Everyone Experiences Trauma Differently

Two sons grow up in a home with an alcoholic father. One son becomes an alcoholic. One son doesn’t drink at all. When you ask the alcoholic son why he is an alcoholic he says “Because my father was an alcoholic”. When you ask the sober son why he doesn’t drink he says “Because my father was an alcoholic”.

That’s a pretty common story that many people have heard in the Al-anon world. When it is discussed further, it is usually said that it is all about “perspective”. I don’t exactly agree with that. I think that no two people experience trauma the same way, even in the same home. I don’t believe that the son who became an alcoholic became that way because his perspective was wrong. Even with a brother in the same home, maybe even in the same room, they experienced things differently.

Take my family for example. My brother, sister, and I all grew up with the same parents. They are a few years older than I am but they had very similar experiences as I did with our parents. We all had embarrassment when my mom would get arrested, we all knew if mom didn’t come home straight after work she might be sleeping it off in her car somewhere, and we all were frustrated planning our weddings and praying our mom would show up sober for events. All three of us had the same two parents. We all internalized and cope with our parents’ drinking completely differently.

My sister, the oldest, cannot handle confrontations. She will literally do anything to avoid confrontation. She will completely stop talking to someone if she is upset with them. She also likes to pretend that things are fine when they are not. After my mom is home and sobers up, she pretends like nothing happened and everything is fine. She goes back the next day like all is well. She can’t confront my mom about her drinking when my mom is sober and she can’t stand up to my dad for enabling her either. She is very enabling but she thinks it is out of love. She doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings and she is living her life stepping on egg shells. It infuriates me but I know it’s because she is afraid she is going to trigger my mom into a relapse. For her, it is easier to pretend everything is fine than to face the truth. She wants to “love” the alcoholism out of the person. I can appreciate that. It’s wrong but I can appreciate it.

One other tiny quirk about my sister is her messiness. She does not throw away anything. For a long time, I saw this as a way to push people away. She didn’t want anyone to confront her on her home’s cleanliness so she just didn’t have people over to her house. It was always worse when my mom was doing poorly. As time has progressed, she has gotten better. This was her way of coping though. She couldn’t verbally ask for help for fear of being judged so she made a physical mess to represent the mess that was going on inside of her.

My brother on the other hand, is the most confrontational person in the world. He loves to argue and he loves to ruffle people’s feathers. He constantly berates my mother for her drinking. He loves to blame anyone he can for her drinking as well. Currently, he has it in his head that the medication she is on is exacerbating her alcoholism…He believes if she has a medication change, maybe she won’t want to drink…talk about deep denial. Even though her doctor knows she is an alcoholic and prescribes her medication with that knowledge, my brother doesn’t accept it. He is also more of the type to “threaten” the alcoholism out of a person. He ended up moving away after a few of my mom’s episodes because he didn’t want his kids around the situation. I can appreciate that too.

One quirk about my brother, ironically, is that he is an extreme neat freak. His house is spotless and that is saying something for having two kids. He washes his hands probably 20+ times a day. In the winter, his knuckles will crack and bleed because his hands are so dry from the hand sanitizer. I have always seen this as his version of control. He could never control what happened in our home growing up so now he is trying to control as much as he can in his own home.

Then there’s me. I can be confrontational but I also have deep anxiety about upsetting people. I guess I am a mix of my siblings. I constantly fear that if I upset my mom and it triggers a relapse, everyone will blame me. I am worried that if I yell at my husband when he upsets me, that he is going to leave (This is an irrational fear because my husband loves the crap out of me). I worry that if I am too blunt with friends, they won’t want to see me again. This doesn’t stop me from confronting my mom, friends, and husband though. I still confront them but I have to take about 10 Tums to make it through that day.

When it comes to my own home, I lean closer to my brother. My home is pretty clean but my knuckles are definitely not raw from washing my hands twenty times a day. I do tend to over-clean and it drives my husband crazy. Who needs to dust the fans every week? We do honey! We do.

The point is that we all grew up in the same home but interpreted, coped, and internalized what was happening differently. My siblings and I get frustrated with each other all the time because we handle situations differently. My sister wants to be nice, my brother wants to be mean, and I need Tums before I can decide which way I will lean. I think it is wrong to assume there is one treatment modality or one way of addressing your symptoms as an adult child of an alcoholic. I am a big supporter of Al-Anon but if it doesn’t work for you, that’s okay. You shouldn’t feel guilty if it isn’t the right fit for you. We all experience trauma differently and even though we recover differently, we can still recover together by being supportive of one another. You are not alone in your suffering.

Thanks for reading! Subscribe if you are interested in reading more. Please share with friends or family if you think it would be beneficial for others 🙂 I love hearing suggestions about what to write on so please let me know! My most viewed post was a topic a subscriber had suggested and I loved the idea!

-Grumpy Sunshine

 

Unsolicited Advice

When you love someone with addiction, people LOVE to give you their unsolicited advice. They’ve seen the movies depicting addiction, they’ve read the news articles about drug use, and they have their own personal opinions on substances so why shouldn’t they? Because they’re freaking stupid.  That’s why.

How fun is it when someone comes up to you with no knowledge of your personal life, your strengths, your weaknesses, or your skills and they offer you some “solutions”. Well thank you stranger with no idea what I have been through or what I need to do for giving me advice on a subject you know nothing about. I appreciate you sticking your nose in my business, offending me, and making an ass out of yourself. Have a wonderful day!

Maybe I am being too harsh. A lot of people are offering solutions because they want to help. They don’t know any better. They just want you to stop hurting. I can appreciate that. I can handle those suggestions. What I can’t handle is those who are also passing judgment on what you have done and what you are willing to do. This judgment even comes from those who DO know what it is like to live with or love an addict. Something worked for them or their family member so if you don’t try it, you must be stupid.

This is one of the most infuriating parts of loving an addict for me. I have always felt more traumatized by how people react to learning that my mom is an alcoholic than by my mom’s actual alcoholism. The judgment, the discomfort, and the “helpful advice” can be more hurtful because it’s often from people you trust and love.

For example, my mother’s family lives far away. We see them maybe once a year. We don’t really get them involved in my mom’s alcoholism because there’s nothing they can really do. Her parents are older and living in a retirement community. Knowing the truth would just hurt them. If they ever asked, I would be honest with them but they never do ask me. They only ask my mom how she is doing. Of course she always says she is doing great and has been sober for years. She has never been sober for years but they take her at her word for it.

She was planning a trip to go visit them during a time when her license had been taken for a DWI. I overheard her talking to my aunt about borrowing my aunt’s car and visiting an old friend a few hours away when she came out for her visit. Clearly, a terrible idea. I thought about what to do and decided to tell my aunt the truth. If I was in my aunt’s position and something had happened to my car, I would be upset with the family for not warning me. So I called my aunt and updated her on what had been going on and she was in SHOCK. She thought my mom was “no longer an alcoholic” (Don’t get me started on that). She was devastated. She kept asking me what my family was going to do about it….

Um? What? There is NOTHING and I mean nothing that you can do to make someone recover. They have to do that. You can encourage them, support them, take them to AA, find them a counselor, offer them information on rehabilitation facilities, hide the alcohol, cry with them, yell at them, threaten them, leave them, etc… In the end, it is their hard work, their determination, and their willingness to recover that will get them sober. If I could get my mom sober, she would be sober. We have tried everything I listed above. We can’t do it for her though.

