Bad Mothers

I’m reading a book about addiction that Max read last year. He told me I might like it. I also remember him writing to his girlfriend that the book caused him to review his childhood, which he always thought was “pretty normal.”

The book, by Gabor Maté, a physician and psychiatrist, is extremely compassionate toward the addict. In fact, he explains at great length why the addict never really had a chance: Improper bonding during infancy harms the infant’s brain and sets him up for addiction.

Maté recounts study after study to underscore his thesis. When rats are removed from their mother for only one hour a day, their brains show damage. In human babies, this faulty bonding fucks everything up. The child is forever doomed to suffering and attempts to extinguish the suffering.

I can’t read too much of this book. Someone needs to do a study on my brain, to show how much harm the book has done.

Maté  ends the long chapter about the origins of the addict’s malformed brain by assuring us that he’s not saying it’s hopeless! People can be healed, he says, through the  indomitable Spirit that lives within all of us.

Meanwhile, I am compelled to look back in time and question everything. I remember loving my baby at first sight. I remember adoring his every expression, every gesture, every hair on his head. I remember nursing him for 14 months. I remember friends coming over just to admire him. I remember dressing him in his little outfits, reading to him, cuddling him, singing to him.

But I was a depressed mother. Depressed mothers ruin the brain as well. I forgot to say that. The baby picks up on the mother’s depression and is  irreparably  fucked.

I wish I could talk to Max about this. I want to know if he blames me. Or rather, if he forgives me.

His addiction must have been a nightmare for him. So much worse then the nightmare it was for us. It was such a long struggle. I never really felt it was my fault, until now.

My own mother hated me and told me so, but I didn’t want to become a drug addict. There was no comfort anywhere, from anyone, when I was a child. I have my problems but I never wanted to stick a needle in my arm. If everyone with an imperfect or depressed mother needs to escape their pain through opiates, who’s left?

I’m caught in this argument.   Depressed people don’t all become addicts. But my son did, and it’s my fault.

I wish it was nobody’s fault. I wish it was a wrong turn that led to more wrong turns. I wish he had been able to overcome his addiction and the pain that caused it. I wish I could comfort him and convince him that he was loved and he was perfect, addicted or not.

Mothers and children, what are your thoughts?

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75 Responses to “Bad Mothers”

  1. lisa Says:

    I’m sorry but I don’t believe for one second that addiction and depression can so easily be explained. I think both illnesses are far more complex and the reasons why someone becomes either or both are varied and much more subtle. If what this guy says is true, then everyone raised in those circumstances should be an addict. My brother and I were raised by the same Mother (who didn’t fuck things up too badly) he is an addict, I am not. She and her six siblings were raised by a severely depressed and emotionally distant mother none of them are addicts. Everything I read that you write about your son leads me to think he had a beautiful soul. He got that from you. Mate’ should stick to his lab rats. I wish none of this ever happened. I lost a daughter (in infancy) the what if’s are torture.

  2. cat Says:

    I think every childhood has bad elements, some more, others less. I don’t believe in blaming one’s own childhood for the problems and struggles one suffers as an adult. I do think however, that depending on the way your childhood was, on the way your parents treated you and each other and themselves probably, too, you learn to cope better or worse with what life throws at you. The happier your childhood (whatever that means), the better your ability to really come to terms with things instead of becoming addicted to anything (drugs, people, food, nofood, shopping…). That doesn’t mean that everyone less inclined to deal with things in a “healthy” way does so and becomes an addict of some sort, it just means that the probability to do so is higher.
    As a parent, the only thing you can do is to treat your child with respect and love, which is what you did, the way it sounds. It is unfortunate, that you were a depressed parent and therefore hard to handle sometimes, not a good example for how do deal with things and not a shining example of how to treat yourself, neither. Maybe that left Max less well equipped to fight the world and its horrors, but it doesn’t make you responsible for him becoming an addict, since your depressions are only one piece of the many influences that formed his personality and are the reasons for his actions and maybe, somewhere, laid the foundations for his addiction.
    Don’t blame yourself. I don’t think Max did.

  3. Dave C Says:

    So the thesis of this book is ‘Hey kids, why not blame your parents for all your own bad decisions!’ Mr Maté, despite no doubt having a string of letters after his name, is talking complete crap. I’d be interested to see any reviews of this drivel by other qualified practitioners. It angers me that somebody who previously considered their childhood normal could be waylaid by Matés specious arguments. Addiction and depression are so multi-layered in their origins and effects that to explain them away with one off-the-peg, catch-all ‘theory of everything’ is laughable. Throw this in the bin and stop blaming yourself. It was neither your fault that Max became an addict or his own. x

  4. Sister Wolf Says:

    Lisa – I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you so much for writing. Max was a beautiful soul, and he radiated that even as a young child. I hate that Dr Mate. I just read an interview with him and I see that all roads lead to The Bad Mother, because his own mother was traumatized by the Holocaust. AND he thinks cancer is another result of emotional trauma. What a fucking cunt.

    cat – Thanks, cat. I think you’re right. I needed to be reminded of all this. I appreciate your clear thinking.

    Dave C – His books are very popular. Here’s an interview with him: I want to think he’s projecting his own feelings about his own emotionally impaired mother onto everyone else.

  5. annemarie Says:

    No! This guy is a fucking dick!

    People like things to be explained to them. The more simplistic the explanation the better. If they know why something is happening, it gives them some chance of controlling it. Ergo, Mate’s book is successful.

