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How I Learned to Stop Hating My Mother

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Now she calls her "alcoholic episode" — all two decades of it — over and done. "It's not even a part of me anymore. That was my emptiness, my loneliness, my best friend. I'd rather have my grandkids than my other best friend." Part of me wants to say, "What about me? Why couldn't you quit for me?" But I don't want to get greedy.

Now, I schlep my sons down to visit their beloved Nana in Florida as often as I can. She has reinvented herself in the Sunshine State — playing bridge with the ladies in her condo complex, devouring esoteric books, and yakking with her astrologer. She bought a house that the grandkids would want to visit — near the playground and pool, even though she hates to swim. "I am getting what I want. I am me now, and I think that makes me free," she says.

And even though my mother lives alone, she's not lonely like she was when she lived with all of us. Sometimes, when she's out pulling weeds, she finds herself dancing. "And I'm good. I'm actually loose," she says. "And I'm thinking, I used to believe I had to drink to dance. I'm better sober."

I know that there is a good lesson in there for my friends and me, and I'm finally ready to hear it. Nobody said that life is fair. My mother felt squashed by not having any of her own choices; we feel overwhelmed by having too many. Being a woman is never easy, and these days we are pushed and pulled and stretched in a thousand different directions trying to be the wife, the mother, and the career woman. Tell your friends, my mom says, as they try to work out this impossible balancing act, not to forget to dance for themselves.

But there is something else that is just for me. A few days after we finished slogging through our tortured history, she called me up. "I've been really worried about you," she said. "I was afraid that these conversations have upset you, have hurt your feelings." Funny, I thought, I was really worried about your feelings. That is a first for us both.

 

Originally published on December 18, 2007

 

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