Tag Archives: elderly parent drinking

Adult children of dysfunctional families

My parents split up when I was 7 and I was moved 200 miles away from everything I knew to live with a succession of relatives.  In the first 2 years we moved 9 times, usually after my Mum had fallen out with whoever we were living with at the time and often for good reason (eg. my Nanna used to belt me and if I wanted to read a book I was made to sit outside in the car, in the middle of winter).

I’ve never talked to her about it, but my Mum obviously had mental health issues.  Anti-depressants as we know them today didn’t exist though, so I’m fairly sure she was put on some kind of benzodiazepine probably valium.

I’ve always loved animals but had had to leave my cat behind, so when I was 8 my Mum got me a rabbit.  She couldn’t afford to go to a pet shop to buy one so I’m fairly sure my Uncle (with whom we were living at the time) caught a wild one.  It was vicious its whole life and I never even got to stroke it, let alone cuddle it.  I called the rabbit Whiskey, which tells you a lot about my Mum’s drinking habits at the time.  She wasn’t an alcoholic though – that came much much later.

When I was 9 my Mum met my step-Dad.  It was a volatile relationship from the start and they argued like their life depended on it.  I would come home from school with a sick feeling in my stomach, not knowing if they would be speaking, not speaking, if my Dad would be in a strop because his favourite football team had lost a match the night before or if my Mum would chuck something at him across the dinner table in temper.  Our home with filled with a constant under-current of tension and you could often cut the atmosphere with a knife.

On the other hand, when things were good they were great.  My Dad has the most wicked sense of humour and there were days when everything was hunky dory.  But I always knew it wouldn’t last and even when I was laughing I’d be waiting for someone to say the wrong thing and for it all to kick off again.  They were both wonderful with me though and never shouted or raised to a hand to me, but the consequences of living within their toxic relationship and with their almost split-personalities changed me forever.

Of course our home life was a big secret and I instinctively knew I wasn’t allowed to talk about what went on within our four walls.  To the outside world my Mum was lovely and all my friends envied our close relationship.  My Dad was a bloke’s bloke who played darts, loved the footie and would help anyone at any time.  If I meet people in the street even now who know him the first thing they say to me is “he’s a grand fella your Dad” and, when he wasn’t losing his temper like a 5 year old child, I’d agree with them.

Add to the mix the issues I had with my absentee biological Father, my giftedness and the emotional depth and sensitivity which comes along with that, the pressure I was under at school to achieve academically because I was gifted, the lack of any adult in whom to confide and it comes as no surprise that I spent most of my teenager years clinically depressed and by the time I was 18 was on anti-depressants and regularly sat in a Psychologist’s office trying to make some sense of the world.  I couldn’t wait to become an adult and get the fuck away from home.  I loved my parents but when I finally had a house of my own I had peace and stability and could live without the daily anxiety of wondering what was coming next.

Fast forward 30 years, I’m now 50 and both my parents are ill and in need of huge amounts of help.  Consequently I’ve been drawn back into their lives and back into their relationship dramas which, despite being married for 40 years, have never changed.

As if all that weren’t bad enough, my Mum was forced to stop smoking when she had half her lung removed 6 years ago so in order to get through the days her drinking took off in earnest.  She became an alcoholic who was drunk every day by noon.  This brought back hugely negative emotions from my childhood and I really struggled to cope with it, so much so that a year ago I paid to see a counsellor.  She was helpful and I did manage to come to some sort of terms with the situation.

In the summer of this year my Mum contracted Guillain-Barre Syndrome and was in hospital for 3 weeks.  During that time she dried out and I lied to her and said the Doctors had told me that if she drank when she got home she would die, so she didn’t.  The last 3 months have been fantastic.  She has been back to the Mum I’ve always known, without the nasty bullying of my Dad (who is in the early stages of dementia), the finding everything hilarious because she’s plastered and who rings me lucidly every day for a chat and a gossip.  Over the past few years I’ve really missed the friendship my Mum and I have always had and it was wonderful to have that back.

