I Never Wanted to be Like My Mother

I never wanted to be like my mother.

My mother stayed for more than 40 years in a marriage that broke her heart.  She admits now that she was afraid.

She married in the late fifties, when women couldn’t even have a bank account in their name.  She was a teacher and worked to put my father through college.  In the first year of their marriage, in a rage my father put her head through the wall.  He promised to never do it again.  And to my knowledge he kept that promise.  But  that was the beginning of being manipulated.  He threatened and he yelled.

The man could rage.

The smallest thing would set him off.

I never wanted to be like my mother, because all those years, I thought she was weak.  Weak for staying.

Or so I thought, for many years, until I became a mother.  And when that happened I began over time to see that she did it all for us. 

My mother is strong.  She stayed for us.  She was the buffer all those years between us and my father’s angry raging.  She took it more than we did. (And we took it a lot.)

And in later years as the weight of it became more than she could bear, she began to find comfort in the bottle.  I never wanted to be like my mother, but I became an alcoholic too.  I buried my fears for years in the numbing relief of alcohol.  As is often the case in a family with addiction, I carried it on.  And in the end I realized, I am very like my mother. I hide my pain even now, though I have been sober for almost five years.

I am strong and would do anything for my kids, just like my mother.

I never wanted to be like my mother, but I am.

I am strong, loyal and sober.

Happy Mother’s Day, 2012


I’ve written about my alcoholism here.

I’ve written about my Dad here

I was in Love…with Vodka, Wine and Gin

Image by isante_magazine via Flickr

On the eve of my birth week, I want to take a moment to remember where I have come from, now that I am three plus years sober.   

While purging and organizing books this week I came across a little orange index card that I wrote to myself while I was working hard at accepting my need for sobriety.  I thought I had lost the card and that would have been tragic because the thoughts written on it are very important to me.

About five years ago, I spent more than a year — at two different stages — seeing counselors specifically about my drinking.  At that time, I wrote what I thought of my life without alcohol so far.  I said:

I value my recovery because …..

  • I have an improved mood.
  • I feel strong.
  • I am more present and self-aware.
  • I am more willing to face my feelings.
  • I am more hopeful about the future.
  • I am more in control of my world, actions, responses to life.
  • My relationships are more honest.
  • I am a good role model for my kids.
  • I am a cultural enigma.
  • I am more relaxed socially (less No worry about embarrassing myself.)
  • I have a higher quality of mental engagement.

All this is true.  And more.  Today when I look back another thing I am so grateful for is that my life partner, family and close friends never judged me. At least I never felt judged. Especially Tom could have. Boy, oh boy, I made some bad choices.  Tom lived with my addiction for many, many years, continuing to love and support me.  At my worst, he wiped up my vomit and put me to bed.  He pulled me out of parties before I could do something stupid.  All those years he was simply loving.  I never felt that I was a bad person because of my dependency to alcohol.  Not from him, but I did judge myself!

In my head, I was constantly accusing myself.

I cannot count, because it happened so many times, the number of Sundays I spent sitting in church nursing the world’s worst hangover, full of shame and self-loathing.   I am not sure which felt worse, the physical symptoms of being hung over or the emotional beating I gave myself.  I just knew I was living the life of a hypocrite.  I didn’t have the courage to give up on churchgoing all together, but I was miserable being there.

For a long time my drinking made family life feel disjointed and a mess, because it was!

I started in on the wine too early in the evening, so I was too “tired” to do anything else in the evenings, except veg in front of the television.  When it was time to put the kids to bed, I was too tired to read to them, something I had always loved.  That memory makes me deeply sad still, but I will forgive myself some day.  Some things are harder to forgive yourself for like driving drunk with my children in the car, even if it was just a few neighborhood streets.  I did that.  I am utterly horrified to think of it now but it happened.  Why do I admit that today?  Why do I force myself to recall the shameful choices I made?

Because I do have fleeting thoughts that perhaps I could drink again.  And those are lies, but it is all too easy to forget.

Back to Tom, he was unhappy with our choices and (very) willingly quit drinking many times with me, for me.  He encouraged me to quit many times and we did quit a few times.  But it was such a part of our lifestyle that we soon were drinking again.

It grew more difficult as the years went by for me to even consider quitting, as I was afraid that I couldn’t live without it.  And, suffering as I was from major depression all those years, I was self-medicating with the very drug that furthered my depression.  (Alcohol is a depressant but I either didn’t know it or didn’t want to know.)

The first time I went to counselling for my alcohol addiction it was an intellectual exercise.

My mother was in a recovery program and addiction is all over my family tree.  I was drinking too much, but I was not yet the sloppy, falling down drunk that I became.  I was “abusing” alcohol.  I was addicted.  But I had convinced myself that I was managing.  I learned a lot from those counselling sessions, most important of which was that I should quit for lots of reasons.

In order to have that type of counselling you must agree to not be drinking as you go through it.  And I did that, but I was just a dry drunk.  All of my behaviors were still of an addict who wasn’t using.  I didn’t yet believe the things I wrote on that index card.  I had not lived long enough as a sober person.

