The Price We Paid
I am the child of an alcoholic and although I’m now 42, I continue to be the child of an alcoholic today, but this is not all I am. There have been points in my life I have felt that all I am is the child of an alcoholic mother. The vivid memories of sadness, fear, shame and even guilt. I’ve overcome some of those feelings but there’s no denying the effects of my experiences.
My mum has been an alcoholic all my life; I’m 2nd youngest of 4 siblings. My mum and Dad separated when I was 9 and that’s when things deteriorated. Mum was a teacher, a single parent of 4 young children, admittedly life was hard and alcohol became her best friend. My mum struggled to maintain any consistency in our lives; she was a world class liar and a cheat. Her teaching career didn’t last long, she admits to drinking whilst teaching and she was struck off in her 50’s. Money became a problem; she started to build up her credit cards but couldn’t pay them off.
My mums drinking style changed over the years from drinking to oblivion – falling off buses, being found in the street, to daily/maintenance drinking, to brief periods of sobriety. She would steal from friends and family to fund her habit which ended up with her serving time twice and us in care temporarily. My mum wasn’t a social drinker, she’d drink at home alone, hide it, deny it but she would also drink to cope in social situations but still hide it. I have to admit she did try to stop, we tried to make her stop, but it never lasted and we were all exhausted, frustrated and angry. There was a distinct feeling of being unsafe, due to debt, some of the alcoholic friends my mum would invite over and the not knowing what would happen next or how she would behave. There was so much tension in the house, my older sister tried to look after us but was a child herself. I left home as soon as I turned 16, my older siblings left before me – sister to University and my brother to the army, but there was still my younger brother to look out for. I dread to think what he went through when we had all gone. I won’t discuss my siblings, but my older sister passed away at 25 from a health condition and my two brothers are still around, we’re not close but they haven’t turned to alcoholism which I’m grateful for. I’m disappointed; my mum’s narcissistic temperament has affected my relationship with my eldest brother when we were so close, this upsets me a lot.
Looking back on my childhood I feel sadness for what my siblings and I endured at the hands of our Mum. Although we got through those difficult times, the price we paid will never be refunded. My mother’s alcoholism doesn’t affect me now to the same levels as it has done my entire life. I’ve managed to control my emotions, strategically place myself away from her when she drinks and am an expert in identifying her drunkenness before she even answers the phone. I still get angry though if she’s been drinking and I really can’t control that. In fact I question my own attitudes toward relationships, alcohol and drug use which on reflection is clearly linked to my experiences as a child of an alcoholic.
I remember when I was 23; I’d managed to finally convince my mum to join AA. I drove her to her first meeting, sat outside in the car for hours waiting for her with my child in the back. This was one of the best days of my life and hers too; I thought I’d cracked it. She became a different person, attending meeting after meeting, it became an addiction for her. Two years later she was a sponsor, a highly respected member of AA. After completing the 12 steps she took on the role of emergency call handler for AA, ran meetings and for the first time made some real friends. I remember feeling a little jealous of her new friends and new life, all I wanted was my sober, caring mum to myself. It got to the point where I would go to AA with her, trying to understand alcoholism myself – I was damaged too after all. I found it too upsetting; think I cried for the entire meeting. As the years passed (I think she made it to 3) I noticed she would skip the odd meeting. Rumours began to spread about my mum drinking with new members, she’d attend meetings drunk and soon enough her drinking increased until she couldn’t face returning.
And so it continued. I remember needing and wanting my mum to just be a ‘normal’ mum so bad. She now had 3 grandchildren and we desperately didn’t want them to witness her alcoholism. My brother and I struggled with this very much. When she was sober she was fun, intelligent and interesting. But she was the complete opposite when drunk. There were significant times when I needed her more – when I became a mother (3 times), my wedding day to name a few. Like others, as a family we kept her drinking a secret and we still do to some extent. As an adult I am fed up of explaining my childhood to new people. I’m not looking for sympathy but it does feel like a big part of my being and explains who I really am. Although my mum’s alcoholism doesn’t define me, there is no denying it has affected me and still does.
There is no magic potion to stop a parent from drinking, I’m sure myself and my siblings tried every trick in the book. What I have learnt is to put up a barrier to protect myself from the emotional damage caused by alcoholism – doesn’t always work but it gets easier. My mum once told me to stop asking her not to drink as this makes her drink more. This felt a little ‘blamey’, she was sober at the time but it took years for me to realise there was some truth in her words. My mum is now 75 years old, she’s just had a hip replacement and has various health conditions – none of which are linked to alcohol misuse (she says). Truthfully, we’re all surprised she’s still alive and she is in complete denial about the past or simply can’t remember. Our relationship has improved but she will often get upset when I remind her subtly about the past. Her drinking made me angry; I’ve lashed out at her in the past and regret it but signifies my feelings of desperation. There was a time I demanded an explanation, reason or maybe an apology – what good would that do! I’ve accepted alcoholism is an illness, it was out of her control and she never meant to hurt us.
It deeply hurts me to know there are children still going through similar difficulties as I did. I’d like nothing more than to be of some support, both adults and children. I’m looking into setting up a support group in my local area; I’ll start by asking my local church for some space. I would also really like to help NACOA as a volunteer, raise awareness and fund raise. Thinking about myself and what I need(ed) during some of the most difficult times, I want to be just that for someone else right now.