To My Alcoholic Mother: I Love You

Jeremy Goldberg
Jeremy Goldberg

I never thought it would happen.

Not to us.

Not like this.

It was a few years ago now, a random morning on an unexceptional day, when I approached you with open arms and a smile.

You grimaced, turned away.

You were trying to hide, but I knew where you were. Everyone knew. We knew who you were and we knew what you had become, because we had watched you hide for years, more and more, day after day. You were our poorly kept secret.

But, that day…

I won’t ever forget that day.

No, I’ll always remember the first time you refused to hug me because you didn’t want me to smell the alcohol on your breath. But, then again, I remember a lot of things from those years.

I remember the panic in my veins every time my phone would ring, the terror I felt that a loving voice would tearfully whisper that you’d gone too far, that the wine had finally won.

I remember days when the empty promises outnumbered the empty bottles, days filled with cold pain and an excessive amount of raw hopelessness, days that ached, days like wounds.

I remember how you lied, first to yourself, then to us, and then gravely in a hospital bed as your body choked for life. I remember visiting you on a sunny afternoon and I remember walking into a breakdown.

I remember standing in the doorway as a doctor slowly and carefully explained that you were dying, that this was serious, that your liver was failing. I remember the sound of your sobbing as the truth finally found you: you were drinking yourself to death.

I remember being selfish, the nights I would toast my troubles away instead of visiting you in the hospital, and I remember my quiet, sad smile as I raised a proud glass to irony and apathy, to feeling and forgetting, to the tender, beautiful hurt of abandoned futures and tragic pasts, the haunting heartbeat of nostalgia.

I remember not caring whether you were alive or dead, and I remember hating myself for not loving you more. I remember naively convincing myself that numbness was a valid excuse for darkness, and I remember craving it as much as you craved escape.

I remember being scared that we were so similar, and I remember intervention after intervention, the day we sat at the dining room table and I raised my voice at you, the moment I cracked and spat tears and truth.

“I don’t even know who the fuck you are anymore!”

I burned inside, fires fueled by years of neglect and confusion, flames enraged by hope and helplessness.

I remember how I softened, backed away, tried another tactic to split your shell.

“I miss my mom,” I whispered.

I stared at you, searching for the warmth I longed to feel, hoping for a trace of love, recognition, and respect, but your yellow eyes were vacant and stubborn, strangers I recognized from the mirror.

I remember wondering what it meant if mother doesn’t know best, and I remember thinking that if you can’t find your way out, what chance did I have of finding mine?

You gave me nothing for months at a time — not your tears, your voice, your encouragement. There were no emails or text messages, not a single Hello, how are you? and there was never an I love you, but I understood.

I knew you couldn’t show love when you hated yourself, and I realized you couldn’t care for others when you despised the person you’d become.

I knew because I learned from you.

You were my greatest teacher; you taught me lessons by skipping class, and you showed me things by running away from them.

I had to do it alone.

One of the best things you ever did for me was ignore me, and I am forever grateful for your abandonment.

Does that make sense?

Do you understand?

I know what it’s like to feel powerless and angry. I know what despair tastes like, and I know what it’s like to not have a mom. Solitude forced my hand, and isolation changed me. It made me look inside, made me better, stronger, more alive.

I sat and stared at sunsets, drowned in the dusk as I vividly recalled childhood dreams when life was carefree and we were connected. I sat and hoped you’d get healthy again, but I also sat and wished I would, too.

Since it was only a matter of time before you died, I thought it would be practical to prepare myself.

I remember spending weeks thinking about your funeral, mentally reviewing the words I would choke through tear-filled eyes, readying myself to be strong when friends and family offered condolences.

“Yes, I know. She was amazing.”

I remember hating the idea that I’d have to repeat those words over and over and over again, each repetition ripping you further away from me.

The truth is that everybody loved you. They did. They loved your kind heart, your obsessive generosity, and your giving nature. They loved you even though you didn’t love yourself, but despite that love and despite our best efforts, you remained as empty as the glasses you filled.

You sat on your deathbed, yet couldn’t escape. The sheets were too soft, the pillows too inviting.

I remember one morning when something extraordinary happened. You had enough, you got brave, and you found strength. On that warm desperate day, you decided to get help and you went away for a while, off to hell for a holiday. You healed, expanded, and explored yourself.

You ran your fingertips along your fears and you slowly stared at the space inside, the vacant rooms long ignored — quiet cells calling your name.

You felt cared for, loved, enough, and you found yourself again.

After years of dwelling in the cocoon at the bottom of a bottle, you emerged like a firefight, powerful and uncertain. You returned with a ferocity of spirit that I had never seen before, and I remember that tears filled my eyes the first time I saw the new you.

You were more alive than you’d ever been, and I remember thinking, “You were dead to me, and now you’re not.”

I remember staring at you, spellbound at just how fucking beautiful you were.

Look what you’ve done, mom. Look how far you’ve come, how far we’ve come. From the blackness came light, from despair grew hope, and although you lost some battles, we won the war. And if we can do it, why can’t others? If we found courage, why can’t they?

Of course they can, and you’re helping them. You memorized the route home and you can hold their hands, push them on, whisper encouragement and shout inspiration. You can be their lighthouse.

And you are.

You’re speaking to crowds, mentoring youth, spreading your story. You’re going to meetings, making phone calls, making a difference. You’re changing lives. It’s unbelievable how far you’ve come.

You’re teaching us all that broken hearts still beat, that strength requires fear, and that falling is just flying practice.

You’ve shown yourself, your family, and anyone who will listen, that there is a way out, that no matter the odds, the suffering, or the despair, that there is a spark of life in a dead soul, that in every haunted house there hides a burning candle.

In finding your light, you’ve proven that stories like yours and ours, stories dripping with hopelessness, are actually tales of hope — hope that things improve, hope that fractured love heals, hope that the blessings we beg for find us in the end.

You’ve changed my life.

I have a better sense of who I am, how love works, what truly matters in this world. I know how purpose feels, and I know that real success isn’t measured by a price tag and it certainly isn’t found in a bank account.

Rather, success is nothing more than the priceless little things that stir our soul and remind us that we are human, alive, loved. You’ve taught me that success is courageous connection, to others, but most importantly to ourselves, to who we truly are deep down.

I forgive you for getting lost on your quest for light.

I’m proud of our pain, and I’m proud that you’re my mom.

You are the bravest fucking person I’ve ever met.

I love you. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Jeremy Goldberg

Jeremy Goldberg is trying to make kindness cool, and the world better than it was yesterday. Follow him on Instagram for daily inspiration!

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