If my life had a movie reel, this would be one of my top ten most angering 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 with my most authoritative “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 had never talked to an adult 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.