Thankfulalcoholic's Blog

Hallelujah! Stepdaughter is going to see a therapist. She starts Friday, which is good, since she either did or did not break up with her boyfriend, who she lives with, in a studio, a half mile from here, today. Her dad just left to go out and meet her for a beer. I wish him well with it: He’s going to try not to yell angrily at her. That’s also progress!

I feel for her very much. I remember how I used to say exactly the same things she says now: that she has no sense of self, that she feels hollow, that life is worthless, that she can’t see any point in going on, that she hates herself, etc.

Very thankful she’s getting some help. I’ve come to recognize a number of those issues as being absolutely typical of growing up in an alcoholic home. How the weirdness and unreality and all the lies you are told and tell yourself tend to make you lose touch with your own ability to see reality. How you can’t develop a sense of self when you can’t trust your own perceptions because people are always telling you the sky is green but you know in your very heart that it’s blue but you can’t ever admit it even to yourself. And how it’s natural to hate yourself when you do a lot of things that violate your values, but the good news is, you have VALUES, and you’re upset that you’re violating them, so, you really do have a self down in there, she’s just strangulated and squashed.

I want to tell her, hey, I was JUST LIKE THAT, and now I’m NOT. I have a very concrete sense of self, I know who I am and what I feel, I cherish my life, I take joy in small amazing things every single day, even the very worst days, and through a deeply unpleasant but necessary process I have let go of all the self loathing I acquired through years of destructive behavior and lying and infidelity and all the rest of it. In fact, I sort of DID say that when we had our big talk last week, but like I said before, I remember when I was going through all that, I could barely hear what other people said to me, much less take it in. I’m sure I probably sounded like the Charlie Brown teacher to her. Never mind, at least she’s going to see a therapist. And I did my little best to plant a seed of hope at least.

I also have to admit that there is definitely a karmic feeling about having someone like this in my life. I am learning a much greater sympathy for my poor mom, who ultimately felt she had to simply cut me off completely during one of my depressive periods, because my thrashing and flailing was driving her insane with grief and worry and impatience and exasperation. At the time I felt that as a huge betrayal, but I’m now seeing from the other side exactly how excruciating it can be to be in the orbit of someone who is experiencing this type of unintentionally self-inflicted anguish. I think because of my experience with my mom, I’m willing to go a very long way with people before I would even consider cutting them off, so I don’t see that happening here, but i definitely understand, I mean, DEFINITELY, the impulse.

I don’t know what path will take my stepdaughter in the direction of sanity and peace but I sure as hell hope she gets her feet on it faster than I did. (My husband did offer my life to her as an example of someone learning and growing and getting right with the world, and she agreed but then said, bitterly, “Oh GREAT, I get my life together when I’m 40!”) In an AA meeting the other day, there was a very young man there with a court slip, and I felt compelled to try to reach him. I ended up sharing about how last year, when I found my old high school journals, I found an entry that said, essentially, “Note to self: When I drink I do stupid things and hate myself.” Thirty years later, I finally understood what I meant. hahaha Ah, shit, well, it’s just too bad. I wish my beloved people didn’t have to suffer so much, but also, I guess we suffer through to truth, as Aeschylus or one of those Greeks put it.

So thankful to be sober tonight and not creating new regrets, new things to make amends for, new holes to dig out of.

Thanks for reading.

Last night my 89-year-old father called and left 10 messages on my voice mail between midnight and 5am, telling me that he was having trouble breathing and he needed me to come and drive him to the hospital.  Then, he left a message saying he was calling 911, and then, a message that he was at the hospital, and then a message that he needed me to come and bring him home from the hospital, and finally, a message that he had taken a taxi home.

Meanwhile, my husband was out with his daughter, who was telling him the she was suicidal, that she hated herself, and a number of other things that I won’t go into here.

My dad had also gone to the hospital Monday — or wait, I should say, he called me at 6 in the morning and I obediently TOOK him to the hospital Monday, because I was too groggly and out of it to stop and reconsider. He had fluid in his lungs because his medication was out of whack, because, he’d had to go to the hospital the week before with a nose bleed that wouldn’t stop, so they reduced his anti-clotting stuff.

I had talked with him about the fact that he has congestive heart failure and needs to call 911 rather than calling me and waiting 45 minutes for me to drive over to get him, and another 20 minutes to get him to the hospital, but I think when he wakes up in the middle of the night, unable to breathe, he forgets all that and just wants ME, NOW.

