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Five Sixteenths

The fabulous, maybe mundane, but always truthful bloggings of a five-sixteenths something-er-other.

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Location: Philly, Pennsylvania, United States

I am a 28-year-old work at home mom and full time student. I am a member of the Leech Lake band of the Minnesota Chippewa tribe.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

My sister

My sister is in the hospital now, dealing with liver failure, possibly getting on the list for a liver transplant and being transferred to the U of M for it. She is only 23. I laid my heart out on the line for her today. I really told her everything I've wanted to say for a long time. I told her I loved her, I wanted her to change, I was worried about the way she lived her life and that she was all I had in the world - that I couldn't bury her too. I hope it worked. She kept changing the subject. I think she was worried about crying. She also seemed to be out of it on pain meds. I hope she is ok. I hope she will be alright. I really can't do this anymore. It's becoming so hard just to exist.

I start counseling on Monday. I hope she's a miracle worker.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


I think I've come to the realization that life is changing dramatically and there is nothing I can do about it. I read somewhere that when your alcoholic parent dies, you are left standing in an empty room that echoes and there is just nothingness. You are alone and left with no direction, no one to coerce or argue with, no one to convince anything to anymore, especially not to go into treatment. You are left with emptiness because what was once your complete and utter goal in life - to get your parent to stop drinking - suddenly isn't a problem anymore and does not exist. The 'elephant in the living room' has exited and there is nothing more to hide or be ashamed of. This is how I feel.
The shock of my mom being gone hasn't hit me yet. At her funeral, I had to have 3 people help me up to the coffin and I just stood there, shaking, sobbing, crying out to her... I told everyone, "why did she do this? I tried to make her stop! I tried to get her to stop! Why did she do this to us? I don't understand! I don't understand!" It was the most devastating moment of my life. I felt like a failure. I felt like I had finally failed - I hadn't been able to do the one thing in life that I tried so desperately to succeed at since I was a child - to heal my alcoholic parent.

Anger flows through me and that was my first reaction. Why would someone be so selfish? Why isn't the alcohol industry regulated more? Why did my mom's boyfriend feel utterly irresponsible for her demise when he was the one who enabled her to do what she did? I'm still angry. Angry at myself for not spending more time with her. Angry at myself for not forcing involuntary treatment. And we are all angry for not seeing the eating disorders that needed desperate attention - we were all focused on the alcohol and paid no attention to the eating.

I have my own problems with eating. I binge eat. I haven't been able to admit it but it has been in the back of my mind. I eat until I am painfully full. I eat when I'm not hungry. I hoard and hide food. Why do I do this? What causes me to feel the need to stuff my face? Does it really ease the pain? Am I doing it to ease the pain? The pain of what? I know it's an addiction. Look at my family history. My mother and sister are both addicts with eating disorders. Obviously I'm not unscathed. Just because I don't drink or smoke, or do any drugs, doesn't mean I was left out of the mix - I am still genetically in there with them folks. So obviously it's the food - my only downfall - that is a huge problem for me. It's one I have to conquer.

I have so many unresolved issues with my mom. Questions I don't understand. Words left unsaid. I still can't believe she is gone and being 1000 miles away is the only thing that is keeping me sane right now.

Well that's it for now. It feels good to get it off my chest.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

I found this online...

This story was something I found when searching online about information of the death of an alcoholic parent. It really spoke to me and was profound and this is what it said - in parts:

Blueberries for Mom

by Meagan Francis

Mom buckles me into the backseat of our 1979 station wagon, fastening the seatbelt snugly. She is thirty-seven, young-looking, pretty. She wears a belted sweater in a rusty shade of orange -- just slightly outdated and out-of-season for a July morning in 1982.

We are going blueberry picking.

My mother died when my son Isaac, was six weeks old. By that time her face was prematurely aged from years of drinking. Her hair, like her personality, tended to be unpredictable, frizzled, choppy. Though it was 1999, Mom still wore the circa-1979 belted-orange sweater, still drove old cars, and still earned a 1979 living wage. It was as though at some point Mom’s connection to the outside world just stopped.

