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I see my mother as a woman whose life had been bottlenecked by pain. First, her trauma was unresolved. Then it became stagnant, then rotten, then completely toxic, eventually destroying her body, just like it had her mind. Her sadness grew bigger and she got smaller until she evaporated, bowed down on her bedroom floor beside the queen-sized bed where she spent most of my childhood. That’s the artistry of unresolved trauma: It stunts your growth, and, if you let it, shrinks you down to nothing.

Always, I lived in the shadow of her pain. I didn’t have anywhere else to go.

The sickness took up so much space in my young life, but it was so constant by that time, I didn’t have a chance to develop resentment. Even then, all of it — the flare-ups, the hospital admissions, the menagerie of pills — seemed so far out of her control. As a mother myself, I know this to be true: Trauma isn’t something you do to your child; it’s something you give, often passively like a bad chromosome, a genetic predisposition. My mom didn’t want to hurt me, disappoint me, or abandon me. She wanted to love me. She gave herself to me the only way she knew how — through the long, winding corridor of a grief beyond her control. The pain she brought me into was only a byproduct. I’m just thankful she gave herself to me at all.

It wasn’t immediate, but in many ways, the end of my mom’s physical life was the beginning for me. It zoomed her out and gave me perspective: A new framework in which to love her. Without her superimposed on everything — no more manic episodes, no more trips to the hospital, no more lies — I could forgive her.

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