I kindly explained this to my aunt and she didn’t seem to agree. That’s fine. She was hurt and in shock in learning this information. She thought the family could do more to help my mom be successful. That is a valid argument. She didn’t know that we had done everything we could. Unfortunately, she then shared this information with my grandparents. They were heartbroken. They were so upset with us…not my mom…the rest of the family. They were upset we had not been updating them and letting them know what had been going on. I can understand that. It’s their daughter. I also respected my dad’s wishes to keep it away from them though because in simple terms, they were just so damn old and far away. It would just hurt them. Isn’t it convenient that people are ready to blame anyone but the addict?

So while I am on the phone with my crying grandparents, they keep asking what we are going to do differently to get my mom better. They started offering suggestions on what we could do in the home not to trigger her. I laughed out loud. I couldn’t help it. I apologized to them for seeming insensitive and explained again what I had told my aunt. I said we had tried to tiptoe around my mom, threaten her, support her, force her to get sober, and none of it worked. We can’t make her get sober and neither could they.

My grandparents handled my response well. They respected my answer because they knew I was more aware of what was going on than they did. People don’t always react that way though. I had friends that would make comments like “So you’re just gunna sit there and let her kill herself slowly?” and my response is usually, “I hope that doesn’t happen”. I don’t want my mom to kill herself but I also can’t spend my entire life trying to wrap her in a bubble to protect herself and others. That’s no way to live. That’s also not helping her. That’s us getting her sober and not her getting herself sober. She needs the motivation to do it herself or it will never last. It is not my responsibility and it is not your responsibility to cure them of their addiction.

Even just typing that now, I feel a sense of relief. We cannot make someone get sober. We are not responsible for “fixing” them. I am often suggested to drop her off at a rehab facility. People tell me I need to be going to AA with her everyday. People suggest that we take away her wallet and dictate all of her spending. If loving the alcoholism out of a person was possible, my mom would be clean. If threatening the addiction out of someone was real, she would be ten years sober. If cutting off “all” access to alcohol would stop cravings, she’d have her license right now. It just doesn’t work that way.

People might say you’re selfish. They might tell you that you are putting others at risk. They might say you’re being a bad daughter. I have heard it all before but I am completely at peace with how I handle my mom’s addiction. I would be devastated if anything ever happened to her. I am sure there would be some guilt if she hurt herself or someone else but deep down I know that am not enabling her and I am not hurting her. She is doing this to herself and she is the only one to blame if someone got hurt. I pray for her daily but that is the extent of my help.

I hope this post helps you find some relief. I know we want to help them and we want to save them but we can’t. Accepting that has been an incredible turning point in my relationship with my family. Screw people’s suggestions and judgments. They shouldn’t be asking you what you are going to do and telling you how to do things. That takes the responsibility off of the addict. If they have no professional, personal, or educational experience, they should be asking how to help support you and that’s it. That’s my unsolicited advice to you and to them. How ironic.

Thanks for the suggestions on what to write about! These are suggestions I can handle 🙂  Please email me or comment if you have any other ideas! If you enjoy the posts, please share them or subscribe. Thanks for reading.

-Grumpy Sunshine

Holidays Aren’t Always Jolly

When living with/loving an addict, the holidays aren’t always so jolly. Whether it be Christmas, Thanksgiving, Labor Day, or Mother’s Day, the stress levels have risen which puts them at a risk of relapse and puts you even more on edge. How can it not? There is usually alcohol at the family parties, work parties, and other social gatherings. There is new stress with the thought of seeing family members you do and do not want to see. You are hosting company (and your guest towels have been used to wipe off the dog), you are cooking food (that you know your aunt will judge critically), and you have your own expectations for the day. Add a garnish of addiction to your list of worries for the magic touch :). Of course you become a scrooge! Maybe you don’t. Maybe you have found the perfect recipe for handling this…but I have become the definition of a scrooge. Bah Humbug!

*One of my subscribers asked me to write about the holidays. So, I am going to break my timeline I have been following to share a story. If you ever have suggestions, please provide them. I want to write about things you want to read!*

I think what is hardest about the holidays now is trying to pretend you are excited. I used to own my distaste for holiday events. I didn’t mind telling people that I’d rather be alone or travel than spend time with family. But then you get tons of questions. Why don’t you like Christmas? Why aren’t you excited to see your family for Thanksgiving? Why isn’t your family doing a cookout for Memorial Day? And sometimes I would answer truthfully. Sometimes I would lie. The problem with the truth is that it brings people down. Nobody wants to hear your sad story when they are so excited about the upcoming holiday. I hate to bring down people’s excitement so I lean towards lying (a lesson I learned in the story I am about to share).

Before I share one of my sad little Christmas tales, I will start off by saying again how much I love my parents. They have been incredibly generous and loving towards me. I know that my mom’s addiction is a disease and I have forgiven her for these past indiscretions. She tries really hard to get sober but she isn’t always successful. I still love her and I always will. However, it doesn’t take away some painful memories. This is the reason I am writing this story. I want to let this hurt go. Maybe if you read it, you will take some of it away from me. At least, that is my hope.

Remember when you still had that Christmas hope as a child? Maybe you still do! That feeling when you go downstairs or come around the corner to see the Christmas tree with presents underneath? Is there any feeling comparable? It’s the feeling of hope, excitement, joy, and gratefulness. It is such a pure feeling for a child. That feeling was taken from me one Christmas and I haven’t gotten it back.

It was Christmas Eve and my mom had been drinking. My brother, sister, and their families were out of town with their in-laws so it was just my parents and me. My dad was furious with my mom for drinking and refused to go to the Christmas Eve church service with me. I couldn’t take my mom either because she had been drinking all day. I decided not to let it bother me. It was Christmas after all. My parents would surely make it up to me the following day.

I decided to ignore my depressing home and I spent the evening at my sister’s empty house. A friend came over to watch a movie with me. We didn’t talk about my family and we watched the movie in silence. He didn’t ask what happened and I didn’t ask how he got away from his family during the holiday time. It was nice not to be alone and I decided to focus on that. After the movie, my friend left and I went home after I knew my parents would be in bed. I wanted to go to sleep in a good mood.

I snuck downstairs and hid their presents underneath the tree. I noticed there weren’t any other presents but I assumed my mom was going to put them under the tree in the morning because she knows I peek at night. I went to bed feeling excited. Even though my mom had been drinking, I knew she wouldn’t disappoint on Christmas Day. We would still have a good holiday and we would forget this lonely Christmas Eve. I fell asleep thinking about the hot cocoa we would drink together in the morning while opening our stockings. I pictured their faces as they opened their gifts. I decided to be hopeful.

The next morning I got up around 7am. My mom should have been up for over an hour by now. I got dressed excitedly and threw on a festive robe. I went downstairs hurriedly and peeked around the corner full of that pure, childish Christmas spirit. I looked at the tree and the only presents were the ones I placed the night before. I stood there confused. I walked to the front room and my stocking was empty. I looked around and saw my mom passed out on the couch. From her sleeping position, I could tell she had gone to bed drunk or was still drunk. I tried to shake her awake and her eyes barely opened. She was wasted. She must have started drinking again in the middle of the night.

I ran to my parent’s bedroom and woke up my dad. He came out and looked at my mom and started yelling. She stumbled up and started bringing my presents into the room, none of them were wrapped. I was confused and tearful. I slowly brought my parents’ their presents and my dad opened his in silence. I didn’t have anything to open because none of my presents had been wrapped. I tried to look busy looking through them so they wouldn’t see me crying. There were only one or two gifts, if I remember correctly, it was a book and a shirt. Nothing I put on my wish list, no special surprises like the years past.

