6:30 pm was the start of my sister’s Freshman Orientation meeting for parents at the high school. Dad was working. Mom was not expected to attend because at that point, she could be counted on for zero parental responsibilities.
So, I hurried from work and arrived in the packed high school parking lot a few minutes late. I was loading my purse with a pad of paper and pen when I noticed another car pull into the space three spots over. I was grateful that I wouldn’t be the only “parent” arriving late for the meeting. I nearly vomited when I saw my mother unfolding herself out of the driver’s seat.
She was completely wasted – not tipsy, not a little buzzed, utterly wasted. I could tell by her facial expression and the slow way she moved, exactly how drunk she was.
Panic enveloped my body. I HAD to stop her from going inside of the school and humiliating herself and our family. I HAD to get the keys and get her home safely.
I opened my car door.
“MOM!” I shouted.
Startled, it took a few seconds for her to recognize me.
“What the hell are you doing here?!” She screamed back with that familiar tone. (She often became angered whenever I had to step in and serve as my sister’s Parent Stand-in, which was frequent. In many ways, this is extremely sad to me. I know the anger was rooted in the fact that she wanted to be a good parent but the alcoholism had hold of her and she just couldn’t be a good parent.)
There was a man across the lot walking to the school’s entrance. He stopped and looked back at my mom and then at me as he heard our exchange. But then he continued inside of the school. I felt grateful that there were no other witnesses.
I hurried from my car without shutting the door and said, “I can’t believe this!”
She knew I’d try to take her keys and tell her to get into my car so I could drive her home. She quickly got back into her car. I was barely out of the way in time as she backed her car out of the space and squealed out of the lot.
My sister was at practice for sports or theater – I can’t recall which. I stood there in the now-empty parking space for a few seconds, debating whether I should call the police or not to inform them that my mother was impaired and driving. I felt I might pass out from the familiar punch of those mixed emotions: confusion/hurt/anger/fear.
I called my dad, reported the news, hung up when he offered nothing more than a defeated, disappointed but not surprised “well, that’s great,” and then I went into the meeting as if nothing happened. Is this nuts or what?
As the principal gave his presentation to attentive parents, I thought of the lady I saw jogging on the shoulder of the road minutes before I arrived at the school. Mom would take that same road back to the house. I had a hard time breathing. I spent the rest of the event overcome with fear that my mother would hurt herself or someone else on the road that night.
Pretty screwed up. These events with my mother potentially hurting other people were so traumatizing to me. I thought about them for days, weeks, months and years. In fact, I will never forget them. They sting.
To this day, I carry extreme guilt for not alerting the police when I knew how dangerous she was behind the wheel that night. I was 28 – with two years into my study about addiction, alcoholism and my common ACOA issues and way of thinking.
I knew better and yet I made the wrong decision because it was easier to protect Mom. This memory stings – big time.
I also feel guilty for pushing away many friends and family members over the years. You see, when you are busy being obsessed with the alcoholic in your life, it’s hard to balance everything and everyone. I hurt myself and many people who care about me.
When I walked into an Al-Anon meeting for the first time eight years ago, I felt I was 100% a victim of parental alcoholism. A bad set of cards. An unfortunate casualty of a horrific situation. It took me awhile to realize that I had, in fact, totally made our family situation worse by picking up the pieces and hold everything together during my mother’s most destructive periods as an alcoholic. This prevented my mom and dad from hitting rock bottom. They knew they always had me being the responsible adult. There was never any real reason to change. It wasn’t until I took those steps to help myself that I realized I had made A LOT of bad decisions. Amid the chaos, I couldn’t see clearly because I was not taking care of myself. I was a foolish, unknowingly destructive martyr…
When I started getting educated about alcoholism and learning that being a COA (child of an alcoholic) had caused many things to heal from as a grownup, I realized my faults and my wrongs and I took some (but not all) steps to fix them or make amends. (BTW, this step of admitting responsibility and acting to make up for your wrongdoings is part of the Al-Anon Family Group’s step program. If you haven’t explored Al-Anon as an option for you in your journey, I recommend that you try it. Commit to going to six meetings and then quit going if it is not worthwhile for you. It was very helpful for in the beginning of my journey.)
I cannot make up for things I did or did not do in the past. I can only focus on the future – being brave enough to make the harder choices.
This journey is hard, my friends. Some days, I doubt I’m making any progress at all. Others days, fortunately, more frequent, I can see clearly just how far I’ve come.
I hope you’re well on your journey.