"Call your mother. Tell her you love her. Remember, you’re the only person who knows what her heart sounds like from the inside.”
I talk to my Mother at least once a day on the phone. Sometimes, twice.
“Remember, you’re the only person who knows what her heart sounds like from the inside.” I was talking with my Mom on the phone when I read her this quote. I got choked up at “tell her you love her.” My Mom means the world to me despite her struggles with alcohol.
When I moved out of the house and went away for college, I called my Mom a lot to “check up on her,” which really meant to see if she was drunk yet. I’d hope when we talked around 6pm I’d catch her before the Vodka kicked in and prayed she wouldn’t call me the rest of the night. Now, our phone calls are so much more than a checkup. I want to talk to her. I want to hear her voice. I want to tell her what happened that day and I want to hear about her day at the Senior Citizen Walking Pool or what Lester Holt talked about on the news.
My mom drank pretty early on in my childhood. I don’t want to speak for her, but she had it pretty rough as a single mom of four children. My dad left before I was born when my Mom was 29. She had four kids under the age of 5 at 29 years of age. I have no idea how she did it. Some of my siblings weren’t the easiest kids to raise, either.
I was really close to my mom. Not having my dad in the house at all during my entire childhood, I developed a huge bond with my mother. I learned very early on to please her. I did everything she asked of me and anything I could to make her happy and to keep her from pouring a drink. Anything, even if that meant giving up little pieces of my own happiness as a child. Because of this, I grew up fast.
My Mom worked full-time, which left us kids home alone a lot. We would come home to chore lists and a Twinkie if we did our chores. This taught us responsibility, and if you do a good job, you will get rewarded. No one policed this, and I often ate my Twinkie first before tackling my to-do list. I am grateful today that my mom taught us to work hard although, at the time, I hated the chore lists. Being a single mom, she needed all the help she could get with keeping the household clean.
My mom seemed depressed a lot of my life. She would crawl out of her room to make her drinks grabbing ice and 7-up and bringing it back to her room to pour the Vodka that she hid in her closet. She locked her bedroom door when she wasn’t home, but I would sneak in through her bedroom window to count the empty bottles she would mostly buy at Walgreens on her way home from work. Sometimes I would dump out half and replace it with water. She wouldn’t know, right? She never said anything that she noticed.
When my mom was drunk, she often said hurtful things to my siblings and me. Because of this, I remember trying to get her to take a nap to sleep it off because I knew as soon as she woke up she'd be back at it again. When she worked, it wasn’t as bad, but when she was off, I don’t know how many times I put her to bed, just to start over again.
My softball coaches would question me often as to why my Mom couldn’t pick me up from practice and games when they would see her car in the driveway when dropping me off. I didn’t know what to say. I never outed my Mom to anyone as an Alcoholic. She put on a good front, keeping those appearances on the outside by being a Band Mom and my Girl Scout Leader. She’d come to band concerts with a big cup with her drinks and also brought her bar with her to Girl Scout Camp. My friends thought she was the best! They thought she was so fun, not knowing I was screaming on the inside at her drunken behavior. I didn't understand why they couldn't tell how much I was hurting.
During my childhood, something pretty horrible happened to me that I kept to myself until my mid-twenties. As I mentioned in the chapter inCame to Believe, titled, “You’re Only As Sick As Your Secrets,” I survived childhood incest from my older adopted brother. It happened for years in both of my parents’ homes without them knowing. I was silenced by my shame and have only been talking about it for a few years. My healing from this trauma is very much in the early stages as I unravel the mess of memories.
Despite her drinking, my mom was the best mother in the world. Although she hurt me often, she never meant to. She was a fighter, never giving up on us kids. We were able to participate in all the activities we wanted, even though she was broke. She’d buy us the cool clothes even if it meant she wore the same thing for years or drove a shit car that always broke down. She was full of strength when she needed to be, consistently providing opportunities for us. We took music lessons, took school trips to California, played in the band, Girl Scouts, played soccer and softball, ran for student council and ran track. All these things cost money, and the child support my mom received barely scratched the surface.
