Late 2000s. The basement floor was cold against my feet.
I sat at my father’s desk and scrolled through my Facebook feed.
It was 6:30 pm or so and I’d just dropped off my sister at sports or theater practice at school. Dad was at work. Mom was MIA. At that point in our lives, I was the adult of the house and the primary parental figure in my sister’s life.
Mom had left in her car about mid-day, Dad said.
I wasn’t exceptionally worried. Mom had done this before, especially recently, showing up at family members’ and old neighbors’ homes to “talk.”
When the house phone rang, I saw Grandma’s name flash across the caller ID. Grandma’s “Oh hello, darling!” was comforting, as it always was.
I ignored my cell ringing upstairs, as I didn’t want to interrupt Grandma’s update. Then on the house line, Dad beeped in. I’d call him back.
But then he immediately called again. Something was wrong. Extra wrong.
Ripped out of normalcy
Immediately, I shifted into survival mode, as I had hundreds (thousands?) of times before because of Mom’s drinking. I always had a physical response to this stress – a special, familiar kind of nausea and tightened muscles in my neck.
My heart began beating fast.
“Grandma?” I interrupted. “Dad’s trying to reach me. Can you hang on a minute?”
I clicked over as Grandma replied, “Of course.”
“Gigi, you need to go get Mom right now.”
There was panic in his voice – something that rarely occurred with his laidback, everything-will-be-OK personality.
“What?” I asked. “Where is she?”
“At a park – drunk. She was passed out in her car and someone called the police. They are going to arrest her if someone doesn’t pick up her now. She’s at —— Park.”
“Oh my God, I’ll call you from the car,” I said. The chair rolled across the floor as I jumped up.
I slammed the phone down, forgetting about Grandma.
As I drove to the park, I thought about what would happen if Mom killed someone while drinking and driving. She’d killed herself, surely. The guilt would be too powerful. And how I could I ever forgive myself for not being able to fix her? It would be my fault.
I’d feel better if I threw up but there was no time. I needed to be back in town in 45 minutes to pick my sister up from the school. What if I was late? Of course, years later, I wish I’d reached out to neighbors and community members to be a support system. But I was so, so ashamed. And I was tough. And I was going to fix everything.
I imagined Mom being arrested. I wondered if it would “wake” her up. I struggled with knowing that getting arrested was probably best for my mom but I simply couldn’t let that happen. I couldn’t defy my father’s approach. I didn’t have the education, knowledge or courage to NOT enable her. And so I rescued.
When I pulled into the gravel parking lot, there were two police SUVs – one beside Mom’s car, one directly behind it. The officers were standing beside Mom’s car; they watched as I pulled into a spot.
Shame. Humiliation. Fear.
Worse, I felt so not in control. So helpless. I loathe this feeling more than anything else.
I got out of my car and shut my door carefully.
“I’m Jody Lamb,” I said with as much confidence as I could. “That’s my mother.” I pointed to Mom, who was in her car, staring straight ahead at nothing with the windows rolled up. I knew she saw me arrive but she didn’t want to acknowledge it.
“Hi, Jody,” they said simultaneously. They were studying me and my reaction to fully understand the situation.
“My mother is an alcoholic,” I said. “She has a lot of problems.”
“Yes, we spoke with your father on the phone,” one officer said. “Another park visitor saw her sleeping and then wake up. It was clear she’d been drinking so when your mom attempted to drive away, the other person blocked her in until we arrived. The keys were not in the ignition when we arrived and she is cooperating and after speaking with your father, we decided to handle like this, if someone was available to pick her up.”
“Thank you,” I said and stared at my sandals.
Then the pity looks.
“It’s so hard on the family,” one officer said.
“Yes, it is,” I said.
They stared at me like they wanted more of the story, like they wanted to know if there was something they could do to help.
But I didn’t need help. Mom did.
“She’s a good person when she’s not drinking,” I said. “If she injured someone because of her drinking, she wouldn’t be able to live.”
I walked away toward Mom’s vehicle. She’d been watching from the rear-view mirror.
“Let’s go, Mom,” I said with sadness and exhaustion as I opened Mom’s door. I reached over her and grabbed the keys from the passenger seat.
20 minutes seemed to pass as she unfolded herself from the driver’s seat and stood. She didn’t look at me. The officers watched as I led her to my car, holding her right arm so she wouldn’t stumble. I opened the door and Mom slowly got in, silently. I waved to the officers as I held her keys out and pressed the lock-doors button. The officer nodded and waved back. I think one of them shouted, “Good luck.”
As I got into the car, I wanted to burst into a hysterical cry. I wanted to shake her. I wanted to scream, “YOU COULD HAVE KILLED SOMEONE!!!” I really needed to vomit.
I ignored Dad’s calls. I felt angry with him. Why were we interfering like this? We should have let the officers do their job and arrest Mom for committing a crime. Maybe then she’d wake up and get the treatment she’d needed for more than 20 years.
I knew better and yet I made the wrong decision because it was easier to protect Mom. This memory stings, though I know I simply was incapable of doing anything other than what I did. A few years later, I made a similar decision again.
“Assholes,” Mom whispered as we drove from the parking lot.
“Don’t talk,” I said.
And so we drove home in silence.
I dropped Mom off at home and hurried to my sister’s school, arriving exactly on time. I pulled up behind mini vans with moms and dads. And Brooke came out amid happy, smiley kids. I put on my best “Hey!” face as she got in and pretended nothing upsetting had occurred.
The next day, I was exhausted at work. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t shake guilt for “rescuing” Mom, for preventing her “fall.” I didn’t tell anyone at work what had happened. I suffered alone, as I had my whole child of an alcoholic life.
That night, I had the same conversation with Dad as I’d had a million times before. Then I said something that shocked me.
“That was traumatic,” I said. “All of this causes me extreme stress.”
Until that moment, I didn’t realize that the fallout from my mother’s drinking and substance abuse disorder was causing me TRAUMA.
All those hundreds of dangerous situations with Mom caused me harm. Following my father’s co-dependent, enabling behavior was also causing me harm.
Recognizing this is powerful. As someone who’s extraordinary hard on myself, this empowered me to cut myself some deserved slack.
I. Experienced. Trauma. As a kid, teenager and adult.
This was the beginning of my realization that my life was completely out of control. It led to my own rock bottom point that prompted me to get educated through books and to attend meetings – all actions that led me to start my ACoA healing journey.
I hope you are well.
Take good care.