He did this for about 6 months with regard to my mom’s emergencies before I moved her into an assisted living facility (too late, I should add, she wasn’t getting a high enough level of care — how could she have been, with only my dad to take care of her at home?, but I couldn’t see it at the time).

I’ve talked with him about the risk to himself of dialing me instead of 911, but I can see I’m going to have to talk to him about the cost to me as well. I’m afraid of that but I have no question in my mind that it must be done. I fear that he will punish me for months for having the temerity to suggest that my marriage, my job, my need to sleep, indeed my emotional health, require my attention, and that I can’t drive him to the hospital 3-4 times a week in the middle of the night without severly comprimising them all. And that I am franly NOT WILLING to do that for him.  I think he will be hurt, furious, disappointed, and forlorn, and I know that I just have to let him have his reaction and care for myself.

I’m trying to make sure he has alternatives. He now has a life alert system, which I can’t get him to use. I have started talking with him about assisted living, but he says the same thing about that that he says about calling 911, “No, I don’t want to do that.”

The thing is, my Dad really doesn’t believe that it’s appropriate for me to have my own life, and for me to be unwilling to drop everything to drive him (or previously my mom) to the hospital 3-4 times a month. And for a very very long time, I didn’t believe that either. I was raised to put my mom’s emotional condition before my own and I did that for years and years and years before I even started to be able to see that I didn’t even know what I felt or what I wanted, much less what to do about it.

Now that I have started to understand, thanks to the incredibly helpful insight of my therapist and now my Al Anon group, that a whole different way of being and thinking — putting myself first, really being THERE for myself — is possible, I can see that all my relationships are going to have to be renegotiated.

My dad is convinced he’s going to die this week. He showed me the will twice when I was over there visiting yesterday. I don’t know if he’s right — he seems fairly well to me, but obviously the breathing thing is terribly scary. He might very well panic himself into a heart attack. On the other hand, it seems to me that he could be around for a couple years yet, and if that’s the case, I simply have to preserve myself, so that I can be there for him when it really matters.

I want him to see that and agree with me, but I’m also learning that ultimately it doesn’t matter if he does or doesn’t. That’s his business, and he has a right to his reaction and his opinion. I need to attend to my own.

As for my husband and stepdaughter, well, that’s a whole other kettle of fish. My husband seems to have been pretty confounded, and he has asked me to talk to her. The truth is, I was just like her when I was her age, not that it will do her any good at all to hear that. I don’t know if anyone could have helped me then, and I don’t know if I can help her now. But I am willing to try.

Again, there’s a huge challenge for me, here. I can try to talk to her, but, it’s going to have to be on my schedule.

It’s amazing to me how many wounded people are running around, just waiting to find a vulnerable person to engulf with their emotional neediness. I guess that’s exactly how I was when I was drinking. I don’t think I knew there was any other way.

Once again, just so thankful for the wisdom of Al Anon that has helped me see when helping becomes unhealthy: when I am doing something for someone that they could do for themselves; when I am helping at great cost to myself; and when I am angry or resentful about the help that I am providing.

Wishing everyone happy holidays!



If you’ve read my spasmodic posts in the past, you might remember my horrifying holiday season last year. It was my second time through the holidays sober, and all of the insane beliefs, assumptions, attitudes, behaviors, and expectations that probably turned me to alcohol in the first place were in full cry, unmedicated, clamoring and screaming and pounding on things and dancing around and lighting things on fire and generally making me totally insane.

I remember writing about the awful experience in San Francisco with my stepdaughter and husband. What stands out for me now in memory is how hurt, infuriated, and victimized I felt by the fact that neither one of them was thinking about how their drinking-fuelled fighting was affecting ME. I didn’t think I should have to stand up and say anything about it, or perhaps take a plane home, because I thought it was obvious that they were behaving badly and making me miserable and potentially sabatoging my sobriety, and they should know better. I thought that everyone knew that good families keep an eye on how other members of the family are feeling and adjust their behavior accordingly to keep everyone comfortable.

What’s interesting, looking back, is how very very clearly I see all the thinking patterns of the Al-Anon — the person whose life has been affected by a loved one’s drinking — in all my thoughts, reactions, and misery. And I feel so grateful that I’ve found Al-Anon.

