The year my mother collapsed at Thanksgiving
and everyone just kept on eating.
I got the text Thanksgiving evening from my cousin who I had not seen in many years but was very fond of. He and his sister were younger than me and always went to the family holiday occasions, long after I estranged myself from everyone. They were my mother's only (alive) sisters' kids. I was my mother's only child and had left at 16, forcibly and due to abuse. I had no regrets going no contact for years after but my cousins would still keep in touch here and there via text or socials.
"She had a seizure on the floor. It was crazy" it read.
A panic and hot sweats swept over me.
"What happened?" I asked, engaged in my cousins texts with concern, though I knew I also did not want to get dragged back into any contact or drama with any of the adults of that family. Especially my mother.
"Well... Cathy drank too much. She was fighting with everyone and told my mother off. At some point she just collapsed and began to shake" he said.
"And then?" I asked, to which I got the most immediate and NOT so shocking response.
"Everyone kept eating..." he replied.
Sounds about right, I thought to myself.
I could picture it even though I was not there, like a holiday movie you have seen 1000 times... THE HOUNDS.. we all know the CRAZY hound scene from A Christmas Story.
This was much worse.
My mother's family. Oh, my mother's family.
My mom brought the wine. Always. To every occasion. She brought the cognac too. And she would finish it all.
That night she drank 2 bottles all by herself and proceeded to speak her mind to everyone but especially let her sister have it. She was angry for years so I knew what had to be said. The same things all over again.
The thing is... there are two versions to this story.
The one my cousin witnessed and told me that night... that I proceeded to tell my husband and LAUGH about. Not laugh like hahaha my mom was sick and rushed to the hospital.
NO. A trauma response laugh.
A laugh so hard your cheeks hurt and then cry so hard you want to throw up. It was SO sad, scary, and triggering to hear what happened.
I was even more embarrassed at how I responded in the next two days.
I was WORRIED. I asked my cousin to elaborate and he told me the more detailed version of how she was drunk, told everyone off, and showed clear signs of becoming black-out drunk. It was really bad. At one point she got physical and one of her brothers had to restrain her a bit. Until she hit the floor and was foaming at the mouth.
And what did her siblings plus her mother and father all do?
"Pass the gravy, John".... "Great turkey mom"...
No one reacted. So my cousin called for an ambulance. Which probably saved her life that night.
I called the hospital after some time passed. I called three times. Because the first two times I chickened out in a sweat and hung up.
Third time I got a hold of a nurse and began to shakily explain that a person was rushed in an ambulance to the ER and I wanted an update. "Who are you?" she asked, as protocol. Through a hoarse voice, I replied... "Her daughter."
Years after leaving my childhood home at 16, traumatized and pregnant, I was still deeply wounded by my upbringing in that home. So much I had nightmares even until that present time, which was about 2017. Now writing this years later, I still get some nightmares about the abuse from my mother and her husband.
I felt ashamed to ask about her wellbeing because I hated her still. I did not feel love. But I still felt it was right to ask. And to do what I did next.
"Mam, I am estranged from my mom legally but you should know she is an alcoholic and a family member told me tonight she collapsed from drinking too much. Please check her levels."
I called once more the third day and learned that she was sent back home after waking and being "fine". Which is probably what I feared most all over again. She had passed yet again as "fine". Which was the reason I felt the need to stay out of it to begin with.
While the rest of the world knew Cathy as "fine" and passing as healthy, I knew her as a raging alcoholic and narcissistic abusive mother.
Looking back now, in 2021 as a mother of 3 and reaching 14 years since seeing that family... I see it a bit differently. Honestly, as I should. Because I have been educating myself and healing a lot these last few years.
So here is the rewrite. The one I needed to hear and think about that sad evening in 2017 when I was so sweaty with rage and anxiety...
Cathy went to her childhood home one Thanksgiving, bringing wine in her purse to help her cope with the night she knew she was about to have. Holidays were so hard around that family and in that house. But she was so blinded by loyalty, commitment, and the deep-seeded trauma bond she had formed with her siblings and parents. An emotionally void narcissistic den, enmeshed in their own drama and selfishness.
"In an enmeshed family, there are no boundaries between the family members. Instead of the strong bonds that signal a well-functioning family unit, family members are fused together by unhealthy emotions." - Healthline
Cathy had been drinking to cope with undiagnosed bipolar, as well as to hide the trauma she never dealt with. After all, she was a master at masking her issues to everyone around her - at work and in the public eye. But she was horrible at hiding what she felt around her family. The people who abused her from childhood and continued to taunt her in adulthood.