My mom finally sits up long enough and opens my present to her. It was a rotating picture frame with pictures of us and her with the grandkids. She smiles at me but drops the rotating frame and it breaks. I can’t hold it in any longer and burst into tears. My dad begins screaming at my mom that she ruined everything. He starts taking presents and throwing them away saying that “Christmas is over”. I run upstairs with the book I got for Christmas and grab my keys. My whole body is shaking and I am sobbing uncontrollably. I tell my dad I am leaving and going to my sister’s house and he waves me away and continues yelling at my mother who is too drunk to acknowledge or remember anything he says. I left completely devastated.

I drive over to the empty house like a mad man and cry for about an hour. My head starts to hurt from crying so much and I search the cabinets. I find some hot cocoa and sit there drinking it trying to calm myself down. At least one tradition is in tact…I did have cocoa. When I finally finish, I call my brother and tell him what happened. His response is one I will never forget. “What am I supposed to do? Are you just trying to make sure no one has a good Christmas?”

Ouch. That one hurt. I hung up the phone angrily but realized he was right. There was no point in spreading my misery (which is why I now lie to people about my dislike for the holidays or I just keep that opinion to myself). I had never felt more alone or depressed than that Christmas day. It was one of the longest and loneliest days of my life. I got calls and texts that I ignored from friends wishing me a happy holiday. I spent that Christmas alone reading the unwrapped book I received.  When she broke that frame, she broke my spirit. I was completely hollow. I got back to my parents late that night after they had gone to bed and I arrived to the rest of my presents in my bedroom. I pushed them aside and fell asleep without hope that things were going to get better. Hope is too dangerous. It leads to too much pain.

My mom sobered up a few days later. She never addressed it and I didn’t either for months. I held in my anger and disappointment because I didn’t want to do anything to trigger another relapse. It was too heavy for me to be bearing alone but I didn’t know what else to do at the time.

Every Christmas, I still go to bed nervous. Even now that I don’t live with my parents anymore and I am married, I still have terrible anxiety around the holiday. My heart catches in my throat every Christmas morning when I go to look under the tree…praying that a gift is there and that my drunk mom is not. Praying that I won’t end up alone. Praying that my dad won’t be heartbroken and throwing away his own gifts. Praying that we can go to church. And praying that the pain will eventually fade.

Even though this story is about Christmas, there are many other holidays that have been affected by my parents’ drinking. Holidays are not easy for everyone. If someone tells you their family doesn’t handle the holidays well, don’t act shocked. Don’t call them a scrooge. Don’t ask what’s wrong with them. Wonder instead what has happened to them. Those scars take time to heal. Even as I wrote this story, over ten years later, my hands shook as I typed. There’s nothing quite like losing a part of your childhood due to your parent’s addiction.

I hope that maybe this brought some awareness to you if you have never lived with or loved an addict. I hope that those of you who can relate can take comfort in the fact that you aren’t alone. Please share this with your friends if you think this would help and please subscribe if you want to read more! My next post (per the request of a subscriber) will be about how to deal with advice from those who have not had any experience with living with/loving an addict. Thanks for reading!

-Grumpy Sunshine

Projecting Insecurities

Who loves to feel powerless over their insecurities??? Oh me, me, me! Said no one ever. Everyone has something they feel insecure about. I don’t care how confident you are. There is something that makes you feel embarrassed or ashamed. Its typically something out of your control. Mine happens to be two large things completely out of my control, I call them mom and dad.

As I have stated in previous posts, my parent’s alcoholism was no secret. I had shared with friends and professionals. I had reached out many times in an effort to connect with someone and I wasn’t always greeted with outstretched arms. So where does that leave me in the dating world? Most people probably could break someone in calmly and coolly but I guess that is just not my style. I am more of the keep it a secret until you explode or dump all of the baggage on them too soon. I know, I am quite the catch.

In this situation, I was lucky. The guy I was dating, my now husband (we will call him Alex), already knew about my parents. He had been aware because he had known me since high school. There weren’t too many surprises there so he had to just ride the storm with me instead of me trying to keep him away from the water. Sounds like it could be smooth sailing. No. That’s not how it goes because when you date someone, you aren’t just dating them. You are also dating their family. That’s right people…the potential in-laws. Dun. DUN. DUN!!!

Alex came from a good family. His parents had been married for almost thirty years, they grew up in the church, and they all got along pretty well. Sure there was the occasional sibling spat, but it was always resolved before an evening ended. Alex’s dad is probably the kindest man I have ever met. He is Mr. Dad. You know the type…President of the booster club, volunteers for church events, teaches Sunday School, and he never missed one of his kids’ games. Then there is Alex’s mom. She is one of the most generous people I have ever known. She loves the shit out of her kids too. I mean she never missed any school event or sporting event. They were her number one priority and still are. She knows every class they are taking and every project that is due. She keeps in contact with the teachers. She is Mrs. Involved. I credit Alex being so wonderful to his parents. They raised an amazing son and I am very grateful for them.

So how in the hell am I supposed to break them into my world? My parents…well my mom did volunteer in the church but we all know how that went. My dad definitely disciplined me and was around but we really didn’t get close until after college. Don’t get me wrong, I love my parents. They raised a great kid, I mean hello? I am awesome. They just were…not as involved as Alex’s family in their kids’ lives. And you know there’s the little sprinkle of alcoholism in mine to shake things up as well.

When Alex and I started dating, I knew I was going to marry him. I knew I was going to marry him before we started dating actually so hiding my family’s dirty secret was useless. It always came to light and it was better to prepare someone for that then to catch them off guard. My secret hope was that his family already knew. How could they not? Everyone in school knew. My mom had made several embarrassing displays of her alcoholism. Maybe I would just never have to say anything. I still don’t know if they knew about my parents before we talked about it this one special evening.

We had just finished dinner at his parent’s house and his dad asked about my dad playing golf (they belonged to the same country club). We made some jokes about my dad being up there so often and I decided to toy with the idea of sharing more with them. Alex and I had been dating awhile, I figured it would be fine. So I made a joke about my dad hanging out at the “19th hole” so often, aka the bar. His dad laughed and asked if my mom meets him up at the bar after he plays golf. My heart jumped into my throat. I could feel my stomach knot up and my heart started beating faster. My anxiety sky rocketed in a millisecond.

Let’s side bar real quick before I get to my answer. That reaction I had is not one anyone should have when talking about addiction. I was feeling anxious, sweaty, and guilty. I was embarrassed and I felt the impending doom of judgment. My mom’s alcoholism is not my problem and it is also not something I should be embarrassed about. It is a disease, it is her disease, and I cannot change that. I have been shut down sharing about my parents’ alcoholism before which is why I still get so anxious talking about it but I HATE THAT. How can anyone ever reach out for help if their anxiety is that overwhelming??? Don’t ever be ashamed to vulnerable with someone. That’s the only way we can break this terrible stigma. End side bar.

So I am staring at them and they are staring at me. Alex is holding his breath. I decide to lie and to not lie. “She doesn’t drink at the club” is my response. That’s true. She doesn’t. My mom chugs a fifth of vodka in her closet or in her car in a parking lot and passes out. She doesn’t drink with my dad or in public. I realized I wasn’t ready to share with them yet and I was disappointed in myself. I pride myself on not being ashamed of where you come from and who you are but I was still all talk when it came to my parent’s drinking. Unfortunately, Alex’s mom took the bait and responded with “It sounds like your dad drinks enough for the both of them”. Well, fuck. I laughed awkwardly and Alex changed the subject quickly.

Side bar again. Don’t judge Alex’s mom too harshly. She takes life very seriously. She addresses things directly and she can be incredibly forward, almost to a fault. She didn’t have any experience with alcoholism and now that she knows about my parents’ alcoholism, she would never say something like that. End Side bar.

