My mom, the alcoholic, lost her mother to a stroke when she was only 14 years old. Her father had already taken off a long time ago, and when the rent cheques stopped coming, my mom and her siblings were kicked out of their government-housing development in Scarborough, Ont.
My mom, the alcoholic, was homeless. She would stay at her friends’ houses just to put a roof over her head. She’d stay for two to three days or until she got the feeling it was time to leave.
My mom, the alcoholic, worked two full-time jobs, 80 hours a week, all while enrolled in a co-op program through school. Eventually, she saved enough to move both herself and her little sister into a small apartment.
“When my mom died, alcohol took all the pain away immediately. It was the elixir.”
My mom, the alcoholic, started going to high-school parties on the weekends, where she’d drink until she couldn’t feel anything any more. She’d drink to numb the pain of losing her mom, of looking out for her sister, of working two jobs and of not being able to be a kid.
My mom, the alcoholic, started dating her next-door neighbour (my dad) when she was 23. His friends drank a lot more than her friends, and her drinking rapidly spiralled out of control. Their relationship was chaotic, to say the least. Arguments often became physical, on both their parts. The police were called regularly.
My mom, the alcoholic, gave birth to me about a year later. My dad took off shortly after, never to be seen or heard from again. As a baby, I was basically an obstacle to the liquor cabinet. I was never abused as a child per se but I was neglected. When I first started school, for example, administrators contacted my mom wondering why I had no idea how to print.
My mom, the alcoholic, met a man named Andrew. For two years, she was able to hide her drinking problem from him, and he was able to hide his anger problem from her. As they got closer, Andrew took more and more notice of my mom’s drinking; her drinking, in turn, made him more and more angry.
My mom, the alcoholic, was abused, both mentally and physically—right in front of me at times. He called my mother terrible names like “whore,” “f@#king idiot” and “useless.” Once, after agreeing to give my mom $100 for rent, he held the cash in the air and made her jump and beg for it.
My mom, the alcoholic, became horribly depressed. She went on disability and spent all day in bed, waking up only to pull the fruit flies out of her wine and have another sip. She hardly ever ate. One day, she was so deeply passed out, she didn’t wake up when I tried to buzz my way back into the building after school.
My mom, the alcoholic, was always “too sick” to take me anywhere. I never wanted to fuel the fire, so I kept quiet about the things I wanted. Our relationship deteriorated; her fights with Andrew escalated.
“Parenting became a vicious cycle of disappointing [my son] and then drinking to cover that guilt.”
My mom, the alcoholic, met someone else. She didn’t feel as controlled by Andrew any more. After a particularly wild fight, my mom slammed the door and told Andrew not to come back. Though many of their fights had ended like this before, I had a feeling this time he wouldn’t return.
My mom, the alcoholic, for the first time, wanted to stop drinking. To this day, she still has no idea how this happened; she actually insists it was “divine intervention.” At first, she attempted to quit on her own. She’d go a couple of hours without a drink, and her hands would begin to shake; the longer she went without, the worse the shakes would get until she experienced full-blown seizures. I saw this happen three times, and every time, I thought my mom was going to die. Fortunately, the ambulances were fast.
My mom, the alcoholic, decided to seek professional help. They gave her Valium to help with the withdrawals. She successfully completed a 30-day program. Meanwhile, my aunt, who was looking after me at the time, and I tore the apartment apart, making sure there wasn’t an ounce of temptation waiting for her when she returned.
My mom, the alcoholic, purchased a bottle of wine on her way home.
My mom, the alcoholic, returned to rehab. She completed another 30-day program and, again, purchased alcohol on her way home. One year later, she gave Alcoholics Anonymous a shot.
“Alcoholics Anonymous was just helpful. Everyone gave out their phone numbers, but there weren’t any ulterior motives.”
My mom, the alcoholic, never missed a meeting—even though, as my mom got sober, our relationship got worse. Suddenly, I had an actual authority figure in my life, and I didn’t like it. She had a great sponsor named Joyce whom she called every time things got hard at home. Suddenly, instead of reaching for the bottle, she reached for the phone; sobriety was beginning to take hold.
My mom, the alcoholic, completed the 12 steps. She admitted she had lost control of her addiction to alcohol, and then made amends to those she felt she had wronged. She even tracked down a customer-service representative whom she yelled at over the phone to apologize for how she behaved.
My mom, the alcoholic, declared bankruptcy. All that booze had driven her deep into debt. She wanted to start off her sobriety with a clean slate, financially speaking.
My mom, the alcoholic, looked like a completely different woman when she collected her one-year sobriety medallion. I saw life in her eyes again. By then, our relationship had improved dramatically. She was working as a training manager earning a respectable salary.
My mom, the alcoholic, was diagnosed with breast cancer on her one-year sobriety date. Literally on the day. If anyone ever had an excuse to relapse, it was her.
My mom, the alcoholic, didn’t drink. She kept fighting. It still shocks me that she stayed sober through it all, but she did—through chemotherapy, through losing her hair, through having both her breasts removed. She didn’t give up.
My mom, the alcoholic, beat cancer. Then, she quit smoking out of fear that the disease might return.
My mom, the alcoholic, started running not long afterwards. I still remember her very first run: It lasted about 10 minutes, and she came home with a face like a tomato.
My mom, the alcoholic, ran her first half-marathon one year later. Then another, then a few more, until she graduated to full-blown marathons. I’ll never forget cheering her on at the finish line of her very first 42K.
My mom, the alcoholic, is successful. She now earns a six-figure income. She studied hard and earned her CFP designation. And yes, her credit score is nearly perfect.
My mom, the alcoholic, will always be an alcoholic, but it’s no longer a label of shame but, rather, a badge of strength, a symbol of all she has overcome.
My mom, the alcoholic, is a force to be reckoned with.
My mom, the alcoholic, loves herself and I, her.
My mom, the alcoholic, inspires me every single day.
It’s time we started talking openly about our mental health. Join the conversation on Bell Let’s Talk Day, January 31, and help end the stigma around mental illness. For every text message sent and mobile or long-distance call made by Bell Canada and Bell Aliant customers, Bell will donate five cents to Canadian mental health initiatives. The same goes for anyone sending a tweet using #BellLetsTalk, watching the Bell Let’s Talk Day video on Instagram or Facebook, or using the Bell Let’s Talk Facebook frame or Snapchat filter. But talking about it is just the first step: Visit letstalk.bell.ca for more ways you can effect change and build awareness around mental health.