Four Words That Broke My Heart

When it comes to addiction, enabling is one of the most dangerous things friends and family can do for the addict. It’s often mistaken as love, kindness, caring, protecting, etc. We don’t want this person to get hurt and we don’t want others to get hurt because of this person either. We think we are doing the right thing. We aren’t. The intentions are good but the results are bad. If people are struggling with substance abuse, they need to have accountability and suffer consequences. That hurts us, their loved ones, the most but it is necessary. They will never be motivated to change unless there are negative consequences to their actions.

At seventeen, I didn’t know this. Go figure. I had become one of the most enabling people in my family. I made sure things were taken care of and the household was functioning. I protected my mom from hurting herself and others to the best of my ability. It was exhausting but I had a plan of escape. I was getting out. I was going away to college and my parents would just have to learn to survive without me. They had seemed pretty on board with it and I put all of my eggs in this basket. It was my last hope. We booked a trip to “South City College” (a made up university name I am going to use). We had family in that area and my mom and I were going up over Christmas break my senior year to visit.

The day we left for the trip, my mom and I were in high spirits. We make the long drive and have pleasant conversation. She is sober but I am still anxious. We have four long days to get through and anything could happen without my dad being around to help me supervise. We would be seeing a lot of family as well, which stressed out my mom and would give her opportunities to sneak away and drink. I think I ate two full bottles of tums over those four days.

The first night, she gets through fine. We see my grandma and a few cousins out at dinner. Everything goes well and there are no problems. I am on edge and even one of my cousins mentions my anxiety. I guess I came off a little twitchy. I laughed it off and continued to watch my mom like a hawk. The following day my aunt is hosting the family over for dinner since we are in town. Before the dinner, my mom seems fine so I start to relax. We get to my aunt’s house and it is so wonderful to see everyone. I have so many cousins and relatives at the house that it is impossible to keep an eye on my mom. I know I must have looked like a crazy person constantly going and seeing where she was but I didn’t care. I needed her to hold it together.

When we sit down to eat, my mom doesn’t join us. I excuse myself after the blessing and she is nowhere to be found. Nobody seems to notice because there are so many of us but I notice. I come back to the table and sit down holding back tears. Here we go. We finish dinner and when we start clearing the table, I see my mom out of the corner of my eye. She won’t make eye contact with me and I see her nodding along to some conversation. It’s too late. She snuck a bottle off somewhere during dinner. From the dirt on her shoes and her purple lips, I would say she went outside and probably downed a bottle of wine.

After cleaning up, I tell the family we need to go because we have the tour the following morning. My mom stumbles through her goodbyes and I pretend to not notice the side glances people are giving each other. When we get outside, I snap. I smack her as hard as I can across the face. She drops her purse in astonishment. I lunge for her purse and start rifling for her keys. She starts grabbing for her purse and I jump away from her. She tries to jump after me and falls. I fall to my knees crying, right there in my aunt’s front yard. After a sob or two, I realize any family member could come out and I pick myself up and dust off the snow on my pants. My mom doesn’t say a word as she follows to the car.

My mom falls asleep in the car and I grind my teeth the whole way back. We found the house by miracle. My grandma showed up a few minutes after us and asked why we left. I explained that my mom didn’t feel well and I was tired. My mom stumbled up to bed and my grandma didn’t say anything. She just patted me on the arm.

I went to bed that night feeling defeated and depressed. That didn’t matter though. It was only a few months before I would escape to school and not have to worry about these things. This comforted me as I fell asleep.

Around 3am, I woke up to my grandma yelling. I jumped out of bed and ran to the kitchen. My mom was sitting there with her hands behind her back. She was hammered. My grandma was crying saying that my mom was scaring her. My mom couldn’t respond and I reached around my mom and grabbed an empty fifth of vodka. My grandma looked at me and said “That was full” through choked sobs. I comforted my grandma and my mom crawled back to her bedroom. What the heck was I going to do now? She wouldn’t be sober by the time we needed to leave which was about three hours from now. I called my sister who was about four hours away on vacation and explained what had happened. She agreed to come and take me on the tour.

I didn’t sleep anymore that night. When my grandma woke up, I told her to hide all of the liquor in her house. I explained that my sister was now taking me on the trip. My grandma wanted to talk about it but I had had enough. I wasn’t in the mood to comfort someone else on my mother’s alcoholism. I told her we would talk about it later.