I was so embarrassed. His mom thinks my dad drinks too much because he is up at the golf course a lot? She is in for a freaking surprise. That was just the surface of it and there was a deep, deep canyon of crap below. How could I ever share with them? How could they ever understand? What would they think of me? Would they worry I would be the same way? Would they want Alex to choose someone with less baggage? They want what’s best for their son. What if they didn’t think that was me?

That was a hard day for me. What am I saying? That was a hard few months for me. I had been dating Alex for awhile and I was still going to have to hide this dirty, heavy, soul consuming secret from them and we spend a lot of time with them. They weren’t ready or I wasn’t ready or both. It was really tough. I felt like I was back in high school again and my insecurities were clear across my forehead. I never talked about my family and I changed the subject when his family asked about them. This all caused an unnecessary rift between me and Alex’s mom that she didn’t even know about.

Although I do not think her comment was appropriate, this could have all been avoided had I been honest. I could have said-“No she doesn’t drink with my dad, she’s an alcoholic and working on getting sober”. Sure that might have been awkward but it always will be if we don’t talk about it more. Instead of her judgmental comment, I think his mom would have responded with either surprise or empathy. I know his mother and she most likely would have follow up questions and that would have been fine. I may have felt embarrassed or awkward but I wouldn’t have felt so alone. Because even though it would have made things a little uncomfortable, his family is kind enough that they would have been supportive. I know that looking back  because they are great supports to me now. But if you have learned anything from my posts, you should know I like learning things the hard way.

If you don’t want to tell someone about your addiction or a family member’s addiction, don’t. You don’t have to do that. But if you want to and if you need support, if you are feeling alone, and if you just need someone to share your pain with, freaking do it. I highly recommend doing it in an appropriate setting. Maybe don’t announce it in a high school speech (read My Biggest Regret post to learn about that disaster) but if you feel led to share, share. This dirty secret shouldn’t be such a dirty secret. Addiction is too common for so many people to suffer in silence.

This might not be my most interesting post but God did it feel good to write it. I honestly didn’t even think I would get as emotional as I am feeling right now but I just feel overwhelmingly relieved. I think that story was burdening me more than I realized. Thank you for letting me share these things with you. I love hearing from people that they can relate and they enjoy my posts. Subscribe if you enjoyed the read and share with your friends if you think it could help them!

-Grumpy Sunshine

 

Meet my Family, the Dysfunctionals

Introducing your new special someone to your family can be incredibly stressful. Not only do you want your family to like them but you also want all embarrassment from your family to hold off until you really have this person hooked. You end up refereeing conversations by intervening in awkward questions and cutting off sentences that are leading down troublesome paths. This is a normal part of life and a normal part of dating. Throw in a few alcoholic family members though and you have got yourself a cocktail for fun (pun intended)!

When my husband and I first started dating, I was at an advantage. He had known me for years. He had heard rumors, some true and some untrue, about my parent’s drinking and I had been open with him about their alcoholism. Dinner with the family shouldn’t be a big deal then right? There can’t be any real surprises. The skeletons are already out of the bag and sitting on the couch with us. Well, that’s where you’re wrong. Listening to stories about a family’s quirks is one thing, them experiencing it themselves is a whole different category of understanding. This is where I went wrong. I made the assumption that since he knew my family was already nuts, he could handle anything. No…no…no…that’s not how it works. I threw this poor guy into the lion’s den without realizing he would most likely need a ladder.

The first actual dinner I had with my family and my husband, then boyfriend, (let’s call him Alex) was relatively calm for my standards. It was pretty uncomfortable compared to his standards of normal. He adapted quickly in the months to come but I handled his reactions, more like his perspective, to things poorly.

It was a normal weekend night. My dad had been golfing and drinking all day. He came home pretty buzzed and was feeling jolly. He made some crude jokes and laughed very hard at them. He was a bit repetitive and loud as always. Pretty typical behavior for my dad. Nothing I really thought much of. My mom was sober this night and apparently open to sharing. I made the mistake of leaving Alex alone with her and she began sharing her journey to sobriety. I came out in the middle of the conversation pretty surprised to be hearing my mom sharing but I was glad she was being honest. Alex looked incredibly uncomfortable. Who could blame him? I felt terrible. I could tell my mom had been talking and he hadn’t been responding so I changed the subject.

Dinner went on and my mom made a great meal. The dog slobbered on Alex’s pants. He fake laughed at my dad’s jokes and we talked about Alex’s family. It could have been a lot worse of a night. I was pretty pleased with how things went. Alex and I had shared two different evenings however.

I apologized to Alex for my dad’s behavior. Alex shrugged and said my dad was funny and he didn’t see a problem with him. I was glad that Alex wasn’t a prude about my dad but just because my dad is a jolly guy when he has been drinking a lot doesn’t mean there “isn’t a problem with him”. I then apologized for my mom and that’s what he shared really bothered him. He was upset that I left him alone with her. He didn’t know what to say or what to do and this (unfairly) bothered me.

Here my dad is, drunk and being an ass, and Alex is fine with it. Then there’s my mom, sober but sharing something that made him “uncomfortable”, and that’s where the problem was? I was furious. My mom is almost always the worst one off in any situation. She is usually the drunker one and she is typically the one who has somehow made a mess but she didn’t do anything wrong this time. I blew up at Alex. I felt like he was minimizing my dad’s drinking problem because he’s a “fun, loving drunk” and he was being judgmental of my mom for being vulnerable. I made accusations of sexism and ignorance. You know, just your typical argument with a boyfriend.

This is why it wasn’t fair of me. Alex has probably been, no I know for a fact, he has been around drunk men before this dinner. Who hasn’t? Anyone can handle a few crude comments and a slurred vocabulary. That’s not an issue for most people. But opening up about an addiction? If you haven’t lived with it, studied it, or worked with it, you shouldn’t know how to respond. Alex was in unfamiliar territory and I expected him to know what to do. Just because I had told him about my family’s drinking didn’t make him qualified or prepared to talk with them about it.

I wanted to share this because it taught me a few big lessons.

One, we cannot judge people for not knowing how to handle something they’ve never dealt with before. I have always had issues with this and it keeps biting me in the ass. There is nothing wrong with someone being uncomfortable around your family sharing such personal things. It only becomes an issue if this person sticks around and can’t get used to it. Don’t be so harsh on first timers who are still learning the ropes.

Two, people get uncomfortable talking about addiction because we don’t talk about it enough. People NEED to talk about addiction. People need to talk about what it’s like to live with addiction, alcoholism, and substance use in their family. Why? Because who is going to reach out for help if they know people are going to be uncomfortable listening to them? The only way to break this stigma is to break the silence. There is nothing wrong with you if you were raised by an alcoholic. No one should judge you for that. After all, this is one of the biggest reasons I started this blog.

Three, don’t leave your significant others alone with family members the first time they meet them. This has nothing to do with substance use or addiction but is just good common sense. You never know what kind of situations they can get themselves into and you need to get to know them first before leaving them alone in the lion’s den.

I hope you are enjoying these posts! I love writing them. Next post will be about having to open up to Alex’s family about my own family. Please share this blog with friends if you think they could relate or subscribe if you’d like to read more in the future!

-Grumpy Sunshine

Coping by Not Coping

Who doesn’t love an embarrassing story from high school? I have plenty. If you have read any of my previous posts, you are familiar with my style of inserting my foot into my mouth and choking. I have stories for days but we have moved on from high school so lets focus on some of my dumber years, college. When I got to college, I thought I had learned my lesson. I decided that public pleas for attention and attempting to spread awareness was a moot point. My peers were too young to care and I was not eloquent enough to capture their understanding. So in college, I decided to cope by not coping.