I want to write about my dinner last night. My husband, stepdaughter, her boyfriend, and I had an early Thanksgiving dinner, because they are going back East to visit his parents for the long weekend. After a day of cooking, we had a beautiful meal. We went around the table and talked about what we were thankful for, and my dear husband was almost in tears talking about how wonderful it was to have his daughter out here, and to have a family again, after he’d thought he’d given all that up. It was a beautiful moment — a holiday moment like I haven’t had probably since I lived with my mom and dad. So priceless.

Then the wine-drinking started in earnest. I sipped my apple cider and listened as the volume levels went up, the jokes got broader and little more simple-minded, the meanness started to come out in both in my husband and stepdaughter. The conversation turned to the Occupy protests, and within a few moments they were all-out raging at each other, shouting accusations and railing about not being heard and raking up old conflicts never resolved and all the things therapists tell you not to do. I turned to my stepdaughter’s boyfriend and said, calm and relaxed, “Boy, I really don’t want to do this, do you?” And he smiled wanly and shook his head.

I stood up and cleared up the dessert plates, taking them into the kitchen were I could quickly get some centering. Then I turned to the two of them and said, “Hey, I’m really not enjoying this, so I think I’m going to go to bed.”

Conditioned by my tears and anger from last year, they both started asking if I was upset, but I wasnt at all. “Oh no,” I said, “I’m not upset at all. I just realy find it hard to be around the shouting and non-listening. You’re perfectly welcome to do it as long as you like, it’s not really my business, but, I don’t like being around it, so, I think I’ll just slip out.” I was perfectly friendly and they could literally feel the absence of resentent or anger in my energy. The words weren’t that different from ones I might ahve used before, when they would have been lies and loaded with resentment and the promise of strange punishements to come. But now I was just saying what I thought.

And the cool thing was, I was taking care of myself. I didn’t need to get mad at them for not taking care of me, because, I was doing it. I had reclaimed responsibility for protecting myself, monitoring my feelings, and taking actions to ensure my own serenity, and because of that, I didn’t feel victimized, helpless, or resentful. They were just being who they are. Not something I can, or even should, try to change. Really, everything was fine.

I know I have a long way to go in Al Anon to understand the practical tools of the program. But I feel extremely gratefult that I have found a way to actually address my own internal environment, instead of frantically and futiley trying to control my external environent to bring it into alignment with my expectations and assumptions. My internal environmment I can actually do something about. What a great thing. And what a great Al Anon thanksgiving.

I’m doing some Al Anon writing today, trying to answer the question: How do I try to control people?
I’ve spent a lot of time with this question over the years, even before I got sober and before I discovered what a central issue it is to Al Anon.
When I was in my early 20s, I was in an unhappy relationship. I went to see a therapist, who, after listening to me for several weeks, asked me a couple questions where I answered, “I was trying to get him to…(xyz)” and “I wanted to make him do…(xyz)”
You’re really very manipulative, aren’t you? She asked me, in a gently, kindly way, encouraging me to really look at it.
I was appalled. That question blew up in my head again and again for weeks afterward, as I began to see how incredibly manipulative I truly was.
That was my first flicker of consciousness of what is evidently to be a lifelong project of mine – letting go of trying to control other people, and letting them be exactly who they are.
In my early 20s, my methods of control were fairly broad brush. I agreed with everyone about everything to get them to like me. I was inappropriately warm and flirtatious with men, empathetic and listening with women (the ones who didn’t hate me for being so flirty, blah!). I lied to all my nearest and dearest, casually, without thinking about it, to avoid conflict. I lied about what I wanted, what I liked, what I’d done, where I was going, where I’d been, how much money I had, how much debt I had, whether my job was fulltime, what my ethnic heritage was, where I’d travelled, what kind of grades I’d gotten…. I’m trying to think if there was any thing I did NOT lie about.