My sister and I went on the tour of the school and I fell in love. I forgot about my mom and dad. I forgot how much I was hurting. I forgot everything. All I could think about was the hope this school offered, the hope for a new beginning. My sister was an alma mater of the school and was so excited for me to go. We didn’t talk about my mom the entire time.

When we got back to the house, my mom was pouty and apologetic. She had gone shopping and bought me a new Coach Purse to take to school with me. I didn’t acknowledge her or the gift. My grandma and I talked and ignored my mom for the evening. That night I told my mom we would cut our trip short and go home the following day. She nodded in agreement.

That drive home the next day was one of the longest of my life. I called my dad on the way and told him everything. My mom sat there pouting while I was on the phone and I sat there wanting to punch her in the face. He didn’t say much but said we would talk when we got back. I thought that meant we would talk about what we were going to do with my mother, I was very wrong.

When we finally arrived, my dad asked to see me upstairs. I headed upstairs and was thinking over everything that happened. I assumed he wanted to know all the details because it was his family we were visiting. He didn’t look at me though. He just looked out the window and I waited patiently. I thought he was really upset with my mom. Then he started talking and he broke my heart.

“She can’t handle you leaving. She can’t handle anything to be honest.” I nodded confused. I wanted him to say we would get her some real help or look into rehab or something. This is what I have been waiting for, for seven years. “If you leave…” he started and my heart sank hearing that word. If? “She will drink herself to death. You know that” he said calmly. My dad has never verbally asked me for help before and I could tell this was killing him. “If you stay and go to the school here in town, I will pay for your school in full, I will give you a car when you graduate, and I will pay for your apartment.” He looks at me and my heart is in my stomach. “You need to stay” he said.

Those four little words. Those four awful words. I looked down and the tears spilled onto the floor. I could barely breathe. I couldn’t move. I felt like I weighed a million pounds.  I realized this was going to always be my life. I never got to go away. My dad stood there and looked at me. I didn’t say a word. It probably only lasted two minutes but it felt like a lifetime. I gave a slight nod and he sighed with relief. He went downstairs and when he passed me he patted me on the shoulder. We never talked about why I stayed again.

Agreeing to stay enabled my dad and my mom. There’s no use playing the what ifs game but it’s hard not to think that if I had left, my mom might be sober today. She might also be dead. I will never know though because I stayed and continued to play my part in “the most enabling family show”.

It was hard at first. I had to tell all my classmates, who I had told I was leaving, that I would be staying in town. Everybody thought I was full of crap for ever saying I was going away to college. It was embarrassing but that doesn’t compare to any of the other embarrassing antics that happened in high school. Just another blip on the radar.

Next time I will talk about how my family perfected enabling while I was in college. Posts in the future will be a little more humorous. Kind of hard to lighten this one up 🙂 Thanks for listening! Subscribe if you are enjoying these posts. I love hearing the feedback from all over the world!

-Grumpy Sunshine


My Biggest Regret

This is a tough one, my biggest regret in high school. As I type this, I have to take a break after a couple sentences and sigh. Don’t get your hopes up. It isn’t that dramatic. I never killed anyone or allowed something to happen that resulted in the death of someone I loved. This embarrassment didn’t make the news or affect anyone’s life to a great extent. It is still my biggest regret. This is the story of the time I gave a speech in class about living with alcoholism in the home.

My senior year I was struggling. I gave up trying to get attention from my peers that I wasn’t getting at home and I gave up acting out to get attention from my parents. I felt very alone. My brother had just gotten a job in town and moved into our house with his fiancé while they waited on their house to be built. We didn’t agree on how to handle our parents drinking and it made me feel even more isolated. He thought my dad’s drinking was fine because my dad didn’t drink and drive and had a stable job. My brother didn’t connect how my dad’s daily drinking was contributing to my mother’s decline AND how just because he kept a job didn’t mean he wasn’t an alcoholic. We got in screaming matches about it regularly and he always won. He was older, smarter, and less emotional than teenage me. It was infuriating.

On top of his arrogance, he brought his fiancé into our mess and she was mortified by our family. She stayed in her room most of the time and I hated her for it. I hated her for knowing everything that was going on and for never reaching out. I hated her for not understanding. I hated her for coming from this wonderful family that didn’t have these issues. It was completely unfair of me. How was she supposed to know how to handle it? I know these things now but then, I was just a pissed off 17 year old. I was coming to a snapping point. I could feel it.

I was in a speech class that year. Most seniors took it because it was kind of a joke of a class. As long as you spoke out loud for the allotted time, you pretty much got an ‘A’ on each speech. We had “How To” speeches, debates, speeches about pet peeves, and my biggest embarrassment to this day…the persuasive speech.

