Almost Perfect


Where joy and disappointment intersect

Almost Perfect | A Practical Wedding

by Kayleigh

“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 I remember in seventh grade, watching one of those outdated videos about substance abuse and there was all this daunting music with kids crying about mom sneaking swigs out of the vodka bottle and passing out in random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?

No.

Was I angry?

Maybe a little.

Sad?

Why bother?

“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)

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  • Josie

    I know exactly how you feel. I also really struggled with my mom at my wedding and in the days prior. She isn’t an alcoholic, but has mental health issues. She’s certainly not the only reason for my family dysfunction, but somehow she always seems to be the one who manifests it in the form of full-blown emotional meltdowns, including one at my kitchen tea (my sister arrived 90 mins late when I was already surrounded by 20 guests only to tell me that my mom wouldn’t get out the car), and one in the days before the wedding and two nights after. Because I was struggling so much to cope with it all I was deliberately keeping her at arm’s length, which obviously showed in the words of my speech despite my best intentions… since then she’s told me how desperately disappointed she was with how cold I was and the lack of photos together, which has made me feel guilty beyond belief. So many other aspects of the day were wonderful, but I have really struggled to reframe the experience and make peace with it, especially since it upsets my husband so much to hear me talk about a day that meant so much to him without overflowing with joy. So just to say that boy do I hear you! I try to focus on the ceremony itself, which truly WAS perfect, and the reason for it all in the end.

    • Anon

      Josie, just a note to say that it does get better over time. Our wedding (2+ years ago) was an awesome, joyful day for my husband; for me, the whole day was colored by how much both of my parents let me down, reducing me to tears literally 10 minutes before I was meant to put on my wedding dress. Memories of the wedding were fraught and complicated and difficult for me for a really long time, but eventually it became easier to let go. It’s not that what happened wasn’t as bad, just that the wedding is now colored by two (great) years of marriage so the incident becomes smaller. Hang in there. And, to Kayleigh, thanks for such a great post.

  • Lauren

    Thank you so much for sharing. Please know it doesn’t have to feel like such a heavy secret. My mom is an alcoholic too. My parents always drank regularly, but after my dad died she was very out of control. My siblings and I used to get caught up feeling guilty or pointing fingers over what triggered her, but as the years have passed, we realized it’s just the way she chooses to respond stressful moments of her life. One of the hardest parts was that because she was so secret and “functioning” we really struggled to address with her what was wrong, that her behavior was unacceptable.
    From what I think you are saying, this is also contributing to your confused feelings. Your mom maybe didn’t DO anything wrong when she was drunk on your wedding, but just her being drunk signaled to you rejection/emotional absence? It’s very hard to characterize what this feeling is, why we let our experience be taken hostage by someone else’s. Why just recognizing these changed mannerisms due to being drunk triggers us like a deep chill. Yet like you said, she’s done this for years, so you rationally know your experience is separate and you try to keep it that way but it’s not as easy as it sounds.
    Being solidly pre engaged it is a concern for me how all the moments are going to play out. Luckily, we hit an all time low two years ago right around this time, and it hasn’t been pretty at times but things have gotten better. I went to counseling and that was remarkably helpful. It was like retraining my coping mechanisms and building the mental muscles so to speak, to keep all of our experiences separate and empathize at a healthy distance.
    Again, thank you for your courage in sharing.
    *PS I didn’t at all mean to speak for you, just got on a role typing and your piece spoke loudly to me. XO

  • Nicole

    This is why I love this blog! Weddings are not big happy celebrations where everyone has unlimited funds, tons of friends and family, everyone loves dancing and having a great time, the food is amazing, and the decor is impeccable. Weddings are messy because families are messy, friends are messy and finances are messy.

    Thank you for always uncovering and talking about the mess. And particularly to the author, thank you for sharing your story. I wish you the best as you figure out your relationship with mom and her disease.

    • M is for Megan

      *Exactly*

    • Class of 1980

      Families have always been messy. I can’t help but think of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and how nothing essential about families has changed.

      Near the end of the book, after Elizabeth has become engaged to Mr. Darcy, she struggles to keep her mother and relatives from further embarrassing her in front of him.

      “Elizabeth did all she could to shield him from the frequent notice of either, and was ever anxious to keep him to herself, and to those of her family with whom he might converse without mortification; and though the uncomfortable feelings arising from all this took from the season of courtship much of its pleasure, it added to the hope of the future; and she looked forward with delight to the time when they should be removed from society so little pleasing to either, to all the comfort and elegance of their family party at Pemberley.”

