Updated: Feb 26, 2018
Denial is the hallmark of an alcoholic family and so it is no surprise that these families provide little or no support for children to work through the pain of the absence of parenting that would occur in a growth-fostering family. - After the Tears by Middelton-Moz & Dwinell
From my eighth grade through college, my parents lived in a townhome development called Lake Hinsdale Village. It was quite nice: a lake fingered through the community and there was a clubhouse with a billiard room, sauna and an outdoor swimming pool. My parent’s marriage devolved after moving into the townhome and my father eventually lived on the couch in the basement and my mother lived on the 2nd floor.
My mom was an angry alcoholic, preferring Manhattans, starting anywhere from 5:00 to 7PM. She was usually silent when she drank. As she dragged on her Salems, her anger seethed below the surface.
I remember one time she insisted I do my high school homework at the kitchen table, next to her while she slowly became glassy-eyed. Although at one point I asked her if I could go upstairs, she refused. She apparently wanted my company, even though she never said a word and just stared, unblinking.
While in college, I came home one weekend during my father’s personal renaissance, having taken a neighbor’s recommendation to attend Al-Anon meetings to cope with his wife’s drinking. Of course I wasn’t aware of this at the time, communication not being a priority in our family.
I come home one evening and my father and mother face me at the top of the stairs. My father is holding my mom’s wrist. This can’t be good.
“Sally, I’d like you to tell your mother that she’s an alcoholic.”
Well, that just pissed me off. My father has no concept of boundaries and he’s like a rhinoceros when it comes to people’s emotions. He is man-child in many ways, yet he is still my dad.
When high school started and their fighting became out of control, I lost all respect for my parents. They were either openly fighting or living in separate worlds on separate floors. The whole Sally, go tell your mother and Sally, go tell your father thing was the most insidious triangulation. They had no business having children; both were self-absorbed and dramatic; their marriage beyond toxic.
So there, at the top of the landing, my father repeats, “Sally, tell your mother she--“
“NO!” I yell. I charge up the stairs, staring my father down as I make my way toward my bedroom. He grabs my wrist with his other hand. My father is a strong man. And belligerent. I am trapped. “FINE!” I yell at my father. I level a flat look at my mom. I just want to go to my room. These constant fights are so annoying…why the hell did I come home? I say flatly, “Mom, you’re an alcoholic.”
Immediately, my father drops our wrists and jogs downstairs like he’s late for a tennis match. I’m now face to face with my mother. She has morphed into someone, something I have never seen before. I’m now on the receiving end of her full-blown rage. And she has been drinking! In sheer terror, my adrenalin surges into flight mode and I swiftly turn and run to my room. She almost grabs hold of my arm, but I am faster. Thank God I can lock my door! She pounds on it with both fists and I slide down, my back against the door, bracing it. My heart is pounding in my chest. I’m enraged at my father.
I realize that if my mom had caught me she would have physically assaulted me. No question. And if she had, I would have pressed endangerment charges against my father. No question.
This is the moment she ceases to be my mother and becomes an out of control addict. She is no longer a blood relative to me. Not some one I could ever look up to. Not someone I would go out of my way to help. Any ounce of love I felt for my mother sinks to the bottom of a frozen lake of hate that protects my heart. As my mother pounds on my bedroom door, I grab my black journal and begin to write. I make a pact with myself: I will do whatever it takes to not move back into this house once I leave for college.
Years later, with the help of my psychologist, I came to recognize this event as a prime example of the depth of dysfunction of my family’s boundaries. I knew then that BOUNDARIES would be my life’s work.