Everyone knew she would bring liquor. They knew she was an alcoholic. In fact, she began to drink in the 10th grade when she dropped out and started partying with her older sister's friends. That eventually introduced her to alcoholism, being r*ped, and dating a bunch of different drug addicts.
Her family watched as she ruined her own life for years. They would call her dumb, unsuccessful, and talk her out of every creative idea she had. Cathy was going to beauty school when I was a baby and would take me on the town bus to get to her classes, which I very vaguely remembered. But her family told her to drop out and work for the local drugstore because she had no business going to school for anything.
Cathy attended every holiday, birthday, special occasion, Sunday brunch, and random Tuesday just to see her parents and siblings. She constantly did so much for them and would always come out losing. Unwaveringly, she just kept coming back for more.
They taunted her for being divorced and then for marrying again. For having a kid and being low income. For going to school. For quitting. For her dumb job they forced her to get and then for each level she climbed up in her career. She went from the lowest rank to manager over the several years she raised me. She then married her boss, who became my stepparent for 9 years of my life. Until they both kicked me out when I was 16. Which they shamed her for too.
That night Cathy expected to do what she always did. Drink herself into tolerating the presence of her crappy family. What happened next? She lost her ability to wear the mask. It slipped off completely. And she let her sister, who was the biggest bully in her life, have it.
As she drank and slurred, cursed and yelled --- everyone feasted. Because why wouldn't they?
Cathy was around enablers. Her husband was not there. He hadn't been for years. Their sham of a marriage was physically and psychologically abusive. Just like her parents, her husband would watch her drink and not say a word. Not a helpful word anyways.
So when Cathy finally drank more than her tiny little 95 lb frame could hold, she collapsed. Her family, they passed the gravy. As she jerked on the floor and became unconscious, they did what any cheesy - horribly scripted 1970's sitcom would do. "Oh there goes Cathy again, falling over her words" with a chummy chuckle and a "hey Fred, can you pass the gravy?" with inaudible laughter in the background.
- End scene -
The truth - as I now see it - is complicated.
Cathy, my birth mother, was an alcoholic my whole life. She recoiled her body from hugs or touch. She did not say I love you. She was drunk every single night of my life. My youngest memory with her tainted by recalling her being drunk and screaming.
I watched her for 16 years of our inhabitance just hate existing. She broke furniture and plates as a normal ritual. She was irrational and irate. She had OCD, weird rules, and was afraid of being robbed or murdered. She did not give me a house key to get in from walking home after school until I was 14 because she was afraid SOMEONE WOULD FOLLOW ME, COME IN THE HOUSE WITH ME AND STEAL SOMETHING. Not that I would be kidnapped or killed for sitting HOURS upon HOURS on the stoop until dark when she arrived home from work.
My mother was crazy. Very mean. Very cruel. And very, very drunk.
She physically beat up a man twice her size on the regular. Her husband who bought her any liquor and seemingly enjoyed her drunken demeanor because it meant he could live out his life however he pleased. Which was an odd and quiet life. I don't think I ever even knew who that man was. He was only ever the quiet right hand to the queen, who was insane.
But there is a whole other sad perspective that I will never know the truth of from someone who could actually tell it. Her mother. Who died on Mother's Day in 2019.
My mother went on like that up until her mother died. I am sure, though I am still no contact, that my mom is the same person she always was. An alcoholic with deeply unhealed trauma and a lot of health problems that stem from it (both physical and mental).
She destroyed her life while her family... just passed the gravy.
What I did learn from all of this is that talking about abuse and trauma is important.
I do not know who my mother could have been if she had help at 13 years old when she dropped out. I do not know what kind of parent she would have been or how successful she might have been if she had gone through beauty school. I will never know what kind of grandma she will be to my kids.
But I get to know answers from research and reading. I get to learn about addictions, generational trauma, and abuse. I get to choose to be sober for life. To just say no thanks to liquor because even though I never showed signs of a problem, I can absolutely do without it in my life.
I do know that I get to stay FAR away from that family. From my Aunt who was a very real villain in my mother's story. Who watched and happened to be a part of many tragedies in my mom's life, to which she often said "Typical of Cathy".
I get to be a loving and attentive mother to my kids. I get to watch my kids grow up and teach them daily about life. I get to talk with them about their feelings, desires, dreams, and goals.
I get to have Thanksgiving every single year with my own little family. And my little family gets the privilege of not knowing most of my blood relatives.
I am thankful for that daily.
About the author
Mental Health Blogger, Content Creator, and Creative Writer. I write about trauma, mental health, and identity. I love to connect with and support other Trauma survivors + Neurodivergent Creators! (@jeangrey_rising on Tiktok and Medium )