The instructions were simple enough, you had to persuade the class to do something. I had a week to prepare. My classmates prepped speeches about persuading people to wear seatbelts, to not drink and drive, to join a sports team, etc. These were all normal, boring speeches. These are the speeches you want to give because you and your classmates will forget them, even if they are terrible.

I was in a different state of mind than my classmates though. I felt unwanted in my own home and I still had not found anyone to relate to my problem in school. I started looking online for Alateen programs. There weren’t any in my town (small town problems). There were Al-anon meetings but I felt like I really needed someone my age and I was too nervous to go to an Al-anon meeting alone. I looked up online and there was a website where you could request startups for Alateen meetings. You just had to persuade a number of people to make the request. Bingo.

I got my persuasive speech ready. I was excited for it. I was ready. The words flew out of me onto the paper faster than anything I had ever written. It was the first time I had been passionate about a school project. Everybody in school already knew my mom was an alcoholic. What’s the harm? Maybe it would help me find someone to relate to even if it was slightly embarrassing.  Maybe someone would think I was brave. Maybe someone would give me a hug. Maybe not.

My mistake was that I was giving this speech to high schoolers. Adults maybe could have appreciated and empathized with my situation but not 17 year old kids. Most high schoolers did not know how to handle what I was about to bring to them. My expectations were unrealistic. Looking back I wish I could shake my old self and tell this to her before the speech.

The day of the speech comes. Two students speak before me. Their speeches are boring but get polite applause afterwards. I barely pay them any attention. I have completely lost my nerve. All my confidence, all my hopes that this would teach people to understand, all of the steadiness in my hands, and all of my breakfast was gone. What if people were embarrassed for me? What if someone called social services? What if someone TOLD MY PARENTS? I never thought about any of this before now. I had only been thinking about getting someone to understand. I just wanted to stop being so lonely. I didn’t think about the negative consequences until right before it was my turn. Figures.

The teacher calls my name and I go up to the front. I have no choice. I have nothing else prepared. I take a deep breath and I start talking about the story I have shared with you in my first post, the moment I realized my mom was an alcoholic. I talk about how I love my parents but about how lonely I am. I talk about Ala-teen and how to make a request to have it brought to our town. In my head, I was very persuasive. I have the full attention of the class. I write down the website on the board and I finish my speech. I didn’t cry and it went by quickly. I was proud of myself for a millisecond.

My hands are shaking and I am looking out at a blank crowd waiting. No clapping, just kids looking down and away. No one will make eye contact and that’s when I realize I made a mistake. My heart drops and I feel like an elephant is sitting on my chest. I feel like I can’t move. My teacher thanks me and asks me to sit down. I nod and with all of my energy, I return to my seat. I sit down and…nothing. No looks from my friends, no pats on the shoulders from those sitting around me. I sit there and wonder…was it that bad? Am I that ridiculous? Has no one ever gone through anything like this in their life? Or even heard of someone going through this? I reached out for help and there were no hands extended. Just awkward kids with wide eyes and nervous glances.

Class ends and I leave slowly. I was ashamed and felt worse than I ever did about my parents alcoholism. No one, and I mean NO ONE ever mentioned my speech to me. No one said it was brave, good, or smart. No one said they were sorry. No one said they were there if I needed it. Nothing. It was never brought up again. To this day, I have not had anyone comment about that speech but there is no doubt in my mind that everyone in there remembers it. Nobody could forget a silence that tense.

Looking back, I still cringe. It doesn’t hurt as bad but it still is embarrassing. It will creep into my mind at night before I sleep and I will have to physically shake the thoughts out of my head. I understand now that those students had no idea how to respond and it was unfair of me to expect them to know what to say or to do. I didn’t bring up my parents drinking to anyone for a very long time after that. I realized that this invisible disease was invisible for a reason .There is a reason that there is a stigma and that it makes people uncomfortable.

This blog is a platform for me to break that stigma. Screw those kids and screw 17 year old me. I had no guidance on how to handle my parents alcoholism and I did my best. I could have become an alcoholic. I could have gotten in trouble with the law. BUT I DIDN’T. Instead, I made a stupid heartfelt speech. I just desperately wanted some empathy. I just desperately wanted a real friend. There was nothing wrong with that! If you’re a parent, teach your kid some damn empathy. If you’re an alcoholic parent, find your kid an outlet for their anger with you so they don’t make the same mistake I did. End rant.

