They say the darkest hour is just before dawn.
And in my life, that’s been true. When things got bad, I was forced to take action or change to make things better, always in desperation.
But what sucks about this is that those dark periods can last a looooooooong time.
Here are some of the horrible times that led to good stuff.
1. When my mom got wasted at my cousin’s wedding when I was 12 and everyone in the family saw Drunk Mom and recognized that things were bad at home for me.
Now, you’re probably thinking, wait, that’s a good thing her family discovered the secret. But it was so NOT what I wanted to happen. I was 12 years old and a junior bridesmaid that day. I got to dress up fancily and feel really grownup for a day. I had looked forward to it for months. It was a lovely, classy occasion. But quickly into the reception activities, Mom was wasted. I spent the next few hours on the verge of throwing up. I couldn’t enjoy anything because all of the what-ifs were running through my brain. When Mom drinks, she’s completely unpredictable, irrational. The bride was my dad’s niece; no one in my dad’s family had any idea how out of control Mom’s drinking had become at that point. After Mom began stumbling around on the dance floor, Dad tried to leave early with all of us but Mom got angry at him and caused an uncomfortable scene in front of everyone. I remember standing by her and pleading through whispers, “Please, Mom, stop, please stop!” The night ended with Mom smacking my cousin multiple times on the back when he made a comment that she did not like. Then she began shouting horrible things to our family, as they all stood around, shocked and hurt. Family members. People I didn’t know. All there, wishing that they weren’t witnessing what they were witnessing. As we drove home that night, I sobbed in the backseat. I was humiliated that Mom exposed what happened when she drank. I didn’t want any of them to know because I was going to “fix” her. Mom made it obvious that she was out of control and abusive. It exposed that our lives were completely out of control. I wanted them to like Mom. I didn’t want them to see that version of her. I didn’t want them to pity my dad and me. I didn’t want them to tell Dad to leave Mom. It felt like 500 pounds hit my shoulders that night. I feared she was worsening and for the first time ever, I began to lose hope that I could fix her.
After the wedding, my dad’s family realized that my mom’s alcoholism was affecting me. I didn’t know it at the time, but my aunt and uncle spoke with my father about it. And though we never spoke of Mom’s alcoholism, my grandma began calling me more often. We grew quite close from that point on and in many ways, she stepped into a supportive, motherly role. Her encouragement gave me so much support that I really, really needed. She was much more than a grandmother to me. She was my friend. I miss my Grams.
2. When Mom was arrested.
Mom was charged with a DUI twice. Both times were extremely traumatizing for me. I was devastated that she’d risked other people’s lives as well as her own life. Each time, I was hopeful that the court-ordered Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and counseling would be the miraculous solution she needed. Perhaps they could breakthrough to her, despite me trying and failing to do so my whole life. Of course, I know now that you can’t help someone who doesn’t want help. At the meetings, she met other people with substance use disorders who also didn’t want help. They skipped meetings and drank together in the parking lot. This was confusing, infuriating (!!!!!) and hurtful. But those terrible events helped me FINALLY realize that my mom alone had the power to accept help and that no one else, including me, could control her or her drinking.
3. When I was 26, I thought I was going to die.
I’d lost all hope. I was extremely depressed. I was tired. 26 years of taking care of everyone but yourself takes it toll. Grownup felt NOTHING like little-kid me had envisioned and I didn’t see that I could do anything to change the trajectory of my life. It felt like a life sentence. So in complete desperation, I showed up an Al-Anon meeting and began reading books about the effects of having an alcoholic parent. This was in complete desperation. If I hadn’t hit this rock-bottom point, I don’t really want to think about what could have happened. That very dark part of my life set me on a healing journey.
It was the worst night of my life. It was also the night of my sister’s Prom. When Dad didn’t show up at the lake where my sister and her date were taking photos, I drove to my parents’ house, hoping he’d simply fallen asleep and not heard the phone ringing. But I didn’t find asleep; a heart attack had taken him from us. While I’m glad it was me to find him that way and not my mom or sister, the image hurts. When the police and EMS arrived, I thought, oh my God, my dad is dead. Punch in the gut. And then a few seconds later, oh my God, now I am 100% responsible for Mom. Double punch in the gut. I didn’t think she’d live without my dad. I feared she’d kill herself by driving drunk and worse, in the process, kill other people.
I promptly forgot everything I’d learned about co-dependency and being an adult child of an alcoholic. Within three weeks of my father’s death, I’d moved out of my apartment and into my mother’s house and took over as my mother’s enabler. After a hellish 90 days with her, I realized that I had to get my sister and me out of there. We weren’t sleeping. We were constantly worried. We were sick to our stomachs with worry all day every day. We were not living. Trapped, trapped in the chaos, the sickness.
So, we moved out even though it felt so wrong. It was the wisest thing I’ve ever done. I recognized the power of detachment. Mom was forced to survive on her own. To my SHOCK, she did quite well. While she still drinks every night, she is living and making it on her own. Today, we have a better relationship than I could have ever imagined.
The most painful times can be the catalyst for positive change.
I hope you are well in your journey.