hear this. He seldom shows remorse or takes responsibility for his actions.
“She told me the Lexapro I’ve been taking could increase my rage. So, she gave me a mood stabilizer to counteract it.”
I decide to be positive, “I’m so proud of you for being honest with her.”
“Well, I was so mad at you when I got there that I told her all about it, I think I dropped the F-bomb a hundred times.”
“Well, I may have used the F-bomb a few times in my session too.” I say.
Then I decide that I am going to try a new approach, and I say,” I need to tell you something. I’m sorry that I haven’t been acknowledge how hard you’ve been trying. I’ve seen it, but I’ve mostly been telling you how you need to improve. But you’ve been trying hard, and I really do appreciate it.”
He doesn’t say anything, so I go on, “I also need to acknowledge that you told me you were getting angry yesterday and I didn’t listen, I kept pushing you, because I was mad. I hope you will keep communicating with me. I’ll try to listen next time. We still have to talk about everything when dad gets home. But we will figure this out.”
He smiles at me. This is not a fairy tale, he doesn’t suddenly become a cherubic, perfect son.
He is standing in front of me with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, no shirt, sagging pants, and prison tattoos. I am certain we will still have difficulties communicating and life will not be easy. He is far from cherubic, but underneath the ragged exterior, I see in his eyes that he hears me saying “I love you” in a language that reaches him. I’ve affirmed him, acknowledged his effort and I’m giving him another chance.