My parents confronted me shortly before I moved out; the encounter was setup to ‘put me back into my place’ and deny that I had been hurt by anyone anywhere as a child. Because I had told her weeks earlier that she had been drunk for most of my life, my mother started there. With a wide, fake smile on her face and a playful accent, my mother said to me “Maybe I was drunk allot, but at least I wasn’t a mean drunk! She said, insinuating that because she didn’t become violent that I had no right to be upset. She greedily examined my face while making this comment, as if I was going to laugh or tell her she was right, it was “no big deal.” But her alcoholism was traumatic for me, in multiple ways. My mother’s unwillingness to take responsibility for what she did to me and all of us was pathetic.
One late afternoon from childhood sticks out in my mind; we got Chinese takeout for dinner. But by the time my father got back from the restaurant, she was passed out drunk in her nightgown on the couch. He had to try and wake her up six times before she finally stumbled over to the kitchen to push around the food on her plate. It was disgusting to watch and made me so uncomfortable, but this was normal for our ‘family dinners.’ When she wasn’t so dead drunk that she couldn’t talk, the alcohol accentuated my mother’s traits of neediness, immaturity and emotional vampirism. I used to comfort her all the time as a young child, but when I entered my teen years I was sick of it. Many nights she spent the whole meal pouting through her drunkenness things like ‘why can’t you just love me?’ why don’t you ever talk to me?’ and other manipulative questions. There was no reasoning with her in that state, and the emotions were so exaggerated that they weren’t even real. After one night where she had harassed me so much that I yelled at her to shut up, she avoided me for days, not even apologizing.
There was an unspoken rule in our family that we all just had to put up with her drunken episodes, as if there was no other option and we had no right to expect her to STOP. That she, my grandmother and aunt were all alcoholics and it was up to us to take care of and tolerate them. My father enabled her, and checked out by smoking weed. But I so wanted her stable and sober, not this exaggerated drunken mess all the time. I wanted to live in a safe house where my parents didn’t pass out in the living room with the lights off in front of the television every night. What my mother expressed via this behavior was that we were worth nothing. For strangers in the outside world, she bothered to get dressed, to put up a facade of stability and social graces. She was polite, she cared about what they thought and didn’t show up to work drunk. But at home, she made no effort and never thought of how her decisions or behavior could make the rest of us feel.
Once my sister visited from the other side of the country with her two year old son, and the scene turned into this, our parents laying on the couches in the dark at 6pm. My nephew came into the living room, rifling through the trash and putting his hand into a glass of water (as toddlers will do if it’s in their range) and they just ignored him. When my sister came out and confronted them, my mother yelled the excuse that she had been feeling really nauseous all day and couldn’t get up. So, why not go into her bedroom and convalesce there so that we could have a more social, more human environment without her there? Why have guests visit if you’re going to act like that? Her neglect and selfishness were a constant in my life, and there is no excuse, let alone a quick, easy, and self-righteous one that can explain it away.
As a teenager, I would sit in my room and flinch as every consecutive ‘click’ of a beer can opening reverberated through my body. I was filled with anxiety for what was surely to come; that I would be subjected to another emotionally exhausting scene, have to take care of her, listen to her, or watch her slovenly stupidity again. Or maybe even worse, she would come back to my bedroom and I’d have to fend off her sexual advances. I remember waking up one morning as a six year old and coming into the living room to find her sitting on the couch with her face all smashed up, I could see the marks the steering wheel had left after her latest DUI accident. And even then she wanted me to give her a hug, to make HER feel better. I remember the rages she expressed when my teenage sister got into (sober) car accidents, but of course she felt herself deserving of understanding and sympathy.
One afternoon my brother and I were at a family friends house, playing with the children while my mother drank wine with their mother in the kitchen. We had to beg to be allowed to sleep over, to not go home with her. She got in the car alone, and the mother (also tipsy) decided on the strange arrangement of following her home in a separate car to make sure she was ok. But soon enough we were told there had been an accident, my mother had run into a tree on the side of the road, and we could have been there too. From when she was twelve years old my sister had taken over the responsibility of being the ‘designated driver’ when our mother was too intoxicated to drive us home from late night parties, restaurants… My mother could have killed her own children, as well countless other innocents driving opposite her on those roads, and that is nothing to laugh off.
When I was sixteen I was waiting at the airport, and in a great mood from my trip, even though my mother was late. But then I saw her, with yellow skin and dilated eyes stumbling around, looking wildly in every direction. I sunk in place, I was mortified that I had to be seen with her, and that she yet again would not be here for me, I would have to be there for her. As she spoke incoherently, entirely self-centered sentences, likely more high then drunk. Yet that became her mo in the next two years. We finally had health insurance, and when she reluctantly took me to appointments, she was always a shaking, jittery mess due to mixing large amounts of alcohol with xanax every night. She was so out of it and self-involved that she would flip out if I said anything about me, and my needs, which naturally I had a lot of, that being the time when I was trying to start my own life. The only attention she gave me was malicious, vampiric, or sexual.
I really can’t see any circumstances under which it would be ok to be an alcoholic, to constantly get drunk in front of your kids. It doesn’t matter if my mother didn’t think she was being mean while doing it. Her neglect was cruel, her emotional abuse, irresponsibility and disregard for my needs and feelings was mean. So I have to say today, yes, you were a “mean drunk.” And even worse, you were a mean, ugly and deluded person, sober or not. Unlike the patronizing comparison she gave me of the parent who became physically abusive whenever they were drunk, she didn’t need alcohol or pills to be abusive.
She sexually, physically, and emotionally abused me when she was sober as well, though I see there is no reason for me to draw that line; to try and decide in my memories whether she was drunk or not when X happened. She was still responsible for what she did, she still committed horrible crimes against me, and that is all that matters. My mother decided to continue the legacy of abuse and incest from the family she was born into. The alcoholism was a part of the package, it wasn’t the whole picture, and not necessarily the first or last problem she had to address in order to change. But I’m very happy to throw that whole picture into the fire; as a teenager I couldn’t wait to finally be rid of my mother, and I’m living that dream today, because she’s gone and so are her excuses.