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I can still remember watching her while she would get ready to go out. She was a beautiful woman: short and heavyset with cropped and stylish light blonde hair. Her blue eyes (which I share with her) are mesmerizing, and her smile lights up the room. She was usually the life of the party and surrounded herself with people like her…the fun people, the drinkers. She was a high functioning alcoholic but no one, not even her family and closest friends, would have ever labeled her as such.
My name is Amanda. I was raised by an alcoholic mom. Her name was Cheryl and she was 43 when she died from alcoholism. I was 17. My dad, who is not an alcoholic, became a widower at age 49. I am now 34 and I am an Adult Child of an Alcoholic (ACOA). Learn about the common traits of ACOA’s here.
Since my mom was so high functioning I really had no idea until I was a teenager. She had herself together; she was successful in her jobs as a farmer, business owner, and health care worker. She had friends everywhere, and everyone loved her.
She encouraged me to do well in school, and she was the glue that held our family together. I can’t imagine how painful it must have been for her to have had a side of herself that remained concealed while she lived her carefully crafted outward lives of being a wife, mother, daughter, business partner, nurse – all the while obsessing and dreaming about the next drink. Drinking was as much a part of her as being a mom or wife was — yet she pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes, including her own.
But, like most alcoholics or addicts, she lost control. She went from wine to vodka. She stopped hiding the bottles or caring about family members being present while she drank (heavily). She lost a ton of weight and actually convinced herself it was a good thing, but she looked so sickly, like a hollow of herself. The car accidents started happening.
It was at this point, when I was 15 or so, that I mentally removed myself from my home life all the while refusing to acknowledge what the real problem was, even though I knew deep down. I lost my mom. I walked away from her because it was easier to lose my relationship with her than it was to face the problem. I spent as much time away from the house as possible. When I turned 16 and got my driving permit, I became her enabler. I started driving her to the bar at night (she always went to a nice restaurant bar, and bought me whatever I wanted), and back home. She arrived at both places safe that way, and I convinced myself that I was keeping her safe. It’s funny how our mind can trick ourselves into believing something is beneficial, so it can ignore the painful truth.
I was 17 when she died.
She was just a shell of the vibrant person she once was. At this point, or at some point in the near future, an ACOA has a choice to make before they can effectively progress along life’s path. Do you choose to become a victim of your parent’s disease yourself, and potentially follow in their footsteps? Or do you take the negative aspects of what you have survived, flip the script, and turn those into benefits of being raised by an alcoholic and improve your life? I chose the latter, and I encourage you to do the same if this sounds familiar to you.
It took me years, and finally counseling, to realize that I wanted to be everything good that my mom was to me growing up, plus everything more, to my own children. Every single day, we can make the choice to provide the following:
- Unconditional love and nurturing, instead of survival skills like burying emotions and telling lies
- Consciously allow our kids to be innocent children and experience joy and fun. Our childhoods were stripped from us too early, forcing us to become responsible adults before we had the required coping skills
- Bask in the joy of now being able to provide guidance and support, and to be mentally and emotionally available to our kids
- Understand the importance of providing attention and listening instead of suppressing feelings
- Teach the importance of self-care even though our parent(s) rarely practiced this themselves
For those of us who have lost parent(s) to addiction: Their inability to change their life teaches us that we can have complete control of our own destiny. Their lack of control is our strength. We understand that alcohol does not have to define who we are.
Every life situation provides us with lessons. It is up to each of us to find and focus on the positive aspects of those lessons. Life is too short to spend it wallowing in resentment or grief. We are given one chance at life, and it up to us to embrace the good parts and bad, and make it part of who we are. Because it is just that. And our children and families are relying on us to be there, so that is our duty.
I miss my mom.
I’d love the chance to watch her get ready to go out just one last time — to see those eyes and that amazing smile. I’d love for my kids to be able to talk to their grandma, even if just once. But I would not go back and change anything that happened, because I would not have had the experiences that have made me who I am today. I am able to find many benefits of being raised by an alcoholic mom, and I embrace her disease, even though it took her away from us far too soon.
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past,brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” — Melody Beattie, author of The Language of Letting Go