I was awakened by the sound of a male officer’s voice telling me that my mother had just been arrested for drunk driving. I was 12. I should have never had to answer that call.
My mom was arrested for the first time when I was in the sixth grade. I had a friend over for a sleepover and we were waiting for my mom to return home with dinner for us. We waited for hours but she never returned. I watched as she drove down the street on the left side instead of the right and immediately regretted allowing her to drive.
When I answered the phone to find out that it was the local jail telling me she’d been arrested, I knew it was my fault—if I hadn’t let her drive; if I hadn’t wanted takeout food; if I’d been nicer to her—I made up excuses, always blaming myself. She begged us to bail her out, but my dad was out of town. She said she was sorry and asked why we let her drive when she was drunk. Everything she did was our fault.
I couldn’t sleep that night, knowing I was the reason she got caught. Alcohol was just something she had every now and then—a glass of wine while making dinner. After she came home from her night in jail, she was extremely depressed. Refusing to call herself an alcoholic, she hid the alcohol from us and only drank enough to give her a buzzed feeling. She didn’t want to get drunk for the fun of it. She used alcohol as a way to block out the bad feelings. My dad was confused, not knowing how to talk to her. So she drank. I developed a case of extreme social anxiety and I was scared to go to crowded places or to talk to other friends. So she drank. We developed a fake reality. We tried to cover it up by hiding behind the walls of our house so our neighbors and family would think we were a perfect family.
Things didn’t get better. Mom continued to hide the alcohol around the house. My dad moved into the home office, converting it into a bedroom. We didn’t talk about our problems because we were scared to admit that we needed help. We were a broken family, and we all knew it was because of her drinking, but we couldn’t blame her.
My dad researched the disease and told my brother and me about the effects of alcoholism. We found support groups called Al‑Anon and Alateen that were for family members of alcoholics. I was 14 at the time. I asked my dad why we needed to go—mom was the alcoholic. He bribed me to go and I gave it a try.
When I first walked into Alateen, I saw distant, scared faces of people just like me. I could see in their eyes that they’d gone through a lot. By listening to their stories, I heard personal experiences of parents on drugs, abusive parents, kids who witnessed rapes, and many divorce stories. I was lucky that my parents stayed married despite how difficult it was to deal with my mom’s drinking. I knew that if we didn’t support my mom, she might be living on her own somewhere in much worse conditions.
I was surprised about how much I shared at my first Alateen meeting. I had bottled up a lot and didn’t think I’d let it all out. Everyone listened. They responded with, “I’m here for you,” and many members gave me their phone numbers and told me to call them if I ever needed anything. I liked how it didn’t matter that the girl who was sharing was popular and the leader of the cheerleading squad at my school. In Alateen, everything is kept anonymous, so nothing shared in the room would be repeated elsewhere. I felt safe and free to finally share how I felt about my mom.
My mom agreed to go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings after her second DUI. Living without a license for six months was difficult for her, and she was scared of getting a third DUI and losing it for a longer period. She came home crying after her first meeting. I was really confused. I didn’t understand why this disease made people so emotional. I thought, “Alcoholism is not like cancer. She’s not dying. She doesn’t have a tumor.” She told me that she had a wiring in her brain that made her addicted to alcohol. It ran through our family, and it would continue to run through my brother and me.
When she went to rehab at the local hospital, my dad, brother, and I went to the family meetings held there. Learning in depth about the disease helped us understand what she was going through. We felt more sympathetic knowing that we had no control over it, unlike what we thought at first.
Now, six years after I answered the phone call that not only changed my life but my mom’s too, I am proud to say that Alcoholics Anonymous, Alateen, and Al‑Anon have worked for my family. I wouldn’t be so accepting, loving, and caring towards my mom today if it wasn’t for these groups. I would still be blaming myself and looking for ways to hide my family secret.
I have learned how common alcoholism is. According to statistics, one in five adult Americans have grown up with an alcoholic parent. Although my mom is not cured of this disease, and may never be, she is on the path to recovery, and I am supportive of her. There is a saying in Alateen that gets me through every rehab, group meeting, family outing, anxiety episode, or anything else in my life—“One Day at a Time.” I will continue taking my days “One Day at a Time,” and live in the moment, because you never know what tomorrow will bring.
By Courtney E., Iowa
The Forum, April 2016
Reprinted with permission of Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., Virginia Beach, VA.