    I bet Max read this book and thought it made some good points (every shit book makes some good points, it makes it easier for the shit to go down), but I know he was smart enough to not accept the entire argument. He probably spent a decade blaming himself for his addiction, so the revelation that his childhood had not been completely “normal” was a step towards self-acceptance. And there’s no recovery without self-acceptance.

    But– and I know I never met him- but still- i bet you a million quid he NEVER BLAMED YOU for his addiction. For a start, he was smart as fuck! Secondly, he loved you to pieces! There are more reasons, but those two are the most important.

    Also, remember- you were blaming yourself long before you read that motherfucking book. Reading it gave you another stick to beat yourself with. But it wasn’t your fault.

    You were a wonderful mother. I really think (from various self-help books I’ve read during the course of my own healing from a traumatic childhood) that the only thing a child truly needs is consistent love. And you gave that to Max, and he loved you for it, and Gabor Mate is just a very persuasive neurotic who wants to diminish his own pain by spreading it around.

  6. Lara Says:

    As a child of an angry father who lashed out at me constantly, I have forgiven him. I have the same temper and thankfully have come to peace with it and have it under control so, I can forgive him because I understand.

    I don’t know what to believe about what’s after death but I know in my heart that Max has forgiven you of every tiny flaw that you had. You were depressed. He was depressed. He understands and he forgives. I wish you could do the same for yourself, because what happened was not your fault and if he could come back, you know he wouldn’t want you to be under such a heavy burden.

  7. Juli Says:

    I think that book is a load of horse shit. My mother told me more than a few times that she wished she’d never had me, or wished she’d gotten that abortion. I’m 30 years old now, and I’ve never been addicting to anything. I’ve never been a smoker, I’ve been around plenty of drugs and even dabbled a bit, but I never had an addiction. What the book may fail to leave out is that most children have more family around than just the mother. I had my wonderful grandparents around, so maybe I can credit them for never being an addict. But I think there is more than one reason that people become addicts. Circumstance, personality, friends, depression, etc. I have also been a depressed mother, but I think I’ve been doing alright despite the fact. We all do the best we can with what we have, and unless you are smoking crack and breast feeding, there is no reason to blame yourself for anything.

  8. Ann Says:

    Maté is entitled to his opinions about the relationship between addiction and parental depression – and that’s all they are, opinions. Forget his rat studies; this isn’t a test of aspartame, there is no viable comparison to make in this case. What unfair, reckless and unsubstantiated generalizations to make. All of us know at least one wonderful mother whose child is an addict, and all of us know at least one terrible mother whose child is not. Please do not waste another moment on this man’s theories. Max did not blame you and you should not blame yourself.

  9. MJ Says:

    I had a depressed mother and I probably drink too much but never turned to drugs. It was the conditional love (“we love you if you get As, please us, choose the right career, make us look good”) that screwed me up much more than her depression, and it does not sound like you did that routine on Max (good move).

  10. sharnek Says:

    I’ve been sat her trying to find parental / maternal blame as to why both my Brothers cheated on their wives numerous times. We were brought up by the same parents, yet have very opposing views on fidelity in relationships and marriage. I can’t blame my parents for their cheating, I can’t explain it either.

    Matés may be right in some cases, depressed mother = addict child. But it’s a very sweeping statement and I refuse to believe that he is right across the board. I hate the blame laid at the feet of mothers, whether they work, stay at home, suffer depression, breast feed, bottle feed, use cloth nappies, and drink alcohol and every other bull shit theory used to rational behavior.

    Sister, I doubt these words will help, but I’m saying them anyway. You sound like a loving mother, you did your best for Max, you may feel now like your best wasn’t enough, but it was. I know this because I’m a mum who did her best and living without my children fucking hurts.

    p.s his theory on cancer is total bull shit too.

  11. Lisa Says:

    As we say here in NJ- he’s is a big fucking douche….throw the book away!

  12. DCD Says:

    I wish you wouldn’t do this to yourself. Reading this post I can almost feel your agony. I wish you had never heard of the wretched book. I wish *I* had never heard of the wretched book! According to this quack, I undoubtedly brain damaged my daughter for life by going back to work three months after she was born. Not to mention the harm I surely caused by not being able to breastfeed. I know it’s bullshit, but there’s this little voice in the back of my head I can’t ever quiet. To be a mother is to feel guilty.

    I don’t think Max blamed you. I think he was confused and tormented by his addiction, and he was looking for answers. Of course depression and addiction is not so simple as the mother’s failings. Max loved you, and he knew you loved him. That is what matters. You both did the best you could. It is not your fault.

  13. Winterbird Says:

    I just want to weigh in by saying, this is the LAST thing you need to be doing to yourself right now. Knock it off!!!!

  14. Sandra B Says:

    It IS nobody’s fault. These things just happen sometimes. Kids with problems can come from normal families and normal kids can come from families with problems.

    It sounds like you two had a much better relationship than a lot of guys I know have with their mothers (I know two that have had to disown their schizophrenic, thieving, occasionally homeless mothers), and I can’t imagine that he really meant to blame you for his problems by recommending this book to you. His childhood probably WAS “pretty normal” and this book probably put ideas in his head. It’s never healthy to over-analyze.

