With or Without You: A Memoir
by Domenica Ruta
Here is yet another memoir about addiction and destructive love – this time between a mother and daughter, the author being the daughter.
Ruta grew up in Danvers, a town outside of Boston. The only child of a drug addicted single mother who got pregnant at the age of twenty, already well down the road of addiction, Ruta’s mother claimed to have loved her daughter so much that she immediately got clean and sober the moment she discovered herself pregnant. Whether she actually stayed clean for the duration of her pregnancy is unknown, but she was back in full swing popping pills and snorting coke before her daughter was out of diapers. Some of Ruta’s earliest memories are of syringes, blackened spoons, straws, and dinner plates with remnants of white powder clinging to them scattered casually about their run-down house. It wasn’t long before Ruta dipped her toes into the cesspool of drug abuse herself – at her mother’s urging; Ruta popped her first Oxycontin at the age of ten. By the time she was midway through high school, she was snorting “Oscars,” dropping acid, smoking copious amounts of weed and drinking copious amounts of alcohol. Through all of this, Ruta and her mother teetered on a seesaw of love and hate; theirs was a classic toxic relationship.
Somehow through all of this, Ruta managed to do very well in school and earned a scholarship first to a boarding school, and then to a small college in Ohio. She continued to spiral out of control with her addiction, however, and involved herself in several dead-end romantic relationships. Her mother became more and more an albatross around her neck, and finally, Ruta cuts all ties with her mother – a difficult and painful, but utterly necessary undertaking.
Finally, Ruta is ready to face her own addiction – and the pain and resentment she’s carried around her whole life at her mother’s neglect, trashy life, and failure to protect her from being raped repeatedly as a child by an uncle – that he was a pedophile and had a “thing” for Ruta was an open secret in the family. She joins a twelve-step program, and after a few false starts and relapses, she finds herself clean and sober, hopefully for good.
Ruta is a gifted writer, and her descriptions and recounting are so vivid, I felt like I could picture it all in my mind’s eye. A lot of her story resonates with me – the toxic mother who had to be excised, the filthy childhood house, the feelings of loneliness, and addiction – though not my own. I found myself feeling angry as I read; although I could relate to the author herself, I also felt disgusted at her spiral into addiction. I guess I’ve just had too many addicts in my own life to dredge up much compassion.
Very readable, but I wonder why we haven’t grown tired of these types of stories. Shitty childhoods and addictions – the market is flooded with these memoirs. Very well-written, but nothing new.