Breaking Chains

“Last Sunday morning the sunshine felt like rain.  The week before they all seemed the same.  With the help of God and true friends, I’ve come to realize, I’ve still got two strong legs and even wings to fly.”

——“Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” by Gregg Allman

 Oahu, May 2016

I was reading a book called “The Defining Decade,” (I would recommend it to anyone who feels a little lost in the twenties) while on a flight to a solo vacation from San Diego to the island of Oahu when I realized I wanted to share my story with the world. I genuinely wanted to offer a piece of hope and understanding to other people who had experienced similar addiction related trials in their lives. I knew what my goal was; bring some form of genuine comfort to anyone and everyone who bothered to read my story and to anyone who has been affected or continues to be affected by the negative forces of alcohol.

I remembered calling home during my junior year of college trying to finish out my fall semester while convincing my Mom to go and stay at a treatment facility in New Jersey over Christmas break. As I hung up the phone, sitting there on the stairs of my building, I felt a profound solitude.

At the time, I admittedly felt a little helpless, I admittedly felt like I was a part of the disarray, I felt like if I tried to excel at everything I did, that I would be able to somehow lessen the problems within my family. I felt like I was the only person in the world who felt like that, but as I grew up and started to stare down my Mother’s illness, I realized that I was certainly not the only daughter or son or spouse or brother or sister or mother or father out there who witnessed such an unraveling.

It occurred to me that I wasn’t the only child out there who grew up always trying to avoid the titles; the scapegoat, the hero, the enabler. And suddenly I just had a desire to know all those other cool people out there. The ones who tried, the ones who smiled through the bullsh*t, the ones who didn’t want to let a substance dictate their lives either.  I felt like I was going to be writing to friends I had yet to meet.

I had just spent four days in Yosemite National Park with three amazingly vibrant girlfriends, worked one full twelve-hour day shift, and then boarded a flight for the Hawaiian Islands. I booked a vacation for myself to decompress, to become inspired, to spend time outside, take another surfing lesson, appreciate the past while visiting Pearl Harbor, and hopefully in the process, write something that could be substantial.

I took photos of the places I visited in Hawaii. I cruised around in a Ford Mustang Convertible that I rented and shopped a little. But there were times on that get away that I felt really lonely and oddly enough for the first time in my life, I was okay with that. I was still searching for some sort of sign or some external motivating factor to proceed with my dream to help heal people through writing.

During my last full day on the north shore of Oahu I sought out a hike called Kealia Trail and I got the sign I was looking for. I was one of five people on the entire trail that morning. Essentially, I was alone for eight sweltering miles. As I climbed in the humidity, I felt like my future was mine for the taking. There is something undeniably empowering about conquering switchback after switchback. I realized that if I wanted to inspire people to take their lives back from the fortress of addiction, not only did I had a lot of life experience to offer up, but I also needed to live like it. The majesty of this view was what I was seeking so I continued on my way, stopping for occasional photos of the ocean view.

But my beautiful ocean view was soon behind me and I found myself sunburned on an old tractor access road with an empty two-liter Camelbak. My hike to this vista that I had researched suddenly seemed a bit more like a chore than a fun activity to try and conquer.

To deafen the silence among the woods, I pulled my i-phone 6 from my pack, put it on air-plane mode and turned on one of my favorite albums. I hiked the rest of the late morning to the voice of Ryan Adams covering Taylor Swift’s 1989 album.

Unfortunately, as I climbed to this point that I had read about on an obscure hiking blog, I got lost. I turned myself around and hiked a mile back to the last sign I could recall, thinking I had gone too far, or that I missed the turn out all together. Frustrated, tired, and alone, I got back to the “Dog Unit A” sign and realized that I was on the right track all along and doubted myself. I had already been out on the trail for 2 hours in the sun and was going to head back down the trail having never found the view. I started that way, back toward the little views I had seen before. And then I thought “You know what Kristina, you didn’t come up here for nothing.   You came up here for you. You did this whole trip to clear your head and go see the things you wanted to see!”

I retraced my steps and surged past the place I had decided to turn back. After hiking another mile at top speed, I realized I was thirsty and exhausted and my prior motivational speech to myself totally dwindled.