  15. maki b podell Says:

    grief is an abyss filled with guilt and recriminations. personally i feel i am being punished and not only dont i know the reason why but there is no way to make amends. i know these thoughts are self serving and somewhat narcissistic and so i leave you with this. our dead know that they were loved, deeply truly loved and this is we must take some small comfort in

  16. Tanya Says:

    I can see the relevancy of lab rat studies when evaluating drugs for human consumption. To try and draw some sort of complex psychological parallel between humans and lowest mammals is absolute bullshit. You seem as loving and giving as any mother could be. I agree with Lisa. Throw that book away.

  17. Natasja Says:

    In human behavior, there is no such thing as causality. One thing does not inevitably lead to another. Some things that overcome someone in- or decrease chances, just like some characteritics (resilience, vulnerability, intelligence, a difficult or easy temperament etc.) of the person itself. Maybe you were not completely well and healthy when Max was very young, but you loved him and did the best you could at that moment. There are so many factors that could lead to an addiction, that it’s far from reasonable to blame it solely on improper bonding.
    Mr. Mate just doesn’t seem a very good scientist to me.

  18. Dave C Says:

    From the January magazine interview:

    Q: Why do you think there’s so much resistance to your ideas?

    A: There’s very little resistance in the public. It seems to come from the profession.

    I rest my case.

  19. Sister Wolf Says:

    annemarie – Your last sentence is so funny and comforting, You are the best daughter and don’t forget it.

    maki b podell – Thank you, and stay strong. Write to me at my email if you think I can help . xo

    Sandra B – Thank you, yep, he didn’t seem to blame me and he recommended the book when he first started it – but not later.

  20. Sister Wolf Says:

    Dave C – Ha. I’m mad at him. Arrogant self-promoting cunt who made me cry.

  21. Sister Wolf Says:

    Lisa and Winterbird – I like your attitude. Will you be my mommies?

  22. Sister Wolf Says:

    Juli – Thank you for your support and welcome to the Crazy Mothers CLub (re your mom.) xo

  23. Jill Says:

    Mate’ is a fucking misogynist.

  24. Sam Says:

    I actually read the book and I thought his views on addicts were very enlightened and compassionate. It helped me refine my own perspective on those suffering from addiction. It also broadened my perspective on addiction. Before reading the book, I wondered why some of my clan were so easily caught up in their drug of choice and why I wasn’t. The book helped me see some of my own behavior in the light of addiction and be honest about who I am *really*. Much of my judgement for others evaporated. His comments about infants and mothers (I think in reality it should be parents or caretakers — as let’s face it, it takes more than one loving person to raise a human) helped me to see that my own depressive tendencies (social withdrawal, etc.) might have the effect of giving my offspring a predisposition for addictive behaviors. What can I do now? I don’t know, but I am sorry that it causes you to blame yourself. Poor, Sister Wolf, I wish there was some way to assure you that you did the best you could and so did Max and there were moments of treasured beauty and moments of soft pain and no one is unscathed.

  25. Debbie Says:

    My husband was adopted at 5 days old. His birth Mother never held him and he is not damaged. The love you had for Max is evident in everything you say about him.
    Depressed or not, I would much rather have you for a Mom instead of the emotional basket case I ended up with. Yes, she loves me, but you don’t tell your kid “I hate you” oh no I really mean I love you”. Just accept this huge hug that all of us are giving you and know that we love you.

  26. Andra Says:

    Throw that fucking book away and take out a contract on the author’s life, if possible.
    Expunge that shit from your brain by whatever means are available.
    Take up knitting. I told you that already.
    Listen to me!!

  27. Kellie Says:

    If only it was so easy to explain. This damaged author douche, is a douche.
    He had a depressed mother-GET IN LINE.
    He had a hard childhood-GET IN LINE.
    I got the fuck over it, pretty much. He apparently never did. My mom was so obsessed with cleaning-my birth was really an inconvenience for her-I got in the way of the routine. Everything wasn’t perfect LOOKING anymore.
    It was all about the appearance. Mine, the house, you name it.

    What is alarming to me is that these are common threads with all the above posts.
    And yet we didn’t write a book about how we are injured forever.

    You did the best you could, with the tools you had, at the time.
    That’s the whole story.
    It didn’t cause anything to happen, everything is a multi-layered sandwich. Society, pressures, being a musician, genetic predisposition, personal depression.

    No one thing or person is responsible.
    You arent to blame honey, no matter what the douche says.

  28. firefly Says:

    It’s never your fault. If everyone who was away from their parents for one hour a day was messed up, the whole world is. Addiction happens for many reasons, and it cannot be explained by one cause. If that were the case, many of the things that happen in the world could be more easily explained, however, as it is, different factors lead to different effects, and you cannot be blamed for something you didn’t do.

  29. Tallulah Eulallie Says:

    My father’s mother was an alcoholic. Severe clinical depression runs in the family on my mother’s side. Considering my lineage, I should be a fucked-up, addicted mess. I am not. My mother had a difficult time coping with her condition. Back then, there weren’t the options we have today, and depression was seen as a shameful thing, so few sought treatment. At times, my mother would lie on her bed for hours, sobbing uncontrollably. Other times, she seemed haunted. God help me, I thought it was all my fault. Through all the years of pain and confusion, I never once doubted that my mother loved me. I’m a grown woman now, battling my own depression, and it has given me tremendous insight and empathy. I know that my mother did the absolute best that she could for me, and if she had only known that I blamed myself for her misery, she would have done anything to make me understand that it was not my fault. Although I never met your precious Max, your loving words have made him real to me. I see that he was highly intelligent, introspective, empathetic, and that you and he shared a special bond that went beyond the typical mother-son connection. You and he were kindred spirits. Add to all that the fact that Max also suffered from depression, and I believe that his empathy led him to same conclusion I reached: You did nothing wrong; there is no need to forgive.