Really it’s distressing to look back on – although I have visited this territory before, with a therapist, and while doing my 12 steps in AA. Mostly, though, now I feel sadness for myself and for all the people who were trying to connect with me or help me, puzzled and hurt as they were. Before I could only feel shame.
In a later relationship, a very sensitive and imaginative man showed me some of the ways I was manipulative with him. He showed me how I needled him about unrelated things when I was angry, and how I punished with silence and withdrawing. He helped me see that I wept to get sympathy and to try to change the things he did. He was a great reader of James Hillman and introduced me to Rilke, and ideas about how beautiful it is to create the space for the people you love to be exactly who they are. Unfortunately, he was in a committed relationship with another woman, so much of the good wisdom he had was distorted and strange by his own secrets and lies. At one point, I actually talked about being suicidal to him. I truly felt it at the time but when I look back I can see, with shame, that I was trying to change him.
In the aftermath of that relationship, I learned to be very careful to avoid trying to control people in certain ways. I learned not to punish with silence or weep to try to change people.
But there was still so much more to learn.
One problem was that I was learning how to let go of control but not learning any tools for how to get what I needed in other ways. I was completely terrified of being direct with people. When I try to feel into what that’s about, it’s usually one of two things: I’m afraid that they are so brittle they will break apart (or punish me horribly for months) – which is how my dad reacted to honesty; or that they would withdraw their love from me (which is how I thought my mom responded to honesty for a long time, though my understanding of that has become somewhat more nuanced.)
I’m fairly sure both my parents were alcoholics; certainly my mom was.
Now I am in a marriage with a man who I believe drinks too much. I don’t know if he’s an alcoholic but sometimes he does seem to act like one.
I’m struggling with episodes of being very angry and resentful at him. I’m afraid to talk to him about it, so I tell my therapist about it instead. She helps me craft loving I-statements that reveal the impact his behavior has on me, but instead I come home and spend whole weekends doing his job for him (without his asking) rather than talking about how frightened and angry I feel about how cavalier he is with his work.
So: today, my methods of control, as far as I can tell, are these:
I help, somewhat frantically, to avert the consequences to his job of what seems to me to be drinking-related lack of focus.
I “go blank” when he says he’s going drinking – I don’t respond at all.
I emphasize that I think it’s great that he’s reconnecting with his moderately estranged daughter, and neglect to mention that I’m appalled at how much they drink together.
I pretend not to feel lonely and abandoned when he goes out.
I pretend to be asleep when he comes home so I won’t have to talk with him when he’s drunk.
I try to redirect his conversations with others when he starts being insensitive or obnoxious after drinking too much.
I avoid inviting him to things for fear of what he’ll say or do after too many drinks.
I have stopped talking to him about the confidential issues that come up all the time, every day, in my work, after he blurted out something very sensitive at a party, and then later forgot he had done so.
I keep him apart from my friends to save myself embarrassment and shame.
I hide what I feel.

I can see how destructive these strategies are, and I can also see that they are exactly the same strategies I’ve always used in relationships. It’s clear to me that I need to learn new and better ways of thinking and interacting, if I’m not going to turn my beloved husband into another imaginary monster, as I’ve done with so many people in the past. Very hopeful that Al Anon can help me with this.

Hi Friends,

Wow, it’s been a long time since I blogged. Basically I’ve been recovering from my mom’s death in May, I think. Not that I’m recovered now, but I’m starting to feel a little more like I have new things to say, other than “Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch….” <g>

Here’s a little bit more on what I tweeted about the other day; starting my Al Anon Step #1. I wrote out an answer to the question: “How do I know when my life is unmanageable?” I’m sharing the piece I wrote below. I hope it is useful or interesting to anyone coping now, or who has coped in the past, with this kind of thing.

The clearest indications to me that my life has become unmanageable are when I do the following:

  • Let go of my health/pets’ health
  • Let go of my support groups
  • Let go of responsibilities around money and things
  • Keep secrets
  • Obsess about fears
  • Feel like I’m doing things I don’t want to be doing too much of the time.
  • Feel a lot of loathing for people that I actually love.

Here’s a high-level assessment of where I am with each of those indicators today:


I’m doing well with my health, after a long period of neglect triggered partly by my move away from my regular dentist and eye doctor into a new neighborhood 2.5 years ago, and then sustained by my mom’s terrible long illness and finally death. I’m attending weight watchers regularly and have been losing consistently for 4 weeks, I’m about 3 pounds from my goal weight and well within my healthy BMI range. I have seen my eye doctor and have an appointment to see my dentist set. My blood pressure is great, I’m not on any medication except for depression.