I asked my counselor at my last session, after five months of sobriety,  “What if I just drink socially?  Don’t keep it in the house.  Don’t drink every day.  Just have a drink from time to time (like normal people)?  Maybe I won’t have to quit completely.”  I was desperate to not have to quit.

At that point I could not imagine being happy without alcohol in my life. 

“Then I’ll see you back here in about three years.”  And I literally thought “At least I’ll enjoy the next three years.”   That is how far I was into the lie.  Well, I’ve said it before, but it didn’t even take three years.

About a year and a half later I was back and that time I was serious about quitting.  I knew that alcohol had control of me and my life.  I had no power to fight it.  I thought about alcohol all the time.  I was so in love with wine — and vodka — and gin!  I had spent that summer drinking heavily every day and spent most evenings drunk.  I just did it in such a way that I thought I was hiding it from others.

But enough about that.  (Perhaps the rest will go in the memoir.)  Today, I am so grateful for my sobriety.   It isn’t that complicated to figure out if alcohol has power over you.  How much do you think about alcohol? How often do you choose not to drink, because you wonder if you have a problem?  Do you drink every day?  Do you squirm answering those questions honestly?   Although it is certainly not true that every person who drinks too much from time to time is an alcoholic, rather what I think about is, what is the main focus of your life?  Can you live without alcohol?  If you’re not sure , … I would seriously consider talking to someone.

Those are the questions that haunted me and it wasn’t until I quit that I realized without any doubt that I was out of control.


P.S. Other things I have written about my life  drunk and addicted.

You Are Not Alone – Thoughts on Sobriety.

A glass of red wine. Photo taken in Montreal C...
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At times I detest that I am an alcoholic. It’s damn inconvenient.  Those are the days that it seems the whole world drinks – except me and perhaps James Frey.

I dreamt of drinking last night. That scares me a little, because in my dreams I seem to “forget” that I can’t drink.  Now that’s a nightmare – an alcoholic that draws a blank on their past.  Even if it is only in their dreams.  I recall now that I just wanted a small glass of red wine. No we don’t need to order the bottle. A red, to accompany whatever I was eating.  Harmless.

I have never actually taken a sip in my dreams, thus far.  The dreams come unbidden, which may make you think that drinking is on my mind a lot.  Most of the time, these days, I never think about being an alcoholic. But when I do, sometimes I resent that I cannot drink.

Lest you begin to feel sorry for me and think that I am an innocent former drinker, I must set you straight. In the end I was a falling-down drunk. I had to quit. I would have lost my life eventually. I never hit “the bottom” which some say you need to do to recover. But I got close enough that my conscience, and my husband, and God finally said enough is enough. Some people will need to hit the bottom to change. But most of us feel it building in our lives for a long time and finally one day we know.  We are ready.

For more than five years I had wrestled with the knowledge that I might be addicted. I didn’t know enough about the disease to make a good call on it.  But in my experience your gut is usually right. If you are wondering whether you just might be addicted to alcohol, listen to your soul. Hear the voices that talk to you late at night after drinking too much. Or the ones that pop up with the morning hangover.

Recognizing that we have a problem is a drawn-out and bit-by-bit process, at least it was for me. No one wants to think of themselves as an addict or alcoholic. Unfortunately our culture says getting addicted to it makes you weak. It is shameful and definitely not for Christ-followers! Christians do not become alcoholics, because they “trust in God.” Ironically, addiction is no respecter of race or religion or status. And all that stuff about just trust in God is bullshit.

Once I finally quit, July 17th, 2008, I have never relapsed.  I’m fairly certain that is because I have a family. They are my accountability. My kids are my Program. I am intentional about talking to them about my addiction to drinking and I think it is important that they know and understand the nature of the illness is hereditary.  And I am not shy about reminding them of the ugly side of drinking.  When I passed out in front of them. Or threw up all over myself in the car. Those memories return for a reason and that is to help them see the unglamorous side of addiction. And remembering keeps me sober.

Seeing others who clearly struggle with drinking is a good reminder for me, but it is not a reason to stay sober. I feel pity and empathy and hope they’ll figure it out soon. Because life is beautiful sober – in full color in a way that being a drunk is living in sepia tones compared to full color, 3D. It is loneliness vs. living in community. It’s living in starvation when you can live with a full stomach. You get the idea. Living in your addiction is like living in an ugly broken-down smog filled factory.   Sobriety is living in the glorious Grand Canyon!

But people do relapse and I hope you know this too is a part of the journey. A few years before I quit for good, I decided to go to counseling to “learn about addiction.” (That’s what I told myself.) I settled into about seven or eight months of not drinking, because that is what they require of you to receive alcohol counseling.  I learned all I could about the issue.

Near the end of my time I asked my counselor if she thought I could be a social drinker.  You know, if I wasn’t “up for” quitting.  I could still not imagine my life without alcohol.  I loved alcohol.  I didn’t go through a day without thinking about it or craving it. I wasn’t giving in to it right then, but after seven months of sobriety I thought I was “strong” and got the notion in my head that I would simply be “a social drinker.” I would just stick with one or two drinks in any given setting and definitely not drink at home.  I would be okay.  My counselor answered the question like this: “If you continue to drink socially, I predict I’ll see you back here in three or four years.” Yeah right, I was thinking, not me.  She does not know me.

