My name is Ellie, and I am the only child of my Mum Polly, who was an alcoholic.
Somehow, writing the word ‘alcoholic’ feels wrong, cruel and unfair of me. It is a word, that feels shameful, and leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, and still quite frankly something I would rather avoid. But, as I have learned over my 23 years of life, the ‘dirty secret’ doesn’t go away. And there are so many people who feel the same, this is why I have chosen to become a part of NACOA, and have found great comfort in reading many stories just like mine.
The reason, I feel the word alcoholic is unfair is because, it is completely the opposite of my mum’s kind, bright and loving persona. Because ultimately, she was the brightest woman in the room.
But not always in the rooms of our home. For as long as I can remember, my mum had this deep rooted hatred of herself, and she used to describe this big black hole that hung over her. She had two personalities, the sunflowers and the demons, and I remember growing up as a child feeling afraid of who I was going to wake up to today. Of course, it wasn’t her fault, but I still felt afraid. Everyone else, all my school friends, only ever saw the sunflower version, but I knew that I was always going to be left with the demons by the end of the day.
My mum never had a drink in her hand, yet I knew when she had a drink. She was a secret alcoholic. Her voice used to change, and her eyes became wide and full of emptiness. And I used to think to myself ‘why?’ ‘today was such a good day, and now its horrendous.’ And this was, every day of my life as long as I could remember. There never was a day I remember, without alcohol.
After 6 o’clock, I learned to go up to my room, and stay there, and hopefully by 11 o’clock it would be over. When I had a part time job in restaurant, I used to work as late as I possibly could, just so that when I got home it would all be over.
There are particular memories and flash backs, that sometimes bring me to physical sickness. Some memories that are so hurtful and so painful, that ripping glass through my skin seems as if it would hurt less. Lots of these memories I have subconsciously blacked out from memory, and that only surface when I try and sleep.
At 18, I decided that I couldn’t carry on anymore. I was desperately trying to revise for my A levels at home, and get my ticket into university and leave this double life I had led for so long behind. I could not concentrate at home, and I was too physically tired and depressed to attend school on most days. So, I quietly slipped out the door, and never came back to that home again.
She wasn’t in a state to even notice me go. I never meant to stay away forever, but I had hoped that by me leaving, she would finally chose family over drink first. I begged her. But it wasn’t enough. Nothing changed, and she still fought her demons.
As I went to university, and eventually moved to London for work, we rebuilt our mother daughter bond, and I did everything I could to let go of my anger, and just be kind to her, and accept her for who she was. Loving from afar, seemed like the only and kindest way to carry on. We would have lovely phone calls, and reunions ever so often, that instead of being tainted with terror, actually were full of love and memories to be cherished. But of course, deep down I knew, things for her hadn’t changed.
The thing about being the child of an alcoholic, is you develop this instinctive reflex of putting on a brave face. You have to, because it is the only way to carry on. You build up this armour, and it becomes so strong that, not even you know how to break it down.
You also develop this sense of preparing for the worst. Always, be prepared for the worst. And that is why I think for many years, I have been preparing for the day my mum would leave this earth. Not in a morbid way, I just instinctively knew it would come way before, any of us had had imagined. That being said, I thought she would be 63, not 53.
Five days before Christmas, my mum passed away first thing in the morning. After she had woken up, and had some tea and toast, her body shut down and released her from her demons. After all my preparations, for a cruel and untimely death, I suppose I am thankful for her peaceful departure. She battled with herself every day, and I am happy that she no longer has to go through her pain of living every day.
But since she has gone, I find myself in depths of pain, that not even I, have felt before. There is a grave sense of guilt, that I could have done more. And there is a grave sense of sadness, of the love I felt for her not being enough to release her from her pain. I wished so much that she had loved herself as much as I loved her. Or, I wish she had just loved herself a little bit more, to keep her alive just a little bit longer.
Now, I would go through all of those days of pain again, just to have her around. Because not having her around hurts so much. Without years of abuse to her body like that, it is undeniable that she would still be here. With her gone, some days it feels like my whole sense of identity is gone.
Everything I ever did was to make her proud, and to show her how great she was at being a mum, and now I suppose I find myself feeling I no longer have that reason to go out and achieve. It’s funny how even if someone hurts you over and over again, you can love them over and over again.
Mostly, I wish I could let her know that I am okay. I wish I could have shown her the circumstances in which we have ended up in, just to see if it would be enough to show herself the kindness she showed others.
Wherever she is now, I take comfort in the fact that she didn’t give up, she has just been given the peace she so deserves. And now I must learn not to be her only child, but a survivor and saviour of her memory. Being a daughter without her mum, is battle I will have to face every day.
And I think that is my message to all children or people who are affected by a loved one’s battle with alcohol. You must be kind to yourself, and be kind in their memory. Show yourself the kindness, that those loved ones need to show themselves. And be strong for the people that feel broken.
I would have ordinarily signed this as ‘I forgive you, Mum.’ But really there is nothing to forgive. You were the best mum in the world, and I will miss you every, single, day.