Facing my childhood, leaving behind the bottle

Alexa EpitropoulosBy Alexa Epitropoulos | gargoyle@flagler.edu

I stared into the darkness all night, waiting in a rental car outside a sterile, almost vacant building. Slumped over, restless, I couldn’t even guess what time of night it was, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep.

It was hard to feel hopeful, but it was the first chance I had to be free. It was the first time there was a term I could use to describe my mother, an explanation for why she said what she did. It was also the first time there had ever seemed to be a solution.

Less than 48 hours earlier, she had told me she would die.  Now, at ten years old, I was trying to help her in the only way I knew how: checking her into a rehabilitation center.

When she checked herself out of the same rehabilitation center, I was sitting in the same car that I had been waiting in all night. My aunt was driving me north so I could stay with her family in South Carolina. But then there was a call. My mom was headed home and if I did not come home, she could charge my aunt with kidnapping.

My aunt dropped me off at the gate in front of our house with my small suitcase I had packed in a hurry, excited to escape from the personal hell my mother’s alcoholism had created since my parents’ divorce. Now, I was forced to live in the same environment, with no chance of leaving and no chance of making my mom better or the person she had been.

My mother was angry with me for trying to put her in rehab, but I was angrier. It was a consuming anger I buried deep, suppressed but not forgotten. I was mad at her for not being able to give me a normal childhood. I was angry with her for lying about drinking and hiding her bottles. Most of all, I was angry that she had chosen to check out at a time when I needed my mom the most.

It wasn’t the last time I would try to help my mom. Each time, it has been unproductive. My mom continues to drink and probably will never stop.

Since 2004, I have filed multiple Marchman Acts, which allow family members to effectively commit loved ones if they pose a threat to themselves or others. She has been through a rehab program twice. Both times, she has started drinking again. Subsequent Marchman Acts have been denied, even though my mother continues to drink.

Every time she walks out of another rehab program, every time she is denied another attempt, I can’t help but feel the way I did in the car. I am still fighting the same battle that started ten years ago.

For all of the struggles I’ve undergone with my mother, I find that it is difficult for me to completely grasp its impact on my life. Having an alcoholic parent forces you to be the responsible one. It also can alienate you from others, especially friends and family members who have never lived with an alcoholic.

Why don’t you just tell her to stop drinking? Of all the questions I’ve been asked over the years, this has always been the most difficult to answer. My mom’s problem has never been that she hasn’t been told to stop drinking – for her child, for herself – but that she has never listened.

Alcoholism is personal to me, more personal than I ever hoped it would be. I wish I could tell her to stop. But living with it for six years taught me that addiction is beyond family members’ control.

My mom was often passed out on the couch in the living room when I returned home from school. Finding bottles of vodka hidden among cleaning supplies or in the closet became routine. In anger, I would pour out bottles of beer and liquor, only to be reprimanded for it later.

She would drive home from parties and gatherings drunk, barely able to stumble out of the car. She would bring vodka to grocery stores and even theme parks, drinking it out of a spray bottle she hid in her purse. She would consistently lie to me, telling me that I only wanted to believe that she was drunk.

As I became older, I made my own choices. I decided to move away from my mom, first to an aunt’s home and then, after a short time of living with my mom again, to my father’s home in Daytona Beach.

Even though I might have escaped it momentarily, it was always a part of my life. After I transferred high schools and my mom’s health deteriorated, I was still acting like a parent, from taking away her car keys to visiting her in the hospital.

The years of dealing with her alcoholism also took a toll on me. I faced depression and insecurity, which evolved into perfectionism and never feeling like what I did was good enough. Alcoholism fed into emotional abuse. My mom would often make fun of me or put me down, calling me a loser and laughing at me when I voiced concerns.

Even though I have moved away from my mom and distanced myself emotionally, I have never completely left behind my past.

In many ways, I am still waiting, much like the girl in the car was.  I have moved beyond it and had successes, but find myself anticipating a new development, for good or for bad. The anger, the frustration all exist, but have been buried and muted over time. The insecure core remains, but the exterior has remained intact.

At 20 years old, I have matured and grown in ways I couldn’t have imagined a decade ago. I have come to terms that I can never change my mom. But I also, more than ever, realize that her alcoholism has been a part of my growth and has impacted my life.

Many have pointed out that my mother is not the same person as what the alcohol makes her become. It is difficult, if not impossible, however, to separate the two. For most of my life, I have known a person that has the capacity to be incredibly mean. I also know there is a side of her that cares about me.

I am afraid to know which side is more dominant in the end.

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