Friday, October 14, 2011

My mother is an alcoholic

I could not understand what we were doing there. These dark draughty halls that you entered though equally dark corridors, the windows covered with thick drapes that scarcely let in any light from the setting sun. We had arrived straight after school. No time to get out of our uniforms. No time to do anything but drop our bags and my sister had us back on the bus, onto the train and into the city.

‘Room 6A,’ my sister said over to herself as she led us though corridor after corridors checking at each door for the right number. I knew we must have found it when we came to a room whose door was open, wide open such that we could not even see the number and filled with people.

I say filled, half filled perhaps, people seated in chairs, mostly young people, and children my age, lined up in rows, each with their backs to us as we walked in behind them and took our places in the last few chairs still vacant.

I could not understand what I was doing there, the youngest of my four siblings to come along. I had not thought to ask my sister why we were there and what we had come for. We would be safe with her and my brothers sat on either side of me their knobbly knees white at each bend.

‘Welcome,’ a woman said to the room and people stopped their chatter and looked to her expectantly. ‘I see we have a few newcomers.’ All eyes turned to the back to look at us. They looked at us with inquisitive eyes, no smiles more curiosity as if to say, and what brings you here, what are you here for?

I would not have answered such a question if anyone had directed it to me. At that moment I could not understand what I was doing there.

‘We have quite a deal of business to get through tonight,’ the woman said. All eyes turned back to face her and we were left once again facing a montage of backs, hunched shoulders, cardigans draped over chairs, and the hush of expectation. ‘We might start with your stories. Damien, would you like to start?’

There was the scraping of a chair against the hard parquetry and a boy not much older than my older sister stood beside the woman in front and looked at us with a nervous expression on his face. He looked as though he had been caught unawares, as though he was wholly unprepared for this position which he had now taken up in front of us in the draughty room above the clocks at Flinders Street station, but he cleared his throat to speak.

My name is Damien,’ he said. ‘My mother is an alcoholic.’ Damien told us then about his life as one of three children, born to different fathers and each living each day with a mother who drank all day long and in between drinking she slept or ranted. ‘Sometimes she hits us,’ Damien said, ‘but it doesn’t bother me much any more. She’s not strong, and now I’m bigger I just push her away. But the two little ones get scared. And she used to hurt me bad when I was little. She used to make me cry.’

47 comments:

Rob-bear said...

He, sadly, describes life for too many children.
Thanks for sharing; this is important.

Anthony Duce said...

What sad experiences to have to go through for the weaknesses of those that should be depended on.

Maggie May said...

I'm reading and glad you are entrusting us with these memories.

Windsmoke. said...

Alcohol sure can bring out the devil in people who are addicted. Very sad for the children who are the ones that suffer the most :-(.

Elizabeth said...

I am listening, filled with dread but open-eared and a bit heart-achey for you.

JeannetteLS said...

I never even knew there was such a thing as AlAnon when I was a child. I have a feeling that you've just started this story and, well, I think Elizabeth expressed the feelings I have as well. And how I can relate to "it doesn't bother me much any more."
Powerful snapshot of your first day.

Tabouleh said...

I have a feeling that this post is just the beginning of a painful childhood memory. We are listening... much love and warmth coming your way!

Penal-Colony said...

Alcoholics poison everything.

What you are doing here is essential, but how you do it is what will make it endure.

jane.healy said...

The trouble with alcoholism is the stigma attached to it. We all feel a shame, as if the weakness somehow reflects upon us, its our fault that we weren't strong enough to stop them from drinking. I am think AlAnon groups offer the support that families like yours and mine desperately need - shame I didn't know about them when we had our problems.

steven said...

hi elisabeth ... the story opens out no doubt but the moment unfolding here sit's a knife's edge of sadness and possibility. optimism even. any step towards approaching a challenge, any risk taken in turning and looking at something ugly, contains hope. steven

River said...

It takes a lot of courage for children to stand up and say something like that. It's good for them to get help through this though. Too often kids feel they're all alone in their misery.

Kath Lockett said...

Poor poor children. No matter if they're newborns; old enough to push their mother away, attend Al-Anon or suffer the shame fifty years later.
Poor, poor children.

ellen abbott said...

My sister unknowingly married an alcoholic. 6 weeks after their wedding hd desappeared on a bender. Was gone for several days. It was several years before she confessed any of this to any of the family. Al Anon helped her cope and she learned that she was not at fault for his drinking.

Kirk said...

Like Tabouleh, I, too, have a feeling this is merely Part I.

Anonymous said...

Where are you going with this, Elisabeth?
Karen C

Ms. Moon said...

Do you ever visit Syd?
http://fine-anon.blogspot.com/

Elisabeth said...

I agree, it is important, Rob-Bear, however much rooted in my own idiosyncratic past, it still goes on today and often times in different forms of addiction.

Thanks.

Elisabeth said...

It's a sad story, as you say, Anthony, when those we depend upon when we are most vulnerable are themselves too vulnerable and unable to meet their own needs, to be able to be depended upon.

Thanks, Anthony.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for reading, Maggie May. As you suggest, most memories deserve recognition and respect.

I'm glad I can entrust mine to you, who entrusts hers to me, among others.

Elisabeth said...

Any addiction is dangerous, Windsmoke though the chemical ones, alcohol and drugs along with gambling perhaps are probably the most pernicious.

They undermine the fabric of the lives of all those who are connected, not just the addict.


Thanks, Windsmoke.

Elisabeth said...

Open-eared and heartachey, Elizabeth. Sounds as though you are most responsive here.

Thanks.

Elisabeth said...