      (written in 1797 and published in 1813)

  • http://www.pinterest.com/katerees711 kater711

    THANK YOU.

    • http://www.pinterest.com/katerees711 kater711

      My story is different than yours, but thank you for putting words to what I feel.<3

  • http://heartsvsbrains.tumblr.com/ HeartvsBrain

    I’ve been trying to think of words of comfort but I’m struggling. See, I didn’t invite my parents to my wedding because I didn’t want to end up feeling like Kayleigh here. So, in an extremely dark way, I feel like I’m bragging, but Kayleigh, let me please tell you, that neither of us is a winner here.

    When you have a parent that you have to keep removed from to protect yourself, you’re going to continue to feel torn. That’s my opinion at least, so take it for what you will. We want to be close to the people who are supposed to love us the most. When they don’t, or when they can not be what we need them to be, continuing to relearn the lesson that we must stay away to be happy, is painful and difficult. While I have my own opinions on the need for these connections we struggle so hard to have, I would say in general, its always a good idea to ask oneself about a difficult relationship: does this still make me feel good? If you ever get to a point where the answer is no, that should be a warning sign.

    Shame is a powerful, powerful thing. So is guilt. I read a lot of shame and guilt in your story and it makes me sad. You’ve done nothing to be ashamed of nor to feel guilty about. It’s definitely not your responsibility to worry what someone might do if you asked them to stop hurting you. That’s not your burden so please for your own sake, put it down. I’d also strongly suggest therapy or at the very least an al-anon support group.

    • aditi

      This is the first time I’ve commented, and I came on to second the suggestion of Al-Anon or something in that vein. I have found Al-Anon very helpful in moving through wedding planning with a (now) husband in recovery.

      • copper

        Or find an ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) group in your area. The results of taking on all that responsibility so young can stay with you your whole life, and many people find they deal with similar issues in their adult lives as a result. It goes beyond just how you relate to that parent specifically and gets into how you relate to the world as a result of your experiences with that parent.

        • Lauren

          THIS for me. It’s so hard for me to turn off being an adult and I only graduated college a year ago.

          • copper

            I find it goes both ways—for me I find it too easy to take responsibility for other people, and sometimes too easy not to take responsibility for myself. Not because I intend to, I just never saw someone do it properly growing up.

  • Lisa

    Am so sorry for what you went through. And over time, I hope you can feel that her addiction has nothing at all to do with you, and none of her acts reflect on you at all. Except to earn you an attagirl for not following her path.

  • J.A.

    Wow, Kayleigh, that is so hard, to have this joyful day intertwined with your mom’s relapse. Thank you for sharing your story. The timing has resonated so much with me, as my mom struggles with mental health issues and I’m newly engaged (my parents are divorced). I talked to my mom recently about how I feel that she often expresses disappointment in me and makes me feel guilty, and about how I would like us to be closer. Her reaction was not positive… it included blaming me for the lapse, and blaming me for things that happened over a year ago.

    Anyway, I’m curious how others with parents who suffer from depression have approached all of this. I’m fairly organized / efficient so one thing that’s hard is just that I literally am ready to make wedding-related decisions much more quickly (within 1 – 2 weeks, depending on the decision), but I’ll ask my mom for her opinion and won’t hear anything back (for at least a month). Then sometimes I wonder, am I simply expecting too much from my mom emotionally? The thing that’s hard about depression is often people can function relatively normally day-to-day, so it’s hard to sort out what expectations are reasonable.

    • Alison O

      That’s tough. :/ Not sure if this is something you already do or if it would work, but I wonder if stating the date by which you plan to make a decision when you ask for your mom’s input would be helpful. Like, “i’m going to submit my order to the caterer by the Dec. 1, so I’d love to know if you have any input before then”. That way she’d know clearly when you need the info by, and it would be perfectly reasonable for you to make a decision without her input if you’d let her know of the deadline. (And, I’d give at least a few days to a few weeks depending on the decision. To say, let me know tomorrow, doesn’t really give enough thought time for important things. You could also consider giving a deadline that is somewhat earlier than when you actually plan to take action in case she’s a day late or something…) That doesn’t mean she’d be perfectly reasonable about it, but at least you can rest assured for yourself that you took generous measures to include her. (An analogous situation is prepping young children for transitions. It often helps to let them know at various increments leading up to the actual transition “we’re going to put your toys away in [5] minutes”. But it’s not a 100% guarantee they won’t still throw a fit when the time comes.)

