Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Picture Can Heal A Thousand Wounds

by Leann

I often spend many hours before, during and after holidays in tears. That's because I am a child of an alcoholic. My mother's biggest binge would begin right before Thanksgiving and often last until the end of January or February. It is, after all, the time of year when people do a lot of drinking. Problem was, she couldn't handle one drink much less two or more. The drinking just went on and on for weeks--morning, noon and night. This was the time when I became scarred for life--a time that should hold many happy memories. But those memories of Santa and celebrations weren't the ones I remembered. I recalled being hurt, despondent, ashamed and guilty. Yes, the kids of alcoholics do blame themselves. For this reason, the holiday season has, in the past, left me depressed and anxious. Those are some nasty leftovers, not the stuffing and pumpkin pie kind of goodies.

This year,we have been cleaning out the house for our eventual move to South Carolina. One thing my husband uncovered was an old trunk that I thought came from his side of the family. It remained unopened for as long as we have lived in this house--21 years. But really longer, since it actually came on a boat from Brazil, where my father worked for the latter part of his career and where my mother died and was buried. When he retired and moved back to the states, he sent everything on a boat to my house in Texas.

Let me tell you, that trunk was one musty and rusty old mess. Many of the other things that had come back to me from Brazil were damaged by mold and mildew on the long journey. My husband opened it and told me it belonged to me, not to him. What a surprise! That trunk was filled to the top with pictures, some of them familiar, but many that I had never seen before. They were mostly pictures of my maternal grandparents and others on that side of the family, as well as pics of my parents through the years.

Seeing black and white proof of happy times with my brother and sister was absolutely transforming. There was a time when my mother was young and beautiful, there was a time when she held my brother and sister lovingly. There are no pictures of her holding me. Not one. I understood then why I felt the brunt of her illness more than my siblings ever did. She once told me I was an "accident" and I think the absence of us together shows the truth. That's really not a sad thing. It's confirmation. I did not cry. I did not feel sad. I felt validated. She was flawed, yes, but she did love some of the people in her life and for that I am happy.

I now have wonderful pictures confirming my memories of living in England during the early fifties. I saw the house where we lived--just as I remembered it. (And I was only three when we moved there!) I saw the horse and wagon that delivered the milk. I saw all the places we went after my father's tour of duty was over--Italy, Bavaria, Scotland. I love that old trunk of memories!

I now have some very well preserved pictures of my grandfather and grandmother. They both died when I was quite young so I will treasure them. But the best part of all were the pictures I found where my mother had that look in her eyes. The drunken look I was so familiar with. I was able to toss them in the trash and I cannot tell you what a great burden was lifted off my shoulders when I did this. Seeing and doing are much more cathartic than thinking...and thinking. No tears for me this Thanksgiving. Just a freedom I thought I would never find.

What has a picture done for you that changed everything? Do you have some? Do you understand?