Thursday morning, as I ran along the boardwalk at the Jersey Shore looking out at the ocean, I found myself thinking of my mom. I thought about where I was at that moment on August 16th 1988….30 years ago. I thought about how soon my life was about to change back then as a 15-year-old girl. As sick as my mother was at that point, nothing truly prepared me for what I was about to experience. She had been bed ridden for quite some time, but I don’t remember ever really understanding what was wrong with her. No one ever talked about it and I didn’t ask. It was just who my mom was. She lay in bed, watching the home shopping network, smoking her More Menthol Cigarettes and I would pop in to talk to her about my day. She always looked as though she was in pain. Looking back now I wonder how much of that was physical versus emotional or maybe a little of both.
I often imagine how my son will describe me one day. I would like to think that he sees me as a strong, loving, silly and passionate Mom. I work hard at that! I also imagine I will be alive to see my own grandchildren one day, however, I know I have a long way to go given he is only 8 years old.
This October 7th will mark 30 years since my mother passed away. On that day, I will be running a Half Marathon, in her honor and memory, through a Vineyard with a complimentary glass of wine and custom wine glass at the end. Which is rather ironic given my mother died of Cirrhosis after her own battle with alcoholism. When I learned of this race, I knew it was my race to be run. I knew it would be sentimental and I knew I would have to write about it. Why? Because unlike my childhood, I have made the decision never to be silent about my struggles and more important, my successes. Anyone who knows me, understands my own outlook on my own relationship with Alcohol. It is one that I do not hesitate to talk about. Why? Because I have seen firsthand how addiction can tear a family apart. Back when my mom was alive, no one talked about it and there were so few resources available for families and children struggling with addiction. Sadly, today it seems there are more struggling with addiction, more resources and still so little conversation. Part of my decision to even start this blog was with the goal of sharing my own experience with the hope that it helps even just one person feel understood, supported or even just feel not alone. Because I felt alone for a very long time.
My mother’s death does not define me. It drives me. It drives me to be better, to be healthier and it motivates me to be more present in my life as a mom not only for my son, but for me. I am no longer angry with her, but I find that as I approach the age she was when she passed, I am so far from who my mother was. When I learned of this race and the day it fell, I knew it would be something that I needed to do. Not only for me, and for my mom, but for my own son and husband. While everyone has their own journey and outlook, this is simply mine. So, why have a relationship with alcohol at all? The same reason a 15-year-old girl who just lost her mother to alcohol would continue to make the decision to party her way through high school and college and her early twenties even after hating her own mother for making similar choices. I do not know. I simply do not know. Maybe because aside from my own mother drinking herself to death, I watched my 99-year-old grandmother vow that it was a nice glass of wine every day and one cookie that was the secret to a long healthy life. Two things I have come to very much appreciate in my mid-40’s. But notice what I said, ONE glass and ONE cookie. Well, maybe more. Umm, definitely more than one cookie, who are we kidding? I love cookies…But anyone who knows me intimately, understands how important the other part is to me. They understand that I do not drink liquor and I rarely go over my own 1-2 glass maximum. I understand the level of addiction in my family and I am not willing to test my own tolerance. It is very important for me to teach my own child that his own mother can be responsible, drink a glass of wine as an adult of legal age and not destroy her family. Given I lived this first hand, it is something that I am very passionate about. It has been my ultimate goal to break the cycle of addiction in my family and this is a goal I know I will accomplish.
As I ran along the boardwalk the other day, I started to think about my own half marathon training. This will be my 7th half marathon and I was imagining crossing that finish line in October. I was thinking about how far I have come in my life and felt a sudden wave of sadness for my own mother at 45. To imagine that only 4 years later she would take her last breath. Suddenly, the song, “When I look to the Sky” came on by Train. This hot and humid August morning at mile 4, I literally had the chills. I used to train to this song years ago after my dad passed away. It always made me feel that he was pushing me along the way and this morning was different. I felt my mom. I felt her smiling. I’d like to think she’s proud of me.
So, on October 7th, 2018, I will run 13.1 miles in honor and memory of my mother, Sandra Stilwell Conreur. I will cross that finish line and raise my glass to my mom. I will show her that I can do this! I can overcome an obstacle that I never really understood. I will show her that I’m ok as she continues to smile down on us…I will show my son that his mommy is strong and healthy and while at times there is a sadness within me that he may never understand, he will never feel that he is the reason for it. He will learn in his life that while life can be hard sometimes, through your own commitment and passion, you can overcome any obstacle with grace, humility and hard work.
“’Cause when I look to the sky something tells me you’re here with me
And you make everything alright
And when I feel like I’m lost something tells me you’re here with me
And I can always find my way when you are here” Train