      Speaking more generally, not sure if you’ve done this already, too, but family members of people with serious mental health issues often benefit from therapy; while it’s the one person with the illness, it can cause varying degrees of dysfunction (so to speak) throughout the family system that each member may need/want to work through.

      Overall, I hope the planning goes well!

    • ElisabethJoanne

      We didn’t deal with depression in wedding planning so much as different personalities and a physical illness. Alison’s advice is spot-on about being clear when decisions have to be made. Everyone who is involving a group in decision-making should do that because only people actually planning a wedding know the timelines. Brides and grooms dealing with indecisive people, or out-of-touch people, or just people who haven’t planned a wedding in 10 years or more have to be like project or office managers with deadlines and reminders.

      It took a lot of practice to get good communication with my mom about the wedding. We’re close; it’s just very few things are like wedding planning. We were both disappointed that she missed out on things (dress shopping, tastings) because of illness or work. But it didn’t affect our relationship long-term.

  • Anne

    Thank you for sharing your story- we need more real talk about weddings and families (this is why APW is great and I read it even in my 3rd year of marriage). Weddings are hard to navigate when the only societal story line we’ve ever really been exposed to includes a perfect and intimate mother-daughter relationship. I have a really hard time being close with my mother as well- she has a terrible temper and can say really hurtful things and then never really apologizes. When we first got engaged I was seeing a therapist and she helped me role-play a bunch of different scenarios out to practice how I could deal with my mom because she would inevitably blow up at me over all things “wedding.” It was helpful, sure, but it would have been nice to hear more about people’s difficult relationships with their families, especially at a time when you feel pressure to have that perfect relationship and are “shining on” all the time.

    You have every right to feel conflicted about what happened on your wedding day. It sounds like it was a fabulous party and it’s nice that you and your husband have a lot of happy memories from that day. I’m really sorry your mother behaved the way she did, and I’m sure it must be really hard to keep her in that peripheral box and not just blow her off forever. I hope things work out for you all, whatever you decide to do- thanks again for sharing.

    • Jess

      It is so reassuring to hear people like the author and you and everyone else in the comments saying essentially that all the big-important-life event times that I want so badly for a different relationship and don’t have it, they happen for a lot of other people too. It doesn’t make me broken, it doesn’t make me unlovable (for a day celebrating a commitment someone is making to be with me forever, I suppose that should be totally obvious, but it isn’t and it’s a struggle to accept), and it doesn’t mean I have to be ashamed.

      Thank you!

      • http://heartsvsbrains.tumblr.com/ HeartvsBrain

        “It doesn’t make me broken, it doesn’t make me unlovable (for a day
        celebrating a commitment someone is making to be with me forever, I
        suppose that should be totally obvious, but it isn’t and it’s a struggle
        to accept), and it doesn’t mean I have to be ashamed.”

        I keep coming back to this line and re-reading it with pain/pleasure. Because it so exactly sums up not only how I felt on my wedding day but how I still feel. This is a hard thing to shake off – the innate belief in one’s own un-lovability. A part of me fears I’ll never shake it, but my therapist assures me I will. ;) Hang in there, you can do this!

        • Jess

          I have to remind myself. Because so often I describe myself or my relationship as broken or that not having a friendship/family relationship be the way I wish it were makes me unloveable. I had a friend stare me in the face and say, “You are in pain not broken.”

          How much time it takes to be able to realize this on the inside even for a moment!

          And I’m very comforted to hear that having to be reminded of my lovability resonated for someone else too. So thank you for your response. I’m afraid of never shaking it, but I still believe that maybe one day it can happen.

          We’re in it together! You hang in there too! :D

  • Alexandra

    Mothers and weddings. Why, why, why…??? My wedding was such a happy day, but I had terrible mother issues that whole week, and by the time the wedding came around, I could hardly stand to have her in the same room as me. So not only was I resenting the crap out of her, but I also felt terribly guilty that I was avoiding her so much at such a special time. My mom is an alcoholic, too, and a widow. I had other people babysit her a lot and tried to force myself not to feel guilty about it. She paid for the whole wedding, which made the guilt really hard to eschew.

