I wanted to share the story of my mom and her battle against alcoholism. More than 15 million people in the US struggle with alcoholism and less than 8% of these people receive the treatment they need. Alcoholism is a disease that no one really wants to talk about or even simply acknowledge. It can be shameful, scary, overwhelming, and isolating. This subject is really important to me because I lost my mom to this disease recently. My goal in sharing my family’s story is to let as many people as I can know that if you are battling with alcoholism, or have a friend or family member that is, you are not alone. Growing up my mom was my best friend. I would go to her for advice, if I liked a boy, or even just to talk. My parents supported me and my sister, Makenzie, in our school activities and extracurriculars. I really could not have asked for a better upbringing. Everything changed when my mom decided to get a gastric bypass surgery my senior year of high school. My mom had always struggled with her weight since I can remember. She did not want to be in pictures, and she was almost always the one taking them. She had tried every diet and exercise routine in the book and nothing really worked for her. Finally she decided to get this weight loss surgery as a last resort. Now, me and my sister were completely unaware of the surgery, and we would be until years down the road. I understand that it was her decision to get the surgery, but with my mom being in the medical field, I feel like she should have understood the risks of it. A gastric bypass can result in loss of appetite, malnutrition, increased risk of alcohol abuse, and many more health complications. After my mom received this surgery her behavior and appetite dramatically changed. We would sit at the dinner table and she would eat maybe two bites of her food, and watch us as we ate. She would play it off with different excuses every time. It got to the point where I had a gut feeling about the surgery and I decided to ask her if she had a weight loss surgery. I remember her face to this day. She immediately shut me down and said she didn’t. I could always tell when my mom was lying, but I understood why she wanted to keep this from us so I let it go. Shortly after the surgery my mom started acting like a completely different person. She was very secretive with her phone and she felt very distant from me. Eventually, my parents ended up getting a divorce. My mom and sister decided to go live with my nana, and I stayed with my dad at the house. It was hard for me to be away from my mom and my sister, but I felt like there was some pressure on both me and Makenzie to take care of our parents during this time. To be completely honest, I look back and I know I was not there enough for my sister and mom. I wish I could have been there for everyone at the same time but it simply was not possible. As my dad and I tried to adjust to the quieter house, my sister and mom decided to get an apartment. After they moved in, I would go and visit every now and then. One day I decided to go to the grocery store with my mom. When we got in the car she set down her yeti cup that she carried with her everywhere. I was really thirsty so I decided to take a sip. It was straight vodka. I looked at her and she already had tears in her eyes. I immediately poured it out and she spent the rest of the day begging me not to tell anyone. She used excuses like “it was a one time thing” and “ I am just under a lot of stress”. My heart ached for her. I promised not to tell anyone as long as she never did it again, and she made that promise. This was the first of many promises that were broken. The months to come were so hard. I would spend the night and wake up to bottles clinking in her room as she was getting ready for work. I would go in and she would yell at me to leave and go back to sleep. I ended up telling my nana, and dad about the alcohol, but we all felt really helpless. We would help her get set up at rehabilitation centers just to have her check herself out and uber home. We couldn’t help her get better because she did not want our help. After she would leave for work I would go to all her “hiding spots” and replace her bottles with notes of encouragement. Some would say, “You are so loved. I promise you don’t need it” and others would say “You are stronger than you know. Today is a new day”. She would be livid when she saw her alcohol was gone, but to me it was worth it. I just wanted my mom back and I would have done anything to do that. My mom continued to drink regardless of my family’s efforts to help her get sober. A bottle thrown away just meant an extra trip to the liquor store. I tried tough love, and I tried comforting and understanding. I felt completely helpless. There was a long time that I was not sure how to cope, or who to talk to. My mom would call me drunk and crying at work and I would talk her down. In the coming months, she lost a number of jobs and ended up in two car accidents, one being where they had to pry the car open to get her out. She also got arrested and charged with a DUI. After all of these traumatic events, my mom always turned back to what made her the most comfortable, alcohol. All of this started while I was a senior in high school. However, not very many people would know this. I went to school like everything was normal and did not open up much about my home life. The only people I told were my closest friends and I always presented it as a joke. I did this in an effort to hide my pain and loneliness. I spent most nights crying myself to sleep and others not being able to sleep at all. I wanted desperately to have someone to confide in but I felt like I couldn’t. I was ashamed. Eventually, my mom decided to move to San Antonio with her new (racist) boyfriend. This ultimately made the situation even worse. He constantly enabled her and let her drink as much as she wanted whenever she wanted. This was a time when my mom only called me to cry or yell about something. She never asked how I was or how I was doing with my transition to college. At this point it felt like I was the one being the parent. It was hard. I knew that being there for her would be hard and would take a toll on my mental health, but I was willing to make that sacrifice for her. However, there came a day where I couldn’t anymore. It was the day she told me “if I died tomorrow, you are going to wish you were nicer to me.” She said