“That was the best wedding I have ever been to!”
“Wow, your ceremony—not a dry eye in the house!”
“Your wedding was so you!”
I don’t know about the rest of you, but while planning my own wedding (which I certainly thought of as a big party throughout planning) these were the types of comments I wanted to receive when all was said and done. And luckily for me, I got told each of these things and more after our wedding (by lots and lots of people). Yes, this is me giving myself a little self-congratulatory pat on the back. Thinking about it still brings a smile to my face.
My response to all of these wonderful people that shared in my wedding day is always the same in my head. “Thank you so much! It was perfect.” Except that’s not what I say. Instead it is, “Thank you so much, it was almost perfect.” And then I smile because the addition of almost makes people a little uncomfortable. So I laugh it off and mention something silly like the shuttle bus running late or our first dance being awkwardly long, so that everyone can go on thinking that everything that really mattered was perfect. But unfortunately for me that’s not quite the case.
We’re all embarrassed about our families for one quirk or another and wedding planning certainly brings these insecurities to the forefront. We knew it was going to be tough from the very beginning—between the two of us, we had seven parents to appease—but it was one parent in particular who was not like the rest.
My mother and I are close like you are close with a friend that you keep in touch with because you’ve known each other so long. You know there will be disappointments along the way, but you hold on anyway because you feel like you have to and because, let’s face it, you still have some laughs here and there. Like one does with these types of friends, I keep my mother at arm’s length, mostly because she has disappointed me one too many times. I can forgive her for the disappointments, and have come to expect them, but I still get sidetracked in the “maybe this time will be different” mindset without even realizing until it is too late.
She is an alcoholic. And, I guess, I’m not really sure how to describe this to those that haven’t seen it, but it goes from zero to a hundred pretty quickly. I remember in seventh grade, watching one of those outdated videos about substance abuse and there was all this daunting music with kids crying about mom sneaking swigs out of the vodka bottle and passing out in random places during the day. I knew my mom wasn’t quite like that mom, but I began to wonder.
“Well, it’s not quite that bad…she only drinks wine…but the glasses are always hidden in the cabinets where she thinks we won’t find them…she only really hit hard that one time…I’ve never seen her passed out in the middle of the day…maybe she isn’t an alcoholic…?”
But, of course, deep down I knew something was wrong, and over time she came closer and closer to resembling the mom in that outdated video. And after she lost her job, she was even worse than the mom from that video. After one too many 911 calls, I finally realized the toll it was taking on my younger brother and me, and decided to switch schools and move in with my dad. I wish I could tell you why we waited so long to finally tell my dad the enormity of the situation, but once we did, we never looked back.
Anyway, back to my wedding. When I got married, my mother had been sober for about fourteen months. Now, this wasn’t the first time she’d had a long run (she had been in and out of rehab for years) but this time (I know, I know) she really seemed to be approaching it differently. She was going to therapy, going to meetings, living with nondrinkers, and staying close to friends and family. It seemed like she was doing everything right. And she was. I remember her calling me excited on the day of her one-year anniversary—wasn’t I proud?
Now, I know this is where I’m supposed to say that we chose not to have alcohol at the wedding, but with our past, I didn’t want to rearrange the whole wedding just for her. After all, she hadn’t really been a part of my life for more than fifteen years. She had been around alcohol at big events plenty with no issues and was bringing a non-drinking friend. Besides, big parties generally weren’t tempting for her—she cares a lot about appearances and what people think—so her relapses and drinking were always done in secret. Other than old friends, family, and my husband, no one even knew about her “problem.” I was a little concerned people would ask about our relationship, since I had been mostly avoiding questions about her for years, but worried about her drinking at the wedding? The thought didn’t even cross my mind.
So we served alcohol, and my friends and I drank champagne while getting ready the morning of the wedding. My mom hung out with us happily sipping on coffee and soda water. She was beaming and so was I. At some point during the course of the day, she told me her friend wasn’t coming. But her sister and brother would be there and she seemed to be doing all right. It wasn’t until after dinner that I noticed something was wrong. My aunt appeared to have left suddenly, so I went up to my mom to ask why. The familiar stumble was the first giveaway. Then I noticed her eyes glazed over and I didn’t need to hear the slurred words that followed. All of a sudden I looked around and felt naked—did everyone know my secret? But I smiled and nodded and walked away like everything was fine—I couldn’t bare the thought of making a scene.
Looking back, I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised (horrified?). Her previous relapses had really never bothered me—I always expected they would come. I thought I had actually found the ability to stop caring. But when her first relapse in fourteen months came on my wedding day, that all changed. Packing up our things, I sat in my room the next day, crying a little, thinking about how humiliated I felt and how unfair it was to have the type of mother that humiliated you on your wedding day. I wished I could cry more because then maybe, I could just get it out of my head—could I cry away the memory?
As my new husband and I drove away from the wedding weekend, it felt like it was our first moment alone in four days. We started laughing about the amazing party we had just had—the ceremony (our favorite part!), how almost everyone we invited ended up coming, the phenomenal weather, my dad’s adorable toast, and the hilarious dance floor (complete with twerk lessons, a child versus adult break dancing contest, stick-on mustaches, and mullet wigs).
He looked at me, smiling broadly, and said, “It was just how we wanted it.” I nodded, and I felt that word creep up to my lips. “Almost.” There was a bit of silence. He started to say something else and paused. “How does it make you feel?” I struggled, unprepared for the direct question.
Did I hate her?
Was I angry?
Maybe a little.
“I don’t know.”
What I felt was completely conflicted. And I still do. How is it even possible to explain experiencing two completely opposite ends of the emotional spectrum at once? I could say with complete confidence that the wedding day was one of the best days of my life. But it was also one of the worst. I still try to tell myself that because it was such a small part of the day, it doesn’t really matter. I actually tried to end this piece on that note the first go round. But, it’s time for a little honesty.
When I look through our wedding pictures, I want to delete the ones with my mom in them. There is actually a really nice one of my mom, my brother, and me where my brother has this huge grin. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him smile for a picture, let alone look that happy in real life. It could have been one of my favorites, but instead I can’t even look at it. When she reaches out now, trying to make amends, I want to tell her that I don’t ever want to speak to her again. That she ruined my wedding day. But what if she does something awful as a result? Will I feel responsible? So I resort to my old habits—keeping her at arms length, in some sort of peripheral box outside of my “real” life. The easy way out. But the wedding day has shown me that I can’t quite do that anymore, and maybe that is why I felt compelled to share this story—to share my “secret.”
There is another piece of the day that sticks out (for very different reasons), and it is when my dad said at the end of his toast, “I hope you enjoy the Ceilidh.” Ceilidh (pronounced Kay-lee) is a Gaelic social gathering, but my dad remembers someone telling him it means “celebration of life.” It also happens to be my namesake (though I spell it a bit differently). And looking back that certainly describes the day. It was a celebration of life—every part of it, good and bad. I did enjoy the Ceilidh (I loved it), but I also kind of wish my mom wasn’t a part of it. I still don’t know how to feel about that, but for now, I am still summing it up with the word “almost.”
Photo by Vivian Chen (APW Sponsor)