    When people ask me about my wedding and comment about how great my mom was, I’m ALMOST to the point where I can smile and agree with them without wanting to add several caveats about the realities of the day. Thankfully, the overall feeling that I was left with (it was seven weeks ago) is overwhelming joy. She doesn’t get to ruin my wedding memory. We don’t get married in a fantasy land in which all people concerned magically become exactly how we wish they were, I suppose. Weddings are living and breathing, and they come with baggage, but I still made a wonderful choice and took vows with a wonderful man in front of all of my (imperfect) friends and (imperfect) family.

    Cheers. Thanks for writing this and reminding me that everyone has issues on their wedding day. Sometimes I get quite annoyed with Real Wedding pictures because they look so idyllic and unlike my reality. This was much better.

    • Meg Keene

      Keep in mind that YOUR pictures might not look like your reality either. My wedding photos are great: works of art I commissioned for a important moment. But it’s a total outsiders perspective, at the end of the day. Plus, it’s not like a photographer is going to photograph the screaming fight you had with FILL IN THE BLANK that ended in tears the day before. So yeah, don’t compare your insides with someone else’s outsides. It’s always a trap.

      • Class of 1980

        “Don’t compare your insides with someone else’s outsides.”

        There’s a gem that we can never hear enough.

      • Elizabeth

        I know this is an old discussion now, but Meg, I just had to thank you for your words here! I was married about six weeks ago and have been beating myself up over the fact that I have no candid, fun pictures of me and my mom together. We had several beautiful and meaningful moments together… before the actual ceremony. But of course all the pictures are from the ceremony and reception. I keep thinking, if only the photographer was in the bathroom with us for that sweet look and hand squeeze. But that’d just be weird, I know. Your words really brought home to me the fact that not everything that was lovely and meaningful to ME is going to be caught on film by someone else. Thank you for helping me regain my pleasure in those memories, even with no pictures attached to them.

  • gipsygrrl

    Thank you for sharing this very honest story. There was one thing that jumped out at me… near the end when you said you’ve gone back to “taking the easy way out” by keeping your mother at arm’s length… that statement makes me want to run up to you, hug you and then gently shake you and tell you that (in my opinion) it’s totally OK to do that! It’s not the easy way out… it’s the way you survive the best that you can. Sometimes we just don’t have the emotional wherewithal to “deal” with people, to be constantly confronting, working on issues, etc., etc. with the difficult people in our lives. Sometimes we just have to keep them at a distance and move forward ourselves. There is nothing wrong with that (especially during/around an emotionally exhausting time like a wedding) – don’t beat yourself up for it!!

    • Anonymous

      I agree 100%. It’s not the easy way out — you get to have the boundaries that you need when it comes to dealing with an alcoholic parent. (Well, you get to have the boundaries you need with everyone, actually.) As someone with a family full of alcoholics (grandfather, father, brother), my experience is that it’s vitally important for you to have and maintain the boundaries you need with an alcoholic family member. That’s not to say it’s easy — sometimes it is the hardest, most heartbreaking thing in the world to maintain distance when you need to — but it’s so, so important.

    • http://heartsvsbrains.tumblr.com/ HeartvsBrain

      Word. If more of us start being honest about how toxic people, whether family or not, can be very damaging to us, maybe less people would think incorrectly that because you’re related to someone, you have to put up with whatever abuse they dish out. Sometimes people aren’t good for us. Sometimes relationships are actually detrimental to our mental health. I wish more people spoke up about this stuff. Thanks for being one of them.

    • copper

      Also, it’s not particularly easy!

    • Kayleigh

      Thank you — you are so right. It’s more that I just wish there were a better solution than keeping her at arm’s length, but as far as I can tell right now, there isn’t.

  • Jessica

    I really love that you ended this piece with your frank honesty about it not being okay. Sometimes I grow weary of the sad stories that end on an uplifting note….because that’s not how it always feels. Often sadness just continues for a while, before you can ‘look on the bright side’. Although I agree with the comments that in a couple years, you’ll look back with less sadness and anger and more fondness of your wedding day.

    • Kayleigh

      Honestly, at first I did end it on an uplifting note! It was hard not to, because it’s true, I almost do feel bad about how much it bothers me. But thank you so much (everyone) for the kind words I do appreciate all the comments.

    • Class of 1980

      You’re right, Jessica. There are a lot of hurts in life that are never resolved.

      With my dad, it’s Borderline Personality Disorder rather than alcoholism. I cut him out of my life for the second time a few years ago. He grew up in an abusive family. Research shows that abuse changes a developing brain. He has never progressed to a healthy adult way of dealing with life or people. There are no satisfactory answers on what to do.