“So what is this supposed to mean God? Are you trying to tell me I’ll have set backs? Are you trying to tell me that someone may tell me that my writing is crap?  Is this a test in perseverance or something!? What do you want my life to be about?” I started to cry.

I didn’t even know why but I started balling my eyes out. I was in the middle of Hawaii, far from San Diego, even father from the east coast, alone and I still had no sighting of this view that was supposed to be epic. I thought back to reading “WILD” by Cheryl Strayed exactly one year ago, just a few months before my own mother would die.

There is a scene in the book in which she describes herself in the middle of the Californian wilderness in a clearing somewhere along the Pacific Crest Trail. She was standing in the snow screaming after she saw a fox. In that moment, alone on some sunny middle of nowhere trail on the island of Oahu, I felt like I could not have identified with her character more.

“Is what I went through worth anything?!” I screamed. I looked up to the hill and saw a steel fence with a gate in the distance. “All this hiking in the woods in the middle of nowhere better be worth the view!” I yelled. “My camelback is empty, I’m lost both physically and emotionally and this hike is taking me a lot longer than I anticipated!”

“Get to that fence,” I thought. Keep going.

As I crested this arduous hill in the heat that morning I spotted a clearing just beyond the steel fence. I unlatched the gait and bolted through it just to the right of a few thin trees. It ended up being one of the best hiking views I’ve ever seen. The overlook gave a birds eye view of a lush green valley with the Pacific Ocean cresting at its end. Across the way my eyes were met with pleated, emerald colored mountains. The view was mine and mine alone.

I resolved finally on a mountain top vista view that I would undoubtedly start to write about alcoholism. Alone on that point I called out,

“Do you hear that Mom? What do you think about me writing about all this?”

As I stood there overlooking this beautiful, lush, green valley, the wind kicked up and a tremendous gust came racing up the hill. I spread my arms wide as if to try and fly away. It’s as if she was giving me permission. I remembered the conversation she had with me when I told her I had thought my college had given me the wrong acceptance letter to the nursing program. “Give it a whirl,” she said.

I stayed up on that point for about forty-five minutes and ate an entire jar of JIF peanut butter.

I descended that solo hike in the North Shore that day with different goals than I ascended with. “For the woman who descended that mountain was far different than the girl who climbed it.” I thought. I realized on my way down that my Mom gave me a lot of wonderful ideals to harvest for my own life. I had inherited her love of writing, reading, cooking, photography, and her passion for education. I loved the outdoors and appreciated music much like my Dad. And above all, despite her death, my sister and I had one of the best examples of what it means to say “in sickness and in health.” I would however need to actively pursue God in my life on a daily basis, which was something I did not see her do.

I reflected on something I had read some years earlier as I navigated rocks and switchbacks once again. There was something I read once that said, “all children of alcoholics either become one, marry one, or raise one.” Well, whoever said that, never met me.

I prayed to God that I’d prove that statistic wrong. I had already given up drinking myself, so that eliminated one option. I had a feeling I’d be able to educate my children when the time came about alcohol and it’s place in their own lives. I’d emphasize my family history in the best way; knowing that it was a history that would also become their own and how alcoholism stole their own grandmother. I also realized that I had an amazing opportunity; I could pick my second family starting with the man I would someday marry. He would understand my reasons for total sobriety and support it. He would know that a lack of alcohol in my own life would allow me to flourish as a person. He would want to pursue his own continued education and career, he’d love making me laugh, he would enjoy traveling, he would love the outdoors, live an active lifestyle and strive everyday to raise a Godly family. He would want to be a Dad who would be there for his children and a husband who appreciated his wife. He would have to be a follower of Christ too. I still had some of my own emotional work to do, but for the first time, in a long time, I wasn’t lost anymore.

By grace, I had the career I always wanted, by grace I knew I would have a long lasting and joyful marriage someday, and by grace I’d get to be an awesome Mom. My own Mom had been gone for eight months and I finally felt like I was able to take a full breath again. I wasn’t going to waste another day being the girl I used to be. I finally felt worthy. I finally felt like I was starting to become the woman I was meant to be.

My week spent in Hawaii proved to be what I needed. I hiked, I surfed and I was able to meet up with a childhood and high school friend of mine. Alyssa moved to Oahu with her fiancé, Dave who was in the military. Alyssa and I had grown up playing basketball together and she was a talented athlete. She had been through her own turmoil in high school and seemed to have really risen above and beyond the girl I used to know. She had this courage that I admired and spoke openly about her life struggles.

