Happy Mother’s Day! To honour this special day, we are sharing a candid story between a mother and son. Kyle is the 23-year-old son of Valerie, a woman in recovery and long-time Woman of Avalon. Kyle and Valerie’s relationship is contextualized by her sobriety, like many others who come through our doors with unique experiences of motherhood and mothering while also in recovery.
Kyle grew up in Vancouver, his dad from Newfoundland and his mom from Bella Coola, was adopted at a young age. His parents met on a camping trip and married in the late 90s. When Kyle was about 6 years old, he “found out” that his dad was going to meetings. At the time he didn’t know what that meant, he thought his dad was “some big businessman.” Every day his dad would say, “I have a meeting to go to.”
Kyle said, “I knew he didn’t drink, but didn’t know it was a problem for him.” Later in life, Kyle found out what the meetings were for through his mom. When Valerie stopped drinking, she was more open and talked her kids through what was happening. That’s when Kyle realized what his dad was going through.
His mom tried to stop drinking in 2012, but Kyle didn’t fully understand it. Kyle grew up playing lots of sports and for years when he’d ask his mom to drive him somewhere, she would say he had to get someone else to drive him. It took him a while to realize that it was because of her drinking that she couldn’t drive him. In grade ten, Kyle woke up to his mom (with her friend, who was also in the program) crying on the couch. He came out confused, sat down, and that’s when his mom went to his dad and said she needed to go into treatment. That was a hard time – not so much for Kyle because he had his dad to lean on, but more so for his little sister who was going into eighth grade.
Kyle and his dad went to visit Valerie every Sunday in treatment. She was there from December 2014 to April 2015. They attended meetings as a way to help his mom. He talked about how her drinking made him feel and it helped him understand why sometimes she could do things and sometimes she couldn’t. He had thought sometimes she just wasn’t in the mood. Later, there was some appreciation from Kyle in understanding that his mom made a smart and responsible choice not to drive. But at times, Kyle almost felt a sense of betrayal and disappointment. He realized his mom had chosen alcohol over them sometimes. Recognizing these feelings is an important part of Kyle’s own healing and his mom was receptive to those feelings.
Valerie could be described as a high-functioning alcoholic. This is someone who appears to be fine and functioning normally even though they’re abusing alcohol. You can be one even if you have a great “outside life” including a well-paying job, stable home life, and strong social bonds. You can be responsible, productive, high-achieving, and seem in control to everyone else while harbouring this secret. Despite this, alcoholism can – and often does – create a negative impact on a person’s physical health, emotional well-being, personal relationships, and professional life.
Although Valerie tried to quit drinking at various times between 2011 and 2014, it wasn’t until she decided to go to treatment that sobriety stuck. Kyle said his mom was good at disguising her alcoholism. She would pour wine into a metal water bottle and put it in the fridge. When asked about it, she would say it was “easier to put the lid back on”. He later found out she was hiding a lot. He was nearly 16 when she went into treatment and thought “maybe that’s just how she was” and that he didn’t catch her because he didn’t understand.
Prior to going to treatment, when Valerie relapsed, there didn’t seem to be a negative thought about it. They weren’t looking at it as a bad thing – possibly because they didn’t realize the extent of the problem. Part of the manipulation is not recognizing drinking as a problem.
The duration of Valerie’s stay in treatment got extended, which Kyle felt was better than the originally determined length. If they hadn’t visited her or left her to handle her addiction on her own, he doesn’t think it would have worked the same. Knowing she had them in her corner, Valerie realized she had to change her life.
Reflections and learnings
When asked how this experience has impacted his choices, Kyle responded, “It made me more aware of circumstances and when drinking is not healthy.” He realized it’s important to be mindful – he even did a sober month with some friends at the beginning of quarantine. His relationship with his mom is the best it’s ever been. He doesn’t look at her as an authoritative figure, he looks at her as his mother. When speaking of his mom, Kyle said, “She is one of the best people I know. She’s so kind, outgoing, and driven to do just about anything.”.
People Kyle knows look at addiction as “people living on the streets, on Hastings.” Through this experience, he’s grown compassion for a lot of people including the homeless, recognizing they don’t want to be in that position. Kyle says his mom has shown him to have gratitude for what he has and he reflects, “Your life can be taken quickly by overdosing and so many people end up on the streets due to addiction. It impacts people’s lives directly and indirectly and it’s hard to judge people when you don’t know fully what’s going on in their lives.”
His advice to someone in a similar situation to him is:
“Don’t leave [your] loved one’s side…don’t stop being there for them. As much as it feels like betrayal and feels like it’s something they are doing against you, be compassionate and be there for the person you love. At the end of the day, they aren’t choosing the alcohol or drug over you, it’s hard-wired in their brain – it’s the addiction.”
It took Kyle a while to realize it’s not his mom’s fault. He said, “It feels like they’re doing it against you and that they don’t care about you – it’s not that, it’s the disease of alcoholism that takes control over their lives.”
Kyle’s message to his mom:
“I’m so proud of you. What you did took so much courage, willpower, and strength. I don’t know many people who could do it and hold their head up and say they are still sober so many years later.” Valerie was able to change her life to be the person she wants to be and he’s so proud of her for that.
Thank you to Kyle (and Valerie) for sharing your story so openly with us. You have surely helped others who can relate to your experiences and learnings. Avalon once again wants to wish you, and all our readers, a very special Mother’s Day. We recognize mothering looks different with every woman, and we spend today reflecting on the power of maternal bonds, the role and influence of women in society, and giving thanks for the ways in which women are in relationship to each other and the families we choose.