Letting mom in
I’m an alcoholic. I am also a left-hander, an aunt, a musician, a woodworker, a Catholic school survivor, and I’m gay. I was the little sister who was not always a joy to have tagging along, but as an adult I love my older sister more than any other person on earth. Oh yeah, I’m also the daughter of a complicated woman who is afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease.
Like all of us, I have had many experiences and I’ve learned from each. Some of the lessons were quite simple. I learned to never argue with a nun who is smaller than you but who has a metal ruler. I learned to never let your best friend try to teach you how to ski or how to ride a horse without reins or a saddle. Some lessons, however, take a lifetime to learn. Never underestimate your Higher Power because your lessons will be beyond your wildest dreams.
A few months after I first walked into the rooms of AA, I began intensive therapy to try to heal from the abuse I endured as a child—and as an adult.
By the time of my first AA anniversary, I had decided, with the encouragement of my therapist, to take a break from my mother. It was not an easy decision, and I was left open to the judgement of others. “You’ll be sorry when she’s gone,” people said to me, as if I didn’t have enough guilt already. But the pain I’d endured at the hands of this woman who was supposed to love me unconditionally was too much. I was broken and angry. I couldn’t allow her “in” anymore.
As my first year became five years and then 15, I lived my life as best I could. My family never quite understood how I could cut my mother out of my life, and I couldn’t understand how they could expect me to allow her abuse of me to continue.
I made wonderful friends in AA, friends who eventually became like a family to me. Well, almost. They’d invite me over for holidays and birthday celebrations, but in the quiet moments of every special day of celebration, I could feel my heart weeping for my birth family. Yet I couldn’t admit out loud that I missed them.
The day I graduated from college—something I never thought was even a remote possibility for me—I found myself aching for my sister to be there.
Not long after graduation, I got a new sponsor, Kathy. Now I had done a lot of work on my emotional health, but I had been lax when it came to my AA health, and Kathy was not having one bit of that. Her first “suggestion” was for me to attend 90 meetings in 90 days. By this time, I had 22 years of sobriety. To say I was a bit indignant at having to do “90 in 90” was an understatement, but she was right to suggest it. To be honest, this was the first time I’d consistently done any AA work in a very long time, if ever.
One evening, Kathy and I met for coffee to catch up on how things had been going for me. She asked about my mother. I started in on the story that I had nearly memorized when she cut me off. “No, that’s not what I asked,” she said. “I asked you if you had punished her enough yet.” Did I mention that my sponsor doesn’t beat around the bush and doesn’t take any bull?
We talked about the how and the why of me cutting my mom out of my life and I gave my reasons why I wouldn’t change anything. But when I laid my head on the pillow that night and for many nights to follow, I heard her question over and over again: “Have you punished her enough yet?”
For a few more weeks, we talked about whether I should contact my mother. I know the power of AA is a great power indeed, because wouldn’t you know it, around that time I got a letter from my mother. It was a short letter, as she wasn’t much of a writer. She informed me that she would be moving out of state to live closer to my sister’s family, and since I hadn’t responded to her previous letters, it was my loss.
I showed the letter to Kathy and within two weeks I had a date to meet my mother for lunch. I was prepared for all the old behaviors. I was prepared for her anger and meanness. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the old woman who walked through the doors. It had been nearly 23 years since we had spoken and she had grown from an angry 56-year-old into a hopeful older woman who just wanted her daughter back. I became filled with remorse.
While I believed, and still believe, that the break was the right thing to do, I had let our relationship wither for far too long. My fear of her had overwhelmed me. I had never meant to punish her but that is exactly what I had done.
Over the next three years, my mother and I got to know one another again. It wasn’t all hearts, unicorns and rainbows, not by any means, but it was working, and we were doing OK. Then one day I went over to see her and found her unconscious on the dining room floor. She’d had a stroke.
For the past three years, I have watched the strongest woman I have ever known lose everything she’d ever worked for and begin to slowly disappear. That day she and I met for lunch was the day my Higher Power gave me the greatest gift I’ve ever received: the gift of forgiveness. She was no longer the same person, and neither was I. We had both grown up.
Today, at 29 years sober, I’ve learned many things. I’ve learned that relationships can be rebuilt if you’re willing to put in the work. I’ve learned to live more in the moment because that’s really all we have. I’ve learned that when I feel my mother reach over and caresses my shoulder and I look up into her eyes and see that she’s still really in there, I need to be grateful for the gift. And because I’m sober, I am.
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