I was dating someone at the time who wasn’t good for me and really brought down my self-esteem, let’s call him Tom. Tom turned out to have a substance use problem himself, I know…the irony. As you can imagine, not the perfect person to help support me through my family’s substance abuse. I ignored the signs though. I decided to just not deal with it. I didn’t worry about his substance use, I pretended my family didn’t exist, and I swam around in my denial until it started pulling me under.

Burying the denial was affecting me in ways I couldn’t see clearly until the end. I was eating my feelings and slowly gaining that memorable “freshman 15” except it was more like the sophomore 20. I had pushed myself away from my friends, such as those two guys I brought up in previous posts. We completely lost touch during this time period and I only have myself to blame for that. Tom contributed to alienating me from others because of his own insecurities as well. I started dressing differently, drinking more, and was just over all not healthy-physically and emotionally. I refused to acknowledge how lonely and sad I was because it was college! This isn’t a time to be lonely and sad. This is the time to party, dress a little provocatively, and wake up confused about the night before. To be honest, this is the perfect time to live in denial. Nobody notices.

I had one friend that noticed though. We went to high school together and he had always kept in touch. Tom hated him because he was such a genuinely nice guy, clearly not someone your boyfriend wants you around. When I would be swimming too deep in my denial, he would put me in my place. He would ask about my parents or remind me that I deserved better than my boyfriend. I wasn’t ready to face those things though. I didn’t want to believe him. I couldn’t imagine what my life would look life if I accepted that I was heading down a path to turn out exactly like my parents. I couldn’t confront it. It hurt too much.

I blew up at this friend multiple times. I told him he was stupid. I would ignore him. I would yell at him. I would tell him to go away. I put all of my anger that I was feeling towards myself, towards my family, and towards my POS boyfriend towards this wonderful friend. And he would just take it. He would always do what I asked. He would leave me alone for a few weeks or he would stop saying things for a few days. He would change the subject. He would do what I wanted until it was time to do what I needed, which usually entailed calling me out. It was almost as if he was my conscience and he just sat there on my shoulder no matter how many times I would swat him away.

One particular weekend, I went camping with Tom and a few friends. It went about as expected. Tom blew up at me over nothing and would sneak off to use whatever drug he was into that week. By the end of the weekend, he had embarrassed me ten times over. The cherry on top was that my friend, the angel on my shoulder, texted me to see how I was doing. That pushed Tom over the edge. He hated it that this person was checking in on me. He screamed at me and made me sleep in the car instead of in the tent. I was humiliated in front of our friends.

All of my denial caught up with me while I tried to sleep in that car.

Everything I had been running from just dumped all over me in that backseat. I was chubby. I was depressed. I was lonely. I was stupid. I needed to focus on my classes. I needed to see how my family was. I needed to feel things again and not just party the thoughts away. I needed to cope with my parents alcoholism affecting me and them. I needed to get rid of this terrible anchor of a boyfriend. Most importantly, I needed me back. I missed me. I liked me. I hadn’t been me in a long time.

That car ride home from the camping trip was one of the longest car rides of my life. I hated myself and I hated Tom. He had apologized and was being overly nice because he knew he crossed a line. I was going over every step and decision I had made to get myself where I was at that point. The only person I really wanted to talk to about any of this was that annoying friend who kept reminding me of who I was. I realized that was a problem. I tried to break up with Tom that night when we finally got home. He didn’t let me…

How does that work? That’s a great question. Looking back, I don’t quite understand it myself. He screamed at me. He cried. He made himself throw up because he was “so heartbroken”. He threatened to kill himself. And by the end of it, we were still together. I remember sitting there confused as to how it all worked out. I remember aching to talk with my annoying friend. Tom was too suspicious though and even more insecure. I couldn’t talk to anybody.

I spent the next six months trying to break up with Tom with similar endings. Threats to kill himself, crying, and vomit. In the very end, we were able to break up when he started sleeping with someone else. He needed someone to make himself feel important otherwise I was going to be stuck in that position. The girl he cheated on me with is the best thing that ever happened to me. I wish her a lifetime full of happiness…not him. Tom, you suck.

That annoying friend is what helped me get away from Tom and stay away from him. He helped me see that Tom was just manipulating me and was not actually going to kill himself. He was a great friend those next few months and boy did I need one. Even though Tom let me break up with him, he still kept an eye on me and he let me know that. He had friends check up on me. People would tell him where I would go and what I would be doing. He would show up outside of my classes and he would sleep in his car outside my apartment. With time, it faded. He moved on to obsessing over someone new and I was able to heal and grow from it.

And as for that annoying friend, I now call him my husband. He waited until I was ready to start dating again, which took some time after Tom. While he waited, he showed me what a real friendship and a real man was like. He was supportive, he was kind, he was loving, and he was the best friend I ever had. He never gave up on me. Its been six years since that stupid camping trip and my husband still is all of those wonderful things. I cringe thinking about how my life would have turned out had I stayed with Tom or ended up with any kind of “Tom”. But it didn’t. I haven’t turned out like my mother and my husband did not turn out to be like my father. Instead, I got to marry my best friend.

I guess to sum up this post, don’t let go of the people who don’t give up on you. You are better than the “Toms” of this world. The Toms may help distract you for a period but you can’t be distracted from who you are for long. You have to deal with your feelings. You have to feel your pain. Facing your fears is better than drowning in denial…and a bunch of other cliché phrases that all mean the same thing.

My next post will be about introducing my husband, then boyfriend, into the world of my family’s dysfunction. Even though he has always been incredibly supportive, it is something you never really get used to and he had quite an uphill battle. If you are interested in reading more, please subscribe! Share my blog with your friends. I want to fight the stigma of what people think addiction looks like and spread a little laughter along the way. Thanks for reading!

-Grumpy Sunshine

My Breaking Point

Writing about my parents’ alcoholism has been incredibly therapeutic. I love sharing with people and I love hearing their stories. What a comfort to know that we aren’t alone. Its been so easy to write my stories because I carry them with me everyday. However, this story is not going to be so easy to write.  I have tried to bury it and forget about it. Its something I am incredibly ashamed of and I replay it over in my head wishing I had done something differently. I have had two pretty significant breaking points in my life with my mother’s drinking. When I say breaking points, I mean times when I completely lost control of my emotions and acted out of hate. This is the first of those two breaking points.

My last post (Have You Seen my Mom) was about the time my mother was arrested for drinking and driving. This story is a follow-up. My father was still out of town and I was responsible for watching my mom until he returned. This was one summer break while I was still in college and I had recently had my wisdom teeth out. I was in pain, I was tired, and I was emotionally exhausted after my mom was arrested. This doesn’t justify my behavior but maybe it will help you see things from my perspective.

After my mom was back home, I searched the home for any alcohol. I got rid of anything I could find. I found where my dad had his good liquor stashed and I called friends to give it to them (he was not pleased). I had about 5 days left with her alone though and I couldn’t afford her to go off her rocker. My mom slept most of that day and into the next. I slept on the couch outside her room so when she woke up, I would be ready for her (I was still pretty enabling at this point).

When she finally did wake up, she was mortified. She felt horrible about herself and she was incredibly apologetic. She was moping around the house and full of shame. I had planned on yelling at her. I had a whole speech prepared but I was looking into the eyes of a broken woman and I couldn’t do it. It was heartbreaking and I decided ignoring her would be best for both of us (or so I thought). By mid-afternoon, she was cleaning and taking care of the dog. I decided to take a nap because my mouth was still sore and sleeping on the couch didn’t give me the best night’s rest.

