There’s a code you take as a child of an alcoholic, not to tell. Ever.
It’s understood that when a teacher, guidance counselor or friends parent asks you how things are ‘at home’ you put a smile on your face and say ‘What do you mean? We’re great!’
The truth is you’re desperate for someone, anyone really, to notice the darkness behind that smile. To notice the scars you bear every single day, but no one ever does. Not really.
We make sure of that.
They walk away after your rehearsed platitudes and move on with their lives. The lives we, the children of addicts, so desperately want.
It isn’t all bad. That’s part of the code but it’s also reality.
See, the best alcoholics are successful, charming and often highly motivated professionals. They overachieve in their careers and, more importantly, they raise extremely smart, gifted children.
I’m one of those children.
I had an excellent motivator behind my eventual personal and professional success’s.
A Mother who, for as long as I can remember, told me I was (and I quote) “A fucking little bitch who would never amount to anything”.
Has your Mother ever called you a ‘fucking bitch’? Not once, but consistently for the majority of your life?
Take a moment. Imagine it. Imagine your Mother’s voice calling you a ‘fucking bitch’ for no reason at all. At least not one you can wrap your head around no matter how hard you try.
I’ve spent 20-something years trying desperately to understand what I did. I’ll be 31 in one week and I still don’t know what I did and apparently continue to do that was/is so horribly wrong.
I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to figure it out.
I’d ease your mind and tell you it ends there if I could. I’d love to do just that, but this is only the beginning.
Alcoholism and addiction creates a Jekyl and Hyde syndrome that comes on without warning and fades just as quickly.
I’ll share a story that proves my assessment.
I don’t have a Father.
Well, I have a Father. Everyone has a Father. My Father was a Dad for approximately 4-5 years before he left. He left for reasons I’ll never, and will never, know.
That left my Mother to raise me without a husband by her side or child support (a fact she still throws in my face despite my being in my 30’s), but don’t pity her yet. She had help. We lived with my Grandparents for the majority of my childhood.
I wish I could say it was mostly sunshine and rainbows, but it wasn’t. When I was 9 my Mother fell off the proverbial wagon (a wagon I should mention I didn’t know existed at the time) and was kicked out of my Grandparents house.
I, of course, wanted to go with her.
We saw ‘Dennis the Mennis’ at the movies (she oddly enough slept through the entire movie, which at the time confused me quite a bit) then checked into The Welcome Inn. A name so laced in irony I can’t even begin to list the many reasons why that is.
I was 9. In the same clothes I had worn for a week to school and opened the bureau which had a mirror inside the door when I saw it for the first time.
A real live beer can. A can that I had seen plenty of times. A can I knew existed just never in my Mother’s hand.
I was confused. I sat there and watched in the mirror, my world, my light, the woman I adored, my best friend in the world…pour that beer into a Big Gulp cup and drink. And drink. And drink.
I didn’t understand. Beer was bad, right? I had to be seeing things so I innocently asked if I could have some of her ‘coke’.
I can’t say with certainty what words she said or what happened after that, but I’ll never, until the day I die, forget the look in my Mother’s eyes.
It was the moment she went from ‘Mommy’ to ‘Mother’. A look I’ve come to dread. A look I can feel all the way to the core of my heart.
My Mother’s a drunk.
For years I heard bits and pieces of truth. My Mother had a troubled childhood, an even more troubled adolescence and a difficult leap into her 20’s.
She battled with addiction, including what I can only hope was a ‘brief’ stint with heroin only to come out alive on the other side.
She found Jesus, or God or whoever the fuck saves addicts, met my Father, got married had me two years later and lived the dream until she had a headache when I was a small child and was given a painkiller that quickly thrust her back into the dark and twisty world of addiction.
I know this now. At 31.
At 9? I thought my Mother hated me. So I tried to be the best kid in the world.
We lived in a families basement for ten years. We moved there just before my 13th birthday. Those ten years were some of the best and worst of my life.
We lived in two rooms, without doors. I had no filter to her adult life.
There were many consecutive ‘good’ years. Years where alcohol was a distant memory. So distant in fact, that I thought that scene at The Welcome Inn was a story I invented or perhaps one I read in one of my books.
You see, books saved me. Books were my escape. They still are.
