How I Found Myself After I Lost My Mother to Addiction

By Kate GrossFebruary 2, 2017

This past May, I lost my mom to alcoholism and addiction. In truth, I had lost her before that—long before that. But the shock of it was no less jarring. The timeline went like this: I picked up my 24-hour chip at a meeting on the 18 with my husband by my side. She went into the ICU on the 21, and at 5:00 p.m. on the 23, she died.

She lost her battle, and I lost her.

I am no stranger to addiction and mental illness. I lived the first three months of my life in a NICU in Boston, and as a result of a traumatic birth, developed anxiety that felt physical at times. I spent my childhood very fearful and tried to squelch that fear with alcohol in my early adulthood.

I lost myself.

Luckily, I found recovery in 2008 and have been falling down and getting back up since then. This go-around, and there have been many, I have a bit over seven months of sobriety. I can say with absolute assurance that my involvement in recovery has changed my life for the better. Although I have relapsed many times, I’ve been lucky enough to make it back into sobriety. This time, as with every time, I hope to stay there.

On August 30, my one-year wedding anniversary, I discovered I was pregnant. It was my first pregnancy, and over the next month I felt every emotion in the book: fear, joy, anticipation, and intense anxiety like I’d never experienced before. Couple all of these emotions with the grief I was feeling about my mother, and you’d probably understand why I felt overwhelmed.

What if I couldn’t be the mother I wanted to be?

What if something happened to my child? How would I get through that pain?

What if I messed up my kid forever with my own messed-up-ness?

What if…

Yesterday, an ultrasound showed no embryo, only an irregular sac. I am not sure, but I might have absorbed the fetus back into my body, just as I will have to absorb this experience and make it part of my story.

My husband and I struggled through the day together as best we could. He bravely went to our house inspection while I stayed in bed, numb and mute. And just like that, the universe gently removed my anxiety and replaced it with emptiness.

Another loss.

In situations like this, I often ask myself, “What are my choices right now?”

I go through them one by one.


Stay sober.

Stay numb.

Open up.

Live in fear.

Live in acceptance.

Over the past eight years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have these choices. Before recovery, I didn’t feel like I had any choices to make. Watching my mom die from this disease felt like another message from the universe, a dark and foreboding one. Keep drinking, and you will end up just like her. So since then, it’s been therapy, meetings, and sharing honestly. On that day in May, my choices disappeared once more, and two paths—the one I could take and the one I had to—grew very, very clear.

Today I have these questions to answer:

How will I deal with this double-loss without numbing?

How will I walk through pain sober?

The answer is: as humanly as possible. Meaning: soberly, messily, weepily, angrily, with no grace at all times, and with immense grace at others.

I will always have questions, but now I have yet another choice to make: Embrace them and find myself or run from them and lose myself.

I am choosing to live, to struggle, to overcome, to slip, to fall, and to rise. I am choosing to show up and be counted, not lost.

I am choosing to be found.

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Comments (13)

  1. tracey krofcheck

    Oh Kate how sad and lovely-I celebrate you today,my friend

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  2. Heather

    Kate, this is beautifully written. I am sorry for both of your losses.

    Reply  |  
  3. Linda

    There is always and forever a shoulder, a voice, a shared tear, an understanding heart, a place, a quiet and solid nudge, and unlimited encouragement. I love you,Kate. I respect your choice to unload. I admire your continuing desire to be whole.

    Reply  |  
  4. Kathy Hood

    Very powerful story!

    Reply  |  
  5. Nidhi

    All the best?

    Reply  |  
  6. A

    Powerful words. Thank you for sharing and encouraging so many people that we can overcome and get through the hard things day by day.