      There’s an endless circle of thought – - – feeling badly for cutting him off, considering that his illness isn’t entirely his fault, so he’s now a double victim – - – reflecting on how horribly cruel and irrational he can be – - – realizing I just can’t deal with the stress he brings into my life – - – wondering if there is some magic technique for dealing with him that would work – - – sadness that he is sad that I cut him off – - – knowing that he’s in his 70s and won’t be around forever – - – and then realizing that interacting with him and remaining mentally/emotionally healthy myself are conflicting goals.

      So, I just settle for a low grade uneasiness about him vs. a high-level of anxiety if he was back in my life. I chose the the lesser of two evils. I hate to say it, but that’s as good as it gets.

  • Anne

    Hi, Thank you so much for sharing your story. My mom is an alcoholic as well, she has been to rehab, but it didn’t stick. I invited her to my wedding and we served alcohol. I put a lot of energy into worrying about her before the wedding. It’s comforting to hear from someone else who has struggled with an addict at their wedding.

    I’m so so sorry that your mother relapsed at your wedding. That is pretty horrific.

    I just want to say that it’s so not your fault. You might be thinking that your mother felt nostalgic on your wedding day, and that she felt left out, and that in retrospect you should have seen it coming. Maybe that is even how your mom rationalized it to herself. That is an alcoholic self justification. She could have just as easily framed it to herself as a day when she should absolutely not drink, out of consideration for your feelings. That’s what my mother did. She didn’t drink during the reception or rehearsal dinner so that she could be present at the wedding. Of course it is much easier to not drink for 8 hours than it is to not drink for 14 months. I don’t share this to rub it in your face, but to emphasize that there is always an alternative frame of reference.

    I know you said in your post that you weren’t blaming yourself, but sometimes it is good to hear the message from others as well. Please take it in that spirit. You did nothing wrong by getting married. You did nothing wrong by including her.You did nothing wrong by serving alcohol.

    I don’t really go to ALANON meetings, but I read their devotional when I am stressed about my mother and it really helps. It may sound corny, but it helps.

    Also, 1 in 5 people have an addict in their immediate family, so even though it feels humiliating, I’m sure anyone at your wedding who noticed could empathize. This is something a lot of people deal with at their weddings. I know I did. I struggled a lot in the months before my wedding with how to approach my mother about her drinking. On the one hand it felt like anything that made her sad could be a trigger. On the other hand, knowing how it affects me could help her find her bottom. Ultimately, I know I am not going to save her, only she can do that. If caring about me and our family was enough to keep her from drinking, she would have quit a long time ago. If being sad was the only thing that made her drink, she would have quit a long time ago. Maybe she started drinking for emotional reasons, but now she drinks to feed an addiction. It’s different. So, I did what was healthiest for me.

    I’m sure you have heard all of this before, because your reaction to your mothers relapse was so healthy! I don’t know what I would have done in your situation. I just hope that hearing from another Adult Child of an Alcoholic was a little bit helpful (if you even read the comments, which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend.)

    • revooca

      “If caring about me and our family was enough to keep her from drinking, she would have quit a long time ago.”

      I need this mantra in my life. It’s so easy to see the effects of addiction on your relationship as a reflection of your parent’s love for you, and, consequently, of your own self-worth.

  • Daniella

    I’m
    having a hard time keeping my tears down right now. More than anything I want to echo what other people
    have said – shame is so powerful – and you have nothing to be ashamed about,
    nothing. Your mom’s choices and
    struggles are hers, not yours. I
    recognize that you have a slew of emotions including sadness, anger etc and all
    of those should be processed (personally I love to write letters to people
    explaining how I feel knowing that I may never send them). Of all those emotions though, I beg of you to
    start to let go of any feelings of shame, it’s so easy to drown in them. It takes a strong women to share a story like
    yours, thank you for sharing.

  • Meigh McPants

    Oh my darling, I feel for you. If it helps any, at least you can tell from the comments that there are a LOT of us with parents struggling with addiction, so you are very much not alone. It’s a crappy situation to be in, and I’m so sad that it diminished an ounce of your joy on your wedding day. From my wise old 2.5 years of marriage, I will say that time helps diminish those hurts eventually, as you make more and more fabulous memories with your partner. The wedding day is just the start to a long road. You’ve got lots of joy ahead. Thanks for sharing this, and I wish you the very best.