  30. WendyB Says:

    This is the exact same argument that was used about schizophrenia and autism back in the day. It’s always about the bad, cold mother. A tired theory, in my opinion.

  31. ali Says:

    (I think) anyone who has a finely tuned sense of and appreciation for beauty and the resulting compulsion to create it (in whatever medium/s) suffers symptoms similar to manic depression– peaks and crashes. they must develop self soothing mechanisms to survive and sustain the life style that is so affected by the awe and humility inspired by beauty. some drink, some become addicted to unhealthy/destructive relationships, some shoot up heroine and some read too much (etc.) it comes down to chance. and then chance develops into habitual self soothing.

    I think we learn to appreciate beauty by the influence of mother/parents/school teachers.

    so maybe it is your fault. but its also your fault that he loved what he loved in this world as deeply as he did.

    maybe loving too deeply is the most painful gift of character.

    but what the hell do i know

    i know i love your tumblr.

  32. Guest Says:

    You shouldn’t make it about “fault”. It’s not moral. Is it likely that having a depressed or otherwise unavailable/dysfunctional parent will have an effect on a child’s development? Only someone in complete denial could say no. Does it do any good for someone with depression to beat him or herself up? No – it’s symptomatic, if anything. Unfortunately, people are bad parents, the same way they’re bad drivers and bad at math. There are many, many people with kids who don’t have the skills or the emotional wherewithal to do a good job at it. And yes, it interferes with their children’s development – that’s just obvious. But feeling bad is *the problem*, not the solution. It’s *what caused the harm in the first place*. The opposite of feeling pointlessly bad is understanding that you did the best you could, and loving yourself anyway – it’s not hiding in denial and telling yourself that it’s just luck that some people turn out as addicts, or depressed, etc. That’s just an insult to your own intelligence.

  33. Sister Wolf Says:

    Jill – Well, he is certainly hard oh his mother.

    Sam – Thank you, I appreciate your thoughtful response.

    Debbie – Sorry about your mom. Sounds like mine. We will reconvene the Crazy Mothers Club soon. xo

  34. Sister Wolf Says:

    Andra – I’m listening!

  35. Sister Wolf Says:

    Kellie – Today I talked with a good friend and we agreed that children come into the world with a temperament — a soul, even. They’re not just a blank computer waiting for the mother to program it. You’re right about many layers.

    Tallulah Eulallie – Your mother is blessed to have such a compassionate child.

    ali – It is hard for sensitive people, yep. Max was always so sensitive – and totally different from my younger son. A very gentle and tender spirit.

    Guest – I wasn’t actually a bad parent, like a bad driver. Dr. Mate thinks I’m bad, and apparently you agree. Thanks for offering your opinion.

  36. Andra Says:

    It would seem that all people called Tallulah are wonderful and should be adored.
    I’ll start, shall I?

  37. jlynn Says:

    Sister, I doubt Max ever questioned how much you love him; he became the extraordinary, beautiful, talented, sensitive, thoughtful, wise, and gentle soul he was because he flourished in the warm comfort and security of your love.

    We may cling to the guilt we have about our parental shortcomings (real or imagined) because as agonizing as it is to feel we’ve somehow failed our children, it’s less devastating than considering that their lives are ultimately affected by an infinite number of things over which we have no influence or control whatsoever. The regret of “I should have done X or Y” just might be preferable to the utter powerlessness of “There’s nothing I could have done”.

    You gave Max everything you had to give; surely if your love alone could have saved him he would be here now…

  38. Dru Says:

    Sister, you really shouldn’t let this book torture you any more. Please get rid of it, for your own sake – have a ritual burning, if you must, but get it far away asap.

    You loved Max, and no matter what the book says you were a good mother to him and I’m sure he knew that. A chap with a medical degree who’s trying to work out his own childhood issues shouldn’t have the power to shake your own knowledge of that. And even if you do want some explanation, any explanation at all, I don’t think this is it.

  39. Patricia Says:

    My own mother was abandoned by her mother as a baby and raised by an unloving, narcissistic father, who stopped talking to her and “disowned” her when she got pregnant. Though she has fought depression all of her adult life (an issue probably caused by her abandonment experiences), she has been a caring parent to me and my three sisters and I don’t remember a single hard time when she wasn’t there for me. I sometimes find it hard to get along with her because of her issues, but I could never blame her for the times I have been miserable or depressed.
    Sister, please don’t beat yourself up. We all react in different ways to abuse, loss or abandonment…it’s not your fault that things went down the way they did. And deep in my heart I know that Max would never want you to feel guilty…as a daughter I can tell you that the last thing I would like is to see my mother cry.

  40. Suspended Says:

    Such wonderful words. I hope you are listening Sister Wolf but just in case you aren’t….THROW THAT PIECE OF PAPER SHIT IN THE BIN!

    I’d like to add something empathetic and insightful but all these bitches beat me to it! haha There’s nothing left to say except what great readers you have. You have something quite beautiful here and I truly hope it helps to bring you some comfort.

    I can’t imagine going through all that you have and coping so well. You make us all that little bit stronger.