My mom taught me to work hard. I am a hard fucking worker because of her. I am financially responsible because she showed me to want more for myself then getting married young, skipping college and having babies. Not that there was anything wrong with that, but it wasn’t what I wanted for myself, and she fully supported me following my dreams. She always believed in me.
For most of my life I did what would make her happiest, but when I was 19, I decided I wanted to move away to California to go to college. I know it killed her. But, she didn’t stop me or give me any guilt trips. She even helped me drive all my stuff there even though I knew she hated every minute of me leaving her. I needed to leave her. I needed my own life, a life that wasn’t wrapped up and entangled with hers. I had plans. I had dreams. And I was going to see them through and make her so proud of me. I wanted to do what she didn’t get to. And I know she wanted that for me too.
I lived with my Grandma until I finished college. I loved my Grandma so much and was so grateful for all her help. She always stepped in financially for us when my Mom’s car would break down, or our Air Conditioner in blazing hot Arizona would break. She helped me a lot through college for gas and food even though I did work a part-time job all through college. But, what I made wasn’t enough to pay for my books and tuition. My Mom and Dad did not provide any assistance for my college education. I earned scholarships and paid for the rest myself. My Grandma always would slip me a $20 or her gas card before I left for school each day.
I was the first to graduate from college in my family. I was very proud of myself. I began working for one of the most respected fashion retailers and worked my way up in that company. My Mom and I were still very close, but she was in the height of her disease. My Grandma got Alzheimer’s and was put in a home. This made my Mom’s alcoholism escalate because my Grandma was such a rock for my Mom and us. Eventually, my Grandma passed, and it was so hard. It was hard for everyone. I missed her so much then, and today I miss her even more. She is with me everywhere leaving me signs of her being near me. I call on her often, and she is right there in a heartbeat as my number one divine guide. (I love you, Grandma.)
Things continued to go downhill for my Mom when she ended an unhealthy relationship with a boyfriend who I thought was a total asshole. I was so happy she ended it that I was eager to help her move on. When I was 22, she asked me to co-sign on a mortgage for a mobile home. It was one of the worst financial decisions I ever made. But, I was so young and so eager to help my mother. Often our relationship was unbalanced where I was performing parenting behavior, and she was very much the child. This mobile home was a disaster and fell apart quickly as she barely was cracking away at the mortgage with a horrible interest rate. I eventually had to move her out and file bankruptcy to get rid of that financial mess.
In my late twenties, my Mom got very sick with pneumonia and had to be hospitalized. This was one of the most stressful times in my life. Once they admitted her to the Emergency Room, she went into a very long coma. With pneumonia and not having any alcohol in her system (she was too sick to make a drink), it caused severe complications with the withdrawals. She was diagnosed with liver sclerosis and was in a coma for a while. During this time I had just moved to Los Angeles after having to leave the big box fashion retailer after hurting my back pretty severely on the job. I flew home every weekend to take care of my Mom’s affairs. My other siblings were not as helpful with my Mom, and the responsibility was put on my shoulders. I was extremely stressed out and had no tools to cope with all of this. My Mom was incoherent, and I had no idea if she was going to come out of it and I was all alone. The doctors weren’t sure if she was going to make it. She had overdrawn her accounts, lost her job and was at a complete rock bottom.
I was forced to get power of attorney over her to take care of her financial and medical decisions. She had no money coming in and bills piling up everywhere I turned. I wanted to scream. I usually functioned best when shit hit the fan, but this was too much. After about a month she came out of the coma and was put into the ICU. She behaved like a child, which scared me. I was so worried I lost my Mom and that she was not going to regain her adult mind. The doctors assured me it was because of the sclerosis of the liver and that once her liver repaired itself, she would come back.
I was a total wreck, exhausted from working a full-time job and flying home every weekend. I was so worried about my Mom, but at the same time I wondered, “Would I be rid of this burden if she just died?” That was such a horrible thing to think, but I was desperate and tired. My life was out of control. Thank God and my angels my mom made a full recovery after another month in the hospital and a month in rehabilitation. She had been in a hospital bed for so long she had to learn how to walk again and also had terrible bed sores that needed healing.
