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- I’m sorry. It was me. I just didn’t know.
I’m not exactly sure when the drinking began. I come from a hard drinking family. As a child I remember beer and wine in our home all the time. It wasn’t unusual for my dad to have beer after work, wine with dinner and whiskey before he passed out in front of the TV after a long day at work.
As an adolescent, off-hand remarks from my friends made me think for the first time that maybe the drinking wasn’t all that normal, but I don’t think I ever thought there was a problem. I figured it was the culture my family comes from and the hard-working, hard-living town where we lived.
If I’m going to be totally honest, I started drinking in high school. It wasn’t strange in my circle of friends, but it wasn’t in excess (that would come later). In college I went through a pretty awful breakup, was lonely and depressed. I struggled and struggled to reestablish my identity after the end of a three year relationship that I was certain was heading for marriage. And I drank….socially with friends….sometimes to excess…sometimes to fit in and feel like I belonged. Later, I would make friends and live with a group of girls who loved to go out – house parties, clubs, bars – it didn’t really matter. I felt less lonely, but the drinking got old and less glamourous.
I guess this is a long way of saying that I’m not a stranger to alcohol. I was, however, a stranger to alcoholism until a few years ago.
Remember those drinks my dad would have every night after work? Well, he wasn’t drinking alone. My mother was in lockstep with him and while my memories of her drinking are not as clear; it would become clear to me as an adult that my mother’s drinking was more than social. Slowly as my uncles and aunts aged, the drinking slowed down. My dad was included in that group. My grandfather, the patriarch of our family, stopped drinking entirely and started doing crazy stuff like walking every day and taking care of himself. He’s 88 and you’d never know.
My mom has not taken care of herself. She drinks two bottles of wine (large bottles) every night. Sometimes more. Her drinking has affected holidays, relationships, her health and the trust I have in her as a mother. With her drinking comes rage and utter irrationality. She says and does hurtful things. The biggest problem is that she doesn’t think she has a problem.
Coming to the realization that my mother is an alcoholic is a recent thing for me. Only in the last 2 years, after seeking treatment for depression did I start to think long and hard about our relationship. I couldn’t even utter the words, “I think my mother is an alcoholic,” until last year. Becoming a mother to my own 3 kids floodlighted these issues.
In my family alcoholism looks like this:
• A Christmas dinner table where my mother is absent. She has been drinking all day and passed out before dinner. Thanksgiving too.
• My mother holding one of my babies as an infant, stumbling and my husband catching her by the elbow and snatching the baby from her. We hadn’t realized how much she’d been drinking.
• Drinking that starts at lunch and lasts until my mother needs a ‘nap’ at 6 p.m.
• Mean-spirited text messages sent while she’s drunk where she threatens all sorts of things
• My mother babysitting the kids so my husband and I can have a much needed date night, promising not to drink and coming home to find she’s drank two bottles of wine. The rocking chair has been moved to the living room and she doesn’t remember how it got there. She can’t babysit the kids anymore.
• My elderly grandmother asking me at a family event if it is always like this.
On the outside, my mother is a warm, generous, kooky person. Behind closed doors when she’s drinking she’s angry, mean and direct to the point of purposefully causing pain.
I grew up thinking this was normal, but something changed deeply inside of me when I became a mother. I remember going to the gender reveal appointment with my first baby and secretly hoping that it wasn’t a girl. I didn’t understand women whose mothers were their best friends. Mothers who dropped everything to take care of their children. Mothers who sacrificed and were selfless. I was scared that if I had a girl something in me would break. I didn’t realize at the time that I was already broken and that the gender of my unborn child would have nothing to do with my capabilities as a mother.
My mother and I always struggled to have a good relationship. I never knew what I would get with her when I was growing up (and I still don’t). Would she be the happy, shopping loving woman who I had so much fun with or would she be the angry, irrational monster? I didn’t know what would set her off.
Above anything else, the entire situation makes me angry and sad. I’ve watched my friends with their mothers. I’ve watched at their weddings as their moms dote on them. Mother’s Day rolls around and I watch as women my age pay homage to their mothers. I can’t do that.
I know my mother is sick. I know that alcohol is a drug. I don’t know what else I can do to make her better.
I still drink socially. I’ll have a glass of wine at night, but I am keenly aware of drinking and my motivation behind that glass of wine.
I’m a great mom. I love my kids more than anything in this world. They are the best thing that has ever happened to me. Having them only made me more aware of what a good mother is. I am not my mother.