In a world in which social media forced people to try and make their lives appear perfect, I found her transparency incredibly refreshing. She told me that therapy, just to hash out all the stress of the past few years with my Mom, may be a good idea. She also said, “having a total third party offer coping mechanisms can be really helpful sometimes. There’s no shame in that K. You went through a lot and for the most part it was something only you and your immediate family dealt with.” She could not have been more right.

I was already 25 years old and 26 wasn’t going to wait on whether or not I was ready to move on with my life. I realized how much I had missed Alyssa’s resiliency.  Aside from my mother’s wake, I hadn’t seen her in years. We finished our gelato after going out for sushi and I flew back to San Diego the next day.

I arrived back in San Diego with more purpose than I had ever possessed. I had a plan to finish out my year of travel nursing, see a few more majestic places in Utah on my road trip in the fall. As for everything else, I had to have faith that things would fall into place.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

 Hebrews 11:1

 

“Drink Responsibly” and Other Concerns

 “I entitled it, ‘the things we think and do not say.’”

—Jerry McGuire

I came home from work as a travel nurse in San Diego one day and I was mentally and emotionally spent. I had a three patient assignment that day, and all three had a history of alcohol abuse. They were middle-aged males. They all had end stage liver disease. And they all needed a liver transplant. Fortunately, they had all quit drinking before they reached the state my Mom had, however they were still incredibly ill. I ended up giving nine total doses of lactulose that day.  (For those of you who are not nurses, in the hospital setting we give lactulose to liver patients to help maintain ammonia levels…it makes patients go #2 a lot.)  So that’s how my day at work went.

I collapsed on my bed and kicked off my work clogs and stared up at the ceiling for while. I was exhausted from taking care of three people who were suffering from what my Mom died of; end stage liver disease.

When I really started to think about it I began to realize what my perspective was. I looked back on my career so far as a progressive care nurse and thought about how many people I had to detox from alcohol alone.  I found myself overwhelmed by how much Ativan and Valium I’ve had to medicate people with.  I had seen people try to drink hand sanitizer out of desperation for alcohol.  I was becoming sincerely concerned with how much this particular addiction literally sucked the life out of people. I had seen alcoholism drain the soul out of countless patients and cohesiveness out of families, my own included. I reached over into my nightstand and sought out my leather bound journal that had a large tree on the cover. I sat in my room and wrote a lengthy journal entry;

“Alcoholism is an epidemic. No doubt about it. Now I am not a prohibitionist by any means, I believe that alcohol, when used in celebratory events like weddings, can actually enhance the energy at such gatherings. However for as long as I can remember, alcohol is everywhere in American society. Alcohol is at every football game and advertised during every NFL game I have ever watched on television. Alcohol is at Fenway Park, it’s at Gillette Stadium, it’s at concerts, it’s on the lawn seating at a favorite particular concert venue in Mansfield, Massachusetts. Alcohol is in bars on every corner, it’s at restaurants, its in grocery stores. It’s everywhere along the California coastline. It’s grossly abused in colleges and universities throughout the country. In some states it’s readily available in grocery stores and drug stores like CVS and Rite Aid.

 Having grown up in Rhode Island I always believed you had to go to a liquor store to purchase alcohol but now I know I can’t even go grocery shopping in California or New Hampshire without it being blatantly in my face. I’ve come to believe that alcoholism is an epidemic because the habit of frequent drinking is not only socially accepted, but also socially encouraged. All too often I hear friends asking their peers or guys asking girls to spend time together, “let’s get a drink,” or “let’s do drinks.”

 If a guy asks me to go get drinks now on a first date, I can’t really help but have my first thought be, “Drinks? I have a million other things I’d rather do than go get drinks. But if you would like to challenge me to an epic game of laser tag, a day of hiking, go camping, invite me to volunteer somewhere, attend a concert, see a play, rent jet skis, go surfing, or anything else that may not revolve around what’s in my glass, I’d be happy to maybe make some room in my schedule for you.” Drinking in many instances is commonplace, but the chronic overuse of it does eventually kill people.

