By Melissa Mathies
My mom grew up in a home with an alcoholic father and a mother who didn’t seem to care what happened to her daughters. My mom would stay out late and come home to her father passed out on the couch, an empty bottle of vodka, and ashes and butts of cigarettes on the floor next to him. Once he sold her class ring to buy the alcohol he needed, and her mother just sat by and watched it happen as she sipped on her glass of wine.
He would do that—pawn jewelry to further his bad habit, a habit that killed him sooner rather than later. The only advice her father ever gave her was, “Leopards never change their spots.” That exactly described him. He wasn’t capable of changing his addictive ways, no matter how many promises he made.
She shut down again.
No one was sure why, but some days she wouldn’t say much of anything, even when talking to my dad. She’d get this way when my dad went overseas for a deployment. She did the best she could with the situation she was in.
Oftentimes I hear my mom and dad discussing what it was like when he was away, especially when all us kids were young and couldn’t drive ourselves to the places we needed to go.
I felt pity for her. And I understood why she shut down. It was how she dealt with her emotions. When my dad came home, he made her go see a doctor, and she was diagnosed with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
It was the one thing her father left her with.
It made more and more sense because I was starting to deal with anxiety and depression. I did the same thing as she did: I shut everyone out.
As time went by, she learned to deal with the PTSD and anxiety. Although she still shuts down sometimes, she’s better.
Now she deals with mine.
Alcoholism is a problem on both sides of her family. Her mother and father were both consumed by alcohol. Her father drank openly while her mom hid her addiction from the world. My parents quit drinking when I was very young, promising each other they wouldn’t drink unless they both were okay with it.
Fast forward ten or fifteen years: my mom started drinking Cupcake Moscato wine when we were on vacation. I always wondered what it tasted like. Maybe a cupcake that had been soaked in alcohol for too long? I don’t know.
My dad was okay with it, but I was not. I didn’t like the idea of either of my parents drinking. I knew how it could tear apart a family.
But it didn’t tear apart my family, which was surprising to me. Both my parents drink wine now, but not a lot. I guess that helps my fear.
If I stood next to my mom, you’d see the uncanny resemblance between us. Her hair is the same unruly mess as mine, curly and puffy. When we both had our hair cut the same length, we looked like twins. Our eyes have the same haunted expression; mine from my own tortured mind and hers from a past she can’t seem to escape.
“Are you pregnant?” my mom asked my sister one day.
“How did you know?” my sister asked, eyes wide.
“A mother just knows,” she responded.
My mom has always had a sixth sense for things going on in her kids’ lives. She knew when we were lying, when we were in trouble, when my siblings threw a party or snuck out. She just knew. Sometimes her sixth sense was annoying when we were trying to get away with something, which we never did.
“If you need to move back in, you can,” my mom said to my brother. He had moved out with his fiancée a month earlier, and things weren’t working out. “We’ll always be here to support you.”
She pushes us to do what is best and what will help us grow into responsible adults.
“I don’t know if I can do it, Mom,” I said as I looked at the packet of paperwork Bemidji State University sent me. “It’s too far away.”
My mom hugged me as a panic attack started taking over my mind and body.
“Yes you can,” she said. “And we’ll be there for you every step of the way. You can come home every weekend until you’re used to it if you need to.”
My mother’s mother came to America from Germany when she was a teenager, leaving parents and two brothers behind. My mother’s father had been adopted by a family no one knew anything about; no one knew anything about his birth family, either.
The only family my mom ever had was her sister and parents—until she met my dad.
She doesn’t talk to her sister and parents anymore, though; she just has us.
We were in the grocery store. I usually went with her to help her shop, and we were standing in the salad dressing aisle. I was looking for something as she stood looking over our list.
“Do you have a staring problem?” I heard her say. “You should feel horrible for staring at my daughter like that.”
I hadn’t noticed anything going on, but she did. She was always watching. Some call it paranoid. I call it thorough.
The best piece of advice I ever received from her came from that experience. She said, “Some people will never understand, and some people will look down on you for being the way you are. You need to learn to either ignore them or stand up for yourself.”
She stands up for me if she is there. She knows I would never do it for myself.