A Step Towards Healing: Part II

In my first Step Towards Healing, I highlighted a book that sparked an awakening and awareness in me about what I had experienced through childhood and how it had affected me in becoming an anxious and mal-adapted young adult. From that first step, I’ve continued to pick up books and seek out resources to help deepen my understanding and develop a safe & healthy game plan for my recovery as an adult child of an alcoholic family.

The next book I picked up is titled “Perfect Daughters: Adult Daughters of Alcoholics” by Robert J. Ackerman, Ph.D. Dr. Ackerman has decades of clinical experience in helping women who have been affected by alcoholism, particularly those who have an alcoholic mother, father–or both. I liked this book because it really digs deep into the psychology of the adult daughter in all of these scenarios. While adult children of alcoholics share have many traits in common (as discussed in Part I), defense mechanisms & coping skills vary depending on who in the child’s life was the alcoholic (mother-only; father-only; both parents) and furthermore how the other parent (if present) behaves in response to their spouse’s addiction.

This book hit me two-fold. First, it gave me some very interesting insight about my mother. I am fully aware of alcoholism’s strong presence in my family history as a whole. My parents have been divorced since before my first memories. I’m sure I will talk about the abusive relationship between my mother and my father in blog posts to come, but the relevant information to share right now is that after my mother left my father, she moved back in with her parents–my grandparents. I was raised in a house with my mother, my grandmother and my grandfather (until he passed). My grandparents are alcoholics.

My grandfather’s alcohol abuse eventually killed him (kidney & liver failure). He was on dialysis and still sneaking drinks until the day he died. In their day, he and my grandmother were perpetual party people and heavy drinkers, often leaving my mother (& aunt) unattended. Thankfully, as I mentioned in an earlier post, my grandfather’s death was a wake-up call for my grandmother. He passed when I was 5 years old, in Kindergarten. In the wake of his death, something clicked for my grandmother and she (successfully) went on her own journey to recover from her many years of alcohol abuse. This of course was too late to “raise” and “rescue” my mother who was already 36 years-old and alcohol-dependent, so my grandmother invested her parental redemption in me. If it weren’t for this, I don’t know where I would be..but I digress.

Perfect Daughters granted me tons of insight in coming to realize that not only is my mother an alcoholic, she is also an adult daughter of alcoholics. The book talks about the coping skills adult daughters develop in response to having two alcoholic parents, as well as discussing their high likelihood of becoming self-harmers and substance abusers. I saw so much of my mother in this book, more than I saw myself, and gained a sense of empathy for her. I was able to release some of the anger I had been walking around with since my teenage years when I realized how much she much be hurting on the inside, too. This did not by any means excuse her behavior, because I realize that our lives are largely a product of the choices we make (after we acknowledge the access to resources & privileges some of us have over others [men v. women; Caucasian v. persons of color; wealth v. poverty; able-bodied v. those living w/handicap, etc]). But Perfect Daughters did help to humanize my mother, in my mind. I remember thinking, I wonder if she would seek help and therapy if she were to read this book. But then also realizing that she would never accept it from me because she would manage to see it as an insult or a pass of judgement.

The other way that Perfect Daughters impacted me was in understanding myself. I found my own mentality reflected within its pages. There is a section in the book called “Childhood Lessons.” This section urges the reader to look back on their life and identify whether or not they learned these unintended lessons within the process of adjusting to an alcoholic family and coming-of-age. Below are the selections from the larger list of lessons that I highlighted because I realized that I had been living these lessons my whole life:

  • If I can control everything, I can keep my family from becoming upset.
  • Whatever happens is my fault, and I am to blame when trouble occurs.
  • People who love you the most are those who cause you the most pain.
  • If I don’t get too close emotionally, you cannot hurt me.
  • Nothing is wrong, but I don’t feel right.
  • Expressing anger is not appropriate
  • I’m unique, and my family is different from all other families.
  • I can deny anything.
  • I am not a good person.
  • I am responsible for the success of a relationship.
  • To be acceptable, everything must be perfect

Dr. Ackerman goes on to write, “These childhood lessons become imprints or beliefs that you have about yourself, and they begin to dictate your expectations of yourself and your behaviors…However, you have survived and somehow you have maintained some balance in your life. Therefore, you must have learned other lessons that have served you well or have allowed you to survive.” The latter section of that quote, I immediately think about my relationship with my grandmother as she played the role of emotionally-available parent in my life.

