I’m not quite sure what normal is, but it definitely doesn’t apply to my family of origin. To have a normal week or month would be one where dysfunction took a break. It would be a month where my mom did not have to worry about my sister’s alcoholic adventures. Normal would be positively extravagant.
My sister has been staying at my mom’s house for a visit. These visits are tremendously stressful for her because she will harbor the ideas of guilt of what she should be doing for her mom, but her ideas of what she could be doing rarely turn into action because she becomes quickly overwhelmed. My sister and my mom can’t get along but they have this relationship where they can’t leave each other alone and I often play odd man out.
I went to visit, a bit of a drive from where I live. I thought we would have some lunch and that would be it. As soon as I get there, I can see my mother is struggling to keep up with being able to live alone. I don’t know that she takes her meds appropriately. Any suggestions of what could be done to make her life easier are instantly shot down.
At this point my mother is angry that we have confronted some of the issues that she struggles with. She takes her anger out on my sister who has been drinking during her stay with my mom. Now I more than anyone understand the anger and frustration with my sister’s drinking. The things my mom says though are unspeakably cruel. She calls her a slut multiple times, she says she wants nothing to do with her and that she(my sister) is not her daughter any more.
At this time my sister’s normal reaction is to bolt. She usually ends up in a bar somewhere. This time she tells me she can’t take her life anymore, she is depressed and wants to get help.
So we go to the emergency room and work our way through the system to see what can be done. Her blood alcohol level is sky high. The staff asks her lots of questions and her answers sometimes vary. A physician asks her about the quantity she drinks each day. On this occasion she says her drink of choice is wine(she drinks anything). Once she tells him she drinks two glasses of wine. Another time she tells him she drinks a box of wine a day. “A box?” he says, puzzled, but then moves on. I’m not sure the physician knew boxed wine was an actual thing.
My sister is directed to a treatment center eventually where she currently withdrawing from alcohol. I hope it works. Earlier in the week she had attended an AA meeting where she met a man who gave her more alcohol and tried to assault her.
I’m not sure what the answers are. I pray that this time she can gain peace and sobriety.
Everywhere she goes she always can connect with the seedy side of town. In her hometown it is the dividing line where old money sits across the street from the very poor. Nestled nearby is a “charming” historical district with many bars.
In the seedy side of town the golden rule does not apply. The predatory and the opportunistic easily find the most damaged of society. Sometimes it is hard to tell the predator from the prey.
In the dim light of night she looks attractive. If you look closer though you can see her smudged mascara, dirty fingernails and unwashed clothes, and you might turn away.
She mostly seeks her own type, those who cannot say no to another beer. She seeks validation and affirmation that she is still something. She doesn’t care the price she pays as long as she gets her fix for the night.
Not content to sit at home and fall asleep after one too many drinks, she comes alive in the night. For just one more night she can tell a sympathetic stranger her tales of woe.
In the hot blinding daylight of summer, life is just too harsh to face. Better to sit in the dark air conditioned bar where no one cares if she is sober or drunk.
There she is, my sister, whatever she does she consumes my mother’s attention.
Somehow it is silly, isn’t it, to think my mom could change her ways for just a day, and perhaps see that her other daughter might need her mom in some way.
I’m a grown woman. I should know better by now. I’ve been caught off guard by a difficult situation. I need someone to talk to. Why though at this point should I feel an ache that this person should be my mother?
All of my mom’s energy is yet caught up again in my sister’s addiction. In a conversation the other day I gave my mom an inch and she took a mile. A mile to talk about my sister.
I wish my mom’s mind could slow down for just a minute to see past the world of my sister’s life.
You said you had an important appointment in Dover
with your Uncle Grover
I guess I was supposed to wake you up, Mr. Clover
Don’t blame me that you were hungover.
Sometimes I want to turn a bit of real life into something to write about. This is as far as I could get with this one.
A couple of days ago, when I was reading some of the responses to the wordpress prompt truth serum, one writer talked about alcohol being in a truth serum of sorts. I’m not sure I completely agree, but I thought it would be a good launching pad for a post about alcohol.
Growing up, I always remember beer in the house. Sometimes there were other things, wine and hard liquor. I’d had tastes of wine and beer growing up probably at least a dozen times, with the full blessing of my parents. I think I was a small child when I had my taste of beer. I think in those times such behaviors weren’t so frowned upon. Some would say allowing your children to have small tastes of wine here or there demystifies alcohol, and makes them less likely to have problems with alcohol later on. I’m not sure I buy that.
Somewhere along the line I realized my dad drank too much, and it was the cause of some of our family dysfunction. Back in those days I remember alcoholism being more of a term that applied to a bum drinking on a street corner, hiding his bottle in a paper sack. It was before laws started changing to address the problem of drunk driving more harshly. My dad held a job and was a good provider, in my mom’s eyes, how could he possibly be an alcoholic.