  • linny

    I’m really glad you shared your experience. The one consistency an alcoholic parent provides is the ability to disappoint again and again. You shouldn’t make any apologies for keeping your mother at a distance, or even cutting her out of your life entirely if that’s what’s healthiest for you.
    The best part of getting married is the ability to create your own family… one without the drama, chaos, and disappointment that you grew up with. After a lifetime of similar disappointments and holidays filled with dreads and imagining worst case scenarios, my sister and I and our husbands have created new holiday traditions that don’t include our parents. It’s incredibly freeing when you realize that you don’t have to make concessions for other people’s bad behavior, even if they are your parents.

  • copper

    I’m an adult child of an alcoholic too, and I feel so defensive for the little girl version of you when I read this, ” 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.”

    I want to tell you, you waited because you didn’t know what to do, you didn’t know you needed to do it, because it’s not your responsibility to do so. Because you were the child, deciding “you know, I really need to change my living situation and school” is just not in the playbook. It’s a level of responsibility you shouldn’t have had, and I’m sorry you did, and especially if you still question why it took you so long to make that decision. It wasn’t yours to make, or it shouldn’t have been.

    • Alyssa M

      This. So much this. Instead of feeling regret for how long it took to talk to your dad, please feel proud of yourself for taking that step at all. It took great maturity and strength and you were an AMAZING big sister. You should never ever have had to make a decision like that as a child, but you still made it, and even though I don’t know you, I’m still proud of you.

  • Anon for this

    When I read this, I got chills and my heart stopped. It is positively creepy how I could have written this post because the same thing happened to me at our rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding and I stayed up all night thinking how humiliated and angry I was. Everything you wrote, especially the bit about the photos and being unable to separate the happy memories from this one thing – I want to exactly this entire post. I have nothing really to add other than you’re not alone – even if you’re sad or embarrassed, there are people out there who understand exactly what your almost means. And I hope that we both get to the place where the happy memories outweigh the one that seemed to color the entire thing.

  • Sara Downey

    My heart aches and my head understands this all too well. Bang up job on this post to both Kayleigh and the editorial team at APW.

  • Sarah

    “How is it even possible to explain experiencing two completely opposite ends of the emotional spectrum at once?”

    THIS.

    Kayleigh, thank you so much for sharing your story. As an adult child of an alcoholic, this is one of the best and most meaningful posts I’ve ever read on this subject. I’m sorry that you’re still having such conflicting feelings over your wedding day, but I am so, so grateful that you didn’t end the post on an artificially happy note. I hope you find peace with what happened soon.

  • LBH

    Thank you for writing this. My issues with my wedding aren’t that same as yours, though they are related to my mom, and I hate that “almost” that creeps up. A lot of my issues are more that I feel pressured to say it was perfect — especially since we used a lot of friendors (friends of my mom’s, not mine) who really disappointed me, but I don’t want to upset them and point out how far off it was of what we had discussed or whatever. So I just smile and agree when everyone says my wedding was perfect, but inside I don’t think I’ll ever agree. And I hate it. I want to look back and only have happy memories, but so much of our wedding was about my mom, and not about us at all, and it sucks.

    Your situation was totally different, I recognize, but I so appreciate APW for making it okay to embrace the “almost.”

  • Class of 1980

    “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”

    Okay, that’s awful. If it’s any consolation, the guests probably assumed she just had a bit too much to drink. Most people don’t leap to the thought that the person is an alcoholic because even social drinkers sometimes get carried away.

    You have a lot to deal with, but at least let any worry about what the guests thought go by the wayside.

  • Undercoverwd

    As an adult child of an alcoholic mother who is just starting to plan my own wedding this makes me so sad and so scared. Having a dry wedding for her sake would make me resentful and not inviting her is just not an option. I guess I’m also betting on her being so concerned about appearances that she behaves but clearly this is not a bulletproof plan.

    Kayleigh, if you could go back would you have changed anything? Would you still have invited her? Would you have had a dry wedding? An assigned chaperone to follow her around?

    • Kayleigh

      That is a great question. Honestly, I don’t think I would have changed anything. I guess in hindsight, I wish I could have just not invited her, but for me, it wasn’t worth all of the questions that would raise and I really did want her to have a part in the day. I’m her only daughter, and I wanted to at least give her some role in the day since I knew she already feel left out since my Dad (and even my Stepmom) and I are close. Like you, even though I thought about it in the back of my head at times, not inviting her was not an option.

