Visiting my Alcoholic Mom

Visiting my alcoholic mom is difficult. She is at that stage of entering her last phase of life, where she needs a frail care home. She has lived alone for the past 5 years since dad passed away. She loves being alone, yet she complains about being lonely.

My alcoholic mom continues to drink. She has fallen twice, causing her own broken leg and a broken hip. Her legs are very unstable thanks to terrible circulation caused by her alcoholism. She has never been a physical person and just shuffles around her small home every day.

When I was growing up, mom only drank Tassies and Taverna, the same cheap wines we bought at Rhodes University for R1 a bottle! She bought the 2 l green jugs which were used as vases and other ornaments all over the house. She drank cheap white wine too in a 5 l box in the fridge where of course it took precedence over all our foodstuffs.

Mom has fallen two or three times thanks to her drinking. She had a minor stroke which meant she lost the use of her left arm. She suffers from psoriasis which has also affected her joints. But all along, she has refused all help and soldiered on.

But now Mom needs help. I am visiting my alcoholic mom, as it is time for her to move. She needs professional care in a frail care home with kind nurses. Where there is food and where she can chat with other people her age. But she cannot bear this idea. Understandably. Her main dread is the policy of no alcohol.

Growing up with Alcoholic Parents

Do you have an alcoholic mom or dad? Did you grow up with an alcoholic parent? I found Sharon Martin of PsychCentral and read her blogs avidly.

She notes that “If you grew up in an alcoholic or addicted family, chances are it had a profound impact on you. Often, the full impact isn’t realized until many years later. The feelings, personality traits, and relationship patterns that you developed to cope with an alcoholic parent, come with you to work, romantic relationships, parenting, and friendships. They show up as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, stress, anger, and relationship problems.”

Well, I did not know any of this until I stopped drinking! I then started to read and found these articles. I began to put two and two together and I made five! I realised that while yes, we did have a happy childhood, there was an enormous dysfunction going on. My parents drank all the time and they normalised it. We also thought it was cool to drink and get drunk and celebrate continuously.

My research tells me that we experienced an abandonment of sorts, neglect in the form of a lack of cherishing affection and warm protection against all odds.

When Martin states that “An alcoholic home is chaotic and unpredictable” I get that cold goose-bumpy feeling. I remember it well, the parties, the shouting, the mood swings galore! We ducked and dived around mom who was so down then so up, so disconnected from us in her books and her wine.

I would get off the two buses home from school, a long, tiring afternoon home, to find mom and her friends drinking and shrieking around the table, food everywhere, and music on. Often. And the times mom drove me home drunk, or forgot me after sport, sitting on the side of the road at dusk. These memories are part of me.

Were Your Needs Met as a Child?

Says Martin:

Children crave and need predictability. Your needs must be met consistently in order for you to feel safe and develop secure attachments. This didn’t happen in your dysfunctional family. Alcoholic families are in “survival mode.” Usually, everyone is tiptoeing around the alcoholic, trying to keep the peace and avoid a blow-up. Denial is prolific. You really can’t understand addiction as a child, so you blame yourself and feel “crazy” because your experiences didn’t line up with what adults were telling you (namely that everything is fine and normal).

This hit home to me big time. And then I decided to look for some research into the effect that drinking in the home has on teenagers.

I discovered that the effect of parental drinking on adolescents is enormous too: Michael Windle researches this topic for Alcohol Health and Research World. He notes that “Adolescence brings with it many biological, psychological, and social changes. Parents continue to play an important role in their children’s development during this time. Parental problem drinking can adversely affect adolescent development and adjustment by interfering with parenting skills and marital relations. It also can lead parents to model ineffective coping strategies and other problem behaviors. Children with problem-drinking parents are at risk for alcohol and other drug use as well as for psychological problems. Protective factors, such as relatively stable patterns of family behavior around meals and holidays, can help offset the negative effects of parental drinking.”

Suffice to say, I abhor alcohol now and I have turned to nature, being a true nature lover who craves the great outdoors.

Windle goes on to say that “parental alcohol abuse may contribute to poorer monitoring of adolescent behaviors. … The research literature has consistently indicated that higher levels of parental monitoring are associated with lower levels of adolescent alcohol and other drug use as well as other forms of delinquent behavior.”

I find this interesting as all three of us kids drank alcohol (many kids of our era did as their parents did). My brother and sister also smoked cigarettes.

“Problem-drinking parents also may provide lower levels of parental nurturing and emotional availability, thereby increasing the risk for adolescent drinking. … Higher levels of parental nurturance and warmth of expression consistently have been associated with lower levels of alcohol and substance use and higher levels of general mental health and well-being among adolescents.”

Wow! Food for thought. This blog could become a novel!  I am visiting my alcoholic mom. I will not talk about the past. I will be present. The tables have turned. Mom needs help. To end her life gracefully. With dignity. Not shame. Only the children can help with that. That means me.

Lessons I Have Learned Growing Up With my Mom

  • It is not her fault – she is a product of her era
  • It is not her fault – she was a traumatized only child who turned to self-medication in an era of drinking
  • Some people get help for their issues, others don’t – so be it
  • If you have an issue that impacts those around you, and your own quality of life, then get help
  • Alcoholism is rife, but there are countless organisations and individuals who can help.
  • I have broken the cycle from my mom. I must now live my best life.
  • Nothing is static, everything changes. Be you, do whatever it takes to make you happy. Just don’t drink!

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