I didn’t start out my life as an alcoholic in the drinking sense. I think though, that inside, I was always an alcoholic whether active or inactive. I grew up in an alcoholic home. My mom was the alcoholic, which was unusual to hear about in the 80’s because during those days, alcoholism was tied more to the man, and very hidden by women due to the terrible stigma it brought with it. I recall always feeling “different” although now that I look back, I am sure that I seemed like a “normal” girl to most. I put quotations around the word “normal”, because that is a word I am learning not to use so freely, as normal could mean different things to different people, depending on their situation and interpretation. So, my Mother drank….a lot. I didn’t always know why she acted “weird”, or seemed to be fine and happy one minute and be yelling horrible things at me the next. I also didn’t know that my life would get more and more unpredictable as I got older. I remember being at my locker in Middle School, and a student coming up to me and telling me that there was a rumor (started by the Principal no less as his wife was friends with my Mom) that my mom was an alcoholic. That is how I learned that my Mom was that word…an alcoholic. I was embarrassed, scared, ashamed, angry and sad all at the same time. I wanted to run and hide, and pretend it never happened. But that was a defining moment for me.
I was always a class clown, a less mature little girl, but from about Middle School on, that behavior all picked up for me. My humor became my escape, getting involved in any and every activity meant I was able to stay at school later, and not have to face which Mom there was waiting for me at home. Was it sober Mom (which was rare), buzzed Mom, or over the edge drunk Mom who had found a reason to be angry and the person to blame to be me. I became an overachiever, Pom Pon Captain, leader in Dancing Choir, active in Theatre, the girl who would get to school early to read the morning announcements in my peppy voice, for all the school to hear. I did whatever I could to laugh and make others laugh, because as long as everyone around me was laughing, they couldn’t see the hurt, the pain, all of the fear that I had inside me all the time. Fear and anxiety drove me and for the most part, nobody knew. I tried every angle I could to get my Mom to quit drinking but nothing worked. We had interventions, she would quit for a little while (4 days is the longest time frame I can remember her not drinking for) but then I would come home from school and see my drunk Mom, that look on her face, and knew that my hopes of a “normal” life were back to the chaos that resided in my house. This went on and on, and I became an insomniac, crying most nights because I was afraid of what was going to set her off, and I couldn’t get my brain to slow down, that I can remember. I got very close to my Dad, who would help me the best he could and was my protector but he didn’t leave her, because that meant leaving me and he didn’t want to leave me there alone, not knowing what was happening. At least if he was there, he could let me escape with him to the basement where he would hideaway, with his couch and TV, never to return to the upstairs bedroom that I can barely recall both my parents ever sleeping in as a married couple. My brother was older than me, and joined the Navy as soon as he graduated High School, so his escape from our home life happened just when she started to go downhill and never to return as a hint of the “normal” Mom I saw from time to time.
Fast forward, to me graduating high school, going on to college where I first really experienced alcohol for myself (which will come at a later blog when I discuss my active alcoholism), and in my late 20’s which by this time, I had broken all contact with my Mom, as she was rapidly declining in the stages of her alcoholism, was officially divorced from my Dad, living alone in a studio apartment, and had closed herself off to the world. She had given up…..succumbed to the disease, and I couldn’t watch it happen anymore, it was too painful….November 9, 2001 I got a phone call from my brother. It was a Friday evening, as I had just sat on my couch in my Chicago apartment, contemplating pouring myself a glass of wine from my long work week (when I was actually able to wait a week before having something to drink, and even be ok only having one or two glasses….unimaginable to me now). All he said was “Mom was found dead tonight”. He had worked for the police, and in the town over, where my mom lived, she was found by detectives after a mailman reported smelling noxious odors coming from outside her garden apartment and noticing her mail build up. They are still not sure how long she had been there, possibly since September, they thought based on how badly her body had decayed and dates on food in the refrigerator. In her closet, the police report stated that they found her closet filled with empty vodka bottles. By that time, I believe that she was too embarrassed to bring them to the dumpster, still thinking she was hiding it, from everyone…from even herself.
I never did have that glass of wine that night, and in fact, didn’t even think of drinking but rather went into shock to hear the news that I thought I had been preparing myself for and knew was inevitable. That night was a turning point for me and I knew I would never be the same. I just wasn’t sure exactly what that meant for me. I did know one thing; “I would never ever be like her!”….If you are an alcoholic reading this who also grew up in an alcoholic home, that might sound familiar to you….