But of course she wasn’t receiving help for her alcoholism, so I knew it was just a matter of time before she fell off the wagon.  She was housebound for the first 2 months after coming home from hospital, but the second she told me “I’m going to go with your Dad in the wheelchair to Sainsburys on Friday just to get out of the house” I knew it was only a matter of time.  And sure enough, 3 weeks later I turn up at the house to find her drinking a glass of wine.

She’d only bought one of those little 18cl bottles, and her excuse was “I’d like a glass of wine with my Christmas dinner but don’t know which one to choose, so I thought I’d try this little bottle to see what it’s like”.  I felt sick.  That she would be wondering what she could drink on Christmas day when it was only 14th November tells you everything you need to know about her mind set.  So I sat down and, as gently as I could bearing in mind I was in bits, said that I loved them both but I was going home and I was not coming back.  And I got Bertie and my handbag and left.

That was on Tuesday and I have felt horrendously ill ever since.  I wake up with a huge sick knot in my stomach, can’t eat and feel so exhausted I’m like a rag doll.  Years of living with the anxiety and unpredictability of my parents’ behaviour seems to have come to a head and I feel floored.  I have spent 3 days spontaneously sobbing and feel on the edge of some kind of breakdown.

It would be so easy to simply walk away, but they are old and sick and my poor Dad really doesn’t need this drama.  So I have rung my Mum and told her that I love them both, and I will take care of them, but I simply cannot visit them – not for a while.  Things are going to have to change I’m not sure what the new future looks like yet.

They depend on my hugely, I have been the glue that’s kept our family together, and I know they will be terrified I am going to abandon them, which I would never do because I couldn’t live with the guilt, but there are going to have to be new ground rules.  I have felt responsible for keeping them on an even keel my entire life and I am too fucking tired to do it anymore.  That I am ill myself seems to totally pass them by.

In not visiting them, however, I have no-one to look after Bertie, my dog who is a rescue with severe separation anxiety and who can’t be left on his own.  That means I can’t go to my Camera Club which is my passion and often the only thing which keeps me going.  It’s the only time I get out of the house all week, the only time I ever see anyone other than my cleaner and the post man and is the only social life I have.  I feel such rage that my Mother’s selfish behaviour has robbed me of the only joy I have in life.  A life which is devoid of any pleasure and any of the normal things healthy people take for granted.

Sometimes I wish she were dead.  The second she retired from work she sat in a chair, watched telly, smoked and drank and basically waited to die.  There are times when I wish this would happen and put us all out of our misery.  She has been unhappy her entire life and has made me unhappy along the way.  Then I think about all the times she’s helped me, comforted me, been there for me, loved me and am wracked with guilt.

So, that’s where we are today and I’m in complete turmoil.  I feel so poorly I can barely get dressed and am constantly on the verge of tears.  It’s like every emotion I’ve ever felt towards my parents has come to the surface and I can’t push them down any more.

Please don’t tell me to get help, contact al-anon or anything else.  Trust me when I say there is no avenue I haven’t been down.  My Mum doesn’t want help.  There is no al-anon where I live and in any event I don’t do the bullshit “higher power” thing.  My parents have what they need to live: a cleaner, carers to help my Mum shower, a gardener, their meals provided.  But as I’ve mentioned before it’s all the stuff that paid help can’t do which is the stumbling block, like finances, paperwork, mending the seam on my Mum’s nightie, submitting electric meter readings, grocery shopping, talking to medical staff as neither of my parents are capable and 1001 other things.  I feel so trapped, and resentful and guilty.

There aren’t any easy answers.  Walking away and leaving a parent with dementia is not an option.  Carrying on as we always have is not an option either.  I have no clue what to do.

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A little perspective

As outlined in this post I’ve arranged to see a Counsellor next week for a free assessment to see if she can help me find ways of dealing with my Mum.   I find blogging about my relationship with my Mum really difficult – I tend to vent when I’m having a bad day or am frustrated with her, which gives you all a skewed view of how I truly feel or the complex nearly 50 year history we share, so while I’m not hormonal and not angry with her I thought I’d put our story into a bit of perspective.

