A Mother’s Lesson

Caitlin Heenan

More stories from Caitlin Heenan

In the Spirit of… Love
February 14, 2015

Mothers are supposed to teach life lessons, the kind that children will learn early and cherish forever, the kind that involve tears on shoulders and strengthen the bond between mother and child. Never did I expect to learn a lesson from my mother like the one I learned last summer.

I knew my mother had relapsed when I pulled into the drive late one night not just because my little brother called me asking to be picked up because he felt unsafe. I knew my mother had relapsed because life was good, too good. For as long as I can remember, my mother drank too much. To her credit, she has had to deal with a lot in life: losing her father at age thirteen, being forced to take care of herself and her younger brother, getting divorced twice and having all of her childhood memories burned in a house fire. It was only a matter of time before “too much” turned fatal. We asked her to go to rehab and she agreed, if not just for stress and anxiety.

My mother checked herself out of rehab early. That should have been the first warning that sobriety was not to last long. During the time of her sobriety, my mother and I were able to connect. I could talk to her about problems between friends, family and boyfriends. Most importantly, I could trust her, something I did not feel I could do at all for most of my adolescent life. When the sobriety ended, it was like this blessing had been given to me and just as I got comfortable, it was ripped away from me. It felt as though my mother was choosing alcohol over being a mother to me and my little brother.

After her attempts at therapy, I decided to move out of my mother’s house. I gathered the items I cherished most – presents my grandmother had given me and some clothing – packed it in my car and never planned to return. This was late last June. In early July, terms with my mother had not improved. She was still drinking and very angry about me not living with her.

The worst part of that entire experience was the day she elected to bring my cat to my dad’s. She texted me to tell me she was on her way, refusing to meet me halfway at a neutral place. I hurried outside and locked all the doors to the house, worried due to the unpredictableness of her nature when alcohol is in her system. She rolled up, my stepdad got out of the car, handed me the cat, put a bag of cat litter on the ground and drove away. My mom never looked at me once. I took the cat in the house and bawled.

I knew then that the relationship with my mother would never be fully restored. After therapy, a better understanding of each other and a distinct lack of alcohol, my mom and I can talk to each other and forgive what was said and done over the summer. However, I will never be able to allow myself to live in the house where so many toxic memories live.

My mom is an alcoholic. Even though she has stopped drinking, I still consider her an alcoholic, even if she refuses to admit it. My alcoholic mother taught me a lesson I will never forget. You cannot change people; they have to want to change themselves. No matter how hard you try, the only result from trying to change someone you love is pain and tears. Even though this is not a typical lesson a daughter hopes to be taught by her mother, I am able to take away something that can prepare me for life on my own.