Once my mom got well she started to go to Alcoholics Anonymous. I was so happy about this. She had promised this my whole life, to get help and get sober. She was well ahead of where she had before when she promised to go with a few months sobriety. She even suggested I get help and there was a program for me. I felt I finally had her permission to tell our family secret… that my Mother is an alcoholic. I started to talk about it a little with close friends, and they were in shock. They had no idea my mom drank and almost died from her disease. I started my own program when I was 30 years old. I loved going to Alanon meetings. It was the first time I got to tell my story, and people listened and cared. I cried every time I opened my mouth. To hear myself speak on a subject I silenced for so long brought on intense emotional tears.
A few months into working on my self, my youngest older brother was deployed to Iraq. This news was devastating. My mom seemed to be coping well with the news. When something overwhelming like this had happened in the past, my mom seemed to hold herself together… for a few days. Then she’d fall apart. Like clockwork, when my brother deployed, my mom, relapsed. I was so hurt she did this. I was so new in my own program that I didn’t know how to cope with it. She wanted me to come home and “fix” everything like she had grown so accustomed to me doing.
I remember saying, “Mom I am not coming home until you go to an AA meeting.” She did, and I came home. She got back on track, for which I was so grateful. That was one of the first boundaries I set with my Mom. Before working on my “Mom stuff,” I would have dropped everything and came home. But not this time. She continued to do well, which made me happy. But I knew that my happiness still depended on her sobriety. I worked harder on my program attending my weekly meetings. I even started to get a little therapy, which I hated, so it didn’t last long.
My thirtieth birthday was approaching, and my Mom was coming to Los Angeles to celebrate with me. I decided to have my birthday at a dueling piano bar near Universal Studios. I was worried about how my mom would do at a bar, but she assured me she would be fine. All my friends came, and I had so much fun. My mom seemed a little on edge, but I tried to enjoy myself rather than care-taking her feelings. A few days after she went home I learned that she relapsed. Thank goodness her boyfriend was there to help. He had been in Alcoholic Anonymous for many years. I felt guilty. She called me to tell me about her relapse, and that she also recovered pretty quickly. She said being in that bar atmosphere triggered her. My Mom was a bartender for most of my childhood; this was how her addiction began. She has been sober ever since this relapse.
I continued to work through the powerful program of Alanon to heal myself from the effects of Alcoholism. In this program, I met other sisters who knew what it was like to grow up in the disease. Some had even experienced sexual trauma. I felt heard and understood. After about three years of attending meetings, I decided I better ask for some help with the steps. I found the perfect woman to guide me, a sponsor. I lived and breathed my newfound source of serenity. I loved the feeling I got by surrendering to a Higher Power. I discovered my angels, and for the first time, my life wasn’t governed by how my Mom was feeling or not feeling. I felt liberated. I learned that my mom had her own Higher Power and that I could trust she was being protected and taken care of by someone other than myself.
Through working the 12 steps in Alanon, I also learned what I liked and what I didn't like. I learned to speak up for myself. I learned what was acceptable and unacceptable behavior. I used to work in fashion. I was an account executive for a fashion label out of the UK. I hated it. I worked out of the Los Angeles office with my co-worker. I loved our friendship, which was the best thing I received from that job. My boss in the New York Showroom expected us to work long hours with no lunch. We traveled so much with zero days off, sometimes going 20 days in a row. We were salary, so that stunk. When we traveled, we only got $25 a day per diem, which paid for breakfast in New York City. I was terrified to leave at 6pm for fear that my boss would call and be mad I wasn’t there. Sales were hard. I had ridiculous goals for each market or trade show, and if I didn’t exceed them, I would be treated like crap. I knew this job was killing my spirit, so after reasoning things out with my sponsor in Alanon, I decided to quit! I quit without having another job trusting that my Higher Power would protect me. I wrote down on a piece of paper that I needed help with finances and placed it in my God Box. I started a dog walking business and began working for one to the best companies in the world part time. I vowed to never work a crap job for a crap company again.