I’d a few more sips of alcohol before reaching high school, at friends’ houses. Their parents didn’t know. I tried some of my parents’ whisky just for the heck of it. Straight whisky is nasty stuff. Entering high school I knew that some kids were drinking regularly. At that point I managed to stay away from kids like that. Toward the end of high school though, I found myself in situations where I could manage to gulp down a few beers. It made social situations easier to deal with. People would seem to be more drawn to me when I was drinking, while the sober me would have been invisible. My parents still never knew I’d had some drinks…my mom would have made a comment about how it would not be ladylike to drink to excess. I even came home covered in vomit once. I didn’t even realize I’d been sick until the next morning when I looked at my clothes.
Fast forward to college. More of the same. Meeting guys often happened in the context of some alcohol fueled activity. Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker, as the old saying goes. For me it was the ultimate social lubricant. I thought I was fabulous when I drank. Except when I was being clumsy, obnoxious, or getting sick. Being a social butterfly was wonderful, but my inner self shuddered at the tales people had told me about how obnoxious I was. Was I revealing my true self when I drank…who knows?
I pretty much drank only in social situations, but looking back even that was problematic. Drinking alone has never much appealed to me. The addictive companion of choice when alone, for better or worse has always been food. After my early twenties, the urge to be in social situations where there was drinking sort of dissipated. Over time my stomach has become more and more rebellious sometimes even if I only have a couple of drinks…so that stops the urge dead in its tracks. The first time it happened my stomach hurt so much I thought about going to the hospital.
But even if I wanted to become the sort of drinker my dad(and eventually sister) would become, it would have seemed I would have spent all my time either by the toilet or hungover in bed. I’d always had the worst sort of hangovers so that was always a deterrent.
There were little clues that my dad’s drinking was affecting his health. I don’t think until the very end he was honest with his doctor about the sheer volume of alcohol he consumed.
If the story just involved my dad, I don’t know if I would be writing this post. My sister is also an alcoholic, a fact that I think she managed to hide for many years. I’d like to think this wasn’t true, but I think the effects have had an irreversible effect on her. Her thought process is that of a different woman. Many of her memories have been erased. It is hard to have a conversation about a past event with someone when they have absolutely no recollection of the event. Plus if the event never happened in their mind, then they don’t have to take responsibility. Some of my sister’s worst struggles involve episodes of psychosis and anger that are fueled by alcohol. Episodes that involve the police. And of course if you are drinking as much as she does, you can’t earn of a living. Are the episodes of psychosis and anger some inner reflection of my sister’s true self…I don’t think so.
My sister and I have been affected by our dad’s legacy of drinking in different ways. Something I didn’t realize until later was that my mother’s insistence that our dad’s alcoholism stay behind closed doors took its own toll. I’ve often wondered why it was my sister that is having the long term problems with alcoholism, why wasn’t it me. I consider myself lucky, but at the same time my heart hurts to see my sister’s painful existence.
Finally, some time ago, I came across this post, The Narrative of Privilege, at the blog This Liminal Space. I’d thought about doing my own post in reaction to it, but I probably won’t. It talks about privilege, and choice in relation to addiction. At times I think the writer assumes privilege can be a deterrent to slipping into addiction. Having grown up at least in comfort, and surrounded by classmates who did indeed come from privileged backgrounds, I don’t see privilege being a huge deterrent.
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Trains, Planes, and Automobiles.”
There are always ghosts at this time of year. Memories of experiences tucked away in a dusty box, seemingly secure until something invisible opens the box. Memories not yet made, feelings of anxiety and hope about what might fill the box.
I had the idea for the ghost part of the post before today. I couldn’t think about what I might post in response to this prompt. But then somehow it hit me. I would do my own version of the Christmas Carol, or at least a very rough draft. It would take place on a train, so there’s my tenuous connection to the prompt.
Marley is a woman in this tale.. Marley violently shakes the woman awake. She must get up and get on the train. Her life depends on it.
She gets on the train. It is dark. Waiting. The train starts to move. She feels sleepy and groggy.. There is a figure sitting next to me. She is Ghost of the Past. She is hard to see at times. The ghost seems to be made of air, weightless. The woman with the ghost feels as though she is wearing a gown of lead. Dread fills her heart. She wants to run but she can’t.
As she starts to awaken,she travel through a valley of fuzzy memories. Has she seen these things in pictures? She sees a girl with a smile on her face riding a bike down a tree-lined street, things seem to feel more real and she feel warms inside. Yet she know this journey will not stay that way. The girl seems happy for a while. She has vague memories of her first few years of school and the brick house she lived in. In her mind her backyard seems endless, but seeing it from the train window it seems much much smaller. Does the Ghost have the right house? A parade of beer cans in and out of the house. The beer cans mean something to the little girl, she isn’t sure what though. she sees the beer cans, cheap brands of beer. Of course she know the little girl will learn the painful lessons of what they mean. Always a current of anger. Arguments that come out of nowhere. Her dad likes beer, but is seems to suck the joy out of him.