I sat nursing my new baby at the memorial service, listening numbly as the pastor spoke, then a few of her friends. Gee, isn't it nice that they're all saying such good things about Mom, I thought to myself as I casually adjusted Isaac's latch on my nipple. Out of the corner of my eye I saw others -- more distant relatives, acquaintances of Mom's -- watching me. "How brave she is," I imagined them murmuring to each other. In truth, I just wanted to get home and get back to life.

When your mother is an alcoholic, you learn how to detach.

The next day, we made the three-hour car trip to Cheboygan, where Mom's ashes were buried in the plot next to my would-have-been big brother, Patrick, who'd died suddenly, in 1970, at six weeks old -- the same age as the fat baby I held football-like under my arm as I stood next to her grave. His death was when Mom's drinking began, so my older sister tells me.

It was a mild November day and I felt uncomfortable, like I wasn't doing the grieving-daughter-thing quite right. Her death felt, to me, less like a loss and more like a release -- a reprieve from that sinking feeling that somebody you love is going downhill, and there's nothing you can do but try to keep yourself from going down with them.

Later, on the car ride home, I glimpsed at the death certificate and saw the cause of death: cirrhosis of the liver due to alcoholism. I felt a momentary surge of anger at the faceless coroner for his diagnosis.

When your mother is an alcoholic, it's hard to get past the impulse to cover up.

It wasn't until later, much later, when I was able to remember not just Mom-last-month but also the Mom I knew when I was five, eight, ten, that I began to grieve. Easier to cry for the loss of the mother who made Christmas ornaments with you every year than the mother who showed up drunk to your wedding and attempted to dance Latin-style with your new husband's crazy uncle. Her death made everybody's job easier. Now we could just remember Mom the way we all wished she'd always been.

I think it took me a long time to accept that Mom was an alcoholic because her usual behavior didn't fit with my childish definition of "drunk." I'd seen drunk in the glassy eyes of my boisterous uncle as he swung me dangerously over his head, laughing at my delighted squeals as the sober adults in the room nervously watched on, ready to spring up at a moment's notice to rescue a catapulting child from going through the front-room window. I'd seen drunk in the loud but good-natured political debates around the table of my aunt's house: die-hard liberals, right-wing conservatives, political scandals, and a couple bottles of good liquor. That was drunk, not Mom's bitter, angry irrationality that just happened to be combined with a sizeable dose of Ernest and Julio.

And drinking wasn't the entirety of what made Mom difficult -- it was simply the factor that could take her from slightly manic to something more, something harder to explain away. Sober Mom might nag me to do the dishes, but only drunk Mom would add, "You're just like your father, you think only of yourself, and you'll always be selfish." Sober Mom might sternly chastise my friend and me for trying to leave the house wearing too much makeup, but only drunk Mom would tell us we looked like a couple of two-bit floozies, her hands clenched, tears in her eyes: angry, but more than angry -- threatened. Sober Mom welcomed debate, seemed to encourage my spirited side. Drunk, she seemed overwhelmed by the fact that I had opinions of my own, wounded by the force of my preteen will, and unable to cope.

On days like those, my best friend wouldn't commiserate, "Man, your mom's being a bitch," but would instead pretend -- badly -- that she didn't notice, perhaps imagining the conversation her parents would have over the dinner table when she told about what she'd seen: It's sad, isn't it. I wonder if we can do anything?

Sometimes when I've had a glass of wine and I lean in over my children to tuck them into bed and kiss them good-night, I wonder if they smell the wine on my breath and if that memory will be forever etched in their memories, and if they'll one day associate me with that smell the way you associate pine needles with Christmas and melting candle wax with birthday cake. The smell of certain kinds of alcohol -- particularly when covered up by a dose of mouthwash -- jolts me into the past.

When your mother is an alcoholic, it can really take the fun out of drinking.

My challenge becomes determining which of my mother's behaviors were damaging (because, certainly, many were) and which were enriching. How can I separate the good from the bad? How can I take the person I am today and decide which parts Mom helped develop (so to emulate) and which parts she just messed up (so to avoid)?

