The Devil in the Bottle

Jul 1 · 7 min read
My mother, Tamara, sometime in the late-1990s or early-2000s.

As “hospice” replaced “recovery” in conversation, the Earth seemingly slowed its rotation.

We tried to ask the hospice representative questions, as if they’d lead to favorable answers or perhaps alternative realities, but the truth felt so real in that moment that I could taste it in my mouth, I could hear it ring in my ears, I could see it in the carpeting on the floor. It was a moment I knew I would never forget.

My father — losing the love of his life — had a tougher time keeping his anger in check. He couldn’t understand why she was sent home from the hospital a week earlier despite not being in any state to return. He couldn’t understand why they couldn’t force medicine on somebody who was delusional and convinced that her hallucinations were real. My parents divorced when I was seven years old — and reunited when I was seventeen. Between those years, my father battled his own alcoholism, alongside an addiction to methamphetamine. He spent time living on the streets, in and out out of jail, and eventually, landed himself in prison. He called my once to inform me that the birds were chasing him. We can laugh about that one today.

His journey, alone, could fill pages.

The hospice representative was just doing her job, but it felt so cold.

Why doesn’t she understand how insane all of this is?

My mother and I during a trip to visit my grandfather in Durango, Colorado in the late-1990s.

My mother, brother and I were on our own for the next few years. My mom, one of the most creative minds I’ll ever know, decided to sew children’s clothing to sell on eBay under the name “Cottage Closet.” That venture, alongside the SSI payments she received for taking care of my disabled brother, helped keep us alive. Later, my mother would develop painful arthritis in her back from continual lifting of my brother — something that arguably contributed to her alcoholism as well.

When I was ten, my mother remarried to a wealthy mortgage executive. Suddenly, I had a backyard, my step-father owned a Porsche, and our home was massive. I even went to a Christian private school. It was during that marriage that my mother’s alcoholism started to rear its ugly head. Mental and verbal abuse, mixed family drama, and my step-father’s crumbling mortgage business (this was during the height of the Great Recession) were a large factor in my mother turning to the bottle. Again, this is another story that could fill pages.

My mother divorced her second husband when I was just fourteen. In the meantime, my father had finished his prison sentence and entered a program known as Casa Rafael, operated by Alpha Project in San Diego County. He got sober, started a new career, and eventually, his own business. I finally had my father back. While my father never hid his continued affection for my mother, he was respectful to my mother’s second marriage. When she divorced, he made his feelings known.

I was seventeen when my mother decided to take my father up on his offer of reunion — despite my stubborn rejection of the notion. They eventually remarried just a few months prior to my mother being hospitalized.

It wasn’t until my mother accidentally spilled her hidden wine bottle under the kitchen sink that my father realized that my mother, too, was an alcoholic. My father pledged to help her towards the road to recovery — himself being six or seven years sober at that point.

A photo of the meeting with the hospice representative — I can’t explain why I thought this was a worthy moment to capture.

Back at the hospital, my eyes felt heavy as I glanced at my father and my aunt. With every glance came the weight of their pain, multiplying and multiplying and multiplying. My heart felt like it would just slump right out of my body and land on the floor with a magnificent thud. To be honest, I probably wished it would at that moment. My eyes again turned to the floor.

Our entire realities were altered forever at that very moment by a woman with a patient file and a paycheck.

“Are you ok, Sage?” somebody asked.

I pulled from eyes from that carpeting— and looked at my father, aunt, and the representative. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I can certainly remember what I was thinking.

“What do you think?”

She would never get to hold my future children, or enjoy a Christmas dinner at our home, or even see where my career was to take me. I knew she was proud of me, but I felt I had so much more to show her in my future. I just wanted her to know how thankful I was that she was my mother. I never got to say that enough.

I walked into the hospital room to see my mother again. I used a straw to deliver a small amount of water to her mouth — she vomited immediately.

It was clear — she was dying — but her delusions kept her from this truth. Every bone in my body wanted me to shake her in the hopes that I could pull her from the hallucinations just to tell her goodbye with the knowledge that she knew what I was speaking about. I still keep the voicemails she left me in the middle of the night from the hospital, claiming that the nurses and my father were stealing money from her. She told my father that little elves were in the room playing with her belongings.

I’m still not sure she ever understood the finality of it all.

I’m not sure she ever knew she was dying.

She was afraid, but she wasn’t sure what of. Her eyes cried out for help, but there was nothing more to do. Less than a week later, her heart ceased its beating, and she slipped into infinity.

One of the last photos I took of my mother during one of her 2016 hospital visits.

On Friday, July 1st, Sara and I fell asleep around 9 PM after a grueling week of emotional hospital visits. I suddenly woke up around 2 that next morning, and as I usually do, immediately reached for my phone. As I pulled it to my face, a call came in from my father.

“Mom’s gone.”

I hurried over my parent’s house to watch my brother, Dylan, while my father said goodbye to my mom. He had already departed by the time I arrived. I feel to my knees in the kitchen and cried. I have never cried so hard in my life. I prayed to God — I even prayed to my mom. I told her how sorry I was that she had been through so much — I told her how thankful I was to have her as my mom.

I’ll never forget the tearful embrace my father and I shared when he came home. It felt like that hug lasted hours, and I remember it so vividly. Immediately, my worry turned to him. He spent years rebuilding his life for it to slip away.

It will have been three years ago tomorrow.

Since my mother’s death, I’ve had many of her closest friends and family relatives plead the same line:

“I didn’t think it was my place to say anything.”

I don’t blame them. It’s never easy to interject yourself into a situation like this. You don’t want to alienate, you don’t want to humiliate. This end was not their fault. But, if anything can be made positive by the death of my mother, it’s to hopefully spread a message to others either dealing with addiction or who know somebody who is. Say something. Do something.

The pain of losing a friend, a family member, a mom, will be far greater than that of alienating a friend. For all you know, you could save their life.

My mother and father during their first wedding in 1994.

I’m doing just fine. My addictions are limited to caffeine and nicotine, and while not a gleaming image of health by any means, I’m very blessed to have bucked a trend (so far). My wife and I just purchased our first home, we have a Basset Hound puppy named Milton and an old fat cat named Groucho. I’ve somehow managed to develop a career without a degree, many old books adorn our bookcases, and my mother is carried with us always in our hearts.

I’m also extremely thankful to the man above for giving me my father back. If it wasn’t for a bit of divine intervention and amazing organizations such as Alpha Project, I may not have either parent today. He is still sober (14 years), operates his business, plays his video games, and has started dating again.

Today is the one day I reserve for mourning my mother each year — the other 364 days are reserved for making her proud.

Sage Naumann

Written by

Sage is a Colorado-based political professional, graphic designer, film photographer, web consultant, cigar aficionado, vaper, and conservative commentator.

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