I woke up about two hours later to yelling. I went downstairs and my sister was there holding back tears. I looked at my mom and I could tell she had been drinking. My sister was pissed and demanded my mom tell us where the alcohol was. I was so disappointed in myself because I thought I had found all of it and I failed. My mom was behaving stranger than normal. She looked more high than she did drunk. Its also normal for her not to talk when she’s drunk but she wouldn’t even open her mouth. I told her to open her mouth and she smiled with her lips shut. I grabbed her by the jaw and forced her mouth open, her entire mouth was a minty blue.

She drank mouthwash. My sister and I stood there in shock. That’s some desperate shit right there. My mom walked towards her room quickly to lock us out (The good thing about drunk mom is that she normally leads us straight to the alcohol because she isn’t thinking clearly). I stick my body in the door to keep it from shutting but she continues to try to press it closed. I shove it open and she runs to her bathroom. I cut her off there and see an empty mouthwash bottle and an empty Nyquil bottle. I bring it out and show my sister. She goes back to the kitchen and starts dumping all our medications. This is a new level for my mom. We have never known her to be so desperate to do something like this before. I am in shock and moving around slowly. This is a scarier level of drinking than I am used to handling. We can hear my mom puking in the bathroom and I sit down at the kitchen table. My sister continues to clean and I just sit there in silence.

I know my sister wasn’t blaming me and even if she was, I know that it wasn’t my fault but I still felt guilty. I was in the house. I should have stayed awake when she was feeling that bad about herself. I should have known better. Thoughts of self-hate were pouring throughout my whole body and I felt so angry with myself. Then my mom slowly glided in the room and smiled her sleepy smile. She had the deer in the headlights looked and she just stood there looking down at me. Her eyes were getting heavy and she looked like she was about to fall over. She started patting me on the head. That’s when my anger turned.

This wasn’t my fault. I did not pour the mouthwash and Nyquil down her throat. I did not tell her to drive drunk to the beach. I did not tell my dad to leave even when he knew my mom wasn’t doing well. I did not do anything to cause this. I was not to blame. This sleepy, giant toddler of a mom in front of me was to blame.

I stood up very calmly and walked over to the counter. My moms eyes followed me. She was wavering back and forth unsteadily. My sister advised my mom to sit down. I pulled out a chair for my mom to sit in and she began to sit. Without thinking twice about it…I pulled the chair out from under her. It was almost as if someone else was in control of my body. I still cannot remember what my thought process was at that moment. My mom hit the floor with a thud and looked up at me confused. My sister and I were silent as my mom rubbed her back and struggled to sit up. She reached out to both of us to help her up but we just stood there looking down at her.

My sister eventually looked at me with disbelief and confusion. I stared at my hands with the same expression. Why did I do that? How did that happen? My mom sat on the floor staring at me with sad sleepy eyes. I started to laugh and looked at my sister and she looked at me full of judgment and then looked at my mom and cracked a smile too. In that moment, we had the same thoughts. It was nice not to be the one hurt. It was nice for my mom to feel a little pain. It was nice for me to be the one doing something to her. My mom slowly scrambled to get herself up and looked at me without saying a word. She put her hands on her hips and waltzed off to her room to sleep it off the rest of the night.

My sister sat there waiting for an explanation. All I could come up with was “I don’t know. I just wanted her to fall”. She didn’t say anything and took the garbage bag full of medicine outside. She told me to watch my mom closer the next few days and leaves the house. I cried for about an hour. I hated myself and my mom. My sister and I didn’t ever speak about that incident again. My mom didn’t bring it up either. I truly don’t know if she remembered it or not.

I watched her like a hawk the next four days (enabling). It drove us both insane and by the time my dad got home, she was more anxious than she had ever been. I told my dad everything that happened, except me pulling the chair out from under my mom. He yelled at her and said they were going to be doing things differently. My mom was on eggshells for the next few months and actually stayed sober. It was good but it was followed by another pretty significant relapse because it was us that was keeping her sober. She had no choice in the matter so she didn’t have the strength to stay sober when she got some freedom.

You might be thinking, that’s it? You pulled out the chair from your mom? It could have been worse. You’re right. It could have been worse. After everything my mom put me through, was it really that terrible? The answer is yes. My mom’s drinking put my family through hell. No doubt. But she didn’t drink to hurt us. She didn’t drink to inflict pain on others. She drank because she had a terrible addiction. She struggles with a disease that she may never recover from. What I did, wasn’t due to a disease. I did what I did to intentionally cause her pain. I wanted to see her be hurt. I wanted to be the reason she was hurting. I did what I did out of hate, disrespect, and malice. No matter what my mom has done, she didn’t do those things to me. I did this to her.

If my anonymity is ever compromised and my mom sees this, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I wanted to hurt you. I’m sorry I intentionally caused you pain. I’m sorry I wasn’t stronger. This breaking point was good for me though. I saw how much hate was in my heart and I knew I had to make a change with how I was handling it. I wasn’t coping at all at this time in my life. I was just dealing with the aftermath of your drinking. Even though I will always be ashamed of this act, I have learned so much from it. My second breaking point will be shared later on.

We will take a break from my mom in my next few posts. I will talk about how I started to cope outside of my family while I was in college. Some coping skills were healthy and some were not. If you are enjoying my posts, please share my blog with others! My goal is to fight the stigma of what people think addiction looks like, spread a little laughter in the process, and continue to build awareness of the effects of alcoholism in a family.

-Grumpy Sunshine

Pass the Percocets

My mom has never gotten sober and she never will. I have made peace with that but my siblings and dad have not. That’s their problem, most of the year, except when my dad goes out of town. That is the time when my mom hits rock bottom. She goes on a drunk crazy driving spree, she gets arrested, she goes missing, etc. If he is gone more than two days, she takes full advantage of it. I used to be a part of the enabling cycle where we would go and stay with her. I told myself I was protecting her and protecting the community. All I was really doing was enabling the situation. Learn from my mistakes.

It was the summer after my freshman year of college. My parents had just gotten home from a vacation and while they were gone, I had my wisdom teeth taken out. They were on some island south of Florida for a nice long weekend getaway. They got home a day after my procedure. I was hopped up on Percocet’s but still in a lot of pain. My dad was leaving the same afternoon he arrived for his annual trip to see his mother. By the time he was ready to leave, my mom had already been drinking. He had been busy packing and she started sneaking alcohol from somewhere. He left furious and said it was my problem to deal with. I shrug it off because I’m high on pain killers so I don’t really care.

I hear the garage open after a few hours and go downstairs to a very drunk mother packing the car. She informs me she’s going to the beach. I am groggy but still realize this is a bad idea. I try to take the keys from her and she pushes me away. I go to take her stuff from the car and there’s an empty fifth of vodka in the front seat. I throw it at her head and tell her I hope she crashes and dies (subtle I know). My mouth is swollen and sore so I burst into tears and the drool starts pooling out of my mouth. My mom is too drunk to care and gets in the car and drives away. I call my sister and she says there’s nothing to do but wait (the police should have been called).

My sister comes over shortly after and we wait. We call all of my mom’s friends and no one has heard from her. We sit there and I stop taking my pain medication so I can think clearly. My mouth is throbbing but I can’t stand the fuzziness in my brain. Eight hours go by and my sister gets a call from my mother. She got arrested for a DUI. She had been passed out at a stoplight about an hour and a half away. She drove that far and no one was hurt…that’s a freaking miracle. We have a family friend in that county and my sister calls them to bail her out against my wishes that she stay in jail. The friend just happens to be Susan (remember her from the last post).

Susan goes and picks up my mom. My sister informs me that me and my brother will have to get her from Susan the following day. I try to explain to my sister that the pain meds I am on will affect my driving and she says she can’t because of work so there’s no other choice. We call my brother and explain the situation and he says he will come get me in the morning.