The book provides profiles for the 8 different patterns of behaviors that develop in adult daughters. I was able to identify my mother within these profiles, as well as discovering myself as  an “Achiever” and “Detacher”. The most valuable part of this book for me was that Dr. Ackerman acknowledges that each type has both positive and negative traits.

In the last part of Perfect Daughters Dr. Ackerman provides tons of information about how an adult daughter (or child) can help their own recovery. I found this to be really valuable because I hadn’t known where to begin in acquiring and building healthy skills for myself before reading this book. When I started reading Perfect Daughters I was still in a place where I was trying to understand if alcoholism really had affected me or was I just hypersensitive & paranoid. Within the first 100 pages, I came to the realization that what I had felt in Part I was very real and that there were most certainly somethings amiss. 

Perfect Daughters helped me to build up the confidence to continue to  go forth in my healing & recovery. It helped me to understand my mother’s behavior on a higher-level and therefore I started to develop more realistic expectations for our relationship (what I deserve v. what she is capable of). Whether you are a daughter or son of alcoholics, I encourage you to see out this book if maternal alcoholism has been present in your life in one way or another. I look forward to sharing my next steps towards healing and the resources that have helped get me here, in the future.

Advertisements

On Unconditional Love and Being “Good Enough”

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

– Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland”

Yesterday was my first full day back home from an awesome week-long vacation. My wife & I spent the week in Los Angeles with our closest friends (another married couple) at their relative’s house. We hiked the Hollywood hills, hit up a handful of SoCal’s most popular beaches, tried the local cuisine and even got a taste of the West Hollywood nightlife. While away, I implemented a new morning routine based in Mindfulness and Self-Improvement. Perhaps I’ll blog about that later, but for now it is not relevant to my inspiration for this post.

Being back home yesterday was difficult. I am an elementary school teacher currently on Summer Break, so I didn’t exactly have to go back to work, but there are so many things on my Summer To-Do list. I know a lot of people think that teachers have it easy in the Summer, but we are working just as hard, though thankfully at (ideally…) a slower pace. After my wife left for work, I made myself a To-Do list for the day. My list included working within a Professional Development course I am taking for work, doing some of my own school work (I am working towards another degree), making a phone call, unpacking my bags from the trip, going grocery shopping and working out.

These seemed like realistic goals. I’d easily be able to accomplish them on an average Wednesday, but I didn’t account for the fact that I am terribly jet-lagged on top of the usual vacation hangover we all experience to one extent or another after traveling. I felt overwhelmed as the hours ticked-by and I felt more & more exhausted. I wanted to have everything done by the time my wife got home, but it just didn’t seem like it was going to happen.

This is where I should have said to myself, “It’s okay, you’ve been traveling and your body is still adjusting to being back home. You can go grocery shopping later and if you don’t work out today it won’t be the end of the world. You tried your best and that’s all you could have asked for from yourself.” Instead, I told myself I was lazy, should have gotten up earlier, not shopped for running shoes online (I realized I couldn’t go for a run because I have been desperately needing new running shoes and had retired my old ones in California after taking them on one last rendez vous to the Hollywood sign–kinda like giving a dog all their favorite treats and taking them to the park before their appointment to be euthanized later that day), and just tried harder overall.

This was obviously very negative self-talk. When my wife got home the feeling of being a failure immediately sank in, because I still had grocery shopping and working out staring at me without a Strikethrough in sight. Once she got settled, we took our dog for her evening walk. Evening walks have an obvious benefit for our dog, but it is also a time where my wife & I are able to connect. During these walks, we have some of our best conversations–we process dreams, events that stood out at work, lingering thoughts on our minds, and voice our fears & anxieties. During our walk, I talked about the things I got done, but the conversation kept coming back around to me expressing how unaccomplished I was feeling.

My wife said that it sounded like I’d had some unrealistic expectations and that I needed to adjust my mindset, this was true. She also said that I had done a great deal considering how tired we both are (she called in to work in the morning to say she’d be in late so that she could sleep-in a few hours–much needed) and how much catching-up needed to get done. Since I had made the shopping list and did some meal-planning already, she suggested that once we got back from our walk, we’d just go food shopping together. I suggested that since it was a shorter list (only a half-week’s worth of items) that we could go to the closest grocery store instead of our usual market which is across town.