When I was a little girl, I used to go complete errands with my Dad in South Attleboro, Massachusetts. I always saw this one particular liquor store that was near the BJ’s Wholesale club we frequented. The sign said, “Wine and Spirits.” I never really understood that terminology. Wine and Spirits…it just always seemed odd to me. And now, as an adult, I wonder if the intention is to raise spirits or depress them.           

Spirits in theory should be used to lift the human experience, but too often I have seen this depressant bring my family members and friends crashing down. Alcohol in its nature has anxiety relieving effects. It’s easy to come home from work and want to unwind with a glass of wine or a beer. And that’s how the addiction cycle starts.

            Genetically predisposed people begin to self medicate their anxieties, stressors and emotions with a substance that is not only easy to obtain but also blatantly marketed. Not to mention, it’s one of the cheapest ways to alter oneself.

 Eventually, it leads to needing more than one drink to unwind and maybe a drink to “take the edge off” in the morning. And then the problem starts to become noticeable to family and friends; the alcoholic becomes slower with their recall, they slur their words, drinking brings them down emotionally and more often than not, their spirits are not being lifted but enslaved to gravity. Alcoholics, at least in my experience eventually start to get angry.  It may even get so bad that an alcoholic would drive their car into their own house…that’s a story for another time.

From my own life experience, I have learned that if you drink enough alcohol, it will make you say and do things you’d never do sober, it will make you sad, it will make you mean and it will make you numb. It will make you count your problems instead of your blessings. If you rely on it, it will cripple you. And if you allow it to grip your existence, it will kill you spiritually, emotionally and physically.

 I see beer company ads, a lot of them, and they all say, “Drink Responsibly.” I think that phrase is…well, it leaves too much room for error.  A company that makes money off the public buying and consuming their product wants the public to buy as much of it as they can. That’s the basic principle in business after all; if people buy a product, then the company providing that product makes a profit. So essentially, lots of alcohol distribution companies around the globe say they want us all to drink responsibly but they also want us to buy as much of their product as we possibly can.

For the most part, the process works like this; when people purchase alcohol, they drink it; then they run out and they need to go buy more of it. So does “Drink Responsibly” mean “Don’t drink and drive?”  Perhaps, it could mean, “Drink Responsibly: we recommend no more than 2 alcoholic beverages for women over the course of a two hour time period and no more than 4 alcoholic beverages for men in the same amount of time.” However, I haven’t seen that particular explanation in any advertisements lately.

 The other flaw behind the phrase “drink responsibly” is that it leaves too much room for interpretation. “Drink Responsibly” is relative for the person drinking.  To the alcoholic who typically can crush an entire bottle of wine in one sitting alone, two glasses would be more responsible the following night.  To the alcoholic who usually drinks a fifth of vodka per day, 4 shots the following day would be an improvement.  I suppose we could start saying “Drink Reasonably,” but that’s relative too, not to mention ambiguous.

I urge beer and liquor and wine distributors to start thinking about the term “Drink Responsibly” from the perspective of an alcoholic or someone who has a history of alcoholism in their family; after all, those who are addicted to the substance they sell are their most loyal and frequent customers. It’s only fitting that their advertising language and their drinking suggestions should cater to them.”

 I put a period on the end of the above sentence and closed my journal shut.

“Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.”- 1 Corinthians 10:24

“Be strong and courageous!”-Deuteronomy 31:6

You know I love you, right?!

“One of the bravest things that a human being could ever do is go through something absolutely unbearable and then share their experience with the world.”

Taylor Swift at her show in Glendale, Arizona during her 1989 tour

            In the following days after the wedding, I returned back to Boston for two shifts at my night nursing job. I worked the overnights of August 25th and August 26th 2015. I called my Mom every day that week and on Sunday evening and Monday she seemed to be in high spirits. But on the night of the 26th before I went into work I called my parents house phone several times and she didn’t answer. When I called her cell phone she finally picked up. She sounded really weak, sleepy, and fatigued but she still seemed oriented. I asked her to put my Dad on the phone and I could immediately tell he was worried.

“I already called the ambulance once Kris. She refused to go with the EMT’s to the hospital.” He went on to tell me that she had been sleeping a lot that day and that she really hadn’t eaten anything in two whole days.

“Call again. I’m coming home as soon as I’m done here in the morning. Call the ambulance again.”

