The shameful secret

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.

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7 thoughts on “The shameful secret

  1. Catherine

    Deeply sadly I completly get your piece . The only thing that ended up helping me personally and hugely was when I finally knew enough about Alcoholism to truly get that indeed it is a disease .
    Tough but certainly more dignified than continuing to think it was an act of selfush willfulness .
    Im fairly certain you will disagree but the scientific evidence is now out there . One day there will be a vaccination or a daily injection / pill as in the case of diebetes .

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  2. Kim M

    Thank you for being so frank, my Mum has always been very reserved – I can’t remember any cuddles or I love yous from Mum or Dad- my sister and I were looked after physically but not emotionally and soon learnt not to go to our parents – it’s made me very self conscious and shy and I’m sure I had what would now be called social anxiety. I fell in love with the first man who took any notice of me who turned out to be cruel and manipulative but charming to everyone else, luckily or unluckily he dropped me like a ton of bricks when I became ill with ME/FB anyway when I had my daughter I made sure she got cuddles from Mum and especially since my Dad died Mum’sa bit more huggy and to my partner who she really likes (find that a bit weird) but for me it’s all too late and I don’t feel much for her at all – I resent her for my having no confidence I know you shouldn’t blame your parents but if they had been different I wouldn’t have suffered all these years and made poor choices but what I wanted to say was you did once have a relationship so just ask for a hug or say I need a hug or just hug her – if it’s not there it’s not there but it just might bex

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    1. Jak Post author

      Sorry you’ve had to live through this Kim. Yes, our parent’s choices definitely shape who we are. Because of my Mum’s choices of husband I’ve made disasterous choices of partner and in the end have chosen to be single rather than have yet another unfulfilling relationship (with no positive role models I seem incapable of making a better choice of boyfriend). It’s extremely difficult not to blame our parents for their choices and it’s something I battle with. I just have to keep telling myself they’re only human and imperfect just like the rest of us – some days it helps, others not so much. Jak x

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  3. Patricia Campbell

    I totally empathise with you regarding alcoholism. My dad now 88 is an alcoholic. He no longer drinks as he has Alzheimer’s and is in a care home. He is also a Narcissist and the combination of that with dementia is a joy to behold. I see him every few weeks. He drives everyone away. I sourced the best care home for him and even moved him from a flat, to an assisted living place and to the care home in one year. I have organised and done so much for him,but it’s never enough. I am too ill to do more. Dad has never cuddled me or my sister or told us he loves us. He married at 29 after living at home and my mum stayed with him for 20 years and another lady stood his nonsense for 11 years. He’s been on his own for some time now. He drove everyone away because of his selfishness and drinking. He never showed any interest in his family and now he thinks we should be looking after him 24/7. He hates people and likes to put them right and tell them what they are doing wrong. I have always been used to having to go up to dad to give his a hug and a kiss. He could never respond normally and visibly stiffens at human contact. Mum isn’t a ‘hugger’ either, but my sister and me will hug and my niece and nephew are affectionate.
    I am sorry to hear that your mum doesn’t hug you or show love and affection anymore. I sense she feels hidden guilt or shame as she knows the drinking has changed her and she has some underlying reason for the drinking. In my dad’s case it was the Narcissism and growing up with a father who was a heavy drinker. Alcoholism can run in families. I used to like a drink in my twenties, but by the time my health problems kicked in that changed. Have you ever spoken to her about how you feel?
    Take care and try not to let it get to you, as you have your own health to safeguard.

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    1. Jak Post author

      I’m sorry you’ve had to live through this experience with your Dad Patricia. My ex-husband was on the Narcassist scale as was one of my former friends so I know how tough it is dealing with that kind of personality, then to add alcoholism on top must have been really difficult for you.

      I have spoken to Mum about my feelings two or three times now, but she’s usually so drunk she can’t even rememer the conversation the next day, or cries, or finds it funny – none of which resolves anything. It is what it is. Jak x

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      1. Patricia Campbell

        I am sorry to her that your ex was also a Narcissist, it is hard to be around people like that. My dad has left a trail of devastation in his wake.
        Yes, I guess it is about acceptance really. You have to accept people for the way that they are, like it or not. I accept that dad’s Narcissism stemmed from his childhood/adolescence. He learned certain traits of behaviour and maybe he had a tough time with my grandfather. Mum and I have had endless chats about the past and over time it has become clear. Sadly my mum married another Narcissist after that. Neither men had displayed any of the traits until after the marriages had begun. They seemed like really charming men prior to the weddings.
        With dad and his drinking, it was always there and it gradually got worse. I just wonder what actually did trigger it with your mum and maybe it was pent up anger, frustration or unhappiness? It was quite late for her to start at 70. I remember many of the old ladies we used to know where I used to live, were heavy drinkers/alcoholics. They had all been widowed years before and I am guessing that their drinking came with loneliness? I may well be wrong. It’s hard to stop when it does take over. My uncle was an alcoholic after his marriage went. He drank himself silly until my aunt got him back on the right track. He never touched another drop since.

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        1. Jak Post author

          I know what triggered my Mum’s drinking Patricia. She had lung surgery 5 years ago and had to stop smoking so she took up drinking instead. That’s why I say it’s not a disease – she chose to start drinking herself into oblivion every day when she could have tackled the situation differently and take the help she was offered. She’s been unhappy my entire life but done nothing to change the situation – she just seems to like to wallow in her misery. I’ve had clinical depression myself but got help, which she’s always refused to do. She tries to bring Dad and I down with her too but we don’t let her. If she doesn’t appreciate life that’s her choice but my Dad and I do and we’re not about to be miserable to keep her company x

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