We agreed and the plan was set. but when she asked me what was on my mind after that, I couldn’t help but acknowledge the fact that I still felt like a failure. Because I couldn’t accomplish my goals for that day on my own, I started freaking out about how I’d never accomplish all of my goals set for the Summer. I was complaining about how the Summer was almost over–which it is not–and that I had barely done anything to show for it–which is not true. We were now back in our house and I was sitting on our couch as she sat on the floor beside me. She stopped me and said all of the things I should have told myself earleir, “It’s okay, you’ve been traveling and your body is still adjusting to being back home. You can go grocery shopping later and if you don’t work out today it won’t be the end of the world. You tried your best and that’s all you could have asked for from yourself. You’ve been doing a lot this Summer–too much at times–and you’ve gotten so many things done or made progress within. I love you and I’m proud of you.”

Just as she said those last words, I realized that I didn’t believe her. Or at least, that I only believed half of it. I believed that she loved me, and I knew that everything she had said before that was true, but I felt a wall go up when she said she was proud of me. I felt I was trapped inside of a glass case and everything she said after I love you was muffled and I felt so alone. I told her that I wanted to believe her, but I couldn’t. When she asked me why I felt that I could not believe her, I broke right down into tears because I knew exactly why.

***

When I was in High School, I ran as a sprinter in Track & Field. I was talented enough to be on the Varsity team from the beginning of my Freshman year. In my Senior year, I became Team Captain and managed to graduate with the School Record for having the most School Records. I had also been cast as a lead role in a Theatre production (I pursued acting in the Fall when sprinting season for Track was not active). I was selected by my teachers to take part in a Leadership class and met all credit requirements for early graduation. In order to maintain eligibility to run Track, I opted to partake in an Internship program my school offered in place of traditional classes for early graduation candidates which spanned across my final semester. Colleges were beginning to recruit me and after so many years of struggling to cope with my mother’s alcoholic behavior, I was so ready to leave Boston.

My mother never missed a Track meet. When I was cast in a play, she bought tickets to every show, every night we performed. She would constantly tell everyone how proud she was of me and would tell me in front of everyone how she always knew I could do anything I put my mind to, how I should always reach for the stars and just keep climbing higher and higher. “You are just so awesome and you continue to amaze me. I’m so proud of you, baby,” she’d say to me from within the crowd of my teammates after I stepped down from the podium with my Track medals. We’d come home and she’d put my new medals on the display shelf which sat in our den. This shelf was the first thing people would see whenever they came into our house, so of course they would always marvel over it and my mom would go on & on about how accomplished I was and how everyone should just see me run. Sounds like the ideal life & support system for a hard-working teenager, right?

One night, I had been chatting on AOL Instant Messenger with a friend, a girl. Our conversation had gone from talking about mundane daily things with the usual subtleties of flirting to talking about our fantasies and overtly flirting. You know, racy teenager shit…dry humping and ear-lobe nibbling and such. Anyhoo, it was about 9pm so by now my mom was her usual drunk self. She’d come home every night and open a bottle of wine while she cooked dinner and then would just keep drinking as the night went on until she decided she was drunk enough to fall asleep and not wake up with a hangover the next day so that she could go to work and “be herself” again.

She usually kept to herself (and by kept to herself, I mean she would shut herself in her room after dinner, watch TV and ignore my existence until I came in her room to say goodnight) and the computer was in my room, so I was used to keeping myself occupied either chatting online with my friends or playing video games. Which is why I was caught off-guard when she appeared in my doorway and told me she needed to pay a bill online so I would need to take a break from the computer for a bit. She was quite drunk at this time…unusually drunk for a weeknight…but I didn’t question her logic, because I’d usually try to keep our interactions brief when she was drinking anyway. I found that to be the best way to keep my anxiety low, since I couldn’t escape her altogether. I told my friend I was going to take a shower and I put up an Away Message.

This is the part of the story where you kind of have to have been in-the-know about the interwebs in the early 2000s and were familiar with AOL Instant Messenger and Away Messages. I had put up a message that said something punny about taking a shower, but in my hurried state to get out of the same room as my mother, I forgot to check the box that would hide all chat boxes, even if you received incoming messages, as long as the away message remained active. While I was in the shower, my friend sent me a message. Our chat box popped up on the screen while my mother was on the computer “paying a bill (I’m pretty sure she got on the computer to snoop, anyway..)” and she had read our whole conversation. When I got out of the shower, she confronted me, less-than-gracefully, about the content of the conversation.