It would be easier if it was as simple as "alcohol = always bad" and "no alcohol = always good." But it was my mother who, though most likely three sheets to the wind at the time, introduced me to Harry Chapin and the original Broadway recording of Fiddler on the Roof. It was my mother who, while accusing me of doing things that my older brother actually did (thereby causing me to question my own sanity) and handing out irrelevant punishments, also encouraged my writing, praised my singing voice, and cuddled with me on the couch while watching TV.

I have moments with my own children that scare me -- moments of disproportionate rage, violent urges that come and go so quickly and sharply they leave me breathless Sometimes my own (sober) voice seems to morph into the scary tone of drinking Mom -- shaming, irrational, cruel, the sound that can make my children wither before my eyes. Other times, I hear the gentle, low humor of Mom on her good days: clever, quick-witted, fun. I'm not sure which I find more unsettling.

Mothering, for me, isn't just a matter of following what feels right. What feels right, I've been told by therapists, books, and armchair psychologists, is skewed -- based on an upbringing filled with uncertainty, dishonesty, and blurred boundaries. I am not allowed to trust my feelings because they will mislead me. At first, I dealt with this uncertainty by mothering in ways that seemed socially acceptable -- the hope being that using society at large as a mothering litmus test would keep me from screwing up. Yet my ever-present urge to rebel (thanks, Mom) against much of what is considered "good parenting" has led me to make up my own rules as I go. An absence of predictable bedtimes -- neglectful disregard of security-building routine, or that much more quality time to spend with Mom? I'm not supposed to worry my kids with my problems, that much I know -- but how much does a thoughtful parent hold back? What's healthy?

I find myself thinking about my parenting goals not in terms of "most wonderful," but of "least harmful" -- when my kids look back on their childhood, I don't want them to remember a few really great moments amid a bunch of purposely forgotten black X-marks. My hope is not that the once-in-awhile good will be so outstanding that it blots out the bad, but that the bad will be infrequent enough that it fades away naturally. I wonder, sometimes, if I'm succeeding. I also wonder just how screwed up that kind of outlook is.

When your mother is an alcoholic, you learn to doubt yourself.

So much I don't understand.

My mom died on Thanksgiving this year. I went back to Minneapolis to help with the funeral. My sister really didn't give me the opportunity to make any decisions or to help any but it was nice to see my family. I also chose a Thomas Kincaid garden set for her folders and guestbook, which was beautiful. The county basically paid to bury my mom is almost like a cardboard box and it was so depressing that my sister and I didn't have money to bury her. My aunt donated a plot and had a reception afterward.

My mom had cirrhosis, alcohol-induced hepatitis C, and kidney failure in the end. She was 44. What was really the precipitating factor, I later realized, was her anorexia and bulimia, that she fought for so many years. None of us really thought it was that serious but seeing that she could not and would not eat and then would drink alcohol on an empty stomach is really what tore up her liver and made her die prematurely. That is why her boyfriend of 22 years and her drinking buddy is still alive and she isn't. It made me really want to delve into understanding eating disorders, as I probably have a compulsive eating disorder of my own to deal with.

I know I need a lot of counseling now. I have to get it for myself and my mom. I have a lot on my plate. One of my aunts commented that I have too much responsibility and it's true. Work, school, a new stepchild, D's baby mama drama, an unhappy marriage, goals for myself that are slipping away, a toddler to take care of, being far from family, being the breadwinner... it's so hard to keep it all together. I also found out I didn't pass my second try at the NET exam to get into nursing school and have given up on that dream, which is incredibly heartbreaking for me.

A cousin who is a nurse mentioned ultrasound school, so I may try that. We'll see. Otherwise paralegal? Who knows.

I still have my weight to deal with but wonder if it's a good time to make huge decisions.

I spoke at my mom's funeral. It made me feel good to talk in front of everyone and everyone loved my speech. It gave me closure. I also got to put Amaya's picture in with my mom, which made me happy too. Not many people went up to see her. I don't think anyone wanted to see her. My grandma lost it when they closed the casket and when the pastor said the 'ashes to ashes, dust to dust' part during the burial service.

I have to look into life insurance on my sister and make sure I have it for Des and I and a living will. Things that you don't want to think about but need to. I am also going to look into involuntary commitment of my sister as well.

Ok, better run. needed to get this all out. I need a shower!