We were great. Truly! We went on trips, I excelled in school, I made every travel sports team, won MVP’s and academic awards. I was the perfect kid. I proved to everyone who doubted us that I didn’t need a Dad. That we were fine, just the two of us. We were best friends and together we could overcome anything life threw at us.
Those were and will forever be the absolute best years of my life. I’ll treasure those memories forever…because what comes next?
It broke me.
It started when I was in high school, but when she turned exactly is something I’ll never know.
Instead of supporting me and loving me during the most formative years for any young girl (especially a girl without a Father), she suddenly started to yell. All the time. For no apparent reason.
There were nights she didn’t come home until well after 11pm with no sign as to where she had been. I learned the hard way not to inquire.
When I was feeling brave and DID inquire? That’s when it started and it hasn’t stopped since.
‘Where have I been? I’ve been fucking working to pay for YOU, you little bitch. You hear me? I’ve been working to pay for that lacrosse stick you just haaaaaad to have. You fucking bitch…and you just take it too, don’t you?”
I was 14.
I spent 4 years of high school thinking my Mother hated me. Thinking if I could just get good grades, get into a good college and don’t date boys maybe she’ll be proud of me. Maybe she’ll see that I’m a good kid who tried to make her life easier.
I felt nothing but guilt that she had to raise me alone you see. So, I obviously did everything I could to be the greatest daughter ever.
Then came college.
I got into a great school that was, unfortunately, private and expensive. At this point in my Mother’s professional career she had worked her way up from being a secretary without a college degree to an Executive. Something I was so incredibly proud of.
The downfall? We didn’t qualify for financial aide. All those years of living in a two room basement without a door (I literally didn’t have a bedroom door until I was 19) and we were getting zero financial assistance.
I took out loans, I worked two jobs with a full course load, I lived at home (we now lived in a two bedroom apartment. Hooray for doors!) and my Mom?
She paid for it all.
And she never, ever, let me forget it. Not even to this day a full thirteen years later. And counting.
Things changed very quickly after college started.
I now had my own car (which she paid for until I graduated at which time I took over the payments in full) which gave her the freedom to do what she wanted to do.
I spent four years of college driving through Baltimore County/City looking for my drunk driving mother.
I soon figured out her patterns. If her corporate boss was scheduled to be in her building that week, she would disappear.
I found her passed out behind the wheel (or at times still drinking and very much awake) in liquor store parking lots. Never the same one twice, which made this a difficult job.
I eventually figured out her routine well enough that I timed it around my class and work schedules. I hesitated to take too many evening courses because it gave her too much freedom to drink and drive.
She was both drunk and high on oxy at my college graduation.
A graduation where I graduated suma cum laude and a member of a national honor society for human services. Something I was quite proud of.
I already had a full-time job when I walked across the stage that day. I made sure of it.
I thought money would help, but it only made my life worse.
She used to tell me burger king wouldn’t hire me when I was in high school. She used to tell me that I was fucking stupid, that my father was right to leave me behind, that he had the right idea.
The next day? She’d leave a $20 in my purse and tell me I had to know she didn’t mean it.
When I would visit her at work? I was overwhelmed by stories of how PROUD my Mother was of me. How she spent her days bragging about her amazing daughter.
Those same nights she would hit me. Not often, but it happened.
This pattern exists to this day.
I was optimistic once. I thought I overcame what life threw at me with grace and poise and REFUSED to be one of those pathetic women who became a disgusting gutter whore because ‘daddy wasn’t there’ and ‘mommy was an addict’.
I CHOSE to rise above.
Then I fell. Hard.
My 20’s were the worst years of my life. I don’t know when the transition happened exactly. I don’t know when I became so hard, so…dark. But I did.
I started to hate her. The Jekyl and Hyde Mother I was dealt.
I did it all right. Didn’t I? I didn’t cause trouble, I was never IN trouble, I never did anything ‘wrong’ by societies standards and yet my Mother loved me one minute and was calling me a ‘fucking little bitch’ the next.
Then I did the unthinkable.
I broke the code.
I told my closest friends the truth. A truth they knew deep down and I was welcomed with open arms into loving families who stitched me back together.
I started to heal a bit about ten years ago and then the bottom of my world fell out from under me.
My Mother was caught passed out behind the wheel at work. I had to drag her into my car where she proceeded to piss all over it and check us into a hotel for two days.
