From the time I took my first drink at the age of 13, I became someone my mother didn’t know anymore. She’d been the mother of a quiet, shy, compassionate child and overnight, that daughter had become a loud, angry, defensive teenager who hated herself, her life and everyone around her. I just wanted someone to tell me what was wrong with me but nobody could—not even my mother. All I knew was that I wanted to get out of myself, out of my body, out of my head, out of my world.
The next port of call for me was a visit to the doctor when I was 15. I was crying all the time but not able to tell anyone why. All I could say was that I hated myself. I was put on antidepressants for a while but I don’t remember if they worked or not. Based on the horrendous events of the following years of my life, I’m going to guess they didn’t.
While the doctor could clearly see that I was depressed, alcoholism and addiction weren’t things that were regularly associated with a 15-year-old in Ireland. In a society where everyone drank and where experimentation is seen as a part of adolescence, I guess a misdiagnosis of my symptoms was understandable. And though depression had haunted me all my life, as time went on it became apparent that this wasn’t my only mental health issue and my quest to self-medicate ensued.
I recall the morning shortly after my doctor’s visit, waking up in a hospital having drunk myself into a blackout. The first person I saw was my mother. I remember the anguish etched on her face as she looked at me, not knowing what to do. She’d watched me survive a blood disorder called purpura (or ITP) at the age of four, then watched me accept and conquer diabetes when I was seven. Now here I was, laying in a hospital bed at 15, having had my stomach pumped and wanting to die willingly.
The most striking thing she’s ever said to me about my life in addiction and my mental health issues is that she never knew what to expect when she woke up each morning—if she would find me dead or worse, later, once I had my own kids, find me and my children dead. When she relayed that fear to me, it was the first time I really understood the impact that my illness has had on her and the rest of my family.
Those fears came very close to reality at the end of my drinking. I had pretty much isolated my children and myself from everyone around me because I’d decided that I didn’t trust anyone. I was completely paranoid and felt totally alone. Basically, I was scared I would lose my children to my ex-husband because I knew I wasn’t coping so I figured that the less I interacted with people, the less they could know what the reality was. Nobody could even handle being near me—or so I assumed. I could immediately feel the negative energy radiate when I was around any of my family members. The worry and upset I caused everyone made it too painful for them to be around me for long periods and I knew and understood that.
So, in my attempt to survive, I surrounded myself with people who used and abused me—namely men. I got into a series of bad relationships and was beaten up several times. Later my mother told me that she cried herself to sleep every night and prayed endlessly for me. She felt like she’d lost her daughter, feared for the welfare of her grandchildren and all she had left was her faith.
I asked her recently what life is like now that I am in recovery and semi sane. She told me, “At that time, it was humanly impossible to reach you.” Now, she says, she has complete faith in me to look after myself—and my children—and knows that I’m, at last, a capable adult.
Initially, she didn’t quite understand that all my problems and behavior had been caused by alcoholism and mental illness. She thought, as she put it to me, “It was just due to you not caring about anyone.” But, she claims, since I’ve gotten into recovery, the whole family has gone through a healing. We are, she says, “no longer unhealthily entangled in each other’s lives.”
We hear continuously that addiction is a family disease and that fact was certainly prevalent in my family. Like most relatives in this situation, my family didn’t know how to cope or what to do to help. Nothing can be changed until it’s acknowledged and my mother says that it was when she gave up on trying to impose her will on me that I actually became willing to help myself. Of course, like any mother, she still has anxieties about my future.
Amazingly, despite all the frustration, pain and anger that addiction caused in my family, my mother remained my biggest supporter. Without her, I would be living on the streets or dead. Even when she couldn’t reach me on a mental or emotional level, she was always there if I needed money—which was embarrassingly often. While she didn’t just give me handfuls of money to blow on liquor, she always made sure my children and I had the basic necessities such as a roof over our heads, heat and food when I couldn’t provide them myself.
My own children are now seven and 12 and even contemplating having to watch them go through any of that pain and suffering is unimaginable. It was hellish for my mother to watch me in such distress all my life and at times I’m sure she resented me greatly. But through all the adversity, she would never enable me to self-destruct and she very smartly realized that nobody could help me until I was ready to help myself. And now that I’m doing that, she’s right there beside me cheering me on.
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