‘Mum’ – COA Week 2023
Sometimes it takes the world as you know it to stop during a global pandemic for you to really press pause and think about everything. It did just that for me, and I’m ready to share my story.
I’m 25, my sister is 22 and my brother is 20. We pretty much get on with our own lives now we’re older. We go to work, uni, meet our friends, go to the gym, football, boxing, spend time doing the things that make us feel good. But at age 8, 5, and 3, we were still kids. We didn’t have those same choices. We weren’t able to look after ourselves. Things were very different.
After my mum and dad split, we spent around 75% of our time at my mums. The memories I have of those times are ones I’ve avoided revisiting for many years. But I know now that they don’t go away. However much you try to block it out…
We would spend Monday, Wednesday, Thursday night, and every other weekend with my mum. My dad would drop us off on a Thursday and Sunday night after seeing him. She would come to the door slurring and barely able to stand up. I wanted to be brave for my brother and sister. But I was afraid, upset, and angry. I wanted it all to stop. I was scared to call the police for help at such a young age. I thought we would be taken away from my family and put into care. I just wanted someone to tell me it was all going to go away.
I wanted to be brave for my brother and sister
I see my mum, passed out once again as I come downstairs to see what’s for dinner. I don’t want to wake her up. I see my mum passed out again as I go into the front room to tell her how my day was at school. I don’t want to wake her up. I see my mum passed out on a Saturday afternoon to ask her if she can take me to see my friends. I don’t want to wake her up.
I would spend ages going round the house while she was asleep looking for empty wine bottles so I could pour it all down the sink, pour all of this away. My mum knew what she was doing, she would hide her drink around the house, and drink out of mugs, and other glasses to try and hide what was going on. I wasn’t silly, I knew what happened after my mum drunk her ‘coffee’.
My brother, sister, and I, have always gone to school no more than a 10-minute walk from our house. From the outside, I loved school, I had, and still have lots of friends from my time there. But it was hard. I was tired and exhausted. I struggled to concentrate most days. But like most children of alcohol dependent parents, I was used to it as a mini adult, and I was an expert at hiding what was going on at home. Well, I thought I was.
I would spend hours awake the night before school worrying that my brother and sister would need me, that my mum would burn the house down with her cigarettes, leave the door open for anyone to come in, leave the oven on and pass out, and not wake up again. Things that she often did.
I didn’t want my brother to be in danger
Even now, I don’t quite think anyone in the family really understands how much my mums drinking kept me up at night, that I went into school nearly every day without enough sleep.
The drinking didn’t stop over the weekends. On Saturday mornings my mum would try and take my brother to football, but she was always still drunk. I would sit in front of my brother so she couldn’t take him and tell him to go upstairs. I couldn’t take him, I didn’t drive. I knew he was missing out on something he loved as a kid, but I didn’t want him to be in danger. When I did this, my mum would get angry, push me, hit me, call me every name under the sun. I would beg her to stop, but she didn’t.
Every day my mum drank I would ask her why she was doing this to us, why she didn’t want to look after us, why she didn’t love us. But she never wanted to talk, she told me I was crazy, and that I needed to shut up.
It was nice to have a break from it all at my dad’s every other weekend, and one night a week on a Tuesday. I just always wished the break was forever.
I tried to get help.
I tried to get help. I called family members to come round and help put a stop to this. But no one did. I asked for help from the social services. But they would tell my mum when they were coming, even though I begged them not to when they were round so that they could really see what was happening.
My mum would clean the house before their arrival, get rid of all her empty bottles, lay the table, and cook us a family meal after school. To them, it looked like any other happy family environment. To me, I was breaking inside. My one lifeline was gone. They were never going to believe me now.
This went on for years, but I guess I just got used to it. I made sure my brother and sister were as safe as I could make them. But I was a child myself. I just got on with life as I knew it.
Everybody was ecstatic about uni, I had an overriding feeling of guilt
By the time I had got my place at university at 18, not much had changed. We were all that bit older but living with my mum remained the same as it always had. I realised at this point, that while everybody else was ecstatic about their uni placements, I had an overriding feeling of guilt that I was going to leave my brother and sister with my mum, with her drinking the way she did. I couldn’t do it.
I got in contact with social services again, and asked that this time they listened, that this time, everyone needed to know about what was going on. That this time, my brother and sister my brother and sister were to have a choice, that they could have the help and support that they needed. I told my school, and together with social services, my dad and step-mum, and the help of other professional bodies, a plan was put in place to support us. To finally give us a voice.
I finished university with a first-class degree, my sister went on to finish with a 2:1, and my brother is still studying now. I am so proud of us all.
Football has always been my outlet
Football has always been my outlet, my safe space, my love. I am still playing today, and I hope I can play as long as I can still run. It made me feel free when I needed to escape, and I will forever be grateful that I found my way of feeling at peace.
Years later, I thought because I was older now, that I could make my own choices, that it was in the past, I wouldn’t be unaffected by it. But I realised that the relationships in my life now had been controlled by a way I had been bought up to think. I was able to disconnect myself emotionally from the person who gave birth to me, so for anyone else who came into my life, it became easy. Second nature I suppose. And that was hard to come to terms with this. She was still controlling my life, and having a negative impact on it so many years later.
When you’re older, you see things differently. I wouldn’t let my partner, friend, or colleague lie and treat me the way my mum did, so I knew when I had the choice, I had to cut her out in a way that allowed me to live my life the best way I knew how.
I understand now that it was an illness, but I asked myself as a child… Why doesn’t she love us enough to stay sober, why does she choose the days she has us to look after to be passed out, why couldn’t she be like all the other mums? She was ill and unable to control her addiction.
But this still didn’t make it easier, it didn’t take away the pain I had felt growing up, and even still now.
I wanted to address what had happened
The sad thing is, over the past few years, I felt guilty when my mum began to reach out to me and ask to see me. But, for me to move on, I wanted to address what had happened, as adults. I felt like after everything, she owed me that at least. But she didn’t and doesn’t want to. The sad thing is, the few times I met her for a dinner, or a walk, it was feeding into her ‘pretend’ relationship with her daughter. She was able to tell her friends she’d seen me, and on the outside, it looked like, to some, the relationship was beginning to mend. But I can’t pretend I have the mum I’ve always wished for. I didn’t, and I still haven’t.
While the effects of my mum’s alcoholism have affected me and my brother and sister a lot, I’m still so grateful for the life I have lived, and I am very fortunate in many ways. But I’ve realised now that these can be the motivating factors to drive you, to shape you, and make you the person you’ve always wanted to be.
I’ve learnt a lot over the years about myself, and I’ve always been hesitant to share my story because I know so many other people have had it far worse than me. But it hurt, and it still hurts today. Which is why I’m ready to use my experience to hopefully help others who were in, or are still in my position today.
People are here to listen
I hope that someone reads this and finds some sort of comfort, some sort of reassurance that you are not alone. People are here to listen to you, to your story. You can, and will reach your goals.
In some way, my experiences as a child, a young carer, will stay with me forever. They often reappear when I least expect it. I guess the way I look at it now, it damaged my childhood for many years, but I’m not going to let it ruin the next 60.
Hannah Thomas ‘HT’
Find out more of Hannah’s story by watching Squad Goals: Dorking ‘Til I Die on BBC IPlayer.
For more experience stories, find Support & Advice.