The Big Aha Moment
By Elly Litvak
Have you ever been to a cheap movie theatre? I mean a really cheap movie theatre. And when the movie starts it’s not in focus. You can hear what’s going on, but everything is a blur. Sooner or later someone realizes something is wrong and fixes the focus. Aha! Suddenly everything is clear. Suddenly everything makes sense.
My most recent aha moment happened during a trip to Toronto to visit with family, and as it turns out, my past. After many years of craving and curiosity I’d finally arranged access to read my psychiatric records. All thirty odd years of them. Finally, I was at my alma matter, the former Clarke Institute of Psychiatry where I perched myself for three consecutive days. My life up to that point had been like watching a movie that’s not quite in focus, like in that cheap movie theatre. I knew that something wasn’t quite right, just didn’t make sense, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
But when I read my psych records everything made sense. What I was never told; what would have made a world of difference; what I had suspected for years was actually true. There it was in front of me, in black and white …
“Mother can be described as a rather cold, cruel woman who competes for attention with her own children. She seemed to be somewhat immature, unhappy, pretentious, and neurotic.”
Over fifty years of out of focus movies suddenly snapped into focus. It was the single most cathartic aha moment in my evolutionary journey of recovery, a true milestone. I was amazed, shocked, and disgusted at the lengths I had gone to to fool myself, to convince myself that my mother was normal and caring. I hoped that she actually loved me.
“Mother appeared dominating and castrating. Was seductive to therapist and in constant conflict over control of the sessions. Father was passive and withdrawn and easily dominated by Mother”.
Aha! No wonder I couldn’t find love, there was no love to be found. The madness that was my family made perfect sense. The words of so many supportive friends suddenly were true. “You know, that’s just not right”, and “You shouldn’t let anyone treat you like that, not even family”, and “You should NOT be calling her Mother”.
Aha! Finally, confirmation, validation of what I’d suspected to be true all along. The psychiatrists and social workers spelled it out for me …
“The pathology in the family is so deep-rooted that all hope of improving the family dynamics has been abandoned”. Over and over, time and time again, the same message, the family is broken. “Both Mother and Father played an active role in fostering tantrums and outbursts”.
Aha! There it was again in black and white.
“Mother, while saying her daughter was beautiful, always seemed to mean the reverse”, and I can remember her screaming, her words seared into my brain. “You big, FAT, dumb, UGLY THING! Grubba Tuchas! FAT ASS! You’ll be the death of ME!”
Aha! In spite of this kind of abuse, I had never really stopped vying for my mother’s love and attention. Even though the evidence had been mounting for years that she had neither to give. I tried to cope as best as I could, but it was just too much.
I was hospitalized for the first time when I was fifteen, locked in a loveless marriage at twenty, and hospitalized again at twenty-eight when my marriage failed and I lost custody of my children. I was diagnosed with manic depression, personality disorders, and other things. I was on welfare for years, homeless at times, and in and out of psych wards. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t prevent the seemingly endless roller coaster ride of insanity, poverty and incarceration that was my life.
Until my first aha moment.
I was gazing out my cabin by the sea window on Vancouver Island when the words of a psychologist I’d seen smacked me awake. Aha! “You know, YOU can take responsibility to control your episodes”.
Responsibility? Control? What did that mean? I was a classic “non-compliant” when it came to taking meds let alone control of my life. Eventually I figured out what taking responsibility and creating balance in my life entailed. I developed a healthy regard for the responsible use of medication as well as a concrete, holistic recovery plan.
It’s been almost fifteen years since that first aha moment, the first step in a long journey towards recovery. I realized that it doesn’t matter what your story is or what your problems are, you just have to take charge and with determination and persistence balance will prevail. While the journey could take one, two, three, four or more wild flashes of inspiration and realizations, the movie that is life plays on. Recovery is a lot of hard work, time, patience and commitment. But everything gets clearer, more focused.
“Mother is angry, pushy, manipulative, and can be cruel and vindictive” and I hear my mother shrieking “You’re a SICK, hideous, FAT ASS Grubba Tuchus! You UGLY MORON, you disgusting PIECE of CRAP!” And suddenly I’m back in that cheap movie theatre. Someone’s finally fixed the focus and I can see clearly …
Aha! My mother’s not screaming at me. She’s screaming at herself!