After finding a deep safety in a Higher Power, I started to feel a huge pull to the divine. I had always been a very intuitive kid. My mom had taken me to her astrologer when I was younger who confirmed I had psychic gifts, which I denied throughout my chaotic childhood. I started to feel a deep connection with angels right before my mom came for a visit. I was playing around with angel cards and learning all I could about the angelic realm. This was when I decided to visit a psychic so that she could confirm my angelic connections.
My psychic not only confirmed my spiritual connections she also informed me my root chakra was out of balance and things were going to come to a head, but I would see the light! I wasn’t sure what she meant, but I decided to research the root chakra. I knew a little bit about it from my Kundalini Yoga practice. Everything I read resonated deeply with me especially about lack of security, safety and basic needs being met in my childhood could cause an out of balance root chakra.
During my mom's visit, I was excited to take her to this new beach I found in Malibu.There were about 150 steps down to the sand that were not very safe, but worth the risk. I had Chester, my precious Shihtzu in my arms along with three beach bags. I let my Mom go in front of me, just in case she fell, I could catch her with all three bags and Chester. I am laughing reading that because it was classic Alanon thoughts to think I could save her along with everything else I had going on. I made it all the way to the bottom. I set everything down and admired the view of the sparkly ocean and the sounds that brought me so much peace. I couldn’t wait to step on that sand and have the ocean water wash over my feet blessing my root chakra. I picked up all the bags and Chester and took one step and slipped and fell. This is where things "came to a head," and I was rushed to the emergency room after screaming at my Mom in front of the beautiful angelic couple there to help us. I told this story in detail in my spiritual memoir, Came to Believe, so I am keeping my coming to Jesus moment pretty brief here. The doctor confirmed I broke my ankle in three spots and was rushed to have surgery to repair it a few days later.
During the ambulance ride is when I first started to see angels in my third eye chakra. It was one of the most magnificent and comforting blessings of this whole accident. My psychic said I would see the light, and I literally did in more ways than one. Through this accident, my Mom and I were able to do some deep healing work. I was able to tell her how I felt growing up as an alcoholic daughter and the immense responsibility it brought me at such a young age. She apologized, not knowing I felt that way. A few months after the accident I was able to make amends to her for how I treated her on the beach and how I acted after the surgery. It was such a special moment of forgiveness between the two of us. I am not sure I could have come to forgiveness if it wasn’t for my willingness to work the program of Alanon.
About five months after the accident I began writing Came to Believe, A Journey of Trust, Faith and Perseverance. I was 38 years old. While writing this book I was deep into my program to help me learn new tools and behaviors to cope with day-to-day life. The old tools that I learned as an adult child of an alcoholic were no longer serving me. I saw the best therapist ever who knew how to get me to talk about what it was like for me and the traumatic things that happened to me during my childhood. I wrote in my memoir for the first time about my Mom and her alcoholism. It was so freeing. I wrote it from the highest truth and compassion without minimizing what it was like for me. I wrote my story from my perspective knowing my Mom was going to read it, along with the rest of the world. I wrote about my compassion, acceptance, and forgiveness of her and I no longer hid my shame and secrets. I didn’t allow my Mom to read the book before it was published. I didn’t want her reaction to cause me to censor myself.
Came to Believe came out in October 2017 and wow, my expectations have been surpassed! Not only in how many hands it has reached and the hearts it has touched, but also the continual healing that has occurred between my Mom and I. Most people do not know but I printed Came to Believe in 14pt so my mom could read it. She has Macular Degeneration, and her eye site now keeps her from reading at all. I sent my Mom a signed copy of the book. I wanted her to hold it against her heart and be so proud that her daughter was a published author. I dedicated the book to my Grandma, my mom and my niece: three generations of LaDue women.
