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At the dentist, they regard me in a way I am not accustomed. Because of my pre-disposed fear and anxiety, coupled with the aversion to pain, the methods necessary for me to endure the necessary procedures put me in an uncomfortable position. It is one I have had plenty of exposure to, but rarely the chance to experience.

I grew up as the enabler to an addict, my alcoholic mother barked loud and often for me to fill her wine glass each night after dinner until she could no longer stand. Soon, she would splay across the couch, camped in front of the television, puffing away on Misti ultra light cigarettes until she faded into unconsciousness. When I no longer needed to fill the green dimpled glass with ice and cheap jug wine, I would linger to make sure the lit cigarettes found their way into the ashtray, and not smolder into the couch cushions. When she began to snore, I would shake her and send her off to bed. Sometimes she would go, sometimes she wouldn’t. The times she wouldn’t were filled with drunken rants, awkward cornering, and uncomfortable glaring silences.

Being the sober person in an addicted relationship is damaging in so many ways. Without benefit of blackouts, I could easily recall my mother’s behavior the next morning, while she had the luxury not to. I learned early on that I couldn’t count on her the way my friends could rely on their mothers. I always had to find rides home, since my mother would be shit-faced by 7:00. I couldn’t talk about the bullies at school, the boys that I liked, or the callous teachers, because she would only slur her words and call them “maggots” or “small town hicks.” Instead, I would tend to her emotional wounds, the men who disrespected her, the women who gossiped about her, the failings of our small town, as I filled the glass again and again.

At the dentist, I see the glimmer of my childhood self in the pitiful smiles as they ask if I would like to be numbed, if I wanted nitrous oxide, if I needed my Xanax. The same cautious, care taking tones I used to speak myself fill my heart with shame as I sheepishly accept. I lay back, plug into my headphones and try to relax. I feel weak for needing it, but know deep down the necessity of it all.

“It’s for your benefit, too,” I try to explain, but the words have no meaning. They just nod politely, and tell me to “float away” as I breathe in the careful mixture of oxygen and laughing gas. And, I try, but the nagging remains, that I need this, my crutch is part of my programming. I do not know how else to cope. And in that sad, sulking moment, I understand her. Though her crutch was needed to cope with the pain felt throughout the entirety of her existence, mine is only needed because I’m scared of the pain at the dentist. Mine ends when the novacaine wears off, but hers is everything. I pity her, but am not able to forgive it.

It is my damage, too. My distorted understanding of human needs, the inability to put my own needs first, the default switch to self sacrifice by obligation, the constant draw to self-destructive tendencies and people. And, because I was the conscious one, and she was not, my estrangement, my complaints of abuse, neglect, and disparity will never be recognized. Now, she fills her own glass, and mutters about my ingratitude under her breath, tendrils of smoke escaping her snarled lips.