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?


KeLLy aNN said...

Yes, Yes, and Yes!
You can see the love in pictures of me with my dad and his mother {my grandmother}. Not so with my mother who had all those same hurtful attributes minus the alcohol.
Every time I had a revelation about my mother as I was growing up, it was such a sense of freedom. That she is the way she is because of the things that happened in her life and that I deserved to make, find, and be ~ HAPPY!
{I shudder to think how mine would have been if not for my dad and grandmother}
I"m glad you feel better.

Paula Miller said...

I do understand. I get sad and anxious around Thanksgiving and Christmas, but for different reasons. I had an AWESOME childhood and wonderful memories of Christmas. But when I was pregnant with my sweet surprise baby in 2001, I had post partum depression. I had no idea it could happen before the baby was born. It can. I had a rough birth with my son, and was scared it would be the same way the second time around. The feelings, the thoughts....were terrible. But December came and my sweet baby girl was born, and my condition got worse. I was not sane anymore really. She stopped breathing not long after birth, the nurse got her breathing again, and said this was normal for a newborn. I wasn't so sure. So I just held her to make sure. I didn't put her down for two days. Finally at home, I thought it safe to put her down. But she stopped breathing again. We called an ambulance and suctioned her out. By the time the paramedics got there she was rosy pink again and healthy looking. We did take her to the children's hospital though. We were there for 7 days and were told all sorts of scary, terrible things. All the while my horomones were raging to the point of illness. I hated the Christmas lights that decorated the halls of this place where babies and children lay sick and some dying. One night a crack baby who was our roommate passed away. It was more than I could handle.
But we found out my little girl had acid reflux,and had been choking on food rather than spitting it up like normal babies. Meds and a feeding tube had her in great condition within a month. Me on the other hand.....that took at least a year before I was anywhere near normal. But really, a lot of my 20's were not quite right. God brought me through though! He gave me His Holy Spirit that held onto sanity for me, and a husband and family that never gave up on me. I am now a much better person for it all. But I do get blue this time of year. Maybe your mother had pdd, but no one knew enough about it to help her. I loved my daughter then, as much as I do now. Which is with all my heart! I held tight to her because I had heard of other women with pdd who secretly blamed their babies for it. She and I weathered that storm together! God gave me that wisdom, it wasn't me! So maybe your mama just suffered through pdd in a time when no one acknowledged such a condition. Maybe she turned to alchol just to survive. There are times I could have....but by the Grace of God.
Also last year, we had another scare with my little girl when she developed migrain headaches. They went in looking for tumors! They found none Praise The Lord!!
So yes, I understand! I have happy endings, but yet the sadness and the pain still resurfaces this time of year to make me somewhat of a scrooge. I still hope over time that will fade. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas!!! Thanks for sharing :)

The Cat Bastet said...

Leann, I'm so glad you found some treasured photos, peace, and freedom in that trunk. Thanks for sharing such a inspiring personal experience!

Cathy AJ

ev said...

Yes to all three.

Thanksgiving has been hard for me for the last 30 years- I got married that weekend, to my best friend. Or so I thought. It lasted 2 years. I dwelled on that for so very long- the failure, the loss, the sadness. This year I barely thought about it. Even tho I have been happily married for the last 14 years, this year was different. I think it might have to do with my husband scaring the crap out of me with health scares the last 12 months and finally letting go of a lot of old hurts.

Made the holiday so much better and i had a great time for once concentrating and enjoying what was important.

Leann Sweeney said...

Great to hear your stories! Keep them coming!


Mare F said...

I am so happy for you. What a wonderful surprise for the holidays. Thank you for sharing it.

Dru said...

Leann, thanks for sharing your emotional struggle with us. I'm so glad that finding the trunk came at the right time to ease the burden that you carried in your heart. You are a good person and I'm so glad that the holidays will have new meanings for you.

Annette said...

Leann, your story is one of triumph. Keep that in mind. You have triumphed. And it is very sad your mother was unable to do that.

Leann Sweeney said...

Indeed, Annette, she lost the person she could have become. I hope I have conquered the legacy so many children of alcoholics are left with.

Nanc said...

Today is my sister's 56th birthday. I don't know where she she is...if she is happy or sad. I do know that she is a raging alcoholic and I had to end our relationship many years ago. I have regained a relationship with her adult children now which is such a blessing. Abuse of any kind, in any manner is such a debilitating thing on so many people. I am thrilled for you that you were able to release those feelings of unworthiness and find a reason to celebrate this most wonderful of seasons. God bless you...


Leann Sweeney said...

I feel for you Nanc and I am glad you let go of your sister. To some that may sound harsh, but you are taking care of yourself and I believe you did the right thing. Alcoholism is a wicked disease. My nephew, who had his own problems with alcohol but got help, found out his girlfriend was abusing drugs. He was wise enough to cut her loose immediately. When the possibility of addiction is in your genes, you must be vigilant.

ElaineCharton said...

Such a wonderful story.

Wonderful that you were able to remember the good things and enjoy the holidays finally.

Aryn said...

I am so glad you found some wonderful photos and found some closure. That word is overused in our therapy happy world, but sometimes it really does fit. I wish I could reach through this computer and give you a hug. Cheers for no tears!

Leann Sweeney said...

Thanks Aryn and Elaine. And thanks for the cyber-hug!


Aurian said...

Thank you for sharing your story with us. Personally I cannot relate to your story, but my boyfriend's mother was an alcoholic. He never could ask a friend over to play, his father was never around. She comitted suicide when he was 18. That date is very mixed for him, as it is also the date his youngest daughter was born (many years later).