***Submitted by Sarah
I’m Sarah. Ellie asked me if I’d introduce myself and tell a little bit of my story, because I’m a child of an alcoholic, and she thought it would be useful if those voices were heard here too. I hope it can help. I’m surprised to find that writing it has helped me.
My mother is an alcoholic. She has been since the Halloween I was eight. My brother wasn’t feeling well, so my father took just me out trick-or-treating. We came home to a Halloween-appropriate sight: blood all over the foyer. She’d been drinking and had slipped and cut her head open on the banister. My brother, left alone with her, was, apart from being sick, five years old at the time.
I think she’d been drinking for a while, though it’s hard to know anything from my memories as a six- or seven-year-old. Unfortunately, that’s all I have to go on. My brother, being younger, remembers even less. My parents didn’t have friends, no family visited, and in any case, nobody else knew. And my father - well, the less he notices, the less he has to deal with.
I’ve always known that it’s extra-unusual to have an alcoholic mom. There’s a lot written about alcoholic fathers, but if you have an alcoholic mother, you start to get the feeling that nobody wants to talk about it. My therapist says that’s because mothering is much more idolized than fathering in our society. Maybe so. All I know is, when I started to try to figure out what was going on and why my family was so unlike any other I knew, I couldn’t find much. Since then, though, I’ve had wonderful people, professional and personal, who have given me so much help - once I realized that I could and should ask for it and work for it.
I’m not an alcoholic. Which is not to say that I have my act together. I’ve had problems managing my money, my food, and my relationships, but never alcohol. I’m not exactly angry at my mother, anymore, though - I think that much is true. I’ve seen her a few times in the last couple of years, after having no contact for 10 years. Drinking has taken its toll on her: she looks more like I remember my grandmother than like I remember my mother. I’m not comfortable around her but I don’t wish her ill. She wanted the best for my brother and me: she just didn’t know where to begin. How to stop. How to get help.
My father isn’t evil either. In recent years, though, my frustration has focused on him. At first, it was so obvious to be angry with my mother that it didn’t occur to me to look at my father’s part in things. Slowly I realized that it wasn’t just my mother who didn’t step up. I don’t think he protected us very well. He hid what was going on and he went to work.
I remember feeling very grown-up levels of responsibilty. Making sure she didn’t come to harm barging in on a neighbor’s backyard party. Finding her passed out on the bedroom floor, in the dining room doorway, in the powder room, in front of the Christmas tree. Realizing that spending time with my father or my brother drew her to us and meant fighting, and the only way to keep things quiet was to stay out or alone in my room.
I could never fix things, handle things, make things be normal. What I’m still realizing was that at eight, or 10, or 12, there was no way I could have. It sounds obvious on paper, but not inside.
I wish I’d had parents who paid attention to the emotional health of their kids. I wish I’d had fewer adult worries. I wish my teachers or my friends’ parents had known - that I’d been younger when I decided to break the unspoken rules and tell people what was going on.
And then there are all of the future worries. I seem to end up in relationships that are (in hindsight) basically just throwing myself into making someone happy. Even if I couldn’t fix things with my family, I could be a model girlfriend, right? Except I can’t. Eventually I want to care about the things I like again, not just his life.
I’m trying to be patient and work through what I need to. I have so many blessings that I’m so grateful for, and among them are my dear friends’ wonderful marriages and fabulous first, second, even third kids. But deep down, there’s something in their happiness that makes me sad. I can’t help grieving for a lot of things: the ones that I wish I’d had and didn’t; but also the ones that I think I want and don’t see ever happening for me.
The tears are dripping off my face as I’m typing this. I don’t know if this will make sense, but - I think that’s a good thing. I hope so, anyway.