I was her parent, not the other way around – ACOA
I am the adult child of an alcoholic who I lost to her addiction in 2006. I am also the sister of an alcoholic brother who is actively addicted. I now work in Hull as the lead nurse for the addictions service – CGL, ReNew.
As a child I spent time in and out of foster care due to my mum’s addiction and found myself in a homeless hostel at sixteen. I struggled with my own mental health and also started using substances at the age of 13. I became a mum at 21 and that is when I knew I had to break the cycle of family addiction.
I knew I did not want my children to be scared to come home. I did not want my children to feel the same sense of fear and shame that I had growing up.
It took me many years to understand that my mum’s drinking was not my fault and that I was not the one to save her. I still have many of the traits of the child of an alcoholic but now I am able to understand and process my feelings in a healthy way and I know when to reach out.
I have had therapy and counselling in order to understand and make sense of my childhood and also to understand my own emotions when I feel myself triggered and those feelings from childhood rear their head again.
Not my fault
I held my mum as she died, but I was lucky that I made my peace with her before she passed away. However, this does not stop me still feeling hurt and confused at times, while also still loving my mum and grieving for the mum and childhood I lost to her alcoholism.
These days I use my experience to help others. It has been a very long journey and one that I am still on but I have found that talking about it and trying to remove the stigma surrounding addiction I am able to support others in their healing too.
After mum died I felt a huge loss of role as I was the one who would always go to mum and clean her up, care for her and act as her advocate when she was too intoxicated to do things for herself. For many years I was not able to have a full time job as my mum always needed care and ‘looking after’. I was her parent, not the other way around.
The year after she died I got a job working at a GP surgery that also had an addictions satellite clinic. A staff member saw how I was with the service users and suggested that I apply to the main addictions service as they observed that I treat the service users with respect and dignity, and I understood the issues they faced in every day life.
I applied and started as a receptionist for the main addictions service. I absolutely loved the job and clients would often say, ‘I wish you were my keyworker, you get it..’
In 2013 I was made redundant from my admin post and was a little lost — I had loved working with the clients.
I had nothing to lose
While I was looking for another job there was an open day at the college and I spoke to a careers advisor and told them what I had been doing and that I wanted to work in that area again. I did a short English and Maths test.
Then some months later I was accepted on to an access course. I had always been told I was not academic and I was not as intelligent as my brother. So I didn’t think I would get far, but I had nothing to lose. At this point, I was a single parent to 2 children and felt completely lost as a person.
The day came to start the course and I was asked if I wanted to do social work or nursing and I told them I didn’t have a clue, I just wanted to work back in addictions. A lady said to me, ‘Mental health nursing is probably the best for you’. I thought she was crazy but as I had nothing to lose I just agreed and went along with it.
I started the Access to Health and Social Care course in September 2013, and my thought was ‘Just keep going until I fail or get a job’.
Come the January I applied to be a mental health nurse and never thought I would even get an interview, but I did and was then also offered a place. I passed the Access course much to my amazement and I was off to uni.
Again, I never thought I would get that far. I kept thinking someone had it wrong and I would be pulled up for being an imposter.
It was drilled into me as a kid…
I started my degree in September 2014 and it was the most surreal, emotional, and hardest things I have ever done. It was drilled into me as a kid that I was not intelligent and I believed it. The course itself had its ups and downs. When it came to elective placements I chose the addiction service and also did my dissertation on alcohol education. I passed and got my degree. Fast forward to 2023 and I am now the lead nurse at the addictions service and use my experiences and skills learned in life and the classroom to support others.
I still have HUGE imposter syndrome and I still have days where I feel I am not good enough but to come from being a girl in foster care and living in a homeless hostel I can use my experiences to show others that the cycle can be broken.
My children are now 24 and 18 and they tell me how proud they are of me. I broke the cycle and I proved that your background and upbringing does not define your future.
I just wanted to share that as I hope that it can help others to see that from trauma can come strength and hope.
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