My Mom read about the effects that her alcoholism had on me. She read about my incest. I am sure it was a lot for her to take in. She shared posts on her social media about how proud she was of me even though the thought of her high school friends reading my book and finding out about her alcoholism scared her. She called me after she read it and I remember asking her, “are you mad?” She wasn’t of course, but there was a time where she would have been. She told me she was proud of me and we talked about her drinking and the incest in ways we never had. For the first time, I felt not an ounce of resentment towards my Mom. Things were really good between us.
I continued to work the steps of my program, getting the help I needed by attending meetings, deepening my Kundalini Yoga practice by becoming a certified Kundalini Yoga Teacher, and working with my therapists to reveal the buried trauma through EMDR. I kept writing and expressing my feelings. I was no longer afraid to tell my mom how I felt about things and I was speaking up more and more about what I needed and wanted from her. My book launch party was coming up, and I was so excited for my mom to come. I had it all planned out with what I was going to say, the stories I would tell, the mantras we would chant with Sukha, the Mantra Band. It was going to be perfect! I couldn’t wait for my mom to see me in my element and meet my friends and my Kundalini Yoga community. She was excited too. I know my mom is excited about something when she shares about it on social media! She shared a lot of times her enthusiasm about coming. She had started packing a week before trying to decide what she would wear to the party. It made me so happy that she was going to be there to support me as my mom.
A week before the book launch party she called me with some terrible news. She had contracted shingles. I was devastated, but put on a brave face for her by not showing my disappointment. My cousin also informed us that she should not get on a plane with shingles because she could infect everyone. I spoke with my therapist about it, and she suggested I tell my mom how I felt. I was worried because I knew she felt bad enough. My therapist explained to me that this was different because she wasn’t drinking, getting the shingles was out of her control and that I needed to trust that she could handle me expressing my feelings.
I called my mom and started crying before the words could even come out. “Mom, I know you are sad you can’t make it, but I am so sad and disappointed too. I needed you to be there.” She began crying, and we just cried together.
She said, “You should be disappointed, this is a sucky situation. But, you will be so awesome, and I will be there in spirit.” She added, “I am so proud of you.” We decided that my cousin would record it so she could watch it when she came to visit me once she got better. I surprised her by calling her in the middle of the event so everyone could say hello to her. I Face-timed her. “What’s the matter, isn’t it your event?” she asked.
“Yes, Mom, but I wanted to call you so everyone could say Hi!”
“I am in bed,” she responded. I think she was completely horrified that people were going to see her in her nightgown with no makeup on.
“Mom, they can’t see you, only you can see them.” I turned the phone around so she could see everyone wave at her and say hello! I could hear her crying.
Although she wasn’t there and it was sad, there was a great lesson in this. I could share with my mom how I felt even if she was upset too. Her being sad didn’t invalidate my feelings.
In April, a few months after the book launch party I went home to celebrate my Mom’s birthday. As soon as I walked in the door, she pulled me into her room and shut the door. It startled at me first. She grabbed my hand and then she said, “Tara, I want to tell you something. I know you have been waiting for this for a long time. I am sorry for my drinking and everything it put you through. I didn’t know how much harm it was doing.” This was the amends I had been waiting to receive. She had never apologized for her drinking. She apologized that I felt our relationship was unbalanced with me being the mother and her the daughter, but never for the consequences on me because of her alcoholism. I was moved. I teared up as did she and we hugged each other. There is a line in my book, “have you ever had to make amends to someone that you’d been waiting for an apology from your whole life?” My apology finally came. I had already forgiven her.
I don’t think I would have asked for my childhood to go any differently. I chose my mother for a reason. I have learned so many great lessons from her and living with the disease of alcoholism. Even with the disappointments and heartache that comes with growing up in alcoholism, it also revealed so many gifts. I am grateful for Alanon and all the lessons, tools and beautiful people it gave me. Today, I choose to focus on the positive. I am grateful I get to call my mom everyday. I am grateful I get to hear her voice today. I am grateful she found sobriety. Most of all I am grateful she is happy and that the cycle of alcoholism stopped with me.