Driving My Mom to Rehab
‘Although I probably wasn’t fully aware at the time, I was embedded into my mother’s recovery as much as she was’
Growing up, my relationship with my mother was not a seamless one-shot take, but a montage of different clips. Certain scenes were in Memphis, Tennessee, jumping from house to house for reasons I was unaware of at the time. Small flashbacks of finding airplane bottles of whiskey, vodka, and gin hiding amongst my stored baby clothes stick out to me. A number of clips take place in Southern California, visiting her at the Betty Ford Clinic and staying with her in a cluttered rental apartment.
Once my mom returned to Memphis, I started to learn what it was like to be a child of a parent in recovery instead of a child of a person with an addiction. We moved into a home two minutes away from her Alcoholics & Narcotics Anonymous meetings, where I met people that to this day feel like characters in a storybook. During my mom’s early months of recovery, I remember spending hours with her and her fellow recovering addicts — a couple named Gina and Raymond, hairdresser Jennifer and her temperamental baby Harper, and my mother’s proudly gay male sponsor Lonnie. I attended AA meetings, went to sponsored dances, and spent the holidays with them. Although I probably wasn’t fully aware at the time, I was embedded into my mother’s recovery as much as she was. A few years later, I would learn that Gina and Raymond relapsed on Fentanyl, leading to Raymond murdering Gina and then taking his own life. They had two children.
My mother’s sobriety made high school and college an easy transition, and slowly the clips from my childhood were replaced by much fonder memories — staying up late watching reruns of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, laying poolside on vacations, and shopping for furniture at antique malls. As the years went by, I wasn’t disturbed by how my mother stopped attending AA meetings. In my eyes, if she was sober, that was all that mattered. During my sophomore year of college, I celebrated her near-decade of sobriety by tattooing the date on my rib cage. In that moment, I fully believed she had won the battle, and the thought of relapse was a complete impossibility. Now, I realize that was a naive and unrealistic belief.
I moved to New York in October 2016. My grandmother passed away a month later. In December 2016, while visiting my family for the holidays, I was sitting inside Miss Cordelia’s Grocery, a store in Memphis’ Harbor Town neighborhood and I called my mother to see if she needed me to bring over groceries. My mother answered the phone with a monotonous “Hello?” instead of her typical, chipper “Hey, nooje” greeting (a nickname she has affectionately called me since I was seven). Immediately my blood ran cold, and even though I already knew the answer, I asked her if she was okay. She was silent for half a moment before responding with a guttural chuckle and saying no.
I considered turning back at least five times during the three-minute drive to my mother’s apartment. After parking the car, I sat in the parking lot for another two minutes. I looked at my mother’s bedroom window from my car. The blinds were down. Finally, I got out of my car. I didn’t need a key; the door was already unlocked. Once stepping inside, I was welcomed with a completely dark living room, dishes piled up in the sink, clutter all over the floor, and an overwhelming smell of my mother’s pets’ urine and feces. My mom was not in her bedroom, but I knew she was somewhere inside. I found her in my bedroom, which was impeccably neat compared to the rest of the house. She was lying on my bed sobbing.
She was clutching a bottle of Absolut Mandarin Vodka, which I hid in my bedroom two years ago while visiting over the summer. I had forgotten that existed. “I wanted your bedroom to look nice” she sobbed and repeated over and over again. Once seeing her, I told her that I needed to take her to Lakeside — a behavioral health system and rehabilitation center she had both attended and worked at when I was younger. To my surprise, she agreed without objection and let me change her clothes, gather a few of her belongings, and get her into my car.
Growing up, I denied that being a child of addiction defined who I was. Now, I’ve accepted that though it is not who I am, it’s very much a part of my identity.
Lakeside was a 40-minute drive from Downtown Memphis and my gas tank was nearly empty. However, I knew that if I stopped even for one moment my mom would try to convince me to turn back. She had already demanded I stop for cigarettes, which I continuously ignored.
My aunt and uncle were at the center once we arrived. I dropped her off with them to check in and calmly went to the bathroom. I threw up in the toilet. I started sobbing in front of the mirror. I wanted to get my breakdown over with so I could be there for my mother while she was evaluated. The process took a full five hours altogether, and I watched her leave with two employees who recognized her from when she worked there nearly three years ago. I headed to the nearest gas station to fill up my tank, and stayed in the car for a full 45 minutes because I was too shaky to drive.
The next few weeks consisted of me taking on the role of parent. I would drop off clothes at Lakeside (sweaters, blouses, and long pants were okay; belts, heels, and makeup were not). She relapsed three more times while I was in Memphis, and I ended up saving Lakeside’s phone number in my contact list so I would know what to expect. The night before I was to return to New York, I went to my mother’s apartment to pick up a few items and say goodbye. Her front door was locked, and I didn’t have a key at the time. I called her at least 20 times, but by the end, I knew it was pointless. She was inside the apartment drinking, and there was no way she would face me. I sat in the parking lot of Miss Cordelia’s and changed for a friend’s birthday dinner inside the car. In a tortured state, I left a voicemail on her machine telling her how mad I was that I couldn’t see her before I left, that I knew what she was doing, and that I was finished with helping her. During the birthday dinner, I texted her to ask if she was okay. She responded with jumbled letters that were incomprehensible.
My mother was in and out of treatment from December 2016 to March 2017. Once I was back in New York, I told her that I planned to move back to Memphis in order to help with her recovery. She and I both decided that a change of scenery would be best for her, and before moving to Georgia to attend an out of state program she signed a lease for a new house in Memphis.
Upon returning to Memphis, I helped pack up her apartment, scheduled movers for the more heavy lifting, and spent hours cleaning the space so she could get her security deposit back. A month later, I picked my mother up from the airport and she went over her recovery board with me during the drive to her new house.
Today, my mother is approaching nearly three years of sobriety. I still make sure to call her after 5 p.m. every night. During her relapse, I learned that she would call me around 3 p.m. so she could drink the rest of the evening. Lakeside is still a contact in my phone, and probably will be for the next few years. My mother has started attending AA meetings after a 10-year hiatus, which is something I couldn’t be more grateful for. Growing up, I denied that being a child of addiction defined who I was. Now I’ve accepted that though it is not who I am, it’s very much a part of my identity. It is why I am empathetic. It is why I am patient. It is why I am so grateful for small achievements.
At 26 years old I am surrounded by friends and peers who are starting to struggle with their own addiction. Thanks to my mother, I am able to reassure them that failures are unavoidable, but the successes are so worth it.
Editor’s note: If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, please reach out to the following resources.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health National Helpline: Call 1–800–662-HELP (4357).
Find an Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon meeting near you.