I neglected my beloved cats really for about 6-7 years until AA kicked my butt into getting them checked out. I discovered my darling Roo had a thyroid problem and funded an unbelievably expensive procedure for him practically as my last independent financial act before getting married in Nov 2009. Then I let that go again for a couple years around the move and mom’s illness, only just getting back up to speed in August. To my great grief, I learned they both have kidney disease (both quite elderly), but I am doing everything I can to mitigate the effects of that on the poor babes and feel more or less OK about where I am with them.  I need to get Roo in for a follow up in November: Actually doing that will be a sign of relative good mental health.

Support groups

I catastrophically let go of support groups when I started working  in a challenging new job at the end of June, 6 weeks after my mother died. I stopped going to AA, missed a couple therapy appointments, let my exercise/social schedule slip. After waking up one morning feeling like I hated everyone I knew and couldn’t endure the running whiny commentary in my own brain, I finally had the sense to get back to my home group and other AA meetings. Instant relief, and, on talk with my AA sponsor, returned to the thought that I also need Al Anon. We had talked about this before, but I was so pressed for time and emotional energy caring for mom, I ended up deciding to wait on it. Now, however, things have changed quite a bit and so thankfully this week I picked up an Al Anon meeting which was GREAT thank God, and I’ve recommitted to prioritizing my therapy and writing daily gratitude lists. Also I’m beginning to work the Al Anon steps with this piece of writing and hope to get a sponsor at the next Saturday meeting.

Responsibilities about things and money

I’ve let go considerably of my commitment to wise spending on groceries and have been wildly buying flowers for Dad and organic heirloom tomatos and pre-roasted chickens and stuff like that at the spendy/trendy grocery up the street instead of more sensible items at the regular grocery down the street. I hadn’t really noticed until I sat down to do this exercise but it’s instantly obvious and also a very obvious comfort-seeking move.  I’ve significantly reduced my income, but I think that’s OK (that is, not a sign of unmanageableness) given that it’s in pursuit of a more satisfying and meaningful career, and my husband is one-hundred percent behind it and willing to cover the lion’s share of expenses for at least a year while I find my feet.

I let my car go a month beyond its proper tune up date and finally took it in after it started wanting to not start, obviously having dirty points and god knows what else. I believe my break and tail lights were ALL out by the time I finally took it in, so that definitely counts as insane unmanageability and disregard of personal safety and health (I drive a smart car, so being rear-ended would be just the end). Finally took my car in for a tune up last week. It needs a $700 break job before the end of the year — getting that done will be a good indicator of returning mental health.

Current secrets

I’m in trouble here, although much LESS trouble than I was in when I started AA. I have to say that the quality of my secrets and problems is SO MUCH HIGHER now than it was when I quick drinking, I can hardly describe it. But anyway, now, as I am starting in Al Anon, I have a secret bank account, I have a secret regular social routine with a friend that my husband hates, and the secretness of that friendship from my husband is a secret from the friend, so, there’s obvious nightmarish compartmentalization and fear coming up around that mess.

Actually, my addition of Al Anon to my meeting schedule is a secret from my husband, and the fact that I’m in AA and now also Al Anon is a secret from my dad. Although my dad does know that I’m an alcoholic, it’s just the program I haven’t got around to mentioning. So, you know, secrets everywhere. Indeed, the fact that I believe my husband is an alcoholic, AND that my stepdaughter is as well, is a secret from my husband! The fact that I fear for our marriage because I seem to be growing away from alcohol more and more in my sobriety, while he seems to be turning more and mroe toward it, is a secret from my husband! This is really the stuff that had my AA sponsor and my therapist bugging me to go to Al Anon, which, it’s abundantly obvious to me, is right where I belong, dear god.

Current important fears

That work in Al Anon will lead me to divorce my husband. This makes me nauseated to think about, and yet I do.

That my father will die or be incapacitated. Since he’s about to turn 90, this doesn’t seem like an insane fear, but my lack of serenity around it indicates some major unmanageability, I guess.

That my husband will discover my secret friend routine and/or secret bank account and divorce me. See also nausea.

That my crazy friend will go south on me again and have a big insane codependent martyred lashing out vicious shit fit like she did when I got married.

That my best friend will be forced by financial contingencies to move away.

Things I’m doing that I don’t want to be doing

Spending undue time with aforementioned secret friend, who is also crazy and codependent and someone I wrote about in a previous blog entry. Hoping Al Anon will give me some help with setting boundaries there.

