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.