Waiting for the kettle to boil, I peeled back the kitchen curtains to be greeted by the birds singing and the first sunshine in weeks. Everything seemed so peaceful and fresh.
Admiring the calmness and tranquillity of the garden, I felt my cat brush past my leg, purring as if to tell me it was time for her breakfast.
As I turned to reach for the cat food cupboard, I noticed in the corner of my eye the overloaded bin of empty wine bottles I had confiscated from my mother last night. Suddenly I was back to reality.
My life was not peaceful.
Nor was it calm or tranquil.
I would compare my life to a ghost train at your local fair. Lonely. Dark. Haunted. Erratic. Full of nasty surprises. I am the child of an alcoholic.
Alcoholics Anonymous (A-A), a unique fellowship founded in 1935, boasts more than 2,000,000 members worldwide. My mother is one of them and attends local meetings.
The A-A website says the basic purpose of its meetings is to give alcoholics a chance to speak out about their illness and help one another stay sober.
Today is the morning of my mother’s one year anniversary of attending A-A. She thought it would be appropriate to celebrate this occasion last night, with her best friend. Alcohol.
CLICK. I reached for the kettle and poured the boiling water into the two mugs I had pre-prepared with instant coffee. Watching the milk swirl and blend into the coffee as it was added to the mug, I thought to myself, just leave the house now and do not look back.
I was tempted, believe me.
However, I put the thought to one side as I clasped a cup in each hand and started to make my way up the stairs, towards my mother’s bedroom.
I felt anxious as to what awaited me on the other side of the door. What mood would she be in? Will she be angry? Or will she simply not remember anything? Thoughts like these always run through my mind, the morning after a drunken drama.
On entering the bedroom, I discovered my mother was fast asleep, blissfully unaware of her actions several hours before. Placing the cup of coffee on her bedside table, I noticed how peaceful she looked.
I stood in silence next to her bed, experiencing a succession of emotions. Disappointment. Anger. Rejection. Frustration. Love. Pain. Loneliness.
The National Association for Children of Alcoholics believes there are almost a million children living with an alcohol dependent parent(s) in the UK today, many of them hiding their problems, living in fear and without support. I guess that makes me a statistic because growing up, I never told anyone about the daily goings on behind our front door.
For as long as I can remember, my mother had always liked a glass of wine, but it was not until my parents divorced that it seemed to become a major issue.
I’m an only child so it was just my mother and me in the house.
Do not get me wrong, I love my mum deeply. She was and still is a good mum. I never went without. There was always food in the cupboards, I had clean clothes and I was given the best of everything material. To all my friends she seemed the perfect mum, and she was, financially. Emotionally, I have to say, she did not have a clue.
Throughout my teenage years, on the walk home from school/college, I would always wonder what mood my mother would be in that evening. Her mood determined the type of things she would say after her compulsory glass of wine when she returned from work.
Television was my escape. I would sit and watch it all night, to avoid witnessing my mother’s transformation from a kind, hard working, professional person, into a nasty, crazy, mad woman as she sipped her daily poison! I guess she had a case of the Jekyll and Hyde syndrome.
“YOU made me drink.” “This is your fault.” “Your father never wanted you, he wanted me to get an abortion.” “You think you’re so perfect don’t you.” “Get out of my house!” “I don’t want you in my life.” These words are imprinted on my mind.
As is the daily routine: watching my mother stumble around the house, to finally fall asleep in front of the television. Tucking her into bed night after night. Only for her look up at me, like a baby, to tell me she loves me as she falls into a deep sleep. Simply forgetting the painful things she had said just a few hours before.
Special occasions are the worst. I especially hate Christmas. My mother seems to be out of control around this time. It is guaranteed she will get legless and ruin the festive fun.
My last two Christmases, I have been thrown out of the house, for no other reason than standing up to her drunken behaviour.
I ended up spending Christmas and Boxing day alone at my university home. On my flatmates’ return, they all told happy and funny stories about their Christmases. To be honest I envied them.
I wanted to spend a “normal” Christmas with a “normal” family. When they asked me about my Christmas, I just lied. “Oh yes, it was fantastic, lovely to be home.”
There was no way I was going to tell them the truth.
I also recall my eighteenth birthday, when we had all the family around. As usual, my mother had had too much to drink before anyone had even arrived. By the time my cake was brought out, my mum was in a mess. She attempted to make a speech, but just started crying and telling me she loved me. I was ashamed and embarrassed. I just wanted to disappear and for the day to end.
The family knew she liked a drink: “Here she goes again, the family drunk,” some would say behind her back.
This was extremely hurtful to hear, even though I knew it was true. No-one had the right to talk about my mother like that. If family members were judging her, then I was certainly not going to receive help from anyone else.
That is why I decided not to tell anyone the full extent my mother’s drinking had reached at this point.
A study, conducted by The Priory in 2006, concluded that problems children of alcoholics experience in early life have a profound impact later on.
I could not agree more. Things just went from bad to worse as the years passed. I witnessed some awful things such as cleaning urine off the kitchen floor, forcing my mother to be sick over the bath as she attempted suicide with an over dose of pills. I have had to drag her from a car while intoxicated at four in the morning. I lost my job the following day, as I slept through my alarm.
My education also started to suffer. All my energy and time went into worrying about and saving my mother from her drunken dramas. It was extremely draining being the responsible one. I was not sleeping or eating properly, and constantly felt ill with headaches through stress.
From the outside, tutors and employers just assumed I was lazy and not motivated to get anywhere in life.
I will never forget when my English Language teacher, Mr Beard, laughed in my face when I told him I had been offered a place at university: “As if you have been offered a place.”
The Priory Study also believes children of an alcoholic are four times more likely to become alcoholics, compared to children living with non alcoholic parents.
There was a time I did think: if you can’t beat them, join them.
I started drinking from the early age of thirteen.
I am an angry drunk, just like my mother. I started to push friends away as they could not understand my behaviour. How could they?
One day, I looked in the mirror and saw my mother’s reflection staring back at me. I burst into tears.
I was now everything I had been fighting against all my life. I decided there and then, I had to focus on me and my life.
I joined ‘Al-Anon’, a support group, for family and friends of alcoholics. They made me realise I had to go through ‘detachment’ from my mother. Al-Anon said: “Detachment allows us to let go of our obsession with another’s behaviour and begin to lead happier and more manageable lives, with dignity and rights.”
I remembered this phase, as I was looking upon my mother sleeping peacefully in her bed. All the feelings of disappointment, anger, rejection, frustration, love, pain and loneliness that had filled my body, suddenly defused.
Professor Martin Plant, an addictions expert at the University of the West of England, said: “The children of alcoholics can break the cycle.”
“Many end up loathing alcohol and refusing to let it destroy their lives like it may have done to their parents.”
I have now moved out my mother’s house and live at the other end of the country, to start pursuing a career for myself. At the age of twenty-one, I have only just started living MY life.
It has been extremely difficult to adjust to life without the drunken dramas night after night, as they were a “normal” way of life for me.
I do still worry about my mother, especially as last night highlights the fact that she is still drinking. I do not think a part of me will ever rest about her drinking, until the day she dies. I will also walk around with the invisible scars of her drinking until I die.
However, I now realise it is out of my control and the only person who can stop her from this misery, is herself.
I smile to myself and softly say, “One thing that will never change mum, is that I love you.”
I kiss her on the forehead. I silently close the bedroom and leave her in peace.
Some people may judge my mother for her illness, and call her an unfit parent. Don’t. I am the child of an alcoholic. But I still would not trade my mum for any other.