  41. eri Says:

    I’m a daughter & a mother… and I call BULLSHIT on the whole premise of the book. Some therapists just want to make a name for themselves & so they write shit like this… everybody wants to be an expert. People are always looking for a magical ‘answer’ to the issues that have plagued human beings forever. If only depression & addiction & disease were so easy. Why are some people effected & not others, especially in the same family, having been exposed to the same things. I believe that most of it is coded deep in our DNA. Sometimes it skips a generation or two… I do think some environmental & evolutionary factors come into play. But you can’t blame yourself for your child’s predisposition to addiction. For some things, there just are no answers… as much as you’d like to figure out, that search will only lead you to a dark endless maze. It can’t be helpful. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to try to make sense of all of this… but know that no mother is perfect.

  42. Iheartfashion Says:

    Joanne, it’s not your fault. Not at all. That’s my thought.
    xoxo Janet

  43. Cricket9 Says:

    Oh for FUCK’S SAKE, there are no perfect mothers! Or, for that matter, no perfect people. I’m not even going to mention “perfect fathers”. Honestly, use the book as a doorstop or something, and don’t torment yourself. And, of course, listen to Andra!

  44. suddenly Says:

    Nobody will ever know why your children grew up as they did, or what life holds for them in the future. I often feel like I’ve doomed my children in one way or another, but the fact is we don’t have that much control over how they turn out. We don’t have that much knowledge about who they’ve become or who they’ll grow to be. And we don’t know why.

    And even if we did, what’s done is done. All we have is today. Let’s do the best we can to do something good and kind today.

    Thanks for your thoughtful post. Touched me.

  45. John Says:

    In the brief time that I saw you with Max it was clear, even to an asshole like me, that he adored you and you were a strong and very positive force in his life.

  46. Sister Wolf Says:

    jlynn – Thank you for your comforting words. It’s true that I could never accept being powerless, and that he knew how much I loved him.

    Dru – Thank you for your support, you are always there for me. xo

    Patricia – Thank you, your mom raised a loving daughter. xo

    eri – Thank so for helping me to get over Dr. Mate. You sound like a good daugther AND a good mother.

  47. Sister Wolf Says:

    Suspended – It does give me comfort, these comments are like a huge pillow to break my fall. I’m so grateful! I think I’m barely coping but some days are better than others. xo

    Iheartfashion – I think of you so often and nearly called the other day! I will call when I don’t feel like a crybaby.

    Cricket9 – Yep, yep, will do.

    suddenly – Yep, they walk their own path. I’m trying to get back to that, my faith in that knowledge was shaken by that fucking book. All blessings to you, xo

    John – You are very compassionate for an asshole. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  48. Sister Wolf Says:

    Natasja – Thank you, your logic makes better sense than Dr, Mate, it is very helpful.

    tanya – Yours too!

    Sharnek – I’m sorry for your loss my dear, now and always. Thanks for talking me down from a bad place xo

  49. BethUK Says:

    My mum (UK stylie) had post-natal depression with me and blames that for the fact that I was depressed in my teens and twenties. Personally I don’t blame her at all. Her mum had her issues too, it runs in my family but I have never felt unloved or not bonded to my parents, especially my mum.

    Maybe this theory works for some but no theory is perfect when it comes to people. We are too complex and tricky to pin down. Try not to let it mess with your head. We will always search for the answers to our problems – doesn’t mean he found the right one.

  50. Suspended Says:

    You’ve shown great strength and courage Sister Wolf. You might feel like you aren’t coping and we all wish that feeling away for you but I’m certain I speak for everyone on here when I say you are coping beautifully.

    Not only are you coping but you are also giving. That, to me, shows a strength and maturity I can only hope to posses should such a tragedy envelop my existence. I LOVE the laughs, thoughts and even tears your postings provide. We need those monsterous shoes etc to break a monotonous moment in our day, and here you are still giving, still sharing, despite your constant pain.

    Thank you xx we stand beside you and try to shoulder a little of that huge burden.

  51. patni Says:

    You are such a brave lady Sister Wolf. Max sounds like he was a wonderful man. Life is very hard for sensitive souls, but they are the most wonderful people to know. He was lucky to have such a strong mother behind him. He knew you loved him, and i bet it was a source of strength in his life.

    Doctors love to blame mothers, medicine is a bitter patriarchal profession, well removed from healing. As Wendy B says, they like to blame all their problems on their mothers, it used to be schizophrenia and autism, now it is addiction and what ever else bothers people. It is bullshit.

    No one is a perfect parent, and no child is a perfect either. We are all pretty broken and do the best with what we have. Maybe the perfect part is the love, and from what I can see you and Max have that in spades.

    My mother was given allllll kinds of grief when i was born premie. Her damn hippy friends told her that because i was born by c section and taken to a hospital nursery and bottle fed i would never bond with her. At 50 years old i still talk to her every day, email and make jokes. We understand each other, and love each other. Friends I guess. She still makes me madder than any one else ever has.
    The other stuff is bullshit. You loved him and he loved you. It sounds like he had a difficult time in life, and you did everything in your power you could to make it better. You supported him, loved him and liked him. What the hell else could anyone ask for?

  52. daisy Says:

    as the mother of an addict all i can say is that according to the american medical association, addiction is a disease. i didn’t cause it, i can’t control it and i cannot cure it. unfortunately, the stigma attached to addiction is so strong that most people still believe it is a choice or the result of bad parenting. i know that i was a good mom, the best i could be and my son by all standards had a wonderful childhood with his two brothers in an intact family. i used to feel like a complete failure and beat myself up continuously until one day i realized that now his disease was destroying me and the rest of my family. i couldn’t stand that idea. i joined a support group that has literally saved my life. i can only hope that you find some peace, some solace from the torture of misdirected blame. i know in my heart that your son would not want you to torture yourself.
    peace to you.