She may not have known me, but she knew an addict when she saw one.  It took about one year – Yes, that was all it took for me to fall on my face literally and figuratively. I remember walking out of there, thinking “At least I’ll enjoy the next three years.”  That was how seductive alcohol was for me at the time. I did not believe AT ALL that I could be happy or have joy without alcohol in my life.

I walked out of that building full of the idea that I hadn’t been drunk for a good long time, so it would be easy to limit. Or at least it would take a while for the problem to present itself.  Honestly, I didn’t really care either way.  I was just glad that I could still drink.

Oh, it presented itself alright! More strongly than ever. With a vengeance.

I do wish that I could drink.  It still lures me. It teases and ultimately lies to me that it is a simple thing to drink. But those lies I can overcome and made my peace with in time. I stop them as soon as they pop in my head.  And remind myself that I and my life are worthy of my sobriety.

Sober people are some of the most brave people I know.  And that includes me.

If you or someone you love ever wants to talk confidentially with me about this, I am glad to do it.  I can only share my experience.  The answer is different for each person.  But knowing that you are not alone is important.


Here’s something I wrote two years ago about being an addict.

this life-long fast [*a poem*]

This Life-Long Fast

Just saw a headline
in the Huffington Post.
Winter Cocktails Gone Wild.
And I am choked
by my longing.  I can’t explain it
easily, but I’ll try. I still crave alcohol.  Not
in the way
you might think.  Infrequently.  And not when
or where you might expect.
I go to church in a bar, but that only reminds me
of my gratitude
and drives deeper into God.  My
humiliation is my heartfelt cry
There, my worship. Inside, every Sunday
I am on my knees.

[Dare I say
lest I tempt fate]  I am not tempted
to break this life-long fast I have taken.  Yes.
I can say that and mean it.  I do not feel
like I need alcohol but it still
charms me. I think I want it.  Especially if I linger
with the thoughts that whisper to me.
Drinking is about
the moments, about intimacy
and good conversation. The idea
of being cultured,
intellectual and refined.  All those remembered
or imagined
moments swirl in my mind.

The Liar brandishes his greatest weapon, uttering:

“That is what you’re missing.”

And I find myself thinking

If Only!

Then immediately — I don’t even
have to force it, the list of reasons come for
why I will

not ever = never

drink again.
They come.  The list my counselor made me
so painstakingly write on a 3×5 card
(so that I would never forget.) Oh, I won’t

Memory brings it
and I remember
the vomit,
the disappointment,
the regrets (so many),
the fear,
the sink hole of depression and anxiety,
the danger.

No I don’t easily forget

Alcohol, that sweet elixir
was my personal hell.  Oh no, the truth

is so fresh and real as if

I quit yesterday.
And soberly and gingerly, I consider

how far I have come.

A World of Possibilities (my poem edited from “When Life Was a Bad Dream”)

When I was a little girl I loved heart shaped ice cream bars, storybooks,

and running barefoot all summer long.

I remember back scratches and hugs after bad dreams.

When I was a little girl, swinging, playing happily I had no thought for the future.

I believed my parents loved me and each other; they would never hurt anyone.

I believed the world was good and safe; I couldn’t conceive of sorrow or regret.

I didn’t know that some day I would need to forgive.

I began to understand that some Daddy’s rage and are never satisfied;

that Mommy’s can be sad and afraid, and that children are a problem.

I learned that the world was scary.

I began to wonder if this would be the fight that ended everything,

their secrets exploding the world I knew.

If this time she would sink down so far she might not come back; like Alice in Wonderland

shrinking to a place I couldn’t find.

When I was older I discovered I could find that place myself.  Sometimes I would hide

in bed with a book all daylong.  And later, much later, when I got so used to hiding

from my pain, I would hide in alcohol, or work, or shopping.

I would disappear into a crowd of friends and a glass of wine.

Whatever I could find to make the sadness stop.

It was safe to be invisible, silent, and placid.  I began to hide, just like Mom.

After years and years of hiding, I was finally coaxed out into daylight by love.

I began to write, to create beauty, to grow things.

This was how I would learn to forgive.

I began to consider that I was the one Jesus loved;

the Jesus I never knew.  You see, when someone cruel tells you about Jesus,

you can’t believe that God would really love you.

And if Jesus did, why did he allow years of lost days and nights?

Sorrow.  Melancholy.  Lament.

That mystery, I have considered for years.  And years.

Why was my father so angry?  Why was my life so difficult?

Here’s the thing. It happened.

What I have learned is that who I have become is important.

And so I sit in the early morning darkness,

In the quiet of this beautiful new life, remembering.

It happened, the past.  It hurts to remember.

When life is most terrifying, when your grief overwhelms,

when your possibilities are gone, what you choose matters.

Somehow, I found love.  Or love found me.  Either way it’s good!

And bad things will happen.  I can’t stop them.

We make a world of possibilities for our children and ourselves.

In choosing hope,

choosing the life that Jesus offers,

choosing to forgive,

I will live.

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