“What the fuck is this?! Who is this person? What are doing on the computer that I pay for? Are you stupid? You must be stupid. I know you are stupid. You’re dumb. You’re dumber than Kevin (Kevin is the younger brother of one of my teammates who has Down Syndrome). He’s smarter than you. You’re not going to go anywhere in life. You can’t even get into college (I had yet to receive any acceptance letters from schools, it was still too early in the process) and you won’t. You–“

And that is where, for the first time in my life I went completely OFF on my mother. I interrupted her next sentence and screamed “SHUT THE FUCK UP! JUST SHUT UP. You can’t even stand up straight right now and you’re telling me that I’m dumb?! You’re so drunk that you can’t even speak without your words slurring. You’re always drunk. All you do is drink and then you tell me I’m a piece of shit. Leave me alone! I don’t even want to see you anymore. I HATE YOU. I really mean that I do, I hate you.

She ran down the hallway, into her room and slammed the door behind her. I could hear her crying through her door. I shut the computer off without even looking at it. I don’t even think I shut it down properly, I just hit the power button. I could still smell the Rain scented body wash on my skin. I sat on the side of my bed, in the farthest corner of my bedroom and started to cry, silently. I heard the shuffling of my grandmother’s feet coming up the hallway…she would never pick up her feet fully when she walked in the house, so her slippers made this shuffling noise everywhere she went. She came into my room and sat next to me on the bed.

She had a box of tissues in her hands. She took one tissue out and dabbed it on my face, then handed it to me. We sat there completely silent for a moment or two. The only sounds in the house were the faint sounds coming from the TV in the kitchen and my mother’s sobs coming from behind her door. After I got my breathing somewhat under control, my grandmother took my hand in hers. “Your mother is very sick. She’s not well. She shouldn’t have said those things to you, and you shouldn’t believe her. You are a great person. You work very hard, you’re smart and you’re beautiful.You are going to go so far in your life. I know it. You’re my baby and you always will be. I love you and I’m proud of you.” We hugged, and she shuffled her way out of my bedroom. I listened to her footsteps go down the hall. She never went to my mother’s room. That night when I went to bed, I kissed my grandmother goodnight and walked right around my mother’s room, closed my bedroom door and went to bed.

The next day, it was as if nothing had happened–almost. My mother was cold towards me and very short with her words, but never mentioned what happened that night. Not the next day and not ever again. In fact, we didn’t talk about it for almost a decade until I brought it up nearly a year ago as part of my recovery to say what had gone unsaid and to let her know that that night has always stood out to me in my mind and how terribly hurt I was that she acted like she was the only person hurt during that whole ordeal. She still doesn’t want to talk about it. Again, it is one of those times where I wonder if she was too drunk to remember or if she pretends she doesn’t understand how serious it is so that she doesn’t have to deal with it. Both are the worst-case scenario, so I don’t even know why I wonder to begin with.

***

That night was not the first time my mother had put me down while drunk after praising me all day. It was not the first time I doubted myself or my abilities, but it was probably the most outstanding because it was the first time I spoke up for myself. It was the first time I let my anger towards my mother for her drinking show and it was the first time I said anything without being concerned about whether or not it would hurt her feelings to share my own. But the terrible part is, I hadn’t fully realized until yesterday that I have been walking around believing my mother.

My grandmother’s words were so tender and so kind, just like my wife’s were yesterday. They came from a place of understanding and unconditional love. They are compassionate words and the feelings expressed within are 100% authentic. I realize that now, but when my wife first told me she loved me and was proud of me, I put up that glass case so that I wouldn’t have to believe her.

My wife has never done anything to suggest she’d say one thing, but mean (or be thinking) another. She is actually a very direct person, which is one of the things I love most about her. But after years & years of being told I was great by my mother, only to be cut down by her later, I started defaulting to the belief that I am a failure if I don’t get everything done and then some, all of the time. Sometimes I’m so overwhelmed by what all needs to get done that I won’t even try…I’ll put it off until I feel like dealing with it. Or I’ll only do one thing a day and then spend the rest of the day trying to distract myself from the fact that I could be doing things, but I’m not because I’m afraid to fail.

