Drinking from fear

Spurred on by my friend’s Face Book post relating his year of abstinence, I checked out Sober Curious by Ruby Warrington which jump started me to mindfulness of my alcohol intake. I acknowledge that it is impossible to observe one’s self impartially, but I admit it is an amusing endeavor. There are no surprises; rather an acknowledgement of what I already knew.

My first real use of alcohol came relatively late in life, when I was 19 or 20, and totally in defiance of my mother’s admonitions. Neither of my parents were drinkers (here to mean alcohol) although I do recall my dad enjoying an occasional cold beer at his brother’s house across the street. The foam reminded me of root beer enticing me to beg for a sip which Dad allowed. How disappointing that it tasted nothing like the A&W treat we enjoyed. Or maybe I should be thankful for the bitterness.

My Methodist mother was adamant, warning us that one sip of alcohol could release innate alcoholism with no turning back. With any and all family skeletons well ensconced in the closets, we were left to speculate about alcoholism in the genes. Dutifully, we signed the pledge in Sunday School.

I followed the tenets of the first- born daughter, trying to follow rules and please my mother, trusting that she knew what she was doing. Unfortunately, she began her family late for that time and was teaching values from the ‘30’s and ‘40s unaware of the changing times. It wasn’t until well into adulthood that I realized that I could never please her. Even my husband admitted that I could cure cancer and Mom would ask why it took so long. Adulthood also brings revelation, though, and I understood that my mother parented from fear. She had lived through two world wars, lost an infant brother at birth, lost her father during the great depression leaving her mother and three siblings to fend for themselves. The second world war took her beloved brother Joe and returned a boyfriend with PTSD. She had lost an aunt to typhoid and was now to raise children during the polio epidemic. Life wasn’t kind to that generation.

Mom warned me: Don’t climb too high, you might fall. Girls don’t wear those clothes, society might laugh at you. Don’t take that class, it may be too hard. Girls were to be clean, nice, and aspire to become a secretary, nurse, or teacher until finding a husband when you stayed home with the kids. I did not realize until middle age how that fear was shaping my attitudes. I also came to the realization very late that Mom did not handle other people’s pain well. Thus, for her, it was easier to avoid pain from loss than to deal with her loved ones’ emotional repercussions of failed attempts.

Messages were mixed as many of our friends and family were nurses or secretaries and even, heaven forbid, working mothers and admired by my parents. Because I trusted my mother, though, I did not venture beyond the guidelines. I took biology as a junior in high school “just in case I had to repeat it”. Turns out, I loved biology, aced it, and took it again in college, considering a major in it. I joined the college newspaper so I could write and wandered through majors until I earned a degree in psychology, the 1970’s degree for people without majors, defying my parents’ advice to become a teacher. That was my rebellion.

During college, my roommate invited me to enjoy some wine in the dorm, probably Boones Farm or another exclusive vintage. My realization that “Mom wouldn’t like this” clinched it: I was going to try it!

All four of my mother’s offspring enjoy alcohol, and we attribute it partly to rebellion.* My mother had a terrific sense of humor, though, and even on her death bed, as we were leaving her one evening, she commented, “I suppose now you will go party.” Well, we said, we are all together and it is only 8:00, so yes, we will party. “I didn’t raise a bunch of boozers,” she groused. Well, yes, you did.

This is all to say that now, when I enjoy a glass a wine, I do so because I enjoy it. But how adult is this? I am almost 70 years old and when I pour that wine, I quietly toast my mom. Cheers.



*To be fair, my mother did enjoy an occasional drink with us as adults. She enjoyed a cold beer and brat at the Wisconsin water shows. After an especially tasty margarita, she would often order one at a Mexican restaurant to duplicate the experience. Then there was the time she almost fell into the pool while enjoying a homemade margarita at my brother’s house. (She only had one, but unused to liquor, it hit her hard). And she admitted that she would like to serve friends wine coolers but was too embarrassed to buy them. One last memory, as we siblings were enjoying a bottle of wine one night, she came into the room with a glass and asked, “Have you killed the bottle?”

Author: Mary Cornelius

I am an aging woman who writes three blogs.

2 thoughts on “Drinking from fear”

  1. Loved this memory of your mom and seeing her picture! Didn’t ever realize you felt you couldn’t please her.

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