What We Didn’t Know

After three failed marriages, a habit of disappearing for weeks at a time, an arrest for child abandonment, and the inevitable loss of her family, my mother still did not attempt to stop drinking.

My siblings, her sister, a former husband, and I waited decades for her to hit her inevitable bottom. It was another one of those late nights when I received a call alerting me that mom was found unconscious on the roof of an apartment building some forty miles away, and was in a hospital detoxing.

This was nothing new. In reality, it had become so routine my siblings and I considered it an irritating inconvenience. We’d even developed a system of sharing this burden. It was my turn this time and that meant I’d be the one who’d have to put up with her alcoholic withdrawal.

Unconcerned, before I left to deal with mom yet again. I picked up my dry cleaning, dropped my neighbor off at his commuter train, and finished up some work I’d taken home.

As I approached an ominous Victorian-looking urban hospital, a thought permeated my mind: What was I going to do with mom when I got her? I wasn’t sure where she lived or if she had a home at all.

My wife had laid down the law and made it clear that my drunken mother was not welcome in our home. My siblings’ spouses had also enacted the same law.

Upon entering the hospital and after I got the “this is your mother, you should take care of her” looks from the staff, I was informed not only had my mother been arrested for trespassing, she was suffering from hypothermia and she’d be remaining in the hospital overnight. Relieved I wouldn’t have to deal with mom immediately. I stayed by her bed just long enough to give the impression I was a concerned son and got up to leave.

As I was leaving, a young nurse stopped me. She said she wanted to talk to me about mom. I told her I really had to be somewhere else. She then handed me a pamphlet that said “Treatment for Dual Diagnoses.” She said she suspected her father had suffered from co-occurring depression and alcoholism. By the time she realized it, It was too late and he had drunk himself to death.

Upon reading that pamphlet and doing more research, I suspected my mother was an undiagnosed manic-depressive who was using her drinking to self-medicate. “That’s why,” I told my sister she’s never hit bottom. Because at her bottom was a mental illness she was terrified to face.

Homeless and broke, mom had no choice but to do as we told her. Finally after years and years of unpredictable behavior when she was sober and uncontrollable drunkenness, Mom, a ragged remnant of her former self, made the decision to enter a rehab facility in Florida and deal with both her disorders.

My siblings and I, aware our mother has not one disease, but two, have allowed her back into our lives. That doesn’t mean I don’t still fear it when my phone rings late at night. I do.


Brian L. – Babylon, NY