The outpouring of responses to my blog about my Mom’s addiction has made me realize how many families are in this same struggle. As I’ve told some of the people who contacted me to thank me for sharing it: it’s been a long road to this place and I’m still learning and faltering and crying and getting back up every day. But, if my sharing the struggle this vulnerably can help other families struggling with the pain of addiction, it’s worth it. So this post is dedicated to all of the families out there – daughters and sons and sisters and brothers and husbands and wives and mothers and fathers – who are struggling with a loved one’s addiction. The cultural norms and pressures around Mother’s Day are to keep it all “sweetness and light” – but the truth of relationships in families is almost always a lot messier and sometimes incredibly painful.
Part of the pain of seeing a loved one struggle with addiction is seeing what it does to their bodies and minds. And my Mom was no exception. Her addiction caused multiple forms of cancer and cirrhosis of the liver. She couldn’t keep food down and weighed only about 80 pounds. She had to have all of her teeth removed and rarely bothered to put in her dentures. She fell down frequently, and often had bruises on her face, arms and legs. She attempted suicide multiple times. She struggled to remember things, make decisions, and interact with other people. Her mood shifted wildly from one minute to the next, and she could be incredibly cruel in her words and actions. And I’ll be honest: there were times when I was deeply embarrassed by her and for her. Times when I didn’t want people to know she was related to me. Times when I wanted nothing to do with her.
She did have two periods of sustained sobriety – lasting about a year each time. One was when I was about 12 or 13 years old. The other was in 1997, when she left her husband (my step-father) for about a year.
Among the collection of letters she wrote to me is one especially poignant and beautiful letter, dated March 22, 1997, during that year when she was clean and sober and healthy. She was the exact same age that year that I am now: 56 years old.
Here’s an excerpt from her letter to me:
“ . . . I look at myself so differently now – in every sense of the word. I’ve really taken charge of my life, but I’m not cocky about it (that’s a seductive trap I must ever guard against). I have no illusions that to go back to drinking “socially” (there’s a deceptive word that’s stricken from my vocabulary!), it would be my own personal destiny with my inner Dr Kevorkian . . . I’m much prettier now than I’ve been in 15-20 years (what an egotistical statement, I know!) – but even in less than a year, the puffiness & blowsiness is gone from drinking. I have CHEEKBONES, good skin tone, my hair’s thicker, I only weigh between 85 & 90, but I’m solid as a rock (work out EVERY AM for 1/2 an hour) – have a 22″ waist, better carriage & everyone asks me what I’ve “done” to myself! I guess I kinda glow with some self-confidence, too . . . Really, Melanie, at LONG last, you CAN be proud of me. And I hope, in time, I can gain back your respect. I KNOW I have your love. You don’t know what a rock that’s been to cling to! I can’t wait to spend some really honest-to-God HONEST quality time with you. We have a lot of ground to cover & a lot of years to make up for. I’m so looking forward to us REALLY discovering each other – not just as mother & daughter (which I honestly don’t know what that’s supposed to be like – bet you don’t either, as NEITHER of us had much to go on by example there) but as friends, and I mean REALLY CLOSE LOVING SHARING friends. I think you’re going to like me a lot. I like me a lot. And I LOVE YOU! Mom.”
And here’s a photo she had taken of herself that year:
So, this Mother’s Day, THIS is how I choose to remember her: as a courageous, honest, beautiful, vulnerable, perfectly imperfect human being, created in God’s image, who, in spite of everything, was still worthy of love and belonging in this world.