When someone commends me for doing a great job or gives me a compliment, I thank them…but on the inside I’m saying to myself “If only they knew what a failure I really am.” And that doesn’t make sense. How could everyone else have such wonderful things to say about me and my efforts, if I am secretly this failure? Where is the failure? I realize that I’ve developed the terrible habit of cutting myself down whenever someone shares something they appreciate about me (even when it’s something as small as saying they like my shoes today) because I’d rather hurt myself–even when it is unnecessary–than allow anyone else to ever hurt me again the way my mother did, so many times.

After talking all of this out with my wife yesterday and allowing myself time to process, I made a promise to myself. I am going to try and deactivate my glass case. I built it a long time ago to protect myself. I needed it and it worked at the time. But I am no longer in that environment. I have sought out a healthy support system in my personal and professional life and no one in my circle would ever cut me down. I’ve got to stop putting up walls when people share something nice about me, only to tell myself I’m an impostor or a secret failure on the inside. I am no longer a child trapped in an abusive household and it’s time I started acting like it within my own mind.

In The Beginning…

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely,
“and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
– ‘Alice in Wonderland’

I got married about 5 months ago. In the months leading up to the wedding, I asked my mother for pictures of me as a kid because my wife & I had a creative photo idea for the centerpieces. I thought of a particular stash of photos that we had used for my Sweet Sixteen. Her response was that she had no idea where they were…in the basement, maybe. Who knew? I’d check in every so-often, “Have you thought about where those pictures are, yet? I know they’re not in my old room, because I’ve looked all through there…” Still, seemingly no idea.

I came up with the idea that when we came up to Boston (my hometown) for the Winter holidays, I’d look through various parts of the house to find them. They couldn’t have just materialized. After all, we’re talking about every photograph of me from birth to about age fourteen. So, we get to Boston and I search again through my childhood bedroom (which has sort have become this empty shell of a room with no bed, two night stands, a computer desk, a bookcase, and a treadmill which is more like a clothing rack than it is a piece of exercise equipment–there’s clearly a metaphor here, but we’ll touch on that another day perhaps) to no avail.

Then, I remember that in my grandmother’s room, she’s always had this antique nightstand with a drawer full of photographs–maybe they got mixed up in there! So, I start going through this drawer but all I find are photos of my grandmother, grandfather, countless friends & acquaintances, and some photos of family members over the years. The contents of this drawer range from genuine black & white photos from the 1930s on up to the late 1980s/early 1990s.

Considering I was born in 1987, I manage to find about 10 or 15 photos of myself from around birth to age 5. But that’s it. And furthermore, these are not the photos I set out looking for–they are pictures that my grandmother took, and most of them are holiday or special occasion photos of the family featuring me.

My mind immediately takes me to those cliche movie/TV show moments where the child is getting married and the parents break out the stacks of photo albums which have effectively cataloged every major (and not-so-major) life event of their child from first tooth grown to first time buying sanitary napkins. Where are my sanitary napkin pictures? Why has no one meticulously cataloged my life? My heart sinks to the floor and I immediately feel as though I don’t matter. And I can’t help but notice that the feeling is all-too-familiar.

***

From the age of 18 when I left home in Boston for college in Washington, DC, my relationship with my mother became increasingly estranged. I should stop here to note that our relationship had been emotionally estranged for many years before that, but we always had the discomfort of living in the same house to convince ourselves that there was something substantial there.

I spent a great deal of my childhood trying to make sense out of the alcoholic environment I’d grown up in. The first time I tried to intervene with my mother about her drinking, I was so choked up with tears that I could barely make complete sentences. I was about 12 years old. The second time, I couldn’t bare to go through what I had experienced the first time, so I just wrote her a letter and left it on her bed amidst  her bills & junk mail for her to discover when she got home from work. I was about 14 by then. When things only got worse after that, I began to feel voiceless and took on a more passive approach.

