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  • Writer's pictureGalen Warden

#Winning, a Mother's Story

If you think you cannot accomplish something, look to the examples that inspire you. I am inspired by James Cameron. He majored in physics, then English, then dropped out of college to drive a truck so he could pursue screenwriting. Instead of raising six kids alone and scraping together a career to support them, he wrote and directed record-breaking blockbuster movies like Terminator, Alien, Titanic, and Avatar. Now, three years older than me, he’s reveling in the success of yet another masterpiece, and I’m home caring for my son 24/7. What do I have to show for my years of sweat and tears? How is this the life that my hard work and sacrifices have earned me? Today, I confidently stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Cameron and his accomplishments, and I’m happy to share why.

When I began caring for James, I did not have time to think. Everything was new. But the greatest challenge for me was not figuring out what he could eat, how to deal with waking every 2-3 hours at night because he could only eat small portions and his blood sugar was crashing. It wasn’t learning how to toilet him in the bed or to keep myself from talking in his room when I was holding up water for him to drink. No.

The greatest challenge was emotional.

I have always been a “flight,” “freeze,” and “fawn” person. I reject confrontation at all costs. I hide. I don’t deal. But here was my son, experiencing the end of his life as he knew it without the stamina to express or even process the emotions to match that trauma. I had no idea how to interact with him emotionally. He felt it, and it hurt him. He expressed his pain at my withdrawal, but I didn’t know how to meet him on that horrific battlefield of losing the fight for his life.

I wanted all the physical support I gave him night and day, that drained all my strength and emotional reserves, to be enough. Here I am, yet again, delivering a meal to watch you only eat half of it, a child’s portion, knowing you’ll be hungry in two hours. Here I am, scratching your face, holding your cup, rubbing your feet. Here I am stumbling to your room after two hours of sleep, drunk with exhaustion, trembling legs, shaking hands, because I will do anything for you. Anything but cross that emotional threshold to the vulnerability you require of me. Anything but that.

So, I put on my big girl pants and did some very hard work on myself. I confronted past traumas, my toxic mother, my abusive uncle, and my narcissistic ex-husband. On that journey I started by seeing and embracing the little girl who needed to please everyone at any cost, someone without boundaries or the courage to make them. I gave her the power of “No,” the ability to see the harm done to her with adult eyes, and to choose who she would listen to and trust. I helped the young wife who had accepted gross manipulation and insults to stand tall and declare her truth. I did this hard work with a therapist and alone, and I became the mother James needed emotionally. The hardest work of the past three years of caring for my completely helpless, bed bound adult son has been the emotional work of sharing his pain and not hiding from it.

I learned to accept his burden, not to hide or run from it, when he unburdened himself to me—the only person that he could talk to as he continued to face the worst moments of his life. He handed me his most valuable treasure, his vulnerability, and instead of dropping it like a hot potato, I learned to receive it, embrace it, internalize it, and respond with appropriate tears over his loss, rage at the injustice, or joy at a small improvement. I stopped running and hiding.

Confronting his world-ending tragedy with a strong heart and steady resolve is as huge an accomplishment for any human being as writing and directing a Hollywood blockbuster. And I humbly accept my many Oscars. I may not be able to write and direct the stories I hold in reserve, but I think I could be a much better storyteller thanks to the hard work my son has required of me, work on myself.

After refusing to accept his broken heartedness, then taking and dropping it because it hurt me too much to touch, I have learned to hold, in steady hands, the burning flame of his broken heart without being burned. This is the stuff of epics. The vulnerable core at the heart of suffering demands more focus and clarity than any work I can think of. I can be proud of my life without trophies on a shelf or crowds of adoring fans. I can hold my head high, knowing that in the arena of life’s most daring challenges I have met my beasts and wrestled them to the ground to be the person my son needs. This is my ultimate win, and what creates our bond, because James has wrestled much scarier monsters than I, and won as well.

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