Keeping secret bank account — this feels like it’s about an inability to assert my right to spend money on things I value that my husband doesn’t, and an inability to discuss my resentment of how all of both of our incomes goes into his priorities — and also that I can’t bring myself to say that and endure the (feared) explosions of anger that would result. Again all stuff I think Al Anon can really really help me with.

Loathing for people I love

I’ve really been having problems since my stepdaughter moved to town with how much she, my husband, and her boyfriend drink together. I have my notions about their relationships with alcohol but I’m also aware that I’ve become pretty nutty on the subject. But, I have come to loathe certain aspects of the drinker and the life of the drinker’s spouse, which sometimes turns into loathing for my actual husband and stepdaughter, which I really don’t want to be feeling. Again, already after attending just one Al Anon meeting I feel a strong sense of hope about this problem, and that there are tools to work with to help reduce my struggle with how, even, to THINK about this stuff, much less how to act.

So, yes, wow, well, that all feels pretty scary to publish, but hey, it has to be done, right? That’s how we survive, by sharing our experience,, strength and hope. I have more on the experience and hope side of things to share right now, and less of the strength, but now I know how to move toward strength and I am very thankful for that.

Hi dear friends,

I feel like it’s been a long time since I last posted. It feels like a lot of things have happened.

My mom died on May 5th. My dad and I were both with her, and I was holding her hand. Her breathing changed at about 7 in the morning, I got there at about 8, and she died at about 2:30. When I first got there her eyes were open, and I felt very strongly that she was aware of my presence.

I held her hand and told her all the stories of her life that she’s told me over the years.  I told her she didn’t have to do anything for anyone else, that she could just relax and feel the bed holding up her body. I told her, because I knew she had returned strongly to her Christianity in later years, that she was going to be safe in the arms of God, that he was waiting and couldn’t wait to see her.

It was an amazing experience. Thank GOD, we got her healed off all her FUCKING UTIs, which gave her horrible hallucinations and tremors, so that she was allowed to die peacefully of her congestive heart failure. Her breathing just gradually slowed down and then stopped.

I don’t know how much her poor demented mind could understand of what was happening, but I feel very very certain she knew that my dad and I were there, and that she needed us, and that we did our best by her.

I’ve tweeted many times that I really can’t imagine how I could have gone through the last two years of her suffering and finally her death while I was still drinking. It’s very dark and distressing to think about. I thank god with all my heart for having been sober through this time. I just have no words to express how profoundly important that has been.

Right now, I’m showing all the symptoms usually associated with grieving. I’m emotionally volatile, exhausted, angry, disinterested in things I usually care about, unable to find much pleasure in things. I’ve gone back to seeing my wonderful therapist and she reassures me that all of this is right and as it should be and that it too will pass.

One thing I really did want to tell you about though: For a long time, a LOONG time, as a young woman, I was terrified of the prospect of my parents’ dying. I was an only child, with no near relatives, but my fears went far beyond what might be explained by that.

I thought  that I would go crazy, that I would have no self, that something terrible would happen to me, coming from within, that I could never really put into words. I had a couple serious terrible crazy suicidal depressions in my late teens and early 20s and thought that my parents’ dying would  launch me back into that whirling desperate mindstorm.

In fact, I have been utterly sane about my mom’s death. I miss her terribly.  But I am so glad she is freed from the prison of dementia. I am remembering things I haven’t thouht of for years, from when she was young and strong and so funny and fine. A part of me feels like I have the real her back now. Another part of me is utterly bereft, as if I’d been told I could never see the ocean again. But all the parts are sober, and they’re really pretty sane.

 I think now that there was some element of reality in my fears. I think that my alcoholism had so thoroughly fragmented and undermined my sense of self, my continuity of memory, my ability to learn and develop from experience, that I was truly as vulnerable as a child.  As a drinker, I really could have been plunged back into that hallucinatory madness I experienced in early (alcoholic) adulthood.

But I had a good solid 2 and a half years of sobriety under my belt when my mom died. Years I spent working the steps and building a solid foundation of living without shame, of remembering everything that happened to me, of trusting myself to do what I said I was going to do. Of setting things right that shamed me so much I couldn’t bear to stay with my own consciousness. Of surrendering selfishness and trying to see how to align my life with the will of my higher power.