I’d go into the pantry and pour some of her red wine (that is her drink of choice) down the sink–meticulously scrubbing the sink with Comet cleaner so that she couldn’t see the red trail that went from the sink’s edge to the drain. If I were in a rush and really worried about how drunk she was getting, I’d take a mouthful of her wine when she left the room and run to the bathroom to spit it out–in this case it went scrub with Comet, Listerine, flush the toilet and run the sink so it seemed like I had used the bathroom. On nights when she’d successfully passed out, I’d tip-toe into her room to confiscate her wine glass–Comet, Dawn, Bounty…

***

One night during this Winter holiday trip, my mother took my then-soon-to-be wife, my wife’s cousin and I to this Paint & Sip (go figure) place. By this point in my life, I’d had countless tear-filled interventions with her about her drinking and how it had hurt me as a child, and she takes me to a Paint & Sip. The last thing I had wanted to do with my alcoholic mother was to paint the Boston skyline as she sipped her wine and put on the usual show for everyone (my wife’s cousin included) that we were the kind of Mother/Daughter pair that were super close and did these really cool artsy things to fill our time when we weren’t braiding each other’s hair and talking about last week’s episode of The X Factor.

She had a glass of wine or two at the event and was on relatively good behavior. After we said our goodbyes to my wife’s cousin, we went to my cousin’s house for a bit. When we got there, my mother resumed her drinking, polishing off an entire bottle of wine to herself and then “sneaking” to the kitchen to make a tequila & juice of some sort mixed drink. I regret to admit that even in my late 20s, even after about 2 solid years of recovery, I still keep tabs on how much she’s drank and what the drinks consist of. It is a terrible, old defense mechanism which only really seems to serve a masochistic purpose now. Trust me, I’m working on it.

So after a night of what’s now been one & a half bottles of wine and I’d venture to say a fourth of a bottle of tequila, we head home. She had driven us around in her car all night, but at this point I drive. This is one of the most wonderful victories of now being an adult. When I was a kid, I didn’t have the power to drive, and we almost always went home at the end of the night. You can imagine what type of unsafe situations I’ve been in, with that in mind.

Once home, my wife & I start to get ready for bed. As we’re getting ready for bed in the back end of the house, my mother is doing something or another at the front, going back & forth from the kitchen to her bedroom. Just as we are about to crawl into bed, I start to smell food. Up until this point, I’ve avoided seeing her in the house since we had a small argument in the car on the way home where I realized she was actually black-out drunk and the interaction wasn’t worth my energy.

This is where the old triggers kick in. I tell my wife I can’t get into bed until I figure out what’s going on with my mother. I’d done this many times as a kid & teenager, leaving the clean-up up to my grandmother who lived with us…those nights always ended in me laying awake in bed having an anxiety attack as I listened to my grandmother tell my mother she needed to turn her lights off, her music (which was blasting through the house) down and go to bed because she’d passed out anyway. My mother would always yell back at her like some angry teenager, “I’m listening to my music! Get THE FUCK out of my room! LEAVE ME ALONE!” It would go on like this over a few hours until eventually my mother would sober up enough to be irritated by her music and the lights and finally turn them off.

But now I couldn’t rely on my grandmother to intervene. My grandmother has been in a nursing home for about 3.5 years now, so it is just my mother in the house. At that point, it was me, my wife and my mother. Thankfully, my wife & I have built a strong relationship on self-care and recovery and she has been full aware of my childhood home-life since the beginning. Going back to Boston has been so much easier since I’ve had someone in my corner to reassure me that I’m not crazy and that the environment is not a very healthy one.

So I walk into the kitchen first to see what’s going on. In the oven, there is a tray with enough appetizers to feed a party of 5. They are pretty much done baking by now, so I turn the oven off. I should have just gone to bed after that.

I walk in to my mother’s room and I say her name pretty loud..she doesn’t even budge. I nudge her leg a bit while calling her again, and she finally awakes. I let her know that her food in the oven is finished and I turned it off. She mumbles something incoherent and stumbles her way to the kitchen, with me following her. She sways in the middle of the kitchen floor with one hand on her hip. Her eyes are glazed over and have this vacant look about them and I get nervous right away because I’ve seen her like this too many times in my life.

I explain to her again that the food is done and I’ve turned the oven off. She asks what time it is…I respond that it’s 3:41am. She pauses for a moment and then says, “I’ll just given them like 10 more minutes. 10 or 15 more minutes.” I say that I don’t think she understands what I just said and that she needs to listen carefully, I repeat that the food is finished and that I turned the oven off. Up until this point, she has avoided eye contact with me. Then our eyes meet and behind the vacant glaze, she doesn’t look so much confused as she does out-of-control.

