My mother went through a stage of making too many chicken casseroles. Shortly after I’d left home I had to go back there to be fed because, as a result of Black Wednesday, my mortgage repayments had become so severe that I literally couldn’t afford to feed myself or heat the house.
Each Sunday I’d walk in through the door and the familiar smell of chicken casserole would meet me wafting up along the hall. I liked chicken casserole but, in the end, I began to resent it.
I’ve lived as someone who, on balance, is fond of certainty. A creature of habit I have spent the majority of my life not just in the same town but living within the same postcode. Only comparatively recently did I come to understand why.
When my mother, in response to my religiously drinking out of the same mug every time I went to watch the football, told me that my superstition was “naughty” it spoke volumes for the relationship I’d come to experience with her. The chicken casserole was a metaphor for a certainty that I could rely on but couldn’t shake off when I needed to.
When certainty tips over from feeling safe and secure into the territory of controlling co-dependence it might still feel familiar but it’s toxic, suffocating and destructive all the same.
I learned to see everything which was familiar as a helpful certainty, but this indiscriminate acceptance of the order of things masks a deeper dysfunction which is harder to see and impossible to miss.
My reliance on my mother had a reached a point way beyond Sunday lunch. It was as if nothing could really work without her permission. Even after I’d left home I was pulled back, under the convenient guise of poverty, to a certainty which was no longer good for me.
Years later, when I had carefully and painstakingly unpacked my relationship with my mother through hours of therapy, I began to establish a healthy distance between us. It was a space which had never existed in our relationship when she was alive.
I asked myself many times what I could have done differently to change things but, ironically, that too was simply more evidence of the problem I sought to address.
In the end, I reached a place where I was able to separate what I needed from our relationship and what was hers and not mine at all. Only then did I find an enduring peace with her.
The chicken casserole is a reminder that allowing something to go on past the point where it is still enjoyable means you need to change it, even if that means starving for a while.