Editor: This article tells of a woman’s long ordeal with an alcoholic mother and how she learned to cope and have hope with God’s help.
It was a dark, blustery night. We could feel the wind pushing against the car as we drove to the funeral of a man whose sudden heart attack had taken him at a young age. Carl’s death had been prompted by years of alcohol abuse; now his wife and two children were left to deal not only with the grief caused by the loss of a loved one, but also with the torrent of unresolved questions that plagues a family stricken with alcoholism.
Something about that night didn’t feel right. Before leaving the house, the tension had been thick enough to swallow, as if the storm outside was fighting its way inside too. My brother and I were halfway there when the phone in my pocket began to buzz. I answered and heard an agitated voice say, “We’re going back home. We can’t go to the funeral! How could a person even conceive of showing up at a funeral drunk?!”
The troublesome feelings souring our evening now made sense—our mother had drowned herself in another bottle of vodka and though we had all instinctively known what was going on, we hadn’t found the evidence to prove it.
“Well, we’re still going to the funeral,” I answered. “I’m tired of our problems getting in the way of helping others.”
I hung up and we continued to drive, but somewhere we had taken a wrong turn. Twenty minutes of wandering aimlessly brought us to the realization that our intentions would also remain unfulfilled. The funeral service had begun, we were not going to make it, but home was the last place we felt like going.
Where else could we go? No matter how far we traveled, we could never escape the reality of our situation. Filled with sorrow and apprehension, we headed home to face a familiar and hideous truth.
Nothing could have prepared us for what we were about to encounter. Our family had been seemingly consumed by alcoholism for three years, and though I felt that I was continually learning difficult, albeit irreplaceable lessons, it never seemed to get easier. My life was a sickening roller coaster of heartbreak and renewed hope—every time I allowed my heart to trust in a brighter future, it would once again be thrust into the raging waters of the past.
Each morning I wondered if this would be the day that I would lose her forever. Though I had practiced saying goodbye countless times, this never abated the intense fear of letting go. I could handle death caused by an indifferent illness or senseless accident, but facing the emptiness of life without my best friend, because she had chosen to die, would take years of healing. I was already dangling from an increasingly frayed rope; sometimes it seemed like enough, and at other times I could hardly muster the strength to face the day.
As the shame and guilt of our dysfunctional family thickened, I retreated into a protective cocoon of solitude. Although the love of compassionate friends supported me through some of the darkest hours, God—my loving Father—held and sustained me in a way that no one else could. In my impenetrable weakness, I was forced to face a frightening challenge of faith—to rely wholly on His strength. I certainly had not asked for the lesson, but I now know absolutely that I can rest in the assurance that He can and will bring me through every trial that I encounter.
We parked the car and hurried into the house, locking the door behind us. We hadn’t seen her when we arrived, but now we saw her outside, stumbling around and screaming slurred phrases. Suddenly the din of shattering glass punctured the air as a large object came flying into the house. She had thrown a heavy saucepan through the pane of the front door and was now making her way into the basement in slow, unsteady steps.
As my eyes swept over the broken glass, my thoughts jumped to the memory of another night, when I had come home to find her lying on the floor with blood trickling down her forehead. She must have fallen, hitting her head against the dresser on the way down, but I hadn’t been there to witness it. Now it seemed less a question of if, but of when I would have to mourn her death. In truth, she was already gone—all that remained was an empty and devastated shell of what she used to be.
I had given her my everything. I sat and talked with her for hour after hour, even when I doubted her ability to remember the conversation. I held her as she cried, telling me how sorry she was and how much she hated herself. I swallowed my fear and confusion and pain in order to encourage her with words of hope and forgiveness. I had tried to be the kind of daughter that any parent would be proud to have and to love my mother patiently, no matter how many times it was thrown back at me in shriveled and disfigured form. I thought that if I could only be everything she needed, she would overcome this addiction and we would come out on the other side. Instead I realized that I would never be enough. Though I tried to believe her when she said she loved me, her actions made me feel that I was worth less than an eleven dollar bottle of alcohol.
Of course, I continue to pray for the healing of my mother. If it doesn’t happen in this life, it will happen after she is resurrected.
Though the impact of these memories still plays vividly in my mind, God has patiently shown me that His love is strong enough to heal any of the wounds a human being may inflict upon us. I am still learning to accept the kind of love that He offers, but I am reminded of Paul’s comforting words in Romans 8:38: “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The struggles of my family life have taught me to put God first, above all else. Some may have trouble understanding Luke 14:26, which says, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” But the truth is that Christ needs faithful servants who love him more than they love any physical thing or person. I love my family and I strive to honor and support them in every way I can, but obeying God is my greatest priority. I have seen how easily life spirals out of control when we focus too much on the sin and sorrows around us.
As I reflect on the moments that have shaped my life, I hope and pray daily for God to give me the humility and strength to make better decisions than those before me have made. I know that “it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23), but as long as I continue striving to submit to His will, He will grant my desires for a loving marriage and happy, stable family (Psalm 37:4).
I also look forward to the day when we will no longer have to choose between our loved ones and God. Jeremiah related what God said about the future time when Christ will be ruling the earth: “No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD” (Jeremiah 31:34).
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