Her eyes look at me in a way that I feel like she is going to break into tears and say she is sorry and she knows she’s really drunk right now and she doesn’t know why she keeps doing this but she keeps doing it and she’s in so much pain on the inside but she can’t talk about it because she has to be perfect and if she could just say these things she could get some real help but she’s scared because she doesn’t believe in herself enough to think that things can get any better than this and she doesn’t know where she got that idea from or maybe she does but it came from someone who she really loved and who she thought really loved her so she’s believed it so much for so long that she thinks that’s really who she is deep down on the inside.

I start to understand why she cooks when she’s black-out drunk. Because in between blacking out and passing out, there has to be something there to comfort her. In that moment, I feel sympathy. I start to hurt for her and I just stack her hurt on top of my own anxiety. So I offer to put the food away and clean up after her. She grabs a plate, puts some food on it and stumbles back off to bed.

The next day I declare to myself that that will be the last time I subject myself to seeing her like that. That is the last time I allow her pain and alcoholism to set off my old triggers of sacrificing my own sanity to try and save her. But she is still in the same mode.

Every time my mom gets drunk like that she does one of two things the next day: 1) She complains of a stomach ache or a headache or a throat ache…claims she is coming down with a cold or something [anything but admit she is hungover, because if she admits that she has to deal with her reckless behavior] or 2) She tries to overcompensate by buying me gifts or treating me to something extravagant and unnecessary. On this day, it was option #2.

She pretends as though nothing happened the night before. I’ve gone back & forth on what I believe about this: do I think she genuinely has no idea how bad things got because she blacks-out after the “fun” stops or do I think she knows but just doesn’t want to acknowledge it because then she’ll have to deal with the issue. I suppose it’s both, but for a long time I attempted to comfort myself by saying she just didn’t know and it’d be best if I didn’t bring it up and just enjoyed her soberness the following day.

She makes my wife & I breakfast and a slew of other things happen that should have been comforting, but they weren’t because I’ve become aware of how this is all just a part of the game of Alcoholism-opoly.

Then, the night before my wife & I are about to drive back to DC. The last night that my mother & I will see each other until my wedding (which was just a month & some days away at that point), she calls me into her room. She is sitting next to a brown paper shopping bag full of something. Says she just happened to be going through her closet and she found this.

It is a bag full of pictures of my childhood.

Running In Place.

“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”
– Excerpt from Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’

When I was a kid, I fell in love with Alice in Wonderland. I could never pinpoint why exactly I loved the story so much. It was funny, yes…but there was something else there that I could never put my finger on. As an adult, I realize now that I probably loved the story so much because I’d always felt like young Alice: navigating a curious land through an illogical series of events and encountering only the most absurd characters along the way.

I had felt like I was spending my life trying to figure out how to get back to where I came from–then racking my brain to figure out if I had even come from someplace else to begin with. I’d been wondering if I were the same as I’d used to be–then racking my brain to figure out if I was even the same as I was that morning…and if I wasn’t, who the hell was I, anyway?

I realize that these are clearly the thoughts of a child who grows up surrounded by half-truths, inconsistent messages and kaleidoscopic delusions. This is the part where I stop alluding and say that I am an adult child of an alcoholic family.

The thing about family alcoholism is, you’re not supposed to talk about it. You’re meant to act accordingly and pretend that everything is hunky-dory. Smile and laugh perfectly on cue, even if your chest feels hollow and you’ve disassociated yourself from your own feelings so long that you’re not even sure if you’re genuinely enjoying yourself at the given moment or if you’ve become so good at pretending that you’d seriously consider purchasing beachfront property in Idaho.

By creating a blog to talk about this openly and frankly, I am breaking the oldest rule in the book. There are people in my life, particularly my mother, who will be very hurt and likely feel betrayed by my words (should they read this). Why would I do this? The answer is that I am tired.

I am tired of having to ‘run as fast as I can’ just to keep up appearances because it helps other people exist in their world of denial and delusion. I am tired of being told that I’ll have to ‘run twice as fast as that’ if I want to convince myself of my own “okay-ness” with it all–to deny and delude myself.

Because it’s not okay. Not any of it.

I have chosen to do the right thing and break the cycle. Something about being in Wonderland never felt right. I wish to speak frankly and openly about my experiences and my thoughts about those experiences. I want to release the pressure of it all from my brain, and more importantly, I want to reach people–adults, young adults, teens and children alike–who can relate to my story and encourage them to break their own cycle and build something real and strong and true.