My Mum was a wonderful parent when I was little.  She has always been incredibly maternal and I was never short of attention or affection.  She lived for her kids and I always I knew I wasn’t just loved, I was adored.  I was told I was clever and beautiful and never kept short of praise.

But my Mum does have depression.  It runs in her family, with one of her brothers and one of her sisters also suffering.  Her sister was so severe she had to have electric shock therapy.  Yet they had a really happy, if poor, childhood and no reason could be found for Mum’s depression or that of her siblings.  Now I know what I know, in particular that Mum has Mast Cell Disease caused by her faulty EDS genes, you have to wonder how much of that comes into play – I know my chronic mild depression has definitely eased since I started treating my MCAD.

Living with depression isn’t easy for the sufferer and my Mum struggles with it.  When she left my biological Dad in the 1970s anti-depressants hadn’t been invented so people with depression were given benzodiazepines, to which Mum (along with hundreds of thousands of other people at that time) became addicted.  She did get off them, but it can’t have been easy (I was only 7 at the time so knew nothing about all this until I was an adult).  She did go through a period after her divorce of drinking too much, but did eventually rain this in.  She is not a lifelong alcoholic.

She has not had a happy second marriage – I’ve no idea how both of them have stood each other for 40 years.  I think my Mum’s felt lonely her whole life and, coupled with the depression, has been desperately unhappy.  When I’m having a bad day I get really frustrated that she hasn’t asked for help, sought counselling, done volunteer work, made an effort to make more friends etc. but then I don’t walk in her shoes – we’re not the same people and have very different personalities and ways of coping.

While Mum was working and raising a family it kept her busy and she managed her depression, but this all changed after I (the last child) left home and Mum retired.  She then lost her 2 closest friends, and then both of her sisters and I think the loneliness just became too much and her depression spiralled.  Add to this her increasingly poor health and the last 10 years in particular have seen her basically go under.

Her alcoholism started 5 years ago after her lung surgery.  She’s been on antidepressants for 20 years now, but really needed more help than just popping a few pills.  She needed someone to talk to, but is a very private person so would never have requested to see a therapist or gone if I’d arranged it.   Which makes me frustrated as hell.

She isn’t some awful abusive monster.  Well, actually she is these days…..but it hasn’t always been that way.  I feel very sad for her for the most part – she’s never been happy, she basically lost her first born child and didn’t have any contact with him for 30 years (very long story, not my Mum’s fault in any way) and has always been fundamentally lonely.  However, knowing all that in my head doesn’t make my heart any the less hurt now she’s an alcoholic and behaves in ways that I don’t even recognise.  She’s no longer my Mum.  She’s selfish and self-absorbed.  She’s a bully and can be nasty.  She is disinterested in life.  She is confused and forgetful.  I can no longer have the conversations we used to have.  I no longer tell her my news.  I don’t have her to lean on or share my problems with.  She is absoluely emotionally unavailable.  And it breaks my heart.

And that heartbreak is what you read here on my blog.  You don’t read about how supportive she has always been of me, particularly when I was very ill with M.E.  You don’t read about how she’s always financially helped me out.  You don’t read about the fact she never missed a single thing I did at school, or how she taught me to drive, or how she helped get my first boyfriend a job, or how she let my friend stay with us when she was having problems getting on with her Dad.  Or any of the other ways in which she’s been a great Mum.  She’s not been perfect by a long chalk, but then she’s had mental health issues her whole life and, as a grown-up, I know how hard that must have been (which doesn’t negate the affect her depression had on me).

This blog exists for me to rant about stuff I don’t feel I can rant about in real life, and for the most part it’s been helpful in that respect.  If I snapped at my Mum every time I felt like snapping at my Mum we would have stopped speaking years ago, so letting off steam through my blog helps me maintain a relationship with my Mum despite very difficult circumstances.  However, if blogging has taught me anything it’s not to make snap judgements about people or their situations.  Relationships are complex things, particularly between a parent and child, and you’re not going to get the nuances of a 49 year history through a couple of ranty blog posts when I’m exhausted, hormonal, having a shit day and am at the end of my tether.

