A mother struggles with her daughter’s alcoholism

“Mommy, I am sick.” I can recall hearing my eighteen-year-old daughter’s voice reaching out to me as she used to do when she was a little girl untouched by the disease of alcoholism. I can glimpse a time gone by. It is a bright, sunny day and I am running behind her as she darts off toward a playground slide. I can still clearly see her blond curls cascading down her back into rows of ringlets, as she swings her head back toward me, and smiles a genuine smile full of love, sanity, and security.

Those smiles disappeared when she turned fifteen. At fifteen, she took her first drink and she has never been the same. We have never been the same. I came to learn in Al‑Anon that her illness is our family disease. Before I walked through the doors of my first Al‑Anon meeting, I was totally blind to her disease despite my knowledge that alcoholism was the powerful thread that wove together the many different pieces of fabric that are my family and my life. In that blindness, we both suffered.

I recall the events of the day that brought me to Al‑Anon. On that day as she called out to me in her sickness and suffering, I remember turning toward her shaky voice. My brilliant and beautiful child appeared in the kitchen doorway looking like she had not bathed in days. She had slipped into our home again late the night before and retreated to her room. I knew not to disturb her.

We had battled more times than I cared to remember during her rapid and uncontrollable descent into alcohol and drug abuse. The slide was insidious and stealthy, as I later learned how the alcohol led to marijuana, which led to Xanax, which led to Adderall, which led to cocaine, which led to opiates, and so on. By the time she turned eighteen, she was a daily drinker and an IV drug user.

Every well-intentioned step I took toward her in an effort to stop the madness, she took an angry and hostile step further and further away. I was angry, bitter, and full of grief. I was angry with her for not stopping the drinking and drugs. I was bitter that this insanity was happening to my child and not someone else’s child. And ultimately I grieved for all that I knew she had lost and would continue to lose. This was my National Honor Society child who was an All-State Athlete at fifteen. By eighteen, she barely graduated high school.

After nearly three years of war, the disease of alcoholism and addiction was clearly the victor.

Yet, at that time almost exactly one year ago, I did not even know what was wrong or how I had been a part of this disease. I was in the dark and so was she. In that darkness, and despite my complete defeat, I remained convinced that I could save her and that I could somehow perform an exorcism to rid her of this disease.

I moved toward her that day when she called out saying, “Mommy, I am sick” and I hugged her tightly, saying again those same words and promises that had done so little for both of us in the past—“we” will get through this, “we” will figure this all out, and “we” will overcome. The scene was all too familiar to us both. There was a brief, quiet calm that we both knew by then would not last. Once she felt slightly better, I could count on hearing the front door slam and knowing that she was once again out the door and in the bottle or on the needle.

The day I came into Al‑Anon, I had barred our front door. I had stood, one last time, between her and what was on the other side of that door. She demanded that I move out of her way. I stood firm. I begged her to stay and work with me to get help for her alcoholism and drug abuse. She moved quickly toward the door. I grabbed her purse and pulled hard to stop her. We both fell to the ground. I am not sure, but I feel like I actually pushed her down with anger in my heart.

At that time, I was unable to separate the disease from the child. I had never hit her in anger. I was shattered. I knew I had crossed a line and I was in trouble. I needed help. I had always just focused on her needing help. I never saw how insane my own life and my own actions had become. So, this was the sorrowful scene in our front hallway. She got up. I stayed on the floor. She never looked back. I had to let her go. At that moment, I was literally at my lowest point—on the ground, begging her to stop, and crying for all that was lost. How would I, or how could I, ever have hope and peace again?

In a flash of clarity, I heard her most recent counselor saying to me, “Mom, you have been on this battlefield of alcoholism and drug addiction with her long enough. You have blocked every painful and hurtful experience from her and you taken those assaults on yourself. You did this out of love, with a good heart, as a mother instinctively acts to protect her child. But now, you have to get off the field if your daughter ever has a chance of learning to block the assaults of this disease on her own, feel the pain, and suffer the consequences of all of her actions. Mom, get off the field and get into Al‑Anon.”

As I sat on the floor weeping and exhausted, with those words ringing in my ears, I knew that I could not lock her up. I wanted to lock her up. I wanted so desperately to keep her from the drink and from the drug. I had to accept that I could not. I had to accept that she was gone, and the only hope I ever had of seeing her again was to let her go. I went to my first meeting that night.

I wish I could say that my daughter is in recovery. She is not, but I am. I am healing from the effects of this disease. As my one year “birthday” in Al‑Anon approaches, I am reflecting on this past year and I know that I have learned to laugh again, to pray again, and to live again. And, most importantly, I have learned to love my daughter again with acceptance and encouragement. I am so grateful for the moments that we spend together now. I can truly be at peace and enjoy just having her near me without feeling so angry and resentful. I have always loved her. I just had to learn how to love her as she is now—a weak and hurting child of God who suffers from a frightening and debilitating disease.

I have no expectations. I try to set healthy boundaries with her. I have recited the Serenity Prayer and tried to live it each day. In the process, I have learned to love myself enough to take care of myself by continuing to attend my Al‑Anon meetings, getting a Sponsor, working the Steps, reading my Conference Approved Literature, and beginning to give back through service to my home group. This is the life I was meant to live, and I am grateful to live it each and every day.

By Anonymous
The Forum, October 2012