This is going to be hard for me.
I tend to be a relatively private person. I’ve even struggled with keeping blogs going in the past as I generally prefer to keep to myself. Opening up isn’t something I’ve ever excelled at. However, it’s time to take the step I’ve been trying to take for years. After much soul searching and growth, I’m finally ready to share my experiences and open the door for good.
Sometimes in life, we encounter pivotal moments that have a way of changing everything. Moments that redirect our entire life’s path and make us question every step we’ve ever taken and every step we’re planning to take. For me, that moment was on April 8th, 2012: the night my mother died.
It was around 11 pm on Easter Monday about four years ago. I had just gotten back to college after a glutinous weekend of food and family in my hometown. Just as I was getting ready to go to bed, my phone rang. Confused about who could possibly be calling so late on a weeknight, I reached over and glanced at the caller ID. It was my father, and I instantly knew something was wrong. I answered the phone, and he said the words I’d been waiting for since I was a child. “Mom’s gone.”
I remember my gasp. I remember my confusion. I remember being completely unable to process anything my Dad was telling me. I had seen my mother less than five hours earlier, waving goodbye to me in the driveway of my childhood home. It didn’t seem real. In just one moment, my whole life had changed, and it would never be the same again.
My mother was my whole world. She was also an alcoholic. I had spent the majority of my first 20 years of life deeply involved in her bumpy road to sobriety – an end goal she would tragically never reach. My mother was a loving, wonderful woman who left a mark on everyone she knew. But she was conflicted. Her greatest weakness was her inability to love herself, and that self-loathing is what ultimately drove her to an early grave with a bottle in her hand.
The family she left behind was more broken than we even knew was possible, more dysfunctional than we had even been while in the throes of her addiction. Through the decades of sadness and conflict, we had never noticed that she had become the centre of our family. She was the beating heart and soul, and without her, we all fell apart. My father, my brother and I all went our separate ways, and things have never been the same since. I had wanted nothing more than for us to come together and learn to be the healthy family I always dreamed we could be. But we weren’t healthy. We were broken and we didn’t know how to be a family without her. So I was left with no comfort, no direction, and only my cluster of conflicting emotions to tear at my mind day in and day out for the next several years. Only within the last couple years has that started to change.
My journey has been a challenging one. You see, I was young when I learned of my mother’s addiction, and somewhere in my little mind, I believed I could fix it. I really thought I could save her life if I tried hard enough. So I dedicated much of my developing years to spending time with her, keeping an eye on her, and trying desperately to help her feel like she was loved. Most of all, I spent my childhood try to keep her sober. I would search her bags, learn all her hiding places, and confront her with the bottles I found. I believed that if I kept it up, if I fought her addiction with her, she would eventually kick it for good and we could all live happily ever after. Finally, the way it was meant to be.
Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as happily ever after.
That night, on Easter weekend in 2012, I learned that awful, painful truth. My mother was gone, and I had failed at the only goal I had ever had; saving her life. I was about to graduate college with no idea who I was and what I was supposed to do without her. I, Kay Benedek, didn’t exist as a whole person outside of the alcoholic situation. I had put all my own goals and desires aside to focus on her and her addiction. So when she died, I suddenly found myself, at 22 years old, with no idea what it meant to be me. Just me. So I grieved. I grieved for her, and I grieved for the version of myself that died with her. I was a blank slate. And that was almost as terrifying as facing life without her.
That was four years ago, and since that day, I’ve been on an unstoppable journey of self-discovery.
It has been anything but easy, and there have been days where it felt like I just couldn’t go on. It would be so easy to just give up and disappear forever. Just dissolve into nothingness. So many days I spent wishing I could do just that… but I couldn’t. My mother’s death had ignited in me a desire to live. I swore to myself that I wouldn’t die with the same regrets she had. I wouldn’t live a life of fear and doubt like she had. I would figure out who I was, and I would live – for both of us. Ultimately, I know that’s what she would want me to do.
So, here I am, years down the road with more miles on my soul than I can express, learning to make that work for me. Though my pain has been there with me through all of my adventures and experiences, I find myself being thankful for it. I have seen amazing things, been to beautiful places, and made lifelong friends. My struggles with my mother’s life and death have made me stronger, braver, and more determined than I ever knew I could be. And with her love and support never leaving my heart, I know that nothing can stop me from living my life to the fullest.
I am no less lost now than I was that day. I don’t really know what I’m looking for, but I do know that my journey is nowhere near complete. I’m scared and I’m hurt. I’ve been through a lot, learned a lot about myself, and I know I still have some things to work through. But in my pain and grief, I find the drive I need to keep pushing, healing through every new adventure. That is what brings me to this very step. This is the next stage in that growth.
Everyone has a cross to bear. Everyone is working through something. This blog is my attempt to embrace my complicated past, celebrate my incredible accomplishments, and inspire others to do the same. Together, we can all be a bunch of dysfunctional folks, living for every new day and every new adventure.
I am Wander Woman Kay Benedek, and I will never stop.
Mom – this one, and every one after it, is for you.