I’m fairly sure that when my Mum was the age I am now, 30, she was on the way to, if not actually, an alcoholic. That is something that fills me with a mixture of relief and fear. Relief, that it hasn’t happened, and fear of the ‘come on hurry up let’s get it over with’ type. Alcoholism being genetic and that I won’t know that it’s got me in its grasp.
Since my Mum died, I started obsessing about it more. Fortunately as time has gone on, this has stopped. I will go out and drink, not excessive amounts, maybe 3-4 units on average (I always count the units, whenever I go out). I want to be able to go out without feeling guilty for having a drink, as it killed my Mum, as I knew it would eventually.
She died suddenly, a diabetic for the last few years, but unknown to us still drinking. We guess that she learned that if she drank late on in the evening, she could sleep it off and if my Dad asked to see the results of her blood sugar levels, they would be about normal, the conspiracy of silence to the end. We were asked by the consultant if we wanted to turn the machines that were keeping her alive off. We sat there stunned, but I managed to ask what chance there was of survival. ‘None’ came the reply, either turn the machines off now or wait for another hour or so before even they cannot sustain her.
My Dad, brother and I stood at her bedside as they turned the machines off and disconnected all the tubes; it was surreal, like I was watching a film. I held her hand as they did this and told her that we loved her, probably about the third time in my life I have ever done so, that we didn’t blame her for the disease, we knew it wasn’t her fault, for her spirit to always be near and hope that she enjoys her new life on the other side. Courageous stuff but I am so glad now that I was able to say them. I believe that she could still hear me. My spiritual beliefs have also helped me so much through this ordeal too.
About two weeks before she died, they went and visited a detox centre. Mum did not want to ‘check in’, as she didn’t want to be with drug addicts, how ironic. It wasn’t until we started clearing away some of her belongings that we found bottles, heart wrenching stuff.
She died a few weeks after George Best; I even read the same poem, ‘He Is Gone’ that George’s son Callum read for his Dad at her funeral. It seemed appropriate. I’m glad I had the courage to do that. It meant a lot to know that no matter how famous, how much money or help you can have, the disease can still keep you in its grasp.
Sometimes I feel relief that she is gone, relief that the merry go round I was on has finally stopped and will never start again. Guilt is the main emotion that has accompanied this relief; I feel like a weight has been taken away from me. That is not to say that I am not, at times, overwhelmed with grief, something will happen and I’ll think ‘Oh, I’ll tell Mum…’ but I now know that she has finally found peace, something that she was never able to do on this earth.
I was unaware that she had started drinking again; I never could tell if she was drunk or sober. Not only did she hide it very well, as she was so practiced at it, but also I think I have probably seen her drunk more than sober in my life.
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 baker’s shop. Even today, walking into an off license reminds me of childhood. The green bottle was gin.
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.
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 6 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!).
Since her death it has also given me support to make sure that I can cope. The conspiracy of silence continues in the family, even though Mum is no longer there, I am working hard to make sure that we can communicate properly as a family, for the first time. Whether I achieve this or not, only time will tell.
I am sad that I never was 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 cards saying ‘World’s Best Mum’, or ‘Thank you Mum’, would just be lying; a small relief that I don’t have to go through the Hallmark sham again.
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 has led to many hours in the card section of WH Smith!
I still want to help children who are now in the position I was in; I’m studying law, and want to specialise in Child law. It still may be too soon for me to do the work I want to do, especially as Mum’s death has triggered all sorts of emotions and 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.