  53. Jenny Says:

    I’m not sure if words from a stranger can help ease your anguish, but I want to tell you that it is not your fault! Your love for Max is palpable and I’m sure has always been. You know this. Don’t let the words of a so-called expert take that away. Even when we know in our hearts that we are ‘good’ mothers, when we understand that we can’t be responsible for, and fix the problems of our children, we are so vulnerable to suggestions to the contrary. It’s cruel, wrong, and it’s patriarchal bullshit. Much love to you.

  54. lisa Says:

    I find it so upsetting that this book has been published at all. coming from a grown man who clearly has issues and is blaming his mother rather than searching himself for a better truth for his own feelings of insecurity.
    I also find it upsetting that its ALWAYS the mother that gets blamed for these issues. what happened to the fathers involvement or the extended family. why is it that if you are a mother you are either too selfish, too over protective, too demanding, too everything rather than understanding that everyones mother is a person too with failing and frailties just like everyone else.
    It makes me so proud that i have such a wonderful mother who has always shown me love and respect, even though i could if i really wanted to blame her for several issues i have now as an adult, but i don’t, because i love her and the issues i have are my own and as an adult it is my responsibility to find the help i need to resolve them. Blaming her would only in the long run hurt our relationship. Respect is a two way street. and i only hope that one day when i have children that i have as much patience love and respect that my mother had when she raised me.
    Please throw away that book, it is just the opinion of one hurt and lonely man trying to explain away his feelings and responsibilities as an adult. Much love x

  55. Hammie Says:

    I have 3 sisters and we all coped with our mother’s depression in different ways. You are who you are. The day you stop blaming what someone else made you is the day you learn to live. Max had a great Mum for many more years than most – you were close as adults and you nurtured and supported him throughout his life. But where he went was somewhere you could not follow- so you couldn’t catch him and bring him back that day. I’m sorry xx

  56. Sister Wolf Says:

    BethUK – Thank you, it helps to hear your story, xo

    Patni – Thank you, this made me tearful but in a good way. I’m so happy that you have this relationship with your mom xo

    daisy – I never cared about the stigma, but I know the kind of pain you are dealing with. I hope with all my heart that your son decides to get clean. xo

    Jenny -Thank you so much, you’re right. It’s so easy to take the blame for everything and so hard to just be present with the loss. Patriarchal bullshit has a nice ring to it!

    Lisa – You will be a wonderful mom. Thank you for commenting.

    Hammie – xoxoxo

  57. Liz Says:

    I disagree that a bad childhood is the main reason for addiction in adulthood but of course it could be a contributing factor. My childhood was a complete nightmare and my mother is one of the most cold hearted, aggressive and twisted women I have ever come across. That being said both myself and my brother grew up to be much better people than she ever could be. Neither of us ended up addicted to drugs. I will say that having a very bad childhood does colour the way you view life in later years. If you were shown no love as a child you do tend to spend your time seeking it and often in the wrong places, I guess possibly that could be from the bottle or needle, but that’s more about escapism. I think the results of a loveless childhood show themselves more in relationship problems and gravitating toward people who treat you badly.
    Addiction is the need to feel good whatever harm it does to your body, mind or health. Everybody wants to feel good it’s just that some people need it more than others for varied reasons. This author is a man and men always try to blame the women. We still live in a patriarchal society. What about the father being absent or distant as is true in many more cases I’m sure? Why does this not affect the addict also?
    Don’t take what this guy said to heart. It’s blatantly obvious that you loved your son more than life itself and I’m sure if I can feel it thousands of miles away over the internet then he could feel it when he was wrapped in your arms and cared for by you over the years. L x

  58. Consuela Says:

    It’s not your fault. Every mother does the best they can. x

  59. Juri Says:

    What a Fucking Cunt (TM) with a Ph.D. in easy answers! I thought blaming the mother went out of vogue around the same time as singing whales, magic chrystals and Sting traveling around with 60 cm tall Brazilian jungle people.

    Maté can kiss my well-formed addict’s ass. I suppose the orthodox term would be “recovering addict”, as I quit drugs 18 years ago, but my malformed addict’s brain finds the term ill-fitting because of the fact that I, after 11 years of teetotal sobriety, gradually slipped 5 years ago into being the high-functioning alcoholic with a decent job and a hepatitis C impaired liver that I am today.

    I grew up wishing my parents would die but it never occured to me to blame them for any of the idiotic choices I made as a stupid kid or a not-much-smarter grown-up.

    From what I’ve read it’s obvious that you and Max had a great relationship. There’s no way he would have blamed you for his troubles. You shouldn’t blame yourself either.

  60. kate Says:

    as the kid of an addict and a friend to many addicts (of drugs, alcohol or sex) all i know is that ALL addicts are running away from something. they all have major emotional pain that can’t be eradicated, but it can be forgotten while high. personally, i define this as weakness (because who among us has no emotional pain to extinguish?) but i don’t mean to insult an addict by calling them weak.
    i didn’t have a great childhood. i was a pretty unhappy kid. but i don’t have an addictive personality. i’ve dabbled in lots of “activities” and nothing really sticks. so it can’t be a black-and-white issue of unhappy kids=addicts.
    as far as a parent’s role, i’m sorry to say it IS your fault your kid is unhappy, but it’s EVERY parent’s fault their kid is unhappy. forgiving/understanding/cutting all ties with your parents is one of those things that most rational adults go through, and sometimes it isn’t until they become parents themselves.
    in the end, taking responsibility for your own actions is the only way to grow up. if you blame your unhappy childhood for everything you’ll be a whiny victim your whole life. i don’t think your son was a whiny victim, s.w. i think he forgave you.

