I remember a time when I was 14 or 15; a tough age for a girl. I would find full bottles of alcohol hidden in linen closets, under furniture and in the basement. I remember being so disgusted with my mom that I would loathingly pour the alcohol down the bathroom sink drain and refill the bottles with tap water. I would replace them where I found them.
When I returned from school, I remember feeling hatred towards my mom because the bottles were either half empty or gone. I would become incensed and repulsed thinking that she was either too drunk or too stupid to know that I had replaced the alcohol with water and she drank it anyway.
“You stupid bitch,” I would think and I would turn my venom on my mom. Sometimes I used the passive-aggressive techniques I had been taught. I would go for days without looking at her or talking to her. Other times I would let loose on her by screaming and pummeling her with my abusive words. God, I HATED her at times. I hated that she wasn’t there for me emotionally. I hated that she loved alcohol more than me and I hated that I needed her and she had emotionally and physically abandoned me. Hell hath no fury like a hormonal teen-aged girl.
A neighbor once told me years after my mom had died that she had found my mom passed out by our mailbox. She thought my mom had fallen and went to help. My mom was perfectly fine except she was blotto’d. I remember feeling embarrassment at hearing this, even though I was in my early thirties.
My dad was aware, but we didn’t talk about it. Good Lord, no. That’s not what us conservative Norwegian/German Lutheran/Catholic Midwesterners do. We don’t talk about alcoholism, abortion, mental illness, abuse, adultery, or rape. Oh no, that’s not neighborly or polite. It’s icky and ugly and we don’t want to talk about that stuff. Let’s sweep it under the rug; let’s not tell the children the real story because they’ll never need to know or they’re not “strong enough” to handle it. Has it occurred to anyone that it’s this type of mentality, this type of secrecy, that encourages these actions to continue?
I used to watch my stoic dad search the house looking for errant bottles of hidden alcohol. I watched as he loaded them into the trunk of our cream colored Ford Thunderbird and left for work. I watched as he would take a bottle out after work and have a few drinks (or several, I don’t remember). And then I would watch as he replaced the bottle in the trunk, shut the lid and hid the keys. I clearly saw the strain on my dad’s face but I did not understand the toll it was taking on him. Although I’ve never walked a mile in my dad’s shoes, I think I may have walked a few blocks.
Each school day, I would leave my mom lying on her favorite pink velvet love seat. Each day, when I returned, she would still be lying there. I didn’t know that each day she would order alcohol and have it delivered but my dad knew. Night after night, morning after morning this process would repeat itself. My anger and resentment towards her, and her illness, grew. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize alcoholism WAS an illness. I just thought she was weak.
One night my mom was trashed and sleeping in the living room. My dad was sleeping in their bedroom and I in mine. I could hear mom weakly calling to my dad, “Merle. Merle! Merle? I have to go to the bathroom.” My dad was maybe 54 or 55 at the time, not much different in age than I am now. Dad got up but not as quickly as mom needed. She tried to make it to the bathroom on her own but fell. She said thinly, “Merle! I fell! Help me!” and that might have been when my dad emotionally snapped.
He grabbed her right arm by the shoulder and drug her across the carpeted floor towards the bathroom. At the time and for years to come, I hated my dad for this treatment. But now, as a parent, as an older, wiser adult and as someone who has loved/lived with alcoholics, I understand his reaction. You can only take so much shit, so much stress, so many sleepless nights, so many worries, so much pent up anger, so much disappointment and so much emotional strain before your mind unravels.
I heard my mom fall and I instantly sat up in my bed on high alert. My eyes were wide in the darkness. Ever mom’s protector, I threw my legs over the bed and raced down the unlit hallway. I flipped the bathroom light on and as my eyes adjusted my mouth fell to the floor. Her right arm was grasped in his left hand and she looked so tiny, so frail. She wasn’t a big woman anyway and had become very emaciated from the alcohol. My dad always appeared larger to me than he really was.
I remember seeing her eyes flutter open and then close. There were tears on her cheeks and she slurringly said, “Merle! You’re hurting me!” I screamed at my dad to stop it. I remember vainly trying to push him away from her. Everything was moving in slow motion. As I stood in the bathroom’s harsh light wearing my baby-doll shorty pajamas, I felt utterly helpless and powerless. I also felt extreme anger, repulsion and sympathy all at once. A part of me wanted to repeatedly hit my dad and a part of me wanted to pull my own mother down the hallway, too. I ended up doing what I normally did; bursting into tears, racing for the sanctuary of my bedroom and slamming the door.
My mom did get help. It wasn’t professional help, as least I don’t think so, but she did cut out or cut down her drinking. She told me once she’d “got a handle on it.” And I never, EVER saw her drunk again, buzzed yes, but drunk no.
As with most children of addictions/abuse, you either become so repulsed by the action that you would NEVER do it…..or you become that action; after all, it’s what you know. There’s not often a middle of the road for us…it’s usually all or nothing.
In Midwestern American, if it’s a nice day out, we drink. If it’s too cold, we drink. If it’s juuuuuust right, we drink. Having a good day? Drink. Having a bad day? Drink. Having a perfect day? Drink. Started the job? Drink. Finished the job? Drink. Somewhere in the middle? Drink. Weddings? Drink. Funeral? Drink. Breathing? Drink.
I took my first drink at 17. My husband took his at 14. In Midwestern America, it’s what we do. It’s what we know.
This is the first in a trilogy of blogs: Part 1: "Alcoholic", Part 2: "Alcoholism" Part 3: "Sober"