One of my first memories is going to a shop with my Mum while she bought a square green bottle wrapped up with tissue paper. The shop had a strange smell, not like a toyshop or a bakers shop. Even today, walking into an off license reminds me of childhood. The green bottle was gin.
Mum was a secret alcoholic, my brother and I spent many years discovering where Mum had hidden her bottles (sometimes even in our own rooms) and reporting to Dad. He would then confront Mum after we were in bed, well they thought we were in bed, we were actually at the top of the stairs listening to the whole argument, not understanding all of it, feeling bad that our discovery had yet again caused disharmony. Mum would then agree to stop, which was no better. She would have the DT’s for a few days and be irritable, but at least we could tell that she wasn’t drinking. We would then have to be extra vigilant; does her breath smell of alcohol? Are there any bottles hidden anywhere? Inevitably, the whole cycle would begin again.
Then there were what I call the more spectacular incidents, ones that I can vaguely remember, the ones that thoughtful relatives remind me of on the odd occasion when they want to be malicious about Mum. For example, the two times she tried to kill herself or accidentally overdosed, I don’t know for sure, the conspiracy of silence has made sure I never ask. My brother and I found her on both occasions and raised the alarm because she wouldn’t wake up. I’m always a bit scared to think what would have happened had we not done anything, I was about five or six and my brother was three or four when these incidents happened.
Every day after tea, she would lie down for a few hours, when Dad went to work. It was then we could get up to whatever we wanted, throwing away the food that she’d drunkenly prepared if we didn’t like it and get some crisps or chocolate instead. She fell asleep once at the dining room table whilst in the middle of preparing a roast dinner, which Dad forced her to finish, of sorts. It has to be the worst meal of my entire life, some things over cooked, some barely cooked at all.
After this, I was put in charge of buying groceries, Dad thinking that if Mum didn’t have access to any cash, she wouldn’t be able to go out and buy drink. It was humiliating, both for me as a 15-16 year old and for Mum. Ultimately, this stopped and the merry-go round started up again.
We were not allowed friends back from school for tea, not that we would ever want to, it was too much of a lottery as to what state Mum would be in. I always begged to go on exchange trips, as I was good at languages, but Mum didn’t like ‘having strangers in the house’ as if by way of explanation.
To the world outside everything was fine, a normal middle class family. To have shared the secret burden that my brother and I carried would have brought shame on the entire family, we were led to believe we would become outcasts. I never phoned ChildLine or talked to anyone about what was going on at home. I thought that my life was normal and helplines were for people with ‘real’ problems.
I have been in therapy for 5 years; it has allowed me to develop my sense of self that being the daughter of an alcoholic robbed me of. I’m also learning about boundaries, as I have none – another by-product of the disease – dealing with rejection, an emotion that has caused many problems in the adult relationships that I have had. Therapy has more importantly given me support, taught me that it isn’t my fault (even though for many years Mum blamed us for her alcoholism, saying that she wasn’t like it before we arrived, just what children need to hear!), and allowed me to hand some of the responsibility that I have been carrying around for my Mum back.
Mum is, for the moment, sober. She is now a diabetic and had several spells in hospital and on more than one occasion nearly died. I still can’t tell if she is drunk or sober, and don’t think I’ll ever be able to tell; she used to hide it that well and it became more normal than her being sober.
I am terrified it will happen to me, genetic predisposition, addictive personality etc. I do go out and drink, but it’s something that is always in the back of my mind. I am sad that I will never be able to go out with my Mum for a meal and share a bottle of wine with her, as I do with my friends. Another hard time for me is buying cards. Mother’s Day as I don’t really want to buy cards saying ‘World’s Best Mum’, or ‘Thank you Mum’, it would just be lying. Father’s Day cards are also tricky as are birthday cards for them. There are so many cards with references to getting drunk or ‘Beered Up Dad’ again, I feel it would be inappropriate to buy them, a small detail but leads to many hours in the card section of WH Smith!
I want to help children who are now in the position I was in. I’m studying law, and want to specialize in Child law. It still may be too soon for me to do the work I want to do, for fear of being too involved emotionally. However, I will get there, and if I can make an improvement in one child’s life, it will have been worth all the hard work.
Thanks for reading, take care.