  61. Juri Says:

    In this world, there are countless factors beside a parent ot two that contribute to a kid becoming “unhappy.” Parent’s don’t have a monopoly to pain and pain is not a valid explanation to addiction(s).

  62. laurisija Says:

    My father was addictive and committed suicide when I was ten. I still battle addictions to food, alco..a lot of things…at the same time I know ppl who have alcoholic parents and they don’t drink at all. They just hate it, because they see what harm it has done in their parents life. So I assume its not just we “make babies”. They are personalities from beginning. + and- we give for sure in life, but kids have their own life how much as we struggle and want to control it. Its not just parents. Its friends, books, school etc….

    p.s I hated my dad and still hate him for as he is dead now… person…cant fight against dead one…they have made their statement and remain silent…,however, are left struggling, questioning, suffering….

    p.s2 I remember reading about daughter who adopted her brothers and sisters when she was 18. Parents were alcoholic. She, in her mind, did not have any doubts about what was right or wrong. She gave up her future and just worked any jobs available to keep all other siblings fed and go to school.I suppose she was focusing on REALITY and WHAT you can do NOW. Going back into past and thinking what could I have different does not make any change.

    You can just choose to suffer and drown in memories and remorse. But then again, ts easier said then done……

    p.s3 i have a 10 months old son. I feel stressed often and I feel I do not spend as much time with him or his development as I would think is “perfect”, yet, still he is developing amazingly, is very social, happy etc…..I suppose we have to sometimes live with understanding that a person that “comes out from us” is not necessarily us. they are human beings beyond our control (partly).

  63. Sister Wolf Says:

    Liz – A mother like yours will leave you with low self-esteem and the stuff you do to feel lovable can be pretty stupid. I know from experience. Thank you for your support. xo

    Conseula – Thank you dear. How is the cleaning going?

    Juri – I keep going back to your well-formed ass…..

    Kate – It IS every parent’s fault if their kid is unhappy? Wow. That’s quite a statement.

    Juri – Right. She must have meant something else – I hope.

    laurisija – I hate my dad too because he’s a selfish cunt.

  64. Suebob Says:

    I say this with all the kindness in my heart – shut up! People become addicts for a zillion different reasons, most of which we don’t understand the slightest thing about or how to fix. I suspect the tendency to blame yourself is comforting in the same way cutting is comforting – if you can keep yourself in controlled pain, the uncontrolled pain won’t consume you…But I don’t buy it. I think you might want to try loving yourself as much as you loved Max. Or if that is too much for now, try and stop being an asshole to yourself for a half hour a day. You deserve at least that much.

  65. Make Do Style Says:

    There is so much to be said on this subject but it is mainly to say it is a load of fucking bollocks. Actually more to the point is the fact the pattern was set by the grandparents. Your genes are more likely to be skipped. Excuse me but I’m actually really rubbish at the scientific way to say this but to get type 1 diabetes it gets handed down from the grand parent. Allergies run through the maternal line, as does baldness. The paternal line delivers heaps of things that I can’t recall right now but I can say your post natal depression may have been post traumatic stress caused by your mother saying she hated you! And her dna was given to Max. No matter how much love you gave him, no matter if you did it by the book (which book I say) the dna was there and that my friend is the reality.

    I have my horrid varicose vein being operated on in a few weeks and I got it from my grandma (fact). My surgeon who is Greek (I’m filling the box with unnecessary detail now!) told me that crossing your legs, standing on your feet all day or any number of things people say re varicose veins is a ton of rubbish. Fact is I inherited the vein gthing from my lovely grandmother on the paternal side. It was a 50/50 time bomb and it delivered.


  66. Edie Says:

    it makes me sad to think of you reading this book, like you needed that…You loved your son and he knew that, what else can you do as a parent then to make sure they know you love them, no matter what….If in their darkest, loneliest moments our children don’t need to wonder if they are loved, then we have done all we can, the rest is up to them…

  67. Denise (denisekatipunera) Says:

    nobody can really explain addiction. am sorry for max. SW you are a good mother.

    i am a new mom to a nine month old baby. and i love him to death. sometimes it is hard. this whole motherhood thing but i love it.

    this blogging is good too, one day when my son hates me ill show him my blog. hahaha.

  68. tartandtreacly Says:

    I don’t know. Maybe. I know I’m a manic-depressive and my mother is an (undiagnosed) manic-depressive, and in my worst moments I have blamed her, and then was ashamed to have done so.

    I don’t know. But I do know I wish I could hug you until the stuffing fell out.

