Friday, September 4, 2015

Facing Reality: Mom Was An Addict

This is going to be really hard for me to write.  It's hard because I want to think the best of my mom.  It's hard because I can practically hear Mom denying every word I say.  It's hard because it's something I've been denying for a long time, but I really have to face reality.  Mom was an addict.

Mom was not the type of addict that's shown on TV.  She wasn't drunk all the time (although I suspect she drank more than she let on).  She didn't do drugs (although we definitely had some questions about her pain meds).  She didn't pawn off her wedding ring or lose the house in a bet.  But her addictions definitely affected everyone around her. 

I first heard that mom had a problem when I was 10.  We had gotten the internet, my parents were getting divorced, and Mom and Dad were constantly fighting about money.  Dad wanted Mom to spend less time online, less time on the stocks.  Being only 10, I really didn't understand much other than stocks must be bad.  I do remember asking Mom to stop buying stocks or to sell if they were about to drop, and I was told I didn't really understand and left it at that.  Of course, that was a theme that often repeated itself.

As I grew older, money became a constant concern.  Mom worked hard and she provided me with all of life's necessities, but there never really seemed to be anything left over.  In times when I'd get upset because of some money issue, Mom would almost always answer with something along the lines of, 'If that one stock had done what I thought it was going to do then we wouldn't have any worries.' Or, "If I hadn't had to use the money for XYZ and could have invested it like I'd wanted to, then we wouldn't be in this situation."  I quickly grew tired of stocks being an excuse, and Mom and I had many arguments over this.  At this point, I started to wonder if Mom had an issue.  In fact, I'm fairly certain I mentioned to Hans a few times that I was nervous about getting into the stock market because I didn't trust how I would handle things.  Honestly, it's still something I steer clear of when I can.  Still, though, if someone had asked me, "Does your Mom have a problem with addiction?" I would have answered no (assuming we had not just had a fight).  Stocks were just my mom's quirky hobby.

And then, all of a sudden, life events made my mom surprisingly financially secure.  No, the stocks didn't assist in this, but I was suddenly scared of what would happen with Mom's financial security if she stayed involved in stocks.  I begged her, pleaded with her, and made her promise to stay out of stocks.  We came up with a business plan together; a semi-risky investment, but one I KNEW I could make work.  There were so many promises.  Years passed, and I kept asking Mom about this future investment, and I was told that it was there.  I was told we could access it in a few years.  I was told I'd have it when I needed it.  And then, when it was really, truly needed, I was told it had been lost in the stocks.  There was so much hurt, so much anger.  She had been lying to me for years.  She had wasted her future, my future, Anna's future.  She had cost me years of back-breaking labor (character-building, sure, but I wouldn't mind avoiding it), and more importantly she had caused me so much heart ache.  When I think about Mom's life, there's so much that I miss, but that's the one thing that makes me truly angry with her.  It's the one thing that leaves me screaming up at the sky.  Why did she have to lie?

OK, so Mom clearly had a stock / gambling addiction.  Writing it out makes it even more obvious.  How could I not notice?  Oh yeah, she was my mom and I loved her.  I wanted to believe the lies she told, even if I knew I really couldn't.  But, as I'm learning, addiction doesn't really end with the act.  There's so much more surrounding this issue than just 'Mom had problems with money.'

As you may have noted, there are trust and betrayal issues.  Mom didn't want people to know her problems. She wanted to seem like one of those amazing investors who makes millions.  She never told people about the $6,000 she spent on stock market books or the years she spent just barely getting by.  She lied about a lot, and that's something I'm just really coming to grips with.

Then there were the people in her life.  I never understood why Mom chose to be around many of the people she did.  For a long time I said that Mom was too kind, too trusting, too childlike.  She let people take advantage of her.  To some extent that's true, but there's another side of that.  Mom surrounded herself with other addicts.  Many of the people she knew were alcoholics.  Some of them were extreme social drinkers, some were closet drinkers, but all of them suffered from the same addiction.  They also had one big thing in common: they supported Mom's addiction.  They never questioned her time in the stocks, they supported her.  They drew her in and encouraged her.  When Mom and I would fight, when I would beg and scream for her to stop, they would whisper disparaging words about me.  A few even called me out, saying that I was spoiled or a bad daughter.  Mom always made excuses for them.  They were just defending her.  They were just upset for her.  What she didn't understand, though, was that they were just causing us to drift further apart.  Mom, whether she knew / understood it or not, was willing to let these people come between us because it protected her addiction.  It allowed her to continue doing what she was doing, and she was giving up her family so she could continue playing her game.  She never could understand why I didn't want to be around these people.  Heck, for a long time I didn't understand it either, but the reality was that I wanted to protect myself from that lifestyle.  If I could have, I would have protected Mom from it too.