      Also, there was some good in her being there, because she told me something she overheard my (now) husband say earlier in the day, before she started drinking, and at the last minute I decided to add it into my vows, and it was perfect. I don’t hate that memory from her, I just hate the ones that followed.

      I definitely wouldn’t have had a dry wedding because it just wouldn’t have fit in the vision we had for the day — we like to throw parties and our friends and other family like drinking (in a celebratory manner of course).

      As far as the chaperone bit, I did have a really good, old friend help me with that, but it was at the last minute. There was just this moment where my friend saw my facial expression and looked at me and we had an unspoken exchange of “Oh wow, you and I both know your mom is drunk what do you want me to do” and I was like “Get her out of here.” And so she did. That being said, maybe you could assign a really trusted friend in advance to help keep an eye out and take care it just in case.

      Honestly, when I started planning the wedding, I was completely confident she would behave herself. She had done so at plenty of other major events. But, I know that sometimes, there just isn’t a good way to predict or prevent these things from happening. I would play out every option in your head, check your gut reaction, and go with whichever option makes you most feel most like yourself. Sorry for the longwinded answer — I hope it helps.

      • Undercoverwd

        Thank you, that makes me feel better. I know I can’t control her actions but I guess I can have a plan that will minimize the embarrassment and I can be emotionally ready for the disappointment.

        I’m so sorry this happened to you but thank you for being brave enough to share. It’s brought me back to earth.

  • Anon for now

    Wow- this hits pretty close to home. Thanks for sharing your story. I hope you are able to heal and move forward remembering your wedding in a positive, but honest light.

    My family has a strong history of alcohol abuse, some recovered, others still drinking regularly. It’s such a horrible evil, as a lot of my immediate family members drink to excess regularly and it negatively impacts their lives and relationships. Yet, they have good jobs and homes and are productive members of society. So people excuse it. And like your Mom- they worry about public image so their destructive drinking usually happens behind closed doors, or at least in groups private enough that it can be swept aside.

    Every time I’ve seen my brother this past year he has been extremely intoxicated. He is a nasty drunk and is usually verbally abusive while drinking. I haven’t seen him since our last encounter. My family tells me its better, he’s dealing with it. But he’s not in AA and I think I still may be the only one using the word alcoholic out loud. It’s especially difficult because he isn’t normally so abusive.

    and now I’m getting married. So what do i do? We always dreamed of inviting only a small group of people. Less than 20. My family and I are extremely close. I want them there. I want to have faith, but what if I only have a small group of people there and something happens? I’m terrified. I’ve spent way too much time pre-worrying about this. Like Kayleigh and some posters above mentioned, the first sign of excessive drinking chills me so deep and I’m unable to relax. I know I can’t control their actions, but how can I protect myself from hurtful behavior? I’m a sensitive person and have a lot of trouble building an emotional wall. I worry and stress and get hurt. Time and time again.

    Thank you Kayleigh for sharing your story. I think you’re brave and handle yourself beautifully. xo

  • Liz

    This is so moving, thank you for sharing. I’m planning my wedding with my big, messy family (alcoholic, arms-length dad for me!) and hearing others stories makes me feel less alone and stressed. I hope you can find a place of peace with your mom.

  • Erin

    Holy shit. The overshadowing sadness… I had the same(ish) end to my wedding day, and I’m still trying to reconcile how I feel about my wedding and about my mother, a year-and-a-half later. Wishing you peace in your heart, Kayleigh!

  • Eli

    (HUGS)

    I’m relating strongly to this post, on a slightly different level – my wedding, just over a month ago, was also *ALMOST* perfect. It would have maybe been perfect had my dad not died of stomach cancer three months before it. I even feel similarly about our wedding photographs (and we haven’t even gotten the professional ones back yet)…when I even just think about the ones I know we took with my family, my dad’s not going to be in them, and it makes me just want to punch things.

    Thank you for writing this, and for your honesty. It can be really hard to talk about these kinds of feelings when they revolve around what’s supposed to be the best/most perfect/most magical day of your life.

  • http://www.marbleryephotography.com/ Melissa

    Kayleigh, thank you for sharing. I think there’s a bit of “almost” underneath many of our “perfect” days.

  • Eva

    Oh Kayleigh, my heart goes out to you. My dad is in the same situation and growing up with that we were always all too aware of that wavering voice, the slightly-unsteady hand, and the hurt and disappointment that on an important day s/he can’t even do the one thing for you that you want: to behave because it’s important to you.

