It Happened to Me: I Can't Get Over My Mom's Drinking

My mom and I have had one discussion about her drinking, a phone call my junior year of college that broke down when I started crying too hard to speak.

Feb 9, 2012 at 3:00pm | Leave a comment

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My mom stopped drinking on Easter Sunday 2007. It wasn’t a “come-to-Jesus” moment -- her appendix burst, she was put into a medically induced coma, and was forbidden to drink ever again.

As far as she’s concerned, her alcoholism has gone into the basket of “things that have happened,” together with that time I fell in the fish pond and that time my sister dated a guy named Lou who called me “little lady” (I was 14). But it hasn’t ended for me.

My mom drank every day of my childhood. Starting while she made dinner, my mom would drink Seagrams and lemonade until she went to bed. When we stayed in a hotel the night before my college orientation, my mom brought a handle of gin with her. She loved alcohol, more so, in some ways, than it felt that she loved me.

When my mom was sober, she sang songs to me and read me Redwall books, doing all of the voices. But when she drank, my mom would talk about me in the third person while I was standing in front of her, making fun of my laugh (too “fake,” in her opinion).

She couldn't maintain conversations for very long, couldn’t talk on the phone. If I wanted to go somewhere, I had to ask several days in advance so she wouldn’t be too drunk to drive. If I disobeyed her or talked back, she would sway toward me and I would sprint to my room and lock the door.

My older sister handled my mother’s alcoholism by avoiding it, staying in her room, getting after-school jobs. But I wanted so desperately to make my mom happy -- to make her not want to drink and become this other mother, who didn’t love me.

At school, I was bullied constantly, socially inept but desperate for friends. My anxieties funneled into binge-eating and obsessive thoughts -- I would watch specific movie scenes or parts of songs I found comforting over and over and over (for instance, I listened to 1:12-1:43 of this song so often that my dad nearly threw away the album).

I ate pounds of pasta and sleeves of Thin Mints and hid the boxes in the bottom of the recycling, fortifying myself against my mother. The fatter I got, the worse the bullying got, and the worse my mom’s drinking got.

Every day, I twisted myself into something she’d appreciate, someone who she wouldn’t need to get drunk to be around. I blamed myself for her drinking, and swore to change myself to make her stop. I agreed with everything she said, talked the way that she did. I couldn’t express anger because that would make my mom upset.

Conflict of any kind terrified me -- once, in second grade, our teacher yelled at my class for talking, and I hid under my desk, too frightened to move. I was always anxious, always afraid that something would happen and everyone would be angry with me. I was voted “friendliest girl” in high school, always saying hello to everyone I saw, but was forced to visit a counselor by my sister because I told her I wanted to kill myself.

I lay on my friend’s apartment floor the night my mom went into the hospital fantasizing about how I would respond if she died, and berating myself for thinking about it.

The only time in my life my father ever recognized her alcoholism was when he explained that she’d be in a coma so that her body could recover from surgery without going into seizures from withdrawal, saying, “Well, you know your mom likes to drink."

He spent that month eating leftover Boca burgers and sitting in her hospital room, holding her hand. I spent it in Michigan, still at school, in a haze.

My mom and I have had one discussion about her drinking, a phone call my junior year of college that broke down when I started crying too hard to speak while she kept repeating, “I’m sorry you feel that way, I can’t apologize for how you feel.”

But I need her to know how badly she hurt me -- that I can’t get mad or argue because the anxiety of thinking that someone is angry with me makes it hard to breathe; that I spend most of my time wondering if people like me or are happy with me, and, if not, what I can do to make them happy again.

I want her to know that all of my friendships are spent riding the line between pleasing my friends with gifts and stories and favors and fishing for compliments. I want her to understand how earth-shatteringly painful it is to spend your entire life wanting someone to love you and feeling nothing in return.

But I can’t tell her, because it will hurt her. And all I want, still, is to make my mom happy.