Visiting my Alcoholic Mom – Chapter 2

Visiting my alcoholic mom is not easy. I have learned how to make it easier, for me. So, there I was, visiting my alcoholic mom again, two years later, on my own, in another world from the last time I was there. This time, Mom is in a home, her final home in life…. She calls it The Waiting Room. That is sad. But it is also true.

Visiting my alcoholic mom is very different from visiting an old friend – with mom, I stay for 30 minutes and that feels like 3 hours. The conversation remains on the surface, like the oily twirl of stale milk on a cold mug of coffee. The subject is shallow and fraught with obstructions, like a coastal bay after high tide when flotsam and jetsam mount up and the sea foam looks like dirty laundry.

Visiting friends for an hour or two feels too short and new meetings are set and new ideas are shared – for next time. With friends, I stay for 3 hours and that feels like 30 minutes. “Next time” is not discussed with my mom. Her next time is her only important goal for every day and that is to open the tap of the box wine and to successfully fill her short grubby tumbler. I had to buy her more tumblers from the local charity shop “because they keep breaking”.

It is hard for my alcoholic mom to navigate her way around the room which is her home, in a home, because she is in a wheelchair. She is in a wheelchair because she drinks, and the alcohol is the cause of her psoriasis, arthritis, swollen legs, and general confusion. Mom’s body is broken but ironically her mind is still as sharp as a saw! Despite years of inebriation and constant oiling from the fermented fruits of the grapevine. That is incredible. And it is true.

The room is large with a bed, a few tables, a TV she never watches, some ornaments, and some plants. There is a sunny patio with more plants and chairs and a bathroom with a shower. But the wheelchair bangs into everything as she drives it with her feet and crooked hands. So, when I was there, I wasn’t there at all. I removed myself emotionally and physically. I went out to buy her the things she needed such as a soft shawl for winter, a cardigan for winter, and a few Tupperware for her snacks. I returned with the things, and she said they were wrong, so I drove again to the shops in my car and gave them all back. I flitted in and out and I had my own time there in the KZN Midlands and that is what made it all OK.

I looked back at my writing and two years ago this is what I wrote:

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. (July 7, 2022).

Some things just don’t change, they just get worse.

So, I read about it all again, how traumatic childhood experiences may also affect individual health in adult life. How “studies have shown that adults who have grown up with an alcoholic parent are at increased risk of mental illness, poorer perceived health, and cardiovascular disease, compared to adults having grown up with nonalcoholic parents”. How studies “over the last two decades have consistently shown that growing up with an alcoholic parent is likely to be accompanied by other adverse childhood experiences, such as psychological and physical abuse, domestic violence, and neglect.”

Boy oh boy, who knew?

I went back to Psyche Central and the insights of Sharon Martin to find out more. She says, “Most of the adult children of alcoholics who I know underestimate the effects of being raised in an alcoholic family. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking. Perhaps it’s denial. More likely it is shame and simply not knowing that adult children of alcoholics (ACOAs), as a group, tend to struggle with a particular set of issues. If you’re an adult child of an alcoholic, you feel different and disconnected. You sense that something is wrong, but you don’t know what. It can be a relief to realize that some of your struggles are common to ACOAs.”

Wow, oh wow, this makes sense to me!

And, finally, I looked into the risks of growing up with an alcoholic mother and I found that the symptoms are familiar to me, some, not all. Karen Carloni notes that a child raised by an alcoholic mother may have a higher risk of developing anxiety because “an alcoholic mother may suffer from anxiety which she self-medicates with alcohol. Because of this, her offspring may not develop adequate coping skills for managing anxiety and thus develop an anxiety disorder themselves.” This makes sense to me! Indeed, some children who are raised by mothers who drink develop social or relationship problems because they “may experience numerous relational difficulties, such as being overly responsible or codependent.”

Carloni provides this very useful list so do take a look and see if you feel any of these symptoms:

Nine Effects of Having an Alcoholic Mother

1. Problems Forming Relationships – Our earliest understandings of relationships are built by what we witness from parents and caregivers–how they respond to our needs for food, comfort, or stimulation shapes how we see relationships. These are all foundational elements of forming healthy relationships in adulthood. The impact of alcoholism on children’s ability to form relationships can vary based upon the degree of dysfunction and severity of the alcohol use.

2. Feelings of Inadequacy – Tragically, children may interpret the emotional turmoil and dysfunction in their home as being their fault, especially in the absence of protective and supportive adults. The emotional dysregulation of an alcoholic parent may result in verbal abuse, and the child may internalize self-blame.

3. Difficulty Having Fun – Becoming the de facto caregiver when one’s parent is unable to complete necessary parental duties results in inappropriate levels of responsibility. This can cause a child to become overly responsible, rigid, and controlling. Not knowing what to expect in a toxic environment can create stress, anxiety, and an inability to relax and have fun.

4. Impulsivity – Children of alcoholics tend to be more impulsive. Impulsivity can be evidenced in behaviors such as risk taking; making drastic life decisions on a whim; shoplifting; or in disorders such as conduct disorder or antisocial personality disorder. Over time, repeated negative consequences of impulsive decisions leads to poor self-image and self-loathing.

5. Fears of Abandonment – Inconsistent parenting, frequently being left on their own, and serious neglect often results in abandonment issues that affect children into adulthood. This may play out as being over-accommodating to others, having a lack of boundaries, or becoming codependent in adult relationships.

6. Emotional Dysregulation – Children of alcoholics struggle with their emotional regulation. Fetal alcohol exposure can have lasting neurological effects that impair this ability. Even when a mother’s alcohol use disorder develops later in a child’s development, a family may emphasize “keeping the peace,” which in turn impairs emotional expression in the children.

7. Perfectionism – A common characteristic in children of alcoholics, as they often take on an inappropriate level of responsibility for the well-being of the family. While this may elicit praise outside of the home as a commendable level of maturity, it can set a child up for struggles with accepting failure or limitations.

8. Parentification – Mothers with AUD often struggle with parental responsibilities such as making meals, completing chores, dictating family schedules, maintaining employment, or monitoring schoolwork. Therefore, a child or children in the family may frequently step into those roles themselves. They may even clean up after their mother, look after her, or wake her up for work.

9. Hypervigilance – A common symptom experienced by trauma survivors; it is a hyper-alert psychological state in which individuals constantly assess their environment and others for potential threats. In this state, people may experience physical symptoms such as sweating and elevated heart rate.

She concludes: “When parental attachment is compromised, the results are serious and long-lasting. A family environment steeped in shame and secrecy leaves a child feeling unsafe. According to attachment theory, early caregiver-child interactions are models of one’s future relationships. They influence expectations, beliefs, and scripts for behaving and thinking.”

What do YOU think? Please give comments below and find insights that may assist you.


The 11 Year Fact

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