My Dad agreed and called again, but once again was met with defeat. My Mom had refused the ambulance a second time. I knew that as long as she was oriented to person, place and time, she would refuse an ambulance. If there was one thing I knew my Mom hated, it was hospitals. My Dad sent me a text to inform me that she wasn’t budging on her decision. She would stay at home until I arrived the next morning.

When I was in nursing school, I briefly read about a term called hepatic encephalopathy. On August 27, 2015 I finally had my own personal example of what hepatic encephalopathy truly looked like.

On this day my Mom had in fact been sober for an estimated ten days.   I finished my twelve-hour overnight shift and then drove home in the morning hours from Cambridge, Massachusetts to Rhode Island. I felt like I had been holding my breath the whole drive home only releasing it to talk to my Dad or my Aunt Marie while I navigated the highway of 95 south.

Knowing that my Mom had refused the ambulance the night before, I pulled my car up into the driveway and tried to parallel-park next to my childhood home front door. I positioned my passenger side door so that I could easily ease my Mom into my Toyota Camry. However, when I walked into the house, I quickly surmised that I would not be able to physically help her walk out of the house. She was no longer making sense. From the kitchen, I could hear my Mom calling out from the upstairs bathroom. She would say one or two words at the most. I realized that she no longer had the mental capacity to make her own decisions without having yet laid eyes on her; she could no longer refuse an ambulance.

“Dad, call the ambulance.”

“Well, Kris what if she refuses again?”

“My plan was to get her in my car and I’d drive her there myself. But we’re past that point now. She’s beyond refusing. Just call them and Aunt Marie and I will handle her in the bathroom.”

The mid morning sunlight was starting to make its way towards our upstairs bathroom window when I walked around the corner. My once gorgeous, robust and active Mom was sitting on the toilet and she was yellow. Her jaundice was widespread. It was on every inch of her skin and through her blonde hair I could see the golden tone on her scalp while she tried to adjust her Nike dry fit running hat. Her abdomen was distended so much that she looked about eight months pregnant. Although her abdominal ascites had worsened over the past year, it was evident that her liver had now secreted enough enzymes to make her more than visibly uncomfortable. Her breath was sweet and musty and so strong that I could smell it from the hallway.

When my Aunt Marie and I tried to stand her up from the toilet, the smell of her urine told me just how dehydrated she was and that her kidneys were undoubtedly affected by her liver failure. She was in multi-organ system failure. She could barely stand on her own power; my aunt and I had to help her sustain her weight so she could take multiple breaks just to pull her pants up to her hips.

The thing I most distinctly remember about her physical appearance was the story her eyes told. Her light brown eyes held vast and mysterious pupils. She looked weathered, confused and distant. Her eyes said it all, and as they met mine I realized her sclera, the white parts of her eyes, were the color of dried yellow highlighter. Her eyes told a story of a loss of control, of a once functional alcoholic now entirely debilitated.

I believed that the soul of the loving woman who raised me was still within her body, but she was now only a delicate shell of a role model who once was. Her confusion was obvious. She spoke with only one or two words at a time and one of the most articulate women I had ever known was now unable to speak a full sentence. She recognized me. I knew she knew who I was, but she couldn’t say my name. She would look right at me and in her confusion she would call me by my Dad’s name, “Mike!” she’d exclaim.

I heard the EMS team arrive at our front door and my Aunt Marie left the bathroom to answer the door with my Dad. In that brief span of time I took my Mom’s hands into mine and sat on the edge of the bathtub, facing her as she sat on the cover of the toilet.

“I love you,” I said, as my own eyes welled up. My Mom’s eyes informed me that she registered the message but it was far too much of an effort to form the sentence “I love you too.”

I squeezed her hands hard, as if to say, “Did you hear what I said? You know that I love you right?”

My Mom’s deep, dark, pupils met mine and for an instant I forgot how yellow the rest of her eyes were. Her gaze was to me and me alone. Her breath desperate and gravely sweet, she would gaze at me a moment more.