this because I knew she was drinking and confronted her about it. After she said that, I had to take a step back and worry about my own mental health. As a student at the University of Texas at Austin I decided to go to the Counseling and Mental Health Center. I did not have health insurance because I used to get it through my mom’s work and she was unemployed at the time. Because of this, the only thing I could afford was the 3 free sessions available at the Counseling and Mental Health Center. These sessions really helped me get insight on the whole situation. I spent so much time being there for my family and being everyone’s rock, that I was sacrificing my own wellbeing. The best piece of advice I got was that I needed to let someone be there for me. I wanted to keep going to these sessions but I had to pay for my own groceries, rent, gas, and electricity so it really wasn’t feasible. After going to therapy I decided to finally open up to my closest friends. This took so much weight off of my shoulders. I even found out I had a friend that was going through something very similar. I realized that talking about what I was going through gave it less power over me. My boyfriend and his family also helped me understand that my mom’s addiction was not my fault. My boyfriend’s mom is a sponsor for Alcohol Anonymous and she helped me learn more about addiction and it helped me work through a lot of the feelings I had towards my mom. I spent a lot of time blaming myself for her addiction so having someone help to guide me through such a dark time helped me tremendously. Eventually my mom and her boyfriend broke up and it led my mom even deeper into addiction. It got to the point where my dad had to drive up to San Antonio and move her back into the house. Soon after, it seemed like things were going well. I went to AA with her, and went to lunch with her as much as I could while still trying to manage school and work. She finally got a job again as a cardiac sonographer and things were going well, until they weren’t. After some time, she was back in and out of hospitals detoxing over and over again. Towards the end of my mom's life she started fainting. In one instance, she fainted and hit her jaw on the fireplace. My dad woke up and saw her laying in a pool of blood. She was taken in an ambulance to the hospital. This was almost the norm for me and my family now. She would go to the hospital, she would decide to get treatment, we would all support her in this decision, and then she would check herself out and start the cycle of drinking again. This time they stitched her chin up and sent her on her way. Little did I know that the next time she would go to the hospital it would be her last. A few weeks later I got a call from my nana that I needed to come to the hospital because my mom was not doing well. My nana, sister, aunt, and cousin had to go get my mom from the house and bring her to the hospital. When I got there my mom’s eyes and skin were completely yellow. We were told that my mom had jaundice and that her liver was failing. She was really out of it. I tried to talk to her as much as I could. I told her that I forgive her and that I loved her. I prayed over her and told her that God forgives her. I talked to her all day that day. Before I left I told her I loved her one last time and she whispered “I love you” back. That was the last thing she would ever say. That night my mom took a toll for the worst. As soon as I saw her for some reason I knew it was the beginning of the end. The doctors came and took us into the room where they tell you that your loved one is going to die. He asked us what we were hoping the future would hold. I said I just want my mom back. My nana said she found a treatment center that can help her with her addiction and that she can’t check out of. My sister said she just wanted her to live. With grief in his face, the doctor said that our hopes were unrealistic. My mom had to be intubated over night. She had complete liver failure and her kidneys were starting to fail as well. He said that she was probably not going to make it. Everything after that happened so fast. Since my mom was divorced it was up to my sister and I to make all of the medical decisions. We stayed with her for the next couple of days to see if she would make any progress. We watched our relatives and friends come and say their goodbyes. We talked to her, held her, and gave her as much love as we could. Eventually my mom started seizing and we knew it was time. This is when my sister and I had to sign the DNR. I signed my name and my sister dated it. I had to watch my dad say goodbye to the love of his life. I watched my nana lose her only daughter. My sister and I had to lose our mom. My mom was so much more than her addiction. She was loving, caring, giving and so much more. She was my best friend. You may know someone who is struggling with alcoholism and not even know it. I know that my mom deep down really wanted to get better but she thought she needed alcohol to survive. She was ashamed. She would hide it as much as she could whether it be on social media or in person. Alcoholism has a stigma that can be very embarrassing. This stigma is preventing so many people from getting the treatment they need. This disease is something that needs to be acknowledged and talked about. If there is anything I learned from my experience it is to hold your friends and family as close as possible. If you have a family member struggling with addiction, open up about it. It is more common than you think. Know that all of your emotions are valid. A great resource for family members of alcoholics is Al-Anon. Al-Anon is a place for people who are worried about someone who has a drinking problem. I went once a few weeks before my mom passed but I wish I had gone more. It is hard to accept that addiction is a disease. It was difficult for me to navigate being there for her without enabling and giving her tough love without abandoning her. There is no right answer. I had to realize that it was her decision to drink and I couldn’t make her stop. She had to make that decision. I do know that God stopped my mom's suffering. I know that she loved him fiercely. I have to remind myself of these things daily. It has been hard since my mom passed but I am hoping that our story will reach someone that needs it. I promise you, you are not alone.
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