That next morning I take half the prescription I am supposed to take so I won’t be too groggy. My mouth is aching and I feel like death but I would rather drive and survive than die trying to help my drunk of a mother.  My brother gives his opinions on how to get my mom sober and I ignore him. I tell him I honestly at this point just wish she would die. Things would be a lot easier. He rolls his eyes at my “dramatic response”. We get to her friend’s Susan’s house pretty silently after that.

When she walks out of the house, I could have killed her. If I had a gun, I might have. She was drunk. My brother asks Susan what she had been drinking. Susan said there was no alcohol in the house. I shake my head. She was probably still drunk from the night before. Susan gives us the information for where her car was towed and gives us her legal papers. I open the folder and see her mug shot and even though it hurt my mouth, I laughed…and I laughed hard. My mom’s smiling as hard as she can in her mug shot. I show my brother and he laughs too. My mom had already crawled into the car and was asleep. Susan gives us both a hug and says she praying for us. I try to smile but drool comes out. Classy.

We get to the tow place and pick up her car. My brother has been yelling at my mom in her sleep. I understand his frustration but I also see it as futile. She won’t remember anything. He puts her in her car with me and says he will see me in awhile. He tells me not to call him because he doesn’t want to deal with this the rest of our dad’s trip. I don’t respond and shut the door. Does he think I want to deal with this?

When we get home, my mom sleeps it off and I hide her keys and her wallet. When she finally wakes up the next morning, my mouth is still too sore to yell at her. I choose not to speak to her. We are in silence all day long. She tiptoes around me and every few hours and will ask if I need something to drink. I shake my head each time.

Around dinner, she asks if I need anything. I look her straight in the eye and say very calmly, “I need a mom who doesn’t suck so bad. Can you give me that?” She doesn’t say anything and looks down. I am trying to be calm but the tears are falling again. I turn around to head up stairs but pause…”I hate you mom. You’re a bad person”.

I go upstairs and cry myself to sleep. I have five more days until my dad comes home and my sister and brother are counting on me to babysit my mom. I have nowhere else to go and feel too shitty to go anywhere if I could so I have no choice. It was the longest week of my life. I had never told my mom I hated her before. She had done a lot of bad things but I was in pain and I needed my mom to take care of me. Her alcoholism prevented her from that…again. I was devastated but still felt terribly guilty.

My family should have left her in jail. We shouldn’t have taken her wallet away. We shouldn’t have paid her tow bill. We shouldn’t have done any of those things. My dad ended up paying her lawyer fees and her charges were dropped.  She could have killed herself or someone else and she still had no consequences. This was the first of many incidents where my mom could have killed someone and had no accountability afterwards.

I have been waiting for a phone call for the past 15 years from the police saying that my mom had died or my mom had killed someone. Every unknown number, every time I can’t get a hold of my mom, every time my dad leaves town…I am just waiting. That phone call may never come. I hope it doesn’t. My mom truly might be the luckiest drunk in the world. But that phone call may come one day and I will hate myself for how much I have enabled her.

I truly believe if 15 years ago, we started holding her accountable and not trying to put this protective bubble around her, she might be sober today. She might have actually been motivated to change if she had some consequences. Coulda, shoulda, woulda. We are where we are now.

I shared this story with you for a few reasons-to destigmatize the disease is always my first reason. People picture alcoholics as minorities, poor, and predominantly male. My mother is none of those things. Alcoholism can affect anyone. My second reason is more needy-I shared this because this story hurts me still to this day and I felt like if I wrote it down and shared it with you, maybe it wouldn’t be mine to hold onto anymore. Thirdly, to press that enabling someone will not help them get sober. Only they can help them get sober.

Thank you for following along with my story! It is so therapeutic to hear from you all. I hope you continue to share your kind words and reach out. Please share this blog with anyone you think might be able to take something from it!

-Grumpy Sunshine

 

Have You Seen my Mom?

If my life had a movie reel, this would be one of my top ten most infuriating scenes. The kind that makes you take a deep breath before you talk about it so you won’t get upset. It also is one of the stories that makes me laugh every time I tell it. An oxymoron but hey…That’s what I’m all about. I hope it resonates with those of you who have been embarrassed by someone whom you love due to their addiction. We are going to discuss my mom spreading her joyous behavior to a new group, the church.

My mom had lost her part time job working at a high end clothing store due to showing up drunk and sleeping it off in her car during her shift. She didn’t tell us about it for a few weeks and would just leave the house and say she was working. Of course she wasn’t getting a paycheck so my dad figured it out eventually. Classic mom. To supplement her time, she started getting really involved in the church. Because if she hadn’t embarrassed us enough in the general public, let’s drag the church folk into it as well. She started a cooking class that incorporated biblical lessons.

My dad was happy she started this class because she needed something positive in her life and he also needed a break from her moping around the house. The first few lessons went well apparently. Her class was filled and she had a friend or two to assist her during the lesson. However, one class (which turned out to be her final class) did not go so well.

During this time, I was living in the dorm (less than five miles from my parents) and I didn’t have a car on campus. This was the most distance I ever had from my parents’ alcoholism. It was the first time their alcoholism wasn’t a part of my daily routine…now it was just more like weekly-biweekly.

One night, I was studying in my dorm room with three friends I had made  when I got a phone call from my mom’s best friend. Just seeing her name on my phone made me sick to my stomach. “We can’t find your mom and her cooking class starts in five minutes” she blurts out as soon as I say hello. Oh shit. Her friend, let’s call her Susan, said that when she arrived at the church, she could tell my mom was pretty hammered. Susan had gone to the bathroom at some point and my mom “vanished”. Susan said that she had looked all over and couldn’t find her and the class was about to start. Susan confirmed my mom’s keys and car were still there but she didn’t know where my mom or her purse was. Well, fuck. Susan couldn’t get a hold of my dad so I told her I would be there in a minute (I was still pretty enabling at this point).

I looked at my friends and realized it was inevitable that they would learn about my parents. I sighed and looked at the girl who had a car on campus. I told her I needed a ride to the church because my mom was having a problem. They all looked at each other and I said I would explain later. My friend immediately left with me. I called my brother and explained the situation. My friend got to hear about my mom’s alcoholism from that conversation. What a lovely introduction to my insanity for my new friend. She sat awkwardly silent in the front seat, not that I blame her. Who the hell knows what to say in that situation? We were almost to the church when I saw a gas station and asked her to pull into it. It was the closest place my mom could buy alcohol.

I go inside and pull up a picture of my mom on my phone. I look at the cashier and sigh “Have you seen my mom?” I asked embarrassed. The woman looked at me strangely and shook her head. I wrote down my phone number and asked her to call me if she did. The lady nodded confused and I left. Awesome sauce. My friend dropped me off at the church and just let out an “I’m sorry”. I laughed it off and said “Mondays, huh?”. It didn’t quite ease the tension but I assured her she could leave and my mom’s friend would give me a ride home. She nodded and said to call her if I needed it. I nodded. I assumed she thought I was white trash or weird or pathetic and that I would have to start over making friends. Luckily, I was wrong.

I headed inside the church and I see Susan looking panicked and talking to a group of people. I walk up and ask if she’s cancelled the class and she shakes her head. I turn to the group and say “I apologize for the inconvenience but tonight’s class is cancelled.” I walk away without another word and Susan follows. I hear whispers and shuffling of bags as people start to leave. I walk around the corner and look down a long hall of Sunday school rooms. Susan is talking in my ear about how worried she is about my mom, how stressed my mom must be, how sad she is for our family…and I just want to kick her in the teeth. It’s not her fault but when people give me the pity speech, I get unnecessarily angry. I also get angry when people justify my mother’s behavior or try to feel bad for her instead of holding her accountable, something I was working on myself.