“Yes!” she exclaimed with every effort she had. She squeezed my hands back in such genuine concern; the love between a mother and a daughter experienced, felt, absorbed, and in that juncture we were infinitely intertwined.—-

“When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.  When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.   When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.”-Isaiah 43:2

The Woman Alcohol Took Down

March 29, 2017

I sat there at Butter Buzz coffee in San Diego on what would have been her mother’s 58th birthday and wrote in my journal…

“She was born on Easter Sunday morning in 1959.  She died on a Sunday morning in September 2015. But what about the dash in between?  She was an alcoholic, yes. She died while on hospice services because her liver failed and she was not a candidate for a transplant.

But who was she?

Well, she was a beloved daughter in a family of eight children.  She was an athlete.  She was a long distance runner. She played softball and field hockey and once had 57 saves as a goalie in a single game.  She was a social worker, a stay at home mom, and later a teacher who graduated with a 4.0 GPA in her Master’s in Teaching.  She adored teaching.  She inspired children to fall in love with learning.  She was an astounding writer.  She was a phenomenal cook.  She loved her daughters.  She spoiled the family dog.  She was stylish. Vibrant.  A lover of the ocean and seafood.  She admired her husband’s humanitarian lifestyle.  She was devoted to her parents and her family.  She had a great smile and an even better laugh.  She valued education and encouraged her daughters to pursue degrees.  Her heart was kind.

When you don’t address things in your life with God’s guidance and with proper help, memories and trespasses of your past can start to haunt you.  They can fester as anger and manifest in your present as anxiety of what’s to come.  My mother never intended to become an alcoholic.  She never intended to perpetuate generational sin.  But it was familiar and comfortable and it was the coping skill which was modeled to her.

Eventually there was a day when it was no longer a crutch, no longer a coping mechanism, but in fact a full blown physical addiction.  I loved her enough to want to learn something from her journey.  I loved her enough to recognize a life cut short.  And I loved her enough to want to honor and commemorate the beauty of the dash in between.  America is losing tremendous people to this disease.  It is an epidemic.  Alcoholism knows no color, it knows no socioeconomic status.  It is in both blue collar and white collar worlds, it dwells among people of all races and it’s claiming remarkable people.

I don’t want her death to be in vain.  I want people to know.  I want people to know the dysfunction and destruction it causes.  I want children of alcoholics to know that there is a beauty and promise in embracing the despite part.”

 

“Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands.  Put your hand into the wound in my side.  Don’t be faithless any longer.  Believe!” —John 20:27

 

Earrings and Ironing Boards

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”

–C.S. Lewis

I heard a thundering crash reverberate up the stairs and into the kitchen. I raced down the stairs to check the cause of such commotion, and noticed that my father’s footsteps were quick to follow my own. When I landed on the floor at the base of the stairs I saw my Mom lying there on the carpet of the finished basement; the full size ironing board was sprawled out over the tile. She fell. I was not at all surprised.

Just minutes before the raucous, my Mom, Debra was belligerently yelling and undeniably drunk. She was screaming at my Dad trying to convince him that she had not been drinking nor taking Ativan that night. And when I went downstairs to inform them that their fighting wasn’t helping my studying causes it fell on deaf ears. Unfortunately, both myself, and my Dad had underestimated just how intoxicated my Mom got that particular evening.

My Mom was slurring her words as I helped her to stand up off the floor. She was attempting to say that she had not hit her head and that she was “fine.” Her light brown eyes were glossy and she half drunkenly picked her hand up in an attempt to shoo me away. Once I had her safely sitting on the sofa I realized that she had in fact injured herself. I glanced toward my Dad, and when I caught his attention, I mouthed, “her ear.”

Although my Mom hadn’t hit her head, she somehow managed to catch her gold hoop earring on the metal structuring of the underbelly of the ironing board. Her right ear was bleeding profusely and when she finally moved her hand away from the right side of her head, it became evident that she would need stitches. Essentially she severed the ear lobe attachment from the upper part of her neck where her jaw line intersected. It would have been painful to try and remove her gold earring but I managed to remove her gold rope necklace as blood trickled quickly off her earlobe and down her neck. I tried my best to cover her wound with bulky bandages that we had in the medicine cabinet of the downstairs bathroom.

After forty-five minutes of coaxing her in her drunken state, my Dad and I were able to convince her to go the hospital. As I sat there in the back of my parents Volkswagon Passat, I sent a text message to my older sister Justine.