  69. Nomi Says:

    Why would Max tell you to read this? I suppose he was having a bad day and wanted to throw some guilt your direction (I think he inherited a bit of defiance and a desire to stir the pot from his mother.) But many of us have gotten to that point of confrontation with our parents, usually in our early 20’s, when we try to find a concrete reason for being the fucked up people we’ve become. Then later, in our 30’s, we witness first hand the actual difficulty of being a parent/spouse/person of employ. This is when everything about our perception of childhood becomes so much clearer. For years I tried to blame my mother’s anger/depression/shitty attitude for my “psychological problems.” But then I had children. I began to understand, while clinging to the brink of my own sanity, that my mother was merely a human being burdened by crazy hormones, an unhappy marriage, a full-time job, and children.
    Forget that he read this book. He was hoping to find a single source of his problems. Parents, even the good one’s, make excellent scapegoats. He wanted answers but I don’t think he actually found any in this book. He was in pain. He was an addict. He was depressed. He was disabled and perhaps simply unable to “rise up and overcome.” I don’t mean to sound as if I know all the details of his life but I myself, a clinical alcoholic, a mother of two young children, the spouse of an often absent but very well paid partner, have had my share of “they’d be better off without me” moments. The children keep me from leaving. Shame prevents me from killing myself. When all is right with the world my brain can still somehow sink those tangible sources of happiness. It’s in the wiring. The brain. You can’t change how your children are wired. What appears to be an act of senselessness to one person may be perfectly rational to others. You weren’t the cause of his death. If anything he thought he was saving you from himself.

  70. moi aussi Says:


    Your response made me cry. My mother wasn’t depressed but she was messed up and twisted. She did a huge number on my head on my wedding day and then I found myself depressed and pregnant some months later. My poor son. He’s anxious, like me and artistic. I will always lament that he did not get my husband’s naturally sunny, confident personality. My daughter, born five years later, did.

    My son is eight and I pray for him every day. That he’ll be all right.

    Sister Wolf. This blog is so precious and beautiful, like a jewel. You take such care to answer everyone. I’m so sorry about your son.

    Moi Aussi

  71. Sister Wolf Says:

    Nomi – moi aussi is right, your comment is so eloquent and insightful, Thank you so much. Wishing you strength, xoxoxo

    moi aussi – Yep, they come into the world with a personality. Your daughter is blessed but your son has the good luck of a mother who is sensitive to his wiring. You can keep an eye on him and seek early intervention if you think he is clinically depressed. I wish I had done that for Max, who looks way too solemn in his childhood pictures. You are a vigilant mom and that is the best one can ask for. xo

  72. Seb Says:

    This is an interesting point that could probably be debated forever. We are the sum of our experiences and choices we have made. So because of this blame or credit cannot be placed at any one single persons feet for our failings/problems or our assets respectively. My mother suffered with severe depression and psychosis when I was growing up and still does. I know that she always did her best for me, however if her condition did not exist I do not doubt that I would of had a very different childhood experience. As an adult I have suffered with depression and addiction. Would this have still been the case if my mother was well, we’ll never know but I do believe that your formative years lay the foundations for the rest of your life. I understand that what happened to me during my childhood was not done intentionally or with mallice it just happened through nobodies fault. It did however happen and i think it does have a part to play in how my life turned out. Saying this the choices of friends I had, the situations I put myself in etc etc all have played thier part aswell. When I saw the title of your post about the book it immediately caught my eye and I wanted to know more, I imagine when your son found the book he felt the same. Regardless of anything I think it is part of the human condition to look for answers. If you have addiction issues you will want answers as how to solve them and where they may of come from, much in the same way someone may look for reasons as to why they are academic. I think that being a parent is one of the biggest responsibilities anyone can face and that you will always question whether you did a good job. No matter what you cannot control the things that will come face to face with your children and sadly some make unwise decisions. Should of, could of, would of are inevitable questions in life but if you know in your heart that you did your best with the information you have at the time then that is the most that anyone can ask. I have never blamed my mother I have accepted that it was something that happened. Ultimately we are all accountable for our own actions and choices and you will not change your behaviour until you are ready, regardless of what others may do to try and help. Obviously I can only speak from my own experience and I have not read the book so cannot comment on what Gabor Mate had to say but I thought another perspective is always useful.

  73. Just a Girl Says:

    I believe we’re all wired differently and that’s all it is. I know someone who is an identical twin. The two both grew up in the same shitty household with abuse, addiction, and chaos all around them. One of them turned to drugs, and became an addict. The other is in college.

    What we end up doing, the choices we make, and the ways we comfort ourselves are all in our wiring. Nature? Nurture? Who the hell knows? What makes one person have a couple drinks socially, and another not be able to stop drinking until they’re passed out and puking?

    You could make yourself crazy trying to figure it all out. Don’t.

  74. Moo-lissa Says:

    Dear Sister,

    Well, I’m unemployed and depressed and this is my 15th day sober. It sucks and it’s great at the same time. Mostly, it sucks…I’ve made a real mess of my life.

    Mate’s book sounds like one worth reading. I definitely come from a whacked out family, although I am 42 now and I love my mom unconditionally, the same way I’ll bet Max loved you.

    I had a bad day today. Felt like I couldn’t leave the house. So I stayed in and I’ve read about 30 of your blog entries. Let me tell you, I know you were a great mom.

    Peace, hugs, and lots of love from Chicago

  75. Monica Says:

    Admittedly, I blame my mom for all of it. ALL of it. And it is her fault. It really is. I was completely dependent upon her for guidance and my very basic needs. And she blew it. But I still love her, I still try to maintain a relationship and I still see the positive parts of my childhood. I don’t need her to acknowledge the depth of wrongs done to me, and there were many. That is mine to figure out how to tolerate.

    I have chosen not to have children, mostly because I am too lazy to take care of one (which, admittedly, doesn’t stop many), but also because I have such limited access to any life skills of my own, how would I teach another human basic things like how to get a driver’s license before you’re 34, or how you’d even begin to enroll in College, and why you would want to consider such a thing. Actually, having said that, I would have been able to explain the hell outta those two concepts!

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