She sees her sister on the train ride. She and her sister are playing, running. Barbie dolls. Things seem so much simpler and more joyful as she watches the little girls playing. Where did that joy go? Eventually beer or one of his cousins will start sucking the joy out of her sister as well. But right now the girls are innocent of what the stinky parade of beer cans means.
We speed up. A new place and a new school. Things seem more complicated. She don’t know the answers to all the questions. Hours of church. My Catholic school uniform. Walking home with a boy that seems different, but she isn’t sure what makes him different. A playground, where she sometimes feel like an outsider. High school. Another uniform. Walking home from school. Rude comments from car windows. Male attention, but not the sort she wants. Talking with friends in the cafeteria. The biology teacher that she liked. A boy passes away. Why? Does his family know the answer? Lots of drinking amongst her classmates, but for the most part the girl manages to steer clear.
The girl has her first kiss(and her second and third…) with boy in a basement after she has had a few beers. The girl has never met the boy before that night. He goes to a different school. The girl thinks the boy must not know how undesirable the boys at her high school think she is, otherwise they would never kiss her. She remember the half drunk eyes almost closed sort of dreamy look the boy has as he leans in to kiss her. She remembers his beautiful brown eyes and the scar by his lip. And of course she remembers the taste of beer soaked kisses.
High school graduation. Going to college. Drinking. Meeting new people. Heartbreak. Remembering crossing a bridge over a river frequently on my walks home from the library. The cold dark river. Disturbing thoughts coming out of nowhere. The train seems to slow down as we cross the river. Why? Why can’t it speed up again.
Going back to school. Working. Meeting her husband. Lazy days together in bed in a white room with a big window. A white satin dress and a tuxedo. Flowers. People. Cake. Marriage. More lazy days together. The couple enjoys the lazy days, but wishes for something else. A baby. The baby finally comes. It is a girl. She holds her daughter for the first time.
Good times and bad times. The girl and her husband have a few fights. She never knows how to say what she means in a way that doesn’t get tangled up with emotion and old hurts from the past. She tries to get better at it though.
The girl doesn’t feel right. She has vague stirrings in her mind that don’t add up. But then these vague stirrings in her mind and her belly do add up after all. She is pregnant. She can’t believe it. A boy.
The girl and her husband navigate through life with their very own girl and boy. School. Her daughter starts kindergarten. The train speeds up and all of a sudden .
The train stops at cemeteries. The gravestones don’t seem real. Pain. Cold. A hardened heart.
She dozes off. Her daughter is now seventeen. She says no to the ghost. She wants to see more of her kids. The train screeches to a halt.
She meets another Ghost. She takes another train ride. She doesn’t quite understand this time, as the ghost navigates the present. She is supposed to find an answer. She is supposed to do something. She must do something and she must not wait. She isn’t sure what though. Figure out how to take better care of herself? Try to repair broken relationships? One thing stands out though is her daughter. The daughter that is seventeen. The ghosts from the past and the ghost of the present tell her not to make the same mistakes her parents made with her, as she watches her daughter in her last year of high school. Things become fuzzy again. The train takes off.
She meets the ghost from the future. She gets on the train and things are fuzzy. She knows a year from now her daughter will be away at college. She feels bittersweet. She seems to see different things as she looks out the left window of the train…as opposed to the right window. Outside the left window life seems cold and lonely, her bones ache, Outside the right window, things are warmer, more cozy and comfortable, filled with love. Her husband is by her side. She leans against him. What is the ghost from the future trying to tell her?
She is asleep again, in a daze from the rhythm of the train. She wakes up again. She blinks and it is morning. Her mind sluggishly embraces the challenge of a new day. The dog gets in bed with her and gives her a kiss. She puts her shoes on so she can take the dog out. The sun is out. She smiles. She has no pain. The world is her oyster. She goes back inside and makes breakfast for her family, ready to share the warmth of her love.
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Mountaintops and Valleys.”
I don’t have much contact with my family of origin. It hasn’t always been like this. But the years of watching the diseases of addiction and codependency have taken their toll. Instead of getting up in the morning and trying to make the most of the day, they would rather choose to be miserable.
One of the last times this happened I remember having a great day with my daughter, who is a senior in high school. We had went out for lunch. We had talked about her plans for the future. She was happy. I was happy. I was pleased and proud that she has a good head on her shoulders to take her into adulthood. Then I received a phone call from my family. They get angry when I don’t want to get sucked into the never ending drama of addiction. Somehow they think it should be more proper to be sad and angry all the time. In these phone calls, there is rarely one question asking about how me and my family might be doing.
There was a point in my parenthood journey where I made a resolution that I would try my best not to let my family of origin’s drama not spill into my kids’ lives. I wasn’t going to get involved in hours of phone calls. I wasn’t going to get myself in anymore situations where holidays were ruined. I’d like to keep my kids out of the valley of codependent misery as much as possible. Some people think I am selfish for my attitude. Oh well.