I stopped looking for Alateen meetings after a few weeks and I stopped making requests online. I sunk into being a wallflower. I didn’t make any gossip for the next few months as I tried to hide in my shame. My brother and his fiancé eventually moved out and I was back to being alone with my parents. I never told them I gave that speech. I just went back to focusing on getting away for college and encouraging my mom to go to AA meetings. Did I mention she started AA? She did. She had a mean sponsor who I loved but she lied in the meetings and to her sponsor. She wasn’t ready for change. It was a start though! There was a tiny flicker of hope that change was possible one day. She just had to keep going back.

As I got ready to attend (I made up a name for this college) South City College, I realized that embarrassing moments didn’t matter in high school. I would be leaving them for good. I would be going out of state and out of their lives. I was not just going to survive…I was going to thrive outside of this small town.

My next post will be about my trip to South City with my mom. I hope you are enjoying my awkward blog! Please subscribe if you are interested in reading more 🙂

-Grumpy Sunshine


Welcome back to the Terror Dome! I have been a writing fiend this week. My parents are doing really poorly and processing out some of my history has been incredibly helpful. Let’s get back to it.

Where was I? Oh right. High school. Dun, Dun, DUNNN!!! I had given up trying to get the attention of my peers. They didn’t care. The ones who did care, I was too lost to notice. It was time to pull out the big guns, that’s right. It was time to get the attention of two alcoholics. Now, alcoholics are pretty consumed with their own lives. They don’t want anything added to their lives that could take away from their drinking. For example, an unruly teen getting in trouble would be highly unwanted.

Wait a second Grumpy Sunshine, who wants an unruly teen? That’s true reader, nobody. Teenagers suck. But this teenager decided to pull out all the stops in order to get the attention of her parents who were incapable of noticing what was going on outside of their bottle.

Decided to take it up a notch. I decided to start “sneaking out” at night. To be honest, the phrase “sneaking out” is a stretch. I literally would just walk out the front door around midnight and walk back in whenever I returned. I was never caught. I wasn’t incredibly quiet but I also wasn’t playing the trumpet on my way out the door. One of my friends would pick me up and we would go out for a few hours. Parents never seemed to notice. Next.

Let’s turn up the volume. I was hanging around people my parents knew smoked weed. I would bring them over, I would even brag about going to be with them, these kids that had been labeled as “trouble makers”. My friends were starting to pull away from me because even they had noticed I had changed. Not my parents though. Next.

I started dressing a little more inappropriately. My dad would roll his eyes but didn’t make any comments. I was an okay looking kid in high school. When I wore short shorts, they looked EXTRA short because of how long my legs were. Even my friends would comment when my shirts were skin tight or my midriff was showing (this was before it was in style to show off your stomach). My parents never advised me to dress otherwise. Next.

I started goofing off at practice and my coach would get annoyed with me but she never called my parents, probably because she knew they were alcoholics. I was striking out left and right trying to get attention from my parents. My two guy friends I mentioned in my last post, they noticed. They made a few comments but never really told me to get it together.

By the end of my sophomore year, I was sneaking out regularly, hanging around some questionable people, and my old friends had all but disappeared. Neither of my parents said a word. This is when it started getting sad for me. Maybe they didn’t even care. Maybe they knew all of this and they were so self absorbed, it didn’t even matter. How valuable was I to them? It felt like I was nothing. Well, not nothing. They still paid for all my expenses and let me do whatever I want…that’s caring, right?

The end of the year arrives. I am dating an older student so I am asked to the prom. My parents don’t think twice about letting me go. They take pictures, buy me the outfit, get my hair done, blah, blah, blah. There were no talks about rules really other than to be home by 1:00am. I decide to push my luck. That night after prom, we go out, and I come home way after curfew. I have to have gotten their attention this time. The only rule they gave me, I broke. I was even excited to wake up that morning. I quickly went downstairs at breakfast but my mom wasn’t around. My dad is sitting there doing the jumble and asks me why I was so late. I look ashamed but I am actually excited inside. He noticed something! I tell him we had been drinking and had to wait for a sober driver. He told me he was proud of me for not drinking and driving…that was the end of the discussion.

I think making that comment was a good parenting move but it probably should have been followed up by a “you’re grounded” or “don’t drink underage” or “where did you get the alcohol?” but it wasn’t. I don’t know if he ever told my mom but they never brought it up again. My friends were incredibly jealous that my parents didn’t care. A lot of them had gotten in trouble.

