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Lessons Learned From My Mother in a Family With Alcoholism

Despite my mother's personal limitations (which we all have), I choose to remember her as someone who gave a lot to me, my siblings, and others. I appreciate that taught me more than she would ever imagine.
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I have been thinking about and writing about my mom since Mother's Day was last month, which is also the month she died from cancer at age 68. She took care of six children essentially on her own, as my father had chronic alcoholism, depression, and anxiety. Mom's cancer influenced my dad to finally get help, but she never lived long enough to see dad sober. Dad was sober the last 14 years of his life.

My mother experienced her share of heartache and heartbreak during her life much of it, but not all of it, related to Dad's alcoholism and related problems. Yet, she kept a fairly upbeat attitude and sense of humor. Even during her terminal illness, she did not complain much. She cared more about others than herself.

The impact of alcoholism in my family was similar to that of many others. We lived in chaos, poverty, unpredictability, inconsistency, and exposure to behaviors that no one should have to face. I'm certain this had a huge impact on the many problems me and my siblings experienced including academic underachievement, trouble with the law, substance use disorders, and mental health problems. Yet mom did her best to provide some stability in our family.

My mother helped shape my character, values and behaviors in many positive ways. I am grateful for all that she taught me although she had little idea of the impact she had on me. I learned from watching her resilience and toughness, as well as watching her suffer and observing behaviors that were not so healthy, which is common families with an addiction.

Valuable Lessons I Learned from My Mother

Be Loving: my mother was not one who expressed love through hugging, kissing or saying "I love you." Yet, she showed love in her actions and how she took care of her kids. She would do anything for us no matter what kind of trouble we were in. I learned that showing love in your behaviors is necessary to keep a positive connection to others and make the world a better place.

Work Hard: mom was a high school drop-out who cleaned tables at McDonald's and offices to help support our family. She was innovative in taking care of her family. I remember times where there was little or no food in the house, but mom always found a way to get food for the next meal. Some of my brothers and I learned the value of work even before the age of ten. We made money by shoveling snow, selling newspapers, setting pins in a bowling alley, or selling golf balls we found in the woods. From all this, I learned that the best way out of being poor is to set goals, work hard, appreciate what you have, and be responsible in how money is managed.

Be Resilient: mom survived many difficult experiences in life. She showed amazing resilience by bouncing back from these while maintaining a perspective on life that was positive. I've had my share of problems and difficulties in life, but rather than let these pull me down, I used these to learn and improve myself. Viewing these as challenges to overcome rather than reasons to give up were values I learned from my mother.

Be Kind and Altruistic: when I was a young soldier serving in the United States Army overseas, mom would send me a few dollars in her letters. I suspect this was probably her last few bucks. Altruism is one of the best characteristics a person can have in which gifts -- time, attention, financial, and others -- are shared with others, especially those with problems or in need of help and support. My mother gave to others with her kindness and caring behaviors. I never thought she judged others for their deficits or flaws.

Live Well Now: I learned from my mother that we can overcome adversities, including poverty, addiction, mental illness and family chaos by being grateful for the gifts we have in life. I learned that the best antidote to overcoming a difficult past is to focus on living well at the present and appreciating what I have rather than worrying about what I do not have.

Focus on Others: a support network with close connections is an important part of healthy living as this allows us to give and get support from each other. Watching mom focus on others was a great lesson, which not only affected my relationships, but my choice of a career in the helping professions.

Humor: a great sense of humor probably saved my mother from the depths of despair. Fortunately, this trait was passed on to me. While I take life seriously, humor keeps things in perspective.

Take Risks: my mother once said "nothing ventured, nothing gained" in response to a problem I was discussing with her that required me taking a risk. This wise saying has helped decrease any fear or worry I have about taking risks in life, whether these relate to career, relationships or other aspects of life.

Be Curious, Keep Learning: despite my mother's limited formal education, she liked to read. When she visited my home, mom always picked out books on many different topics to read. She had a strong interest in learning, which was a positive influence on me. Love of learning is one of my most valued personal characteristics.

Despite my mother's personal limitations (which we all have), I choose to remember her as someone who gave a lot to me, my siblings, and others. I appreciate that taught me more than she would ever imagine.

Well dear mother, I miss you, I love you and I believe that the important values you passed on to me are being passed on to my children. Thank you for all the lessons you gave me!