My Mum is 76 years old and slowly dying.  She’s not going to change now.   She’s not going to leave my step-Dad and she’s now not well enough to get out to do anything or meet new people (even if she wanted to, which she doesn’t).  She doesn’t want to stop drinking and her depression has gone largely untreated her entire adult life.  The only thing which is going to change is my attitude, which is what I’m hoping to achieve through the Counselling – looking at ways to help me cope with the final few years of my Mum’s life.  I don’t want my entire 50 year relationship with her to be defined by the last 10 years of her life and I don’t want her to die with me hating or resenting her, forgetting all the love and friendship we used to share.

 

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.

Drinking and the elderly

I’ve ummd and ahhhd whether to write this very personal post.  It seems disloyal to talk about my parent’s private life without their permission but at the same time this blog is about my life and their lives affect mine.  When I Googled my situation it appears to be much more common than I’d realized so I’ve decided to mention it in case anyone else is having the same issue.

As many of you know, my Mum is terminally ill with advanced heart and lung disease.  She’s hopefully not going to pop her clogs tomorrow but her life span is definitely shortened as her diseases are progressive.  She can now do very little for herself and spends her days sitting watching the telly or reading.  This is a choice, I hasten to add, because my Dad and I would willingly take her out but she’s never been particularly social and says she’s happy as she is.

She’s always liked a tipple but it’s been confined to a glass of wine with lunch and a whiskey after dinner, until the past 18 months when her drinking has spiralled out of control.   She’s switched to vodka, because it just looks she’s sipping on a glass of water, starts at 11am and just keeps going.  Each tumbler, I’d reckon, contains a double so by bedtime she’s probably had 6-9 shots of alcohol.

I’ve had to stop even trying to communicate with her past 5pm because she can’t even remember we’ve had a conversation let alone what was said.  I’ve spoken to my Dad about it and he just holds his hands up and says “what can I do?!”.

I’m so angry with her.  As if my bloody life isn’t hard enough, dealing with my Dad’s dottiness, my own health and her physical health, now she’s added yet another stressor to the equation.  I loathe speaking to her when she’s slurring her words and is obviously drunk, and when she’s all merry and life is tickety-boo I want to explode especially as her alcohol-soaked good mood is making mine and my Dad’s life a misery.

Part of me thinks if she wants to drink herself to oblivion be my guest.  Lets ignore the fact she’s on a dozen pills a day,  most of which shouldn’t be taken with alcohol.  However she now falls regularly, and has advanced osteoporosis, so you can guarantee at some stage she’s going to break a bone.  Then she’ll spend weeks in hospital, where she’ll go into abrupt withdrawal and be really ill and my Dad and I will have to do the 60 mile round trip every day to visit her where we’ll find her distressed and crying.  Then she’ll get home and be able to do even less physically than she can now, which means even more work for us.  Plus, if she has another heart attack the medics aren’t going to be able to give her the correct drugs in an emergency if she’s got huge amounts of alcohol in her system.

I want to scream at her for being so selfish.  She might be having a nice time but it’s no fun for the rest of us.  She’s either snappy, moody and belligerent or she’s zen and everything in the garden is rosy.  She’s forgetful, confused and disoriented and spends half the evening asleep.  My mast cells thrive on stress, so all this makes me sick too and I’m ill enough already.

It’s pointless me trying to talk to her about the situation because she either just laughs it off or will just drink secretly when I’m not there.  So I’ve made an appointment next week with her GP, who’s also thankfully my GP so knows us well, for a chat.  Something’s got to change, because I’m so resentful and seething about the situation, and let’s not forget menopausally hormonal, that one of these days I’m going to snap.

I sometimes wonder what more life can throw my way.