So, I had a decision to make. I could keep screwing up until the point where they had to pay attention or I could go back to being responsible. It really didn’t matter to them either way. I had to choose what would be best for me. I really enjoyed having fun and going out but I also missed being the responsible family member. It was nice getting complimented by people for being so mature. I missed being noticed for that. I wasn’t killing it as the unruly teen anyway.

I decided on a mixture of both. I was still sneaking out at night. To be honest, I really enjoyed the free food at 2am. But I stayed out of trouble in school.  The only way I was going to get away from my parents alcoholism was by going to a good school far away. I couldn’t imagine any other alternatives. That became my new obsession. I found a school in a different state that multiple family members had attended. I told all my friends about it over that summer. It was my new dream. It gave me something to work towards and it helped me imagine a life where my parents alcoholism didn’t affect my everyday activities. Let’s call the school, South City.

In my next blog post, I am going to discuss one of my biggest regrets from high school that happened at the same time my mom started going to AA. Junior year was a tough one after this incident. It’s one of those things that you think about and immediately squint your eyes shut to push out the memory. It will be painful to write about but I think it is necessary. The next few posts after that will be about my visit to South City with my mom and the aftermath.

Please subscribe if you are enjoying the blog! I have had some wonderful emails from those of you who can relate. I enjoy hearing from you!

-Grumpy Sunshine.

Open mouth, insert foot

Oh high school, the teen drama. Will Billy ask me to prom? Is Susie wearing the same shirt as me? Who has the answer’s for tomorrow’s math quiz?  You gotta love it. The heartbreak, the gossip, and the embarrassing moments add up to the four most awkward years of your life. For a “normal” teen, it is torture enough. For a teen whose parents stay in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, it’s movie worthy.

Don’t get me wrong. Life could have been worse. My parents never beat the shit out of me, I was never sexually abused, nobody had cancer, etc. There are much worse situations a child could live in but you don’t think like that at 15 years old. You think your life is the hardest and no one can relate. That’s how I felt through most of high school. I didn’t make it any easier on myself. I inherited my dad’s loud personality and my mom’s need to be liked. I wanted everyone to notice me and to think I was funny. I was desperate for attention that I wasn’t getting at home. It was the perfect cocktail for disaster.

I was somewhat cute, nothing to brag about but I had a few admirers. I found myself telling them about my parents problems before I even really got to know them. I just needed someone to know. I wanted someone to finally hear what I was dealing with at home. I wanted someone to relate to my problems. Stupid 15 year old me. The boys that want to make out with you are not the people who care that your parents drink themselves into oblivion. Within weeks of me opening up to the first few people, it felt like everyone at school knew. People either avoided me, because they had no idea how to talk to me or desperately tried to be my friend, because they wanted in on the dirt.

Rumors started floating around that I was lying for attention. I definitely was telling people for attention but none of it was a lie. Of course I wanted attention!  I was 15 years old. I had no idea how to handle being a teenager and parent my parents. I started embracing my spotlight instead of trying to blend in. I did more and more things to be the center of attention. I would dress ridiculously, I joined as many clubs as I could, I flirted with every guy I could, and I was just digging myself a bigger hole.

These “friends” I had made had no idea how to comfort me when my mom went missing or my dad wouldn’t come home to help me find her. They didn’t know what it was like to come home and find your mom passed out at 3:30 in the afternoon or to have to drive your mom home from a high school football game because she was hammered (even though I didn’t have my license). They didn’t understand what it meant for your mom’s license to be taken away and her picture to be splattered in the paper for a DUI. They loved to hear about it because they loved to tell people about it but it stopped there. There was no other support or outreach, just gaping looks and the need for more juicy info. I can’t blame them. They didn’t know. They didn’t experience it.

That was my only support and I clung to it. If people wanted to stare at my disaster of a life, why not? At least someone was looking. I even talked to a few teachers about it. Social services never got involved. Some of the things I told them should have warranted a report and maybe they tried but it never got accepted. If they didn’t call, I assume it’s due to the fact that I was relatively well adjusted (besides being obnoxious). I had good grades, I was clean everyday, and I don’t think it hurt that my family lived in a nicer neighborhood in town. This is just an assumption.

Anyway, one of my most cringe-worthy moments (and later on I realized most needed moments) occurred when two guys came over to my house. We had been friends awhile and I knew they both liked me but nothing had happened with them yet. They didn’t seem to want to be my friends just to witness the chaos. They seemed genuine. We hung out upstairs. We watched TV and did stupid 15 year old things. My parents were quiet downstairs so I didn’t think anything too traumatic was going to happen.