I open the door to the third room and there she is, sleeping on some children’s chairs underneath a poster of Noah’s ark. I roll my eyes. I hear Susan gasp behind me. I go and shake my mom and she groggily awakens. She tries to sit up and falls backward. I sigh and call my brother. He’s outside in the back parking lot looking for her. I told him we found her and ask for him to give her and me a ride. Susan gives her apologies and offers any help she can. Susan also says she’s going to tell people my mom is just sick.

I advise her to tell them the truth and she looks appalled. She informs me that will only shame my mom and make her want to drink more. She tells me that even though I am mad with my mother, that doesn’t mean I should embarrass her. I didn’t say anything else and shook my mom harder. My mom got up and began to follow me. Susan is saying things to my mom and I finally snap.

“She’s drunk Susan. She can’t fucking understand you and she won’t remember”. I am surprised at myself. I don’t usually talk to adults that way. I hold my breath waiting for her response but she doesn’t say anything. Susan just looks at me with the look I hate so much…the look full of pity and disappointment. I apologize shamefully and hurry my mother to my brother’s car. Before he drops me off at my dorm, I ask where dad is. He tells me he’s playing poker at the Country Club. I roll my eyes and we don’t say anything else. He drops me off and I look back at my mom sleeping in the back seat. Tears start to form but I blink them away and wave goodbye to my brother.

I stand there outside of my dorm for a few minutes feeling frustrated, embarrassed, and tired. I look up and dread seeing those girls again. Whether they are in my room now or it’s tomorrow at breakfast, I have to let them into a part of my life that has never been good for me to share. I went upstairs and to my surprise, they were all there with arms extended. Friends. I hugged them all and laughed the situation off. They didn’t press the issue. Those three girls ended up being incredibly close friends. One of them became the maid of honor in my wedding. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t met them Freshman year and I am incredibly grateful for their continued friendship.

My mom left me a voicemail the next day saying that she had the flu and had to cancel her class the night before. She didn’t even remember that I was there and I knew the reason the class was cancelled. I decided not to call her back. Like her job she lost, she kept telling my dad that the cooking classes continued but they had stopped. Classic mom.

I shared this story for a few reasons. Trying destigmatize addiction is always one of my goals. My mom doesn’t fit the “stereotypical” version of what many think of when they think of alcoholics. People need to know that you don’t have to be a homeless person drinking out of a paper bag to be an alcoholic. I also think that the more you talk about it, the less uncomfortable it is for others to hear. People NEED to talk about addiction. No one is going to get help for themselves or their loved ones if they’re uncomfortable sharing this kind of story. Another reason was to make people laugh. Her addiction is sad but you can’t help but laugh when someone is drunk in a Sunday School room passed out under Noah’s Ark. And lastly, to show that you can’t assume the worst in people. I thought my friends would judge me and reject me but they didn’t do anything of the kind!

Next post will be about the first time I had to bail my mom out of jail. Its a pretty great story that further paints my picture of enabling. Hope you read it! Please share my blog with those you think could benefit from it! I love hearing from you all who can relate.

-Grumpy Sunshine

Cook and Run

Before we leave high school me, there’s one more story that just needs to be told. It isn’t that profound but HOLY MOLY was it embarrassing. After accepting to go to the local college instead of going to my dream school, I had hoped my embarrassment had been completed for my high school career. Oh no. Silly me. There was one big incident left in store.

It was the last semester of my senior year. I had pretty much given up in school, all my classes were a joke and if I showed up I got an A so I spent a lot of time sleeping in class and leaving to get food. The only real class that needed my attention was my senior project.

Senior projects involved getting a mentor and spending 15 hours with them learning a new trade or skill. You wrote a paper about it and then presented it to your class and the Senior Project Board. My senior project…it went well but that’s not the real story here. The REAL story is that my mom was asked to be a mentor by not one, but two students. Oh yeah.

Have I ever mentioned my mom is a phenomenal cook? I mean…sober or drunk that woman can cook the most creative and delicious meals on this earth. She was so good at it that people started hiring her to cater small events; showers, birthday parties, fundraiser dinners, etc. Two girls from my high school decided they wanted their senior project to be on gourmet cooking. Both of their moms knew my mom was such a great cook, she even catered an event for one of them, so they asked her. My mom agreed before I was aware any of this was going to happen.

When I heard the news, I thought it was a joke. My mom was going to mentor students? She was going to advise the youth…call me crazy but maybe that’s not the brightest idea we have ever had. It didn’t matter though. I advised the girls against it and they both ignored my advice. They started their hours and I ate enough Tums to keep the antacid company in business. I was constantly anxious about what was happening when they went with my mom to an event or they had a cooking lesson. These girls pushed themselves into the worst part of my life with the most destructive person and it was all taking place in my own kitchen.

The first few lessons were uneventful. I started to even only need two tums when they would come over. Then they had a cooking class at a local art gallery one week. My mom asked me to assist because they would be butlering food and she needed help in the front. I watched my mom prep the food and reviewed the recipes, they were all things I had never made with her before but they all looked great.

My practice goes late that night and I have to meet my mom at the event. When I get there, she is hammered. The girls don’t notice because they think my mom is just being silly. I know this isn’t going to end well. I make her some coffee and start prepping the class. I review the recipes and realize I am about to teach a cooking class. I am seventeen, can’t tell ya how to boil an egg, and I will be teaching a cooking class in a high end art gallery. What could go wrong?

My mom was functioning enough to cook but in no way could talk. I start the class by explaining she lost her voice and said I will be talking for her (This is a big enabling move right here, forgive me…I was only 17). She starts putting things together and I stumble through the instructions. Its humiliating but working and I get the hang of it after awhile. The girls butler the food and everyone seems to be okay.

Right before my mom makes the desserts, she goes in the bathroom and doesn’t come back out. When I finally get a staff member to unlock it, she’s gone. She is completely passed out. She must have had something in her purse. I leave her there and ignore the gawking staff member. I go back out to the class and start instructing on how to make the dessert. It, by some miracle, works out and everyone enjoys their food.

The girls see my mom sleeping in the bathroom and it is more than they can handle. They look at me and I direct them to clean up after the class. It takes us about an hour to clean and pack up the car, my mom wakes up by this time and signals for the girls to get in her car. I tell them that’s a terrible idea but they say they’ll be fine. I think they were still in shock. I pray harder than I ever have that my mom drives safely.

I get a text an hour later from one of them that they made it home but my mom had hit a car and just reversed and kept going afterwards. She said no one was in the other car, it was just parked on the side of the road. I didn’t respond to the girl. I told my dad and my mom came home around 3am that morning. I heard him yelling at her and rolled over to sleep because it didn’t matter. As usual, my mom didn’t have any real consequences.

I never heard if those girls told anyone what happened. If they had, nobody talked to me about it. Even though it was humiliating and they could have gotten hurt, it was comforting to know that at least someone had witnessed my truth. Someone knew I hadn’t been lying for attention. The girls didn’t come back for anymore lessons and they lied about their hours. Their mothers called my mom the next day furious and my mom didn’t teach anymore cooking classes at the art gallery. Can’t imagine why…

That was thankfully the last big public embarrassment in my high school career. My mom made it count though. I still can’t think about it and not laugh. I was teaching a cooking class at seventeen to some sixty year olds who attend events at art galleries. Good lord.

My next post will talk about my mom’s spreading our embarrassment to the church front. Thanks for reading! I love hearing feedback from people who can relate to these stories. Subscribe if you want to read more in the future and please share this blog with friends! I would love for more people to see that addiction/alcoholism comes in all different shapes and sizes.

-Grumpy Sunshine