A Parent Denial

My sister Lindy has written about Mother’s drinking and my apparent denial of her troubles with alcohol (as well as her other addictions and compulsions). This Thanksgiving, as the subject of conversation turned to family and past memories, our mother’s name came up. During that chat, several of the loved ones who had gathered for the holiday presented the case for Mother’s being an alcoholic and I have reluctantly accepted that she was a alcoholic.

Now as I write this, even phrases such as “my apparent denial” and “reluctantly acceptedLiquor bottles that she was an alcoholic” seem tinged with holding back from actually coming out and saying she was.

I guess that growing up I thought lots of people hung out in bars during the day. During that time, seeing Mother happy and laughing seemed like a nice change of pace. However, the reality is that she was the only woman in the bar, and all of her good humor came from the glass she was holding. I also have to agree that she did make fruitcakes with lots of liquor. Perhaps some of the whiskey was not used in the cake and ended up being consumed by the cook.

In fact, on further reflection, I know that while preparing those “wonderful” fruitcakes, she was always sipping from a dark glass (thus obscuring the color of the liquid she was imbibing).

Bottles of liquor

However, the final point that settled the question during this conversation was when I said that I never saw her take a drink and my sister rebutted

Did you ever see her eat?

The truth was that our mother seldom ate in front of anyone. She would sneak all sorts of food – bread, meat, ice cream, cake, and candy – whenever no one was looking. It was the same with alcohol: Mother hid her food and drinking and who knows what else from one person at least, me.

Of course, it had began to make things clearer for me when, awhile ago, a friend called to discuss the question of Mother’s drinking. My friend’s mother was an alcoholic and we had spent hours psycho-babbling her. Suddenly she said

Well, my mother and your mother were great friends, and my mother wouldn’t spend five minutes with someone who didn’t drink.

There it was: my childhood friend confirming what everyone in my family already accepted.  My mother had hidden all her bottles, and my dad had told me

No, your mother didn’t have a drinking problem.

Looking back, and based on what I’ve learned about addictive behavior, I understand why Mother hid it the best she could. In my heart of hearts I wish that we could have helped her get the help she needed. But on an intellectual level I understand what she did.

And it makes perfect sense that Dad – being the wonderful, generous, and protective soul he was – would tell me that Mother did not have a drinking problem.

But she did.




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