I didn’t have my license so when it was time to go home, my mom had to sit in the car with us. I didn’t realize she had been drinking until she got in the car. My mom repeatedly told me to turn my lights on. However, the lights were on in the car. I kept telling her this but she kept insisting they were off. At first I started to play it off but my mom wouldn’t let it go. The two guys are sitting in the back seat as we argue this all the way to their homes. It was such a stupid thing to argue about. Why did I keep arguing? Why didn’t I try harder to change the subject? Why did I keep yelling? She kept reaching over and trying to turn the brights on. She kept moving the wheel and I started swatting her away. We drove spastically and I am so glad we weren’t pulled over.

As I am screaming at her in the front seat, I can see how mortified the guys are in my rearview mirror. They get out of the car as quickly as possible when we arrive at their houses. I text them later to apologize and they both say it’s fine. They don’t say anything else. I still get a pain in my chest when I think about this car ride. These poor kids. They didn’t have alcoholic parents and I invited them into my mess. Their parents would probably never let me see them again. I remember bitterly thinking “they certainly had some juicy info for the next few days”. This isn’t the kind of attention you want in high school. Even someone like me, who was desperate for attention. I was humiliated.

I came home and told my dad. His response was “You shouldn’t be inviting people over. You know better than that”.  I was shocked. He didn’t even yell at my mom who stumbled to bed. We will just keep everything a secret in the house until I explode one day. That’s helpful. At least we will have the comfort in knowing we never addressed anything in the home. At the pit of my stomach though, I knew he was somewhat right. I did know better. I just wanted to pretend for a second like that wasn’t my life and it blew up in my face. I went to bed that night completely deflated and hating everyone. I hated myself for thinking I could have friends over. I hated my dad for not giving any shits. I hated my mom for just plain sucking at life. I even hated those guys because I felt like they wanted to be my friends to be in on the crazy that was my life. Why else would they want to be my friend?

I went downstairs slowly the next day. I expected some kind of apology from her. I was even smug about it. I deserved something. It was business as usual though. My mom didn’t remember what had happened. We had breakfast like we did everyday. My parents did the jumble in the paper and I ate in silence.

Something switched in my brain that morning as I sat across from them eating breakfast. They didn’t care that they had embarrassed me. This was just another day to them. They didn’t care or maybe they didn’t realize how bad I was hurting. I was still sitting there. I was still eating. I was still going to school. How bad could it have been? They must have been thinking this because I can’t imagine why else it was never brought up.

I stopped talking about my family with other people for a long time after that. I realized I was getting attention from the wrong people. I subconsciously decided I was going to get my parent’s attention instead. Looking back now, I can see the transformation of myself over that breakfast. I started looking for trouble. I was going to get the attention I craved, even if it was the wrong way. My next post will review learning the hard way that getting your parent’s attention isn’t always helpful.

As for those guys, they ended up being groomsmen in my wedding. What I thought would just be juicy crap to share at baseball practice the next day, turned into empathy and two of the best friends I have ever had. I let somebody in and it worked. It just took me awhile to realize it (more on that and them later)

If you enjoy reading this, please subscribe!

-Grumpy Sunshine

(S)Mothering my mother

Where to start? Can’t think of a better place than the beginning. Need to lay the foundation to help us get acquainted better.

Growing up, I thought my parents were the freaking coolest. They threw the best parties. Everybody wanted to come to our house. We had food, alcohol, and the house was always full of laughter. The parties seemed so elegant. They went late into the night and my mom’s cooking skills were envied by everyone in attendance. My older siblings’ friends would constantly talk about how cool our parents were, neighbors talked about how lucky we were to have them as parents, and even my aunts and uncles loved visiting because they knew it would be a “big time”. They were all correct. My parents were really cool. We just kind of missed the part that parents aren’t supposed to be that cool.

I was ten when I realized maybe being the party house 24/7 wasn’t ideal. It was a very specific moment and I will never forget it. It was a Friday afternoon and we just had some friends arrive from out of town. My dad wasn’t home from work yet.  My mom had the house ready, the food was out, and there were drinks everywhere you looked. She just wasn’t around. I welcomed everybody inside and they started snacking on foods and asked me where my mom was. I assumed she was upstairs getting ready but hadn’t been paying attention. I was leaving for camp the next day, my first full week away from home, and was terrified. I hadn’t been paying much attention to what my mom had been doing that afternoon because I had been packing and wondering if I would be able to make any friends.

