I attended a Camera Club event on Wednesday night (more in my Weekly Roundup post tomorrow) and got chatting to one of the Club members who I get on well with. She must be in her late sixties I’d guess and her husband has severe COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) the same as my Mum. I asked her how he was doing and she replied “he has COPD, heart failure and drinks too much”. “Sounds like my Mother” I replied in sympathy, and we both realized we had a hidden story in common. Alcoholism.
We quietly chatted some more and I discovered he had been an alcoholic for 20 years. Luckily I’ve not had to deal with it that long, just 5 years in my Mum’s case although my Mum’s drinking has definitely featured my whole life – it just hasn’t been a “problem” until recently. It was so nice to talk to someone who gets it and who obviously has similar feelings to me about the situation: anger, frustration, anger, resentment, anger, rejection, anger, despair, anger, fear, anger.
What makes it worse for me, is that my Mum and I had always been best friends until her drinking took over. She was always my soft place to fall and now that’s been taken away. I read a shared Facebook post this week which contained a bucket list (more on that in another post) and one of the items on the list was this: “I want to greet my family every day the way I greet my dog”. It really hit home. When I visit my parents my dog Bertie goes bounding up the stairs ahead of me, where he has a treat waiting for him on my Mum’s side table. He gets hugs and kisses off both my parents and their eyes positively light up with joy when they see him. They tell him how gorgeous he is and how much they love him. I come trailing after, usually laden down with bags (I take my lunch with me so I don’t eat their food, I often have shopping I’ve done for them, or DIY stuff to do jobs for them) and some days I barely even get a hello. No cuddles or eyes lighting up for me or being told how much I’m loved. I don’t even get a brew made.
The lovely lady who walks Bertie for me also does my Mum’s cleaning. I’m pleased they get on well because Mum rarely sees anyone these days (her choice I hasten to add) and enjoys the company and different conversation but when the cleaner leaves she gets a hug and a kiss. When I leave I get nothing. My Mum never touches me these days. Have you any idea how hurtful that is? That my Mum will hug the fucking cleaner, and the dog, but not me. I’ve tried to remember when the hugging stopped and it’s been a while. Before Mum’s drinking started I’m sure. I’ve no idea what the problem is but I resent it, hugely. It is so hurtful at the very core of my being that it’s difficult to put into words. I am an exceptionally good daughter by anyone’s standards, leaving aside the fact I’m ill myself. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for my parents and they know it. Without me their day-to-day lives would be unsustainable. My Dad at least shows me some appreciation and affection – not in the cuddling stakes so much, but we go off and do things together and he walks my dog for me and picks my bread up on the days I’m not well enough to get into town. My Mum, on the other hand, does fuck all and on top of all that I receive zero affection.
I’m sure there are all sorts of complex reasons my Mum acts the way she does but y’know what – I’m not interested in them. I don’t care if she resents me or her situation or all the myriad of reasons I’m sure exist for her behaviour – she should bloody well fake it. I don’t care if she wants to hug me, she should do it anyway. If she can hug the goddamn cleaner she can hug her only daughter. I manage to hide my anger and resentment towards her every day of my life and put my love for her to the fore – it’s do-able.
My Camera club friend ended our conversation by saying “when I meet people, they all ask how my husband is and I want to say he’s a selfish, lazy, drunk arsehole but of course I don’t. No-one bothers to ask how I am”. I get where she’s coming from. What I haven’t told you is that my friend has Parkinson’s Disease so our stories really are very similar. That the people who are supposed to love us the most make our already difficult lives harder through their drinking is tough to live with. That they allow themselves the luxury of getting drunk and feeling better at the expense of making us feel worse. That everyone you meet shows concern and sympathy for them when we’re the ones holding everything together despite battling our own ill-health and keeping the secret of their alcoholism. Because it usually is a secret. A huge, shameful, embarrassing secret.
I know some of my readers also have alcoholics in their families and will totally relate to my story. In fact, I’m amazed at how prevalent it is particularly in the elderly population. Alcoholism isn’t a disease, whatever alcoholics say. Parkinsons is a disease. Ehlers-Danlos is a disease. I can’t wake up one morning and choose not to have EDS any more than my friend can wake up one morning and choose not to shake, but alcoholics can wake up and choose not to drink, albeit they may need help doing so. My Mum chose to start drinking at the ripe old age of 70 and she could choose to do something about it if she wanted to, but of course she doesn’t want to. She’s happy in the oblivion alcohol brings her every day. And my Camera Club friend feels the same way about her husband.
I will continue to care for my Mum until the day she dies, but my love for her diminishes at an alarming rate. I’m now at the stage where I just go through the motions – to me, the Mum I’ve known all my life is already dead. Drowned in a vodka bottle.