    Reply  |  
  7. Maura

    Hi, Kate,

    I am so sorry for your loss. And thank you for this beautiful post, for your courage, and for your honesty. I lost both of my parents to complications of alcoholism (one, diabetes-related dementia exacerbated by alcoholism, the other, to kidney failure exacerbated by alcoholism and diabetes.) I also lost my brother (my closest friend) to bipolar disorder by suicide. So, by my late 30’s, I decided that motherhood was probably not for me. I had to combat my own depression, grief, and food addiction, and I figured it was just too risky to consider reproducing. How could I guarantee that I wouldn’t hurt a child the way I had been hurt? What if my depression worsened and became lethal?

    In my early 40’s, I had an unplanned pregnancy. I was both overjoyed and terrified. Every day, I felt that if I miscarried I’d be devastated, but I would also be relieved. As the weeks went on, my fear increased – fear of losing him, fear of having him. Fear of what kind of mother I might be.

    He is nearly 4 now, and I can tell you with joy that I am a good mother. I never thought I could say that with confidence, but I can. I am working my own recovery. I still struggle, but I know I am reliable to him. He can rely on me. There has literally never been a day when I greeted him with anything but a smile. (My mother was bipolar and frighteningly moody in addition to her alcoholism, so I feared that I’d pass that down in my interactions with him. I have not. He can trust me to be predictable and patient. Which is not to say that I am an angelic mother, but I am reliable. I trust myself like I have never done before, and he can trust me.

    Motherhood has its challenges and has brought up new griefs I didn’t even know were there, but it has also healed me and enriched me in ways I had never predicted.

    I know you are grieving a terrible disappointment right now. I only share my happy story to share the “hope” part of experience, strength, and hope. This pregnancy was not to be, but that is not a measure of your potential value as a mother. You have experience, strength, and hope to share with a child. You have resilience and empathy. You have the will to continue improving. You will teach him/her that failure is part of living a life of trying, and failure is okay, as long as you keep trying. You will be a good mother.

    Reply  |  
    1. Kate

      Thank you, Maura. This is unbelievable to read. So helpful, healing. Such gratitude. Thank you for sharing a bit of your story with me!

      Reply  |  
  8. Lashay

    hey,Kate Gross i am lashay, i wanted to let you know that i understand i’m 17 and my mom at this point is struggling with a big drug addiction i have thoughts that i’m going to lose her life has been hard for me I’ve did drugs and i felt the numbness it gave and that’s why i understood my mom stayed on them and i am very sorry for your lost and i want you to know you are a survivor i hope you stay strong you have a whole life ahead so look foward your journey has just begin.

    Reply  |  
    1. Kate

      Thank you, Lashay. I wish you strength and love as well. You are a survivor too!

      Reply  |  
  9. Nancy Hazlett

    Also I would hope as humanely as possible.

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  10. Lauren Ambrose

    Hey Kate. It’ll be 3 years tomorrow since my mom passed. When people ask, as they inevitably do, how she died I hesitate. Saying she was an alcoholic during her last 15 years of life doesn’t get the same reaction if I said she battled cancer or she died in a car accident. It angers me that somehow her passing gets judged, when I lost a mother regardless. Others opinions shouldn’t matter to me, but it complicates grieving for her even more when her memory seems tainted. Nobody brings her up. She lived a full beautiful life, and then started drinking. Drinking wasn’t her entire life.
    It helps to find stories of others who have lost their mothers to alcoholism and know that AA/Alanon truly is supportive and restorative. I’ve been to a few sessions in my lifetime but not a regular attendee. I don’t know why I’m writing this all to a stranger but I loved reading your words about your mom – so much resonates with me. Thank you for sharing so courageously. Peace and blessings. Xx

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA


      We are so grateful you found Kate’s words and were able to connect with a piece of someone else’s story. That connection and shared experience are invaluable. The grief you feel for your mother is valid and deserves to be honored. We are truly sorry to know that it feels as if others are not respecting your mother’s life and the loss you experienced due to her mental health situation. Please know that we send our love and we grieve with you. Thank you for your candidness as well.

      With Hope,

      Reply  |  
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