It doesn't bother me in the same way anymore, Jeanette, though the memories and events are still there somewhere in my mind such that they demand some writerly attention.

Thanks, Jeanette.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Tabouleh. This is just a beginning, as you say, with maybe more to follow. Soon perhaps.

Elisabeth said...

The doing of it is everything, John from Penal colony, as you suggest, and I know this piece is unfinished, left dangling.

I'll work at it but I'm not sure there will ever be a half decent conclusion.

Thanks, John.

Elisabeth said...

Shame is such a tricky emotion Jane. As you imply, it gets to all of us.

I reckon shame is contagious and often those who bear it most heavily are those who should be protected, while the ones who shame should be left to feel ashamed.

Equally, the effects of alcoholism are shaming for all concerned, including the alcoholic, particularly when sober.

Thanks, Jane.

Elisabeth said...

I hope there's hope there, Steven, if only in the writing and the effort to describe a story, or at least part of a story - my own and that of others.

Thanks, Steven.

Elisabeth said...

I agree, River, children often feel alone in their misery.

When I was young I could not imagine that anyone else at my school would know about our experiences within my family household.

It was only as an adult that I came to realise there were others in the same boat. And only years later still when I realised we all have our difficulties, whatever form they take.

Thanks, River.

Elisabeth said...

Children suffer, Kath, more than we realise and yet children can be so extraordinarily resilient.

It's not an excuse to inflict pain or suffering on them but it helps to recognise the resilience in us all, both as children and as adults.

Thanks, Kath.

Elisabeth said...

My mother kept my father's drinking from the ret of her family for years, too, Ellen. It seems the way of it, as River said earlier, to hide our shame, we try to protect others often in unhelpful ways. Only when it is out in full view that the healing can take place, otherwise it tends to fester underground.

I hope your sister is over the worst, Ellen, Thanks.

Elisabeth said...

You're right Kirk, it is only part of the story - a beginning reflection on Alateen. There's more to come.

Thanks, Kirk.

Elisabeth said...

As I just now said to Kirk, Karen, this is only the beginning. Where it goes is only half written. Even I don't know fully what might transpire through the writing and in my memory.

Thanks, Karen.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for the invitation, Ms Moon. I've just now visited Syd's blog and I'm pleased to have done so. His blog is certainly one that seems worth following.

Three are so many affected by the ravages of alcoholism.

Ruth said...

To know that one is not alone in this experience provides a window, a release out of the confinement of feeling confused and isolated. It helps a lot, I think.

susan t. landry said...

elisabeth, i am listening. your subject line grabbed me in that, uhoh part of my lower digestive system.
as i've said before and will continue to say: what you do here, and particularly how you do it, is to my mind a singularly brave and important use of this medium.

Jim Murdoch said...

Several others have already expressed my main thought here, that is a piece of writing cut off just when it was getting interesting. I also think that last paragraph would be far more powerful if it was told completely in Damien’s voice. But it badly needs a reaction to cauterise the wound be it the response of the person in charge or the narrator; we want to know what she’s thinking, to see how she’s been affected by this revelation. Is she aghast or does she shrug her shoulders and think, But isn’t that what every house is like? Why all the fuss?

aguja said...

I echo the words of Tabouleh.

If writing is your medium, then this is the way in which to release and to share.

I have written some of my childhood in the past, but when I was youger and just to have it written there for me to make sense of, as much as possible, later.

Angela Recada said...

Thank you so much for stopping by my blog and for introducing yourself. I am so glad to meet you. Your writing is incredibly compelling. I realize all too well how difficult it must be to write about such personal and difficult topics.

Wishing you peace, in mind and body. And sending warmest greetings from Wisconsin, USA.

Elisabeth said...

I suppose it helps to shift us out of the isolation of our lives, Ruth, this writing about past experience and hopefully it also links us to others.

Thanks, Ruth.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks Susan. I've tried to use the medium, as you say, effectively but I can see that I've also left people dangling to some extent and therefore I need to say more. It will follow.

Thanks again.

Elisabeth said...

You're right, Jim. It's unfinished. Much of what I post online is unfinished.

It's one of the joys of blogging as far as I can see to leave things slightly hanging, but maybe this was too much so.

In any case I shall post another piece more in the present.

I was trying to compare memories/experiences of Alateen then and now .

See what you think, Jim and thanks.

Elisabeth said...

It's good to see you here, Angela and many thanks for your good wishes from so far away. It's wonderful that we can connect within the blogosphere from so many distant places and states of mind.

Syd said...

Alcoholism affects about 12 people who are either relatives or friends of the alcoholic. It takes a while to not keep the secrets and to not deny the problem. Glad to be here and to read your blog.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for the encouragement here, too Syd.

In my family there were more than twelve people affected. When I consider that my parents had nine children and those nine children between them had another twenty three children. So along with spouses and extended families the numbers keep multiplying. Trauma's like that but we can also learn good and helpful things along the way. It need not go on forever, if we can recognise its impact.

Thanks again, Syd.

Jane Lancaster said...

Room 6A she kept repeating..this picture you paint makes me cry. I'm glad you aren't going to keep us dangling...xo

Elisabeth said...

I don't usually aim to keep people dangling, Jane, but it happens sometimes. There's too much to say and blogs can only accommodate just so much.

Thanks, Jane.

Glynis said...

A brave move, thanks for sharing your experience. A great imagery piece of writing...shame it is not fiction.

Elisabeth said...

Well Glynis, you've left me wondering. What difference does it make, fiction or non fiction? Do you feel more constrained to comment on one over the other?

Thanks.