For most of us, our mothers are a soft place to land, a sympathetic shoulder to lean on regardless of how grown up we’re supposed to be. But for Domenica Ruta, who grew up with a drug-addicted, unreliable mother in a working class community north of Boston, the relationship was much more complex. In her new book, With or Without You, Ruta tells the story of how she broke away from her mother. And here she tells us how being with and without her mother has affected the happiness in her life.
Q: When things got bad with your mother, how bad did they get?
A: The worst part about my mother’s storms was their unpredictability. I never knew if a sour look on her face would blow away after she’d smoked a couple cigarettes or if I’d be spending the next 48 hours of my life hiding in my bedroom, trying to suppress sobs and bracing myself for the next howling monologue I’d have to hear about what a piece of s–t she thought I was. When she threw things at me, she always missed, which I like to think of as her deliberate, or partially deliberate, attempt to restrain herself. She also had terrible aim, so there’s that.
Q: How did you decide to sever ties with your mother?
A: After what I now see as a very sad, paranoid bottom, my mother accused me of colluding with some kind of law enforcement – FBI, DEA, police, they were all after her – and something inside me snapped. I was so afraid of betraying her that there were things I wouldn’t even tell therapists, relationships I knew were confidential and protected by law. I was also financially stable — in my mid-twenties, and living almost two thousand miles away from her — so for the first time in my life, it felt safe for me to cut off all ties with her.
Q: Was your life happier without her in it?
A: No. I missed her terribly – I still do – and I continued to drink with a death wish that was all my own, nothing I could blame on her. I wanted peace and quiet, at least in the mother-drama part of my heart. What I did was press the mute button. It was not until I got sober and started confronting the feelings I had been avoiding, about her and about myself, that life started to become happy again.
Q: We’re always a jumble of our parents’ characteristics — some good and some bad. What good things did you get from your mother?
A: I definitely have her sense of humour – mordant, fearless, a little vulgar. I can make myself laugh in any situation, and she taught me how to do that. It’s my most-cherished coping mechanism.
Q: Do you still chase demons directly related to your relationship with your mother? How has this relationship influenced your adult relationships?
A: You mean my near-paralyzing fear of intimacy? Could this have something to do with my mother? My inability to trust that someone’s promise to me is going to come true? I chase these demons still, but I cannot and will not blame them on her. I am an adult now and it is my job to become a whole person.
Q: Do you still hold onto any resentment of your mother, or have you moved past that?
A: I love the proverb about harbouring resentments – it’s like drinking a vial of poison and expecting the other person to die. I’m working very assiduously to let go of my resentments but it’s an ongoing, life-long process and I am right smack in the middle of that process. A lot has shifted for me psychically through prayer, meditation, therapy, and connecting honestly with a community of sober, spiritual adults. But there’s more work for me to do in that department. There always will be.