By no means have I “grown up” from all the lost years of drinking in 2 and a half years. But I have grown enough to stay sane during the greatest loss and grief I have ever experienced, to be a support for my dad, to be honest and communicative about my limitations at work, to not freak out, or make a huge drama, or trash my marriage or quit my job or frighten my pets or, most of all, to drink about it.

My mom seems to be slipping away. She’s in an Adult Family Home, diagnosed with “multiple morbidities,” meaning that she can receive hospice care because she’s expected to die soon, but there are so many things going haywire at once it’s hard to know what will finally end her life.

The hardest thing has been the dementia. Maybe it’s Alzheimer’s, maybe it’s another kind —  it doesn’t really matter. There’s a terrible  “now you see her now you don’t” quality to dementia — it’s almost as if she is in some other place and now and then she comes back. When she’s back, she’s relatively lucid. A lot of the time, she’s not: She can’t remember who people are, and she asks to see people who’ve been 30 years dead, and all of that.

She told me recently that I reminded her of someone she used to know, who went away.

For many months now I haven’t been sure who I will find when I go to see her.

My mom put on a great show in her life, and she was deeply beloved for it. I know some of it was absolutely genuine, no one could fake that much joyful appreciation of everything from little birds to the Giants of Modernism.  She had a gift of deep delight.

She was also an alcoholic, resentful as hell and deeply manipulative, and haunted by a terrible sense of failure.

Those hard feelings almost never came out, but they did occasionally. Then she got sick. I’m not sure when to date the start of her dementia; after you admit it to yourself you start to see it’s been there for a long time. Maybe 15 years ago, the sudden rage fits started?

After many many years of putting a cheerful face on over all kinds of suffering, my mom’s past 5 years have been spent mostly in enormous anger or fear. Some people say that’s the disease, warping her mind and changing her personality. Even my dad says that.

But I feel like, I KNEW her, and this was always there, this was always part of her. How could people not know that?  She was always a volcano.

I can accept that some of it is the disease, but I wonder too if some of it isn’t also all the things fled with alcohol or repressed with silence, finding their way out at last.

It makes me so sad for her. I wish she could be at peace now, looking back over a life well-lived, good things learned, mistakes made and learned from. I wish we could be talking about god and death, and understanding one another, being open and real and true for the first time ever.

Instead in her dementia dreams she whispers about how my dad is disappointed in her, how her sister is angry with her, how sorry she is, how she wishes she’d done better.

Or, anyway, she did. Seems like maybe this week something has changed. She hasn’t spoken since Saturday. Her blood pressure dropped to 77/44 on Tuesday. It came back up, but, she’s barely interacted with anyone, except the woman who shakes her awake to give her milk. The hospice nurse told me it was probably a progression of her heart disease, and that it probably won’t be long now.

I’ve been holding her hand and telling her stories whenever I can. I feel certain she knows that I am there and is comforted by my presence, even though when her eyes open I no longer see the dance of recognition in them. Her love for me was huge — engulfing and crazy sometimes, but never ever in doubt.  Even a couple weeks ago she was still lighting up with pure joy when I walked into her room. What a gift, oh my God.

Sometimes I have the crazy thought that I won’t want to live after she dies, or that, I won’t exist anymore. Almost like the vastness of her maternal love created me and sustained me.

A lot of people have told me what to expect after she dies, I mean, about the grief, about how you can’t understand the intensity of it until you’ve experienced it, about how everything else vanishes to unimportance, and you’re in a bubble no one can penetrate, for a long time.

Sometimes I feel like I’m not doing it right, somehow, feeling so much grief while she’s still alive. I’m not supposed to be weeping uncontrollably in the car YET. As usual I’ve got things all ass-backwards.

I’m incredibly thankful to be sober for this. For my dad, who is almost speechless with the pain of enduring this long slow ebbing away. For myself, so I will look back and know I did my absolute best by her. I won’t have to look back in shame and a sense of not having been good enough, not having been present, having been too hungover and self-involved to really pay attention.

It’s a little strange to feel thankful for something that keeps me present to being sick with dread and loneliness, and a childish yearning for my mama. But I am. I’m grateful to be here.

I’m also grateful that my mom had a very profound and heartfelt faith. The last time we spoke, she knew she was safe in the loving palm of God.  That is a huge consolation.