You see, were were being evicted from our two bedroom apartment because in addition to being a drunk, she is also a hoarder. A hoarder to the point that I couldn’t keep up with the upkeep.
We literally had no where to go but back to my Grandmothers. These years are fuzzy. I’m sure there’s a legitimate emotional block there for a reason, however, that’s where I was.
We moved to a new place around the time I graduated college and three months later?
She was fired.
And sent to rehab.
The image of her being carted off in that nondescript van to a 30 day rehab is one I’ll never be able to shake.
I broke, because I was scared and hopeful.
She was sober for a brief time. She event went to AA. We had a great year…and then?
She did what most alcoholics do. She fell off the wagon. Again. She’s never gotten back in.
Now? 9 years later? I can’t date. I can’t let anyone in because how do you answer the first date questions?
‘My Family? Oh, my Dad left and my Moms an alcoholic and an addict, but I swear I’m a catch, really, I just get really dark and twisty sometimes because, you see, my mom STILL reminds me that she raised me alone and literally spouts off, to the penny, how much she spent on dinners, lacrosse sticks, camps, books, birthday gifts, christmas gifts and such so when she does that I tend to ugly cry and feel lost and alone so I drive around listening to music until I can pull myself together again.
But, seriously, I’m a great catch you should probably date me’
Yeah, that doesn’t generally work out very well.
That and the pity. There’s nothing worse than pity.
For all intents and purposes, I’m a highly successful adult. No one would know I DIDN’T grow up in a McMansion in the suburbs with sleepovers (Yea, I’ve never had one) and all the perks of suburbia (although, the ‘code’ in me feels the need to say I DID always have what I wanted. She just held it against me later).
The code is implanted so deep that it rears it’s ugly head often.
It’s telling me to delete this immediately. That this confession is a mistake. That I sound ungrateful, that life could be far far worse and I should count my blessings.
Then today happened.
I called my Mother because I woke up in a cold sweat after dreaming I found her dead. Children of addicts have this nightmare fairly often. For me? It’s nearly every night.
She answered and sounded sober-ish so I decided to have a conversation with her.
When she asked what my 31st birthday plans were she responded with this:
‘Well, aren’t you soooo cute. Making plans with your fucking friends. Where’s your boyfriend Trace? Huh? Where was Chris (my brief bf last year) this time last year, huh? Ohhhh that’s right….he didn’t get you annnnnnnything, did he? You know who did? Your mother. I bought you a steamed crab dinner and gave you a gift card. Liiiiiiiitle strange I spent $142 on youuuuu and here you are making plans with your fucking friends you just looooooove to bad mouth me to. You fucking bitch…how did you get this way? So abrubt and hard and abrasive? How does anyone stand to be around you? It’s a miracle you have friends at all you bitch. I know the real you.’
That was a few hours ago. I’m 30 years old, about to be 31.
My point is this.
I feel nothing but embarrassment over my Mother and myself. I think I’m weak and pathetic for writing this, for turning to friends when I cry and for not being as strong as I thought I was.
I especially feel embarrassed for breaking the code and telling the world my secret.
Things could be so much worse for me. I never lived on the street. Sure, I moved a lot and went without here and there, but I HAVE family. I have cousins and Aunts and Uncles and a Grandmother who is still living. I have friends that are my heart and my life and a career that makes me feel fulfilled the majority of the time. I live on my own and don’t rely on anyone for financial assistance.
My life is NOT something to be pitied. Do not pity me and do not take this as a ‘waaa, woe is me’ piece of writing.
My point is this.
To everyone who suffers from alcoholism who may by some slim chance read this? For the love of everyone who loves you, GET HELP. Talk about your struggle and do NOT make your loved ones, especially your children abide by ‘the code’.
Do not make them dark and damaged and hard and cold like me.
Do not make them afraid to let love and good in and do not make asking for help a dirty word.
Alcoholism is a dirty word. One I still hesitate to say, but today broke me. Again.
I realized something today. That for a moment, I wanted all of this to be over. I wanted my Mother to die so I could be FREE of this.
I hate myself for even thinking it.
I hope I’m not the first person to think this and I certainly hope I’m not the last.
Lastly? I hope to God my Mother finds a way to be my Mom again before she goes.