By Lauren Fern Watt
When I was thirteen years old, I'd sit on the floor of my mom's closet and rummage through her coat pockets searching for empty wine bottles. Like a detective hunting for evidence, I thought discovering the mini Sutter Home airplane bottles and waving them in my mother’s face would finally make her admit she had a problem. For years I did this, spending much of my teenage and young adult life stressfully seeking ways to make my mother sober. I'd hide my dad's six-packs from her and call liquor stores asking if my mother had visited. I'd search for Valium in her Tylenol bottles, follow her in the car, beg and plead that she stop drinking, then allow myself to feel defeated when she wouldn’t listen.
It wasn’t easy to watch addiction turn the mother whom I’d once called my best friend into a woman I couldn’t recognize. For a long time, I didn’t want to tell anyone she had a problem. Sometimes I didn’t even want to believe it myself. I was manipulated by her lies and confused by her behavior. I believed her when she said she went to the doctor because she wasn’t feeling well, even though I noticed she was going to the doctor a lot, and seemed to always be filling prescriptions. And when she started sleeping in more and going to be early, I tried to tell myself it was because she “still had that cold,” or because she was sad that she wasn’t getting along with my dad. I thought drug and alcohol addiction was the type of thing that happened to other families, not mine. But as her addiction grew worse, it became clear how serious this problem was, and impossible to deny it anymore.
Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result. My family and I tried everything: Intervention, rehabs, family therapy. Sometimes she’d get it together for a little while, but the addiction always came back. I used to think that if I yelled at my mother enough or was mean enough or punished her enough, that would cure her. But nothing worked. Slowly I watched my mother’s life crumble away. She moved out of the house we grew up in, my brother and sister moved to California, I went to New York City, and my parents divorced.
My mom lives alone now, and the addiction has taken a serious toll on her body— physically and mentally. Most days she’s lost the ability to hold conversations or visit us or be there for us; she has seizures, and still won’t admit she has a problem. She’s too ashamed of herself to admit she has a problem. She’s too ashamed to get through her week without the support of pills and alcohol. And when I think about her living alone, stuck in her own brain unable to get out, my heart hurts and my eyes fill with tears. I wish my mom knew that her life didn’t have to be like this, that her family loves her, and that recovery is possible if she could only admit she needs help. She can’t get better on her own like she always claims to think that she can.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve tried to educate myself more on the disease of addiction, be open about my experiences with it, and understand that talking about it and not being ashamed of it helps with coping. I’ve finally accepted that I’m powerless over her disease and can’t cure her, but I’ve also realized that I’m not powerless over myself. I also know that I am at a much greater risk of becoming addicted because it runs in my family. But I have hope that if I can talk about my concerns with others, create good habits for myself, educate myself on the disease of addiction, and try to take my own life one day at a time, I’ll be okay. When it comes to my mom, I do my best not to get mad at her anymore. I finally understand that many of the decisions she makes are because of the drugs and alcohol, and they aren’t who she is. Who she is underneath her disease is my beautiful, gentle, kind mother who loves me. And I made up my mind that I will always love her, too. No matter what.
Lauren Fern Watt grew up in the suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee. After college, she moved to a tiny New York apartment with her 160-pound English Mastiff, Gizelle. Her first book, Gizelle’s Bucket List, has been translated into eleven languages and optioned for film. She lives in Los Angeles with her rescue dog, Bette. Visit Lauren's website and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.