And then there are the other, side addictions.  The ones that wouldn't seem like such a big deal if it weren't for this bigger thing.  Of course, there's the smoking.  How many addicts have said things like, "It's no big deal." "I could quit if I wanted to." "It's not like that for me."?  Mom said all that when it came to cigarettes. 

And then there's the drinking.  I never saw Mom drunk.  Not once in my life did I see her even tipsy (she'd throw up first), but I did see her drink too much.  I did come home a few times to find the bottle of wine I'd had for ages had suddenly disappeared.  I did hear her say things like, "Oh, it was just a little." "Oh, I can have more glasses than usual because these glasses are small."

And lastly, there are the things I'm just not certain about.  Did she really need to take as much Tramadol as she did?  Was she experiencing physical pain, or was she trying to numb some emotional pain?  Was it a little bit of both?  When she was 2 weeks post back surgery and could barely used the bathroom on her own, did she climb the stairs and search through our cabinets to find her Percoset simply because she was so looped up on pain meds she wasn't thinking straight, or was she trying to fill a craving?  Did she accidentally take her Lorazepam (for nerves) instead of her Amlodipine (for blood pressure), or was she doing some excessive self medicating and just not telling anyone?  One of the hardest things about all this, is I really don't know how much of what she told me can be trusted.  And I don't know if I can't trust her because she was just out of it for a while or because she was flat out lying.

You should know that writing this is extremely difficult.  I hate painting my mother in this light.  I love my mom.  This woman who had all these issues was still a wonderful mother.  She fed me, she clothed me, she sang me to sleep, she read to me at night, she went on class field trips, she took me on fun, crazy adventures, she loved me.  In many ways she taught me what a good mother looks like.  She gave me butterfly kisses and Eskimo kisses and doggy kisses and just plain old regular kisses.  She held me when I cried and taught me that I'd always have someone there for me.  She cheered me on in all my successes, and talked me through all my failures.  She was wonderful, but she had a problem.  She had an illness. 

Mom never could admit or recognize that she had a problem.  How could she when some of the people closest to her could barely recognize it?  I often wonder what life might have been like if she'd sought help.  In conquering one addiction would she have been able to conquer others?  Would she have quit smoking sooner?  Would she have had a stronger support network?  Would she have surrounded herself with such toxic people?  Would she have gotten cancer?  Would she still be here today?  It's kind of pointless to ask this now, but I can't help but wonder.

There may not be much point to this post.  This may just the ramblings of a tired almost-30 year old who misses her mom.  But a lot of it needs to be said.  A lot of this I wish I could have spelled out for Mom.  I wonder if she would have listened.  So, I'm writing it for you. Maybe you knew Mom.  Maybe you're in a similar situation.  Maybe you're just interested in my ramblings.  Whatever your reasons for reading this, thank you for reading.


  1. Beautifully said. It is not easy to be this vulnerable and speak from the heart but I truly believe that by sharing someone else will have the courage to speak up, recognize an addiction, take action. You are making a difference. No doubt you loved your Mom and she loved you. It's hardest with those we are closest to and care so much about. Much love and to you.

    1. Val, the person above said it well. Also, I am sorry to say, I do not think she would have heard you, if you had the talk. She hide the above very well. I always thought she did really well in stock. I would be surprise if she was an alcoholic, she came to a few of the wine tasting classes, they gave you tasting and her eyes seem to glaze over a little, so unless she had taken or drunk some else before, I thought it was because she didn't drink much. Maybe I'm still being fooled. I had been on her case since 1985 to quite smoking, she never listened. She did tell me, she heard my voice, when she found out she had the cancer. I think once she got the cancer, she looked at her life and wasn't happy the way it went. I didn't really understand, until now. Thank you for sharing. I have been thinking about both of you. She loved you so much! Mary G

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  3. You should write a book Val! I understand the heartbreak! My father is an alcoholic and so was my first husband. I guess I was naive for so long. I could never believe that a person who I loved so much and was supposed to love me could lie like they do. They can never be trusted and instill deep issues in those closest to them. I think it takes a lifetime to recover if we ever really do. Our broken hearts are scared forever. You are so strong facing it and putting it out there. Don't keep their secret!