Mothers’ Day has just passed, but every day should be Mothers’ Day, shouldn’t it? My mother has passed on, but she is still with me in everything she taught me, helping me become who I am. She taught me to question what I hear, to seek my own truth. She taught me to love reading, as it can entertain, teach, and take you around the world. It can inspire you to discover and heal yourself. Her attitude for a life’s journey was: Look for goodness in others, and it will rise up to greet you.
Some mothers have to deal with an alcoholic spouse, as mine did. Dad wasn’t always alcoholic, but by the time I was eleven, there seemed to be no turning back. We all walked on eggs those last six or seven years I lived at home. Normally a gentle, soft-spoken man, when drunk, Dad delivered both verbal and physical abuse. Mom showed up with bruises at times, claiming she’d bumped into something. I knew better.
In spite of living in a marital combat zone, Mom always managed to keep family rituals intact and timely. We didn’t have the rituals that church-going families have, but we never missed celebrating birthdays and all holidays as a family.
Research has found that if an alcoholic’s family continues to celebrate significant family rituals faithfully, the damage the children bear is less than if those rituals are forgotten or trashed in the drunken chaos. Children who can count on those rituals happening as always, are reassured that some normalcy is still there for them. In the midst disrupted meals, cancelled outings, and delayed bedtime, life with an alcoholic becomes completely unpredictable. A child’s sense of security is ruptured, worry and fear move in. Though I lived through many an ugly alcoholic melee, the one that stands out yet today as painful was when Dad knocked down the Christmas tree in a drunken brawl.
I didn’t bring friends home, because I never knew if Dad would be drunk enough to assault them. I prayed Dad would not show up for my concerts or graduation, for fear he would be drunk and embarrass me to tears. The whole family became isolated, keeping our shameful secret and learning a code of silence. Keep everything to yourself. Pretend all is normal. When family rituals were still celebrated on time, we could believe we were going to be okay.Some ask why Mom didn’t divorce or leave. Economic reality of having only a two-year teaching degree at the time was one reason, the other the fact that women who leave abusive partners increase their risk of danger from the abuser by seventy-five percent.
I often wonder how Mom did it. She worked hard milking cows, gardening, canning, doing household chores and child care. In addition she helped with homework, inspired all of us to love learning, and planned wonderful celebrations for our family rituals. We were all impacted by Dad’s alcoholism, it’s true, but Mom mitigated the damage with her true grit and love for all of us, including my dad. She never quit hoping he would recover. It never happened. His alcoholism took his life when I was in college. Looking back, I am sad at abuse Mom experienced and regret I didn’t really thank her adequately for her strength, love, and vision in my life. She is the reason I survived to go on to heal, find myself, and find happiness. Thanks Mom.