I showed our company where they were staying. I had picked up a few good hosting skills from my parents. I asked about their trip and their families. I laughed at their corny jokes and assured them we were so happy they were there to visit. Gag. After these pleasantries were exchanged, I went upstairs to look for my mom. Unfortunately, I found her. She was asleep on the bathroom floor. Her pants were unbuttoned and she smelled. I couldn’t remember the last time I had saw her this afternoon. She must have been in here awhile. I saw an empty bottle of vodka near the trash can and walked towards her nervously. I shook her and she stirred and then fell back asleep. Her eyes had that glazed over, deer in the headlights look. A look that infuriates me and terrifies me to this day. That’s when it hit me. Right then. Like a ton of bricks.

You know those movie scenes where it zooms in to the person’s face because they were having flashbacks or déjà vu ? That’s exactly what it felt like. I started thinking about all the times I had to tell friends, guests, or people arriving that my mom was asleep, sick, or busy. Those damn deer eyes. She was usually passed out or desperately needed to be asleep. I bit my lower lip to keep from crying and stood up, frantically thinking of what to do with the guests downstairs. I started to walk away and turned back and looked at her. I knew then that my life was a little different. I stood there looking at her for a moment, angry that she took my childhood from me so quickly. It was like someone had sucked the air out of my lungs. I breathed in and then breathed out heavily and remembered the guests downstairs, couldn’t neglect them. No time to feel sorry for myself. I kicked her in the legs frustrated and she moved slightly but stayed asleep. I shook my head and shook the feelings out. I went downstairs with a big smile on my face.

I told the guests she wasn’t feeling well and they all looked around knowingly. I cringed inside. People already knew and I was late to be in on the secret. I shook it off though and started grabbing beers from the coolers for everyone. My dad walked in the house at this time and smoothed everything out. He was entertaining and loud. He made some jokes about my mom and got the grill started. I started doing everything my mom would normally do. I started making the salad, I set the table, and helped bring my dad the food for the grill. My dad realized that night that I was grown too, as grown as a gawky ten year old can be.

The awkward glances subsided as more people drank and started having a good time. My dad and I got through the night without my mom coming downstairs and without too many pity filled looks. I cried myself to sleep that night and started thinking of all the things I should have been doing over the years to help my dad more (I didn’t realize his coping with alcohol was as much of a problem until later). Around midnight, I got up and made a list of chores I needed to start doing regularly and things I should do next time we have company, which happened all the time. I went to bed with the world on my shoulders but I had a plan. I was going to be the mom my mom couldn’t be. I was old enough, I didn’t need a mom anymore. I mean, I was already ten. Who needs some lady telling you what to do all the time if you knew better?

All week at camp, I started acting more responsible. I started taking care of girls when they were homesick or when the younger kids got hurt.  I had a new role and needed to step up. When I got back from camp, I followed through with my plan. My mom never made my lunch for school again, I started doing my own laundry, and I started paying attention when she would cook. I never wanted guests to arrive again and our house not be ready. I would be ready for them. I became my dad’s surrogate wife when he ever needed one. I did it without complaint for years. I learned to cook, clean, take care of the dog, and host like a boss. Some of these skills were helpful but I lost a part of my childhood that I can never get back. Boohoo right? Who liked their childhood anyway?

Big picture, it never occurred to me that my mom needed help and that was what needed our family’s focus. I inherited my family’s need to look normal from the outside. You know, priorities. So I stepped up and became one of the most enabling characters in my family’s twisted saga. I thought I was the best thing that ever happened to them. My parent’s friends frequently commented on how mature I was, how helpful I was, and how they raised such a wonderful young lady. I used to smile smugly at these comments. They were wrong though. I was the real parent and I was doing a terrible job at raising my own “children” aka my mom and dad.

The real fun started when I got to high school and my parents REALLY started to depend on me. The awkward part is, with my parents not feeling the need to parent me as much, nobody was really supervising me! They weren’t paying attention and I needed someone to say, “Hey act normal for a sec, maybe life would be easier”. Without parental supervision, I became beautifully insane with incredibly awkward social skills. Imagine that? Two alcoholic parents and I had awkward social skills? I know. It surprised me too. My next few posts will highlight my most cringeworthy moments from high school due to my parent’s alcoholism and my lack of knowledge on what was acceptable social behavior.

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-Grumpy Sunshine


Why so Anonymous?

^Heath Ledger Voice^

When I tell you my parents are both alcoholics, what are you picturing? Maybe you are making some assumptions, maybe you aren’t. I won’t take a guess. I don’t know you. However, considering most people are pretty surprised when they learn that my parents are both alcoholics, it’s a safe bet you didn’t picture my household.