    I never thought I was one of those kids who thought it was her *fault* that her dad drank, but a few years ago a therapist turned that on its head for me: “yes, but do you wish he respected or loved you enough to stop?” He hit the nail on the head. That’s where the biggest hurt comes from, at least for me. Keeping your mom at arm’s length is the best you can do for now. It’s going to take a long time before you can isolate your mom from your enjoyment of your Ceilidh, but you’ll get there.

  • effinclassy

    Thank you for this post, and thanks everyone who shared about their difficult parents in the comments. It is such a relief to come to a wedding site and read real talk like this.

  • Guest

    Thank you for sharing. I feel this way often with my family, while it isn’t the same vise, the emotions are the same. I loved your story and everyones comments. As I’m planning my own wedding right now, it comforts me to know there are others that suffer in a similar way. I too, plut family members at arms length because it is a big family and cutting them off doesn’t seem right, but it isn’t healthy for me to have them close. At the same time I get invested without even realizing it till its too late. So the cycle continues.

  • Bryna

    Gah! Mothers!

    My family isn’t contributing anything to our wedding – and we’re fine to pay for it. I care about making a big effort for our wedding day, and so I’ve been working my butt off to make everyone feel involved and part of the celebrations.

    My mother (also an alcoholic, albeit a functioning one) hasn’t been very interested in the plans, so I haven’t really involved her.

    She’s part of the wedding though, so occasionally I give her an update. Just had a little catch up with her (we picked up the rings and I’ve almost finished all the decorations!) and her inspiring input was: “‘it’s just another party, eh? it doesn’t matter if it’s no fun.”

    Wow. Thanks ma.

  • tigerlilie

    This is my biggest, unspoken fear for my wedding day. My dad has been an alcoholic for 25 years. This year he quit drinking. He was ticketed for his 3rd OWI and was facing jail time. And he decided he had had enough. He was done. He quit cold turkey. He attended court assigned therapy, he went to AA, he stopped hanging out with the friends who encouraged his habit. And I could not be more proud. It brings me to tears just to think of how proud I am of what he has done. His one year sobriety anniversary is on my wedding day. We didn’t plan it that way; it just sort of happened. My worst nightmare would be for my father to break his sobriety on my wedding day. I think it would crush me.

    But at the same time, I know that as long as he keeps trying, I will be there to support him. Even though he’s forgotten my birthday, and even my name. He was missing from my life for 10 years, but I am no less his daughter. Even if the sobriety doesn’t stick, I’m going to stick with him. Life goes on after the wedding. I know one of my dad’s triggers is loneliness, so I’m not going to make it easier for him to drink by leaving him to his own devices. And I know there’s nothing he wants more than to make me proud of him, so I make sure I tell how proud I am every chance I get.

    I know how hard it is to keep trying for a person who does nothing but disappoint you. People, even parents, never seem to live up to the ideal we have of them. And some parents are downright AWFUL at being parents. Some of us have to pick up our parents from the county jail while they are still blind drunk. But that’s the way life is. We have the choice to stay, or to walk away. I completely understand if you choose to walk away. There’s only so much a person can take. And it’s not your fault if something bad happens as a result. Our parents have to be held accountable for their own decisions, no matter how painful that may be. You have to take care of yourself first. And if you are ready, someday, to try again, you can. But this is a hurt that can’t be healed with one day. Or 14 months. Even if your mom had remained sober on your wedding day, it would not have healed the years of disappointment and broken hearts. It would’ve made your wedding day happier, but that is only one day. And like her sobriety, one day doesn’t count for much in the grand scheme of things.

  • lp

    I cant thank you enough for sharing this piece. I have struggled with the same type of relationship with my mom, with it most recently her living several states away and she is in the perfect arms length (and what I think is the same ‘box’ you refferred to)away from my everyday life. I struggled through those awkward teenage years when my mom was too hungover to bring me to Field Hockey practice or even the worse nights when the cops were called (all too often). I sympathize with you on this but I feel a sense of relief hearing someone else dealing with this issue. I know many people do, but we try to fit them in that ‘trailer trash’ stereotype (at least what I have seen) but it goes to show it can happen to any family and at any event. My current boyfriend (hopefully soon fiance and husband) had been with me through some of my moms drunken episodes and he is the biggest rock I could ever ask for. I would be lying though, if I said I never worried about how she would act on my wedding day one day. I guess I will find out. I wish you the best because I know exactly how the struggle is and I constantly am battling wanting my mom to recover. I thank you immensely for sharing and shedding light on something so real.