“Mom had another incident. Her ear is detached from her head at the bottom of her ear lobe. We’re on our way to the hospital for stitches…don’t even ask,” I wrote. For the remainder of the ride my Mom insisted that she was fine and begged my Dad to turn the car around.  Her ear had not yet stopped bleeding.

Justine met me in the Emergency Room at the Rhode Island Hospital. We were both frustrated that our Mom was once again drunk. In one of our typical sisterly conversations, Justine inquired as to just how my Mom was able to catch her earring on the underside of the ironing board.

“She was wrecked. I don’t really know. She was adamant that she didn’t drink anything tonight and kept yelling at us. So Dad and I went upstairs to let her cool off. I didn’t see her fall.” I told her.

“Yeah, she’s getting a lot worse now. Ever since Grandma died it’s been one thing after the other.” Justine sat there and hung her head low. It was the kind of low I had grown accustomed to. I could feel that we both had this look of apprehension, of exhaustion, and once again we sat there in silence, in an all too familiar daze of disappointment.

Eventually we realized how late it got. Our Mom had still not been examined. Justine walked over toward my Dad who sat on a nearby waiting room bench around the corner of the waiting room. My steadfast father tended to my Mom as she sobered up.

“Can you take Kristina home?” he asked my sister. “She has to pass this test and there’s no sense in all four of us being here. I’ll stay here with Mom.”

Justine nodded and we both said goodbye to our parents; both of us gently kissed my Mom on the head before we departed. “Girls, don’t tell anyone about this okay.” My mom called to us as we turned to leave. I had grown to hate that request; in fact by that particular night, I despised it. “Don’t tell anyone about this” became so common-place in my upbringing that my stomach turned whenever my mom said it.

My sister drove me home from the hospital that night. The only thing I really recalled her saying on the way home was “How do we keep dealing with this?” Silence was the only response. She and I both knew it was a rhetorical question.

I let myself into the house and Justine returned to her apartment. My Mom and Dad would arrive home late into the early morning hours; my Mom ended up needing multiple stitches for her ear.

It was June of 2012; and was the beginning of a summer that would go down as one of my mother’s most drunken seasons. I was twenty-one years old. And although I had loved volunteering in college and found some of my identity with God during those four years, I was quickly beginning to lose faith living at home. I had just graduated from college with my Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing degree and I was about to sit for my registered nurse licensure exam. Needless to say, I didn’t get much studying done that night.

Foreward

 I laid awake late into the night. I tried reading The Alchemist. I rested my head back on my pillow and I could not shut my mind off.

“What is your purpose on this planet? Is there anyone else out there who went through what you went through? Is there anyone else who feels a little lost in the aftermath?” my thoughts echoed in my brain for minutes that felt like hours.

Navigating my twenties was difficult enough as it was but now, without my Mom around, it had proved to be more challenging than I initially anticipated. Oddly enough, I couldn’t help but feel her presence in my life more now that she was dead. It was as though some chain had released her and now I was to only be showered with blessings and clarity. I wanted to call her on the phone and talk to her. I wanted to hear her through the speaker again or go home to her famous Thanksgiving meals. The good memories flooded me. And lately I felt her spirit with me as I hiked through national parks or explored the majesty of California’s coastline. The great qualities, the ones that made me proud to be her daughter, reminded me why I wanted to share with people how awesome a person she was, but also how alcoholism drained her vivaciousness.

“I would have never become a nurse if it wasn’t for that woman.” I whispered allowed to myself.

Tossed. Turned. The pillow was too hot so I flipped it over. My legs were cold so I pulled up my favorite knit blanket over my comforter. Tossed. Turned.

The moonlight crept through my window in San Diego and I stared up at the reflecting sphere for a while. And then it hit me. It hit me as pure and as real and as genuine as anything I’d ever felt. I sat up in bed, turned on my lamp, and opened my laptop.

“To be inspired, to be heartfelt, to share your story with the world, to try and better the lives of other people, to help an alcoholic parent want to stop drinking, to make a child of an alcoholic feel less alone, to lessen the burden of others, to heal yourself and in doing so, help others to heal too. To make society realize we’re losing amazing people to this disease. To give women a thoughtful heads up. Maybe that’s your purpose. Maybe that’s why you’re here. Maybe that’s what God put you here for. Write about it. Write about it all,” I thought.

 

And write I would.