My dad has had a wonderful job with a great company for over thirty years. He has moved up within the company and makes a good salary. My mom has never needed to work but has picked up jobs here and there because it’s good for her to keep busy. We live in a country club neighborhood, we have a cleaning lady, we have a lawn service, and my parents go on pretty nice vacations. My siblings are successful in their careers, married, and have children. We all grew up in the church. What’s there to complain about?

We are blessed with a lot of wonderful things. Good physical health, good looks, and good careers. Any of these things could change at anytime but for the most part, we have been pretty lucky. There’s just that little, tiny, inconvenient detail about my mom popping sleeping pills and downing a fifth of vodka in her car at the Harris Teeter…just that. She’s passed out in her car after thirty minutes and my dad has no idea because he’s up at the club downing a few himself. Eh. It happens. What else do you have to do on a Tuesday?

You think more people would know about our little secret. A sprinkle of arrests here, a dash of public indecency there, and the robust flavor of a crying teenager in angst has put up a few red flags in this family recipe. So some people do know but not as many as you would think. Once when my mom was arrested, it was out of county so it didn’t get published in our paper. She has had one DUI in our county but people wrote it off as that upper-middle class mom just having too much fun out with her friends. The police have also been pretty easy on my mom. Her first DUI didn’t stick, the officer got fired before her case was brought to court, it was unrelated to her charges. Her case was thrown out. Another time she should have been arrested for drinking and driving, the cop had just gotten off duty and told us just to take her home because he was tired (that’s a classic story I will get to another time). My dad also makes a good living and the lawyers he hires help my mom get out of anything. My mom is just about the luckiest drunk in the world. No consequences, no accountability, no need to stop drinking. Woo!

I think the kind of drunks my parents are also plays a big role into why people don’t pick up on things. My mom doesn’t go to bars and get hammered and start a fight. She drinks by herself in her closet when my dad is working late. She pops a sleeping pill and downs whatever she can get from the store in her car and sleeps there in the parking lot. She doesn’t bring a ton of attention to herself. I can’t remember the last time I have seen her drink in front of anyone. She always just shows up somewhere, completely wasted and she NEVER stops smiling. It’s infuriating. She drinks in hiding and she is a happy drunk. If you don’t know her, you won’t realize she has been drinking unless she is to the point where she can barely walk. People will just think she is being silly or that she is tired. I think that is even scarier than the drunk at the bar starting fights. At least there are some clues to when he needs to call a cab.

My dad on the other hand is a public drinker. Most people probably assume he is just a social drinker because he is the fun loving drunk. He drinks with his buddies and at the house. He’s loud and happy. He never starts fights or drives drunk. People are constantly drawn to him with his big personality, his sense of humor, and his constant state of “fun”. Who wouldn’t want to drink with that guy? If he wasn’t my dad, I probably would. He’s a good time. But you need more than a “fun time dad”, especially when you have sleeping beauty as a mom over in the grocery store parking lot.

Don’t get me wrong. My parents aren’t terrible people. They love me. They love their family. They love their friends. They love their jobs. My mom regularly volunteers and coordinates events for those less fortunate. My dad donates money to any cause you bring to him. They both are involved in the church. They have a lot of connection to their community. This is why it’s anonymous. I respect that. I have always strongly believed that if you guilt and shame the alcoholic or substance abuser, you might as well write them a prescription for a relapse. It doesn’t make you or them feel better. You can’t shame an addict into being clean. But just to be clear, that doesn’t mean I hide their alcoholism from friends and family anymore. You will read more about that later.

So why write this at all? I am not writing this for/against my parents and I am not writing this for those addicted to substances. I am writing this for the people who are loving the substance user. We are the ones that get pushed to the side. Everyone is focusing on the addiction, the drama of it all…while we have to deal with the shit storm that follows. It’s not fun seeing your mom’s mug shot in the paper. Although…my mom’s most recent mug shot is freaking hilarious. She looks like she just won the lottery (I told you she never stops smiling). And another reason…I still need an outlet. My friends are too uncomfortable when I discuss these things satirically so I will write these funny stories instead for internet strangers. If my parents do see this (very unlikely, both completely inept with technology) and connect the dots, I love you guys. You just drive me freaking nuts.

My next post will start with the beginning, when I first realized my parents lifestyles were not normal and how I decided to deal with that at age 10. It’s hilariously depressing.

-Grumpy Sunshine