The worst thing is the not knowing what’s going to happen next, the feeling that at any minute now all hell might break loose or it might not, depending. It’s the boredom of the waiting in uncertainty for the dreadful inevitable, it’s always coming, just depends on when.
It starts with movement, and then voices interrupting my dreams, words muffled only by my proximity to them and my sleepy state, getting louder as I get up and pad down stairs to see what is happening.
A quick scan to see how bad it is; if there is any immediate danger, e.g. cigarettes left burning or the cooker rings on. If they are making a really bad mess then sometimes I might start to clean up now: save us doing it in the morning. Or tell them to be quiet, or physically stand between them if things are getting too violent. I can’t really do anything to stop them and the most I can ever do is remind them that there are children here. But sometimes I know that they cannot even see me, maybe that’s why they call it blind drunk.
There is a surreal quality to all this, the middle of the night the house all lit up, some sort of mayhem occurring and the children trying to seize some sort of control because we have to be the sensible ones now. The problem is that in the morning we all have to somehow switch back to being just kids again, not ever mentioning what happened, not questioning their behaviour, not asking for too much. We just have to shut up and get on with it, sometimes my mum will say, “Ah your such good girls”, when we are cleaning up the overflowing ashtrays and empty bottles. Generally though there is tension in the air and we walk on eggshells around them in their hangover state.
Sometimes, if it’s a weekend my mum will get one of us to try and steal some money from my dad’s pockets before he wakes up. It’s a mission fraught with danger. If you make too much noise jingling the coins he’ll wake up, then you have to make a run for it. The thing is more often than not she is so desperate for the cash that you have to go back in again; my nerves are in shreds, I hate it. He should just give her the money but generally he’ll just give her what’s left after he’s been out. I think that it makes him feel powerful, sometimes like at Christmas we all literally have to beg him to give her some money so that she can go and get shopping. I used to feel so sorry for my mum at times like these but in all honestly she could have just told him to fuck off. I think they were too similar though, hated each other but couldn’t leave well alone. My dad used to work away quite a lot and sometimes she would really get it together when he left only to completely fall apart again weeks later.
There would be records (vinyl LPs) all over the floor and the front room would be thick with cigarette smoke. She would be sat at the bottom of the stairs on the telephone, as you came in from school she would look at you like she was boss eyed and slur some kind of salutation.
Then she would carry on talking to whoever she was boring to death on the telephone. You would start trying to create some sort of order, tidying up; when I look back now I seem to have spent a lot of my childhood cleaning, the only way I could make myself calm in the chaos. Sometimes she would get off the phone in a nasty mood and start shouting “leave it, (the mess) Just leave it”. Or other times she would stick to her “you’re such good girls’ mantra”, and then crying, either way you couldn’t fucking win.
On one occasion she had drunk herself into unconsciousness and was lying sprawled across the floor, so we shoved cushions underneath her and lifted her on to the sofa, this in itself was quite an achievement as I would probably have been no older than 9 and my older sister 10, my younger was 5, I have no memory of where she was. My mother probably weighed about 11 stone. Then we got a mirror and put it under her nose to check if she was still breathing. Then my older sister, no longer able to withstand the pressure called a neighbour to check that she was ok. The neighbour’s presence managed to rouse her enough. She wasn’t dying just really pissed and pissed off the next day that we had called for help, really unappreciative of the fact that we hadn’t let the neighbour find her like we did. Our loyalty astonishes me even now.
Another time she threw a tin of emulsion paint all over the front room and dining room, peach. Who cleaned it up? – We did. As the years went on she got worse in her behaviour, lots of suicide, and para suicide attempts, from paracetamol overdoses, superficially cutting her wrists to setting fire to the house. We were teenagers by then and could get away more from the “coal face” of her behaviour, even so, we were still the ones cleaning up the mess trying to create some order in the chaos.
The thing that struck me really painfully one day when I was about 16 was that in my life there was a complete absence of any sensible adults. I was stood outside the back door after my mum had been taken to hospital after cutting her wrists. I was cleaning up the blood off the lino on the stairs when I was overwhelmed with sadness. I went outside and couldn’t stop crying. It was a really hot day, no one came and I didn’t think to call anyone. I carried on cleaning and my mum was released with bandages on her wrists about 3 hours later.
There was no safety net then, not for her or us. If I think about what has left the biggest scar and it is that feeling of there never being any one that you could defer to if you had a problem. Or even just if you wanted to know something or ask advice. My partner says that I am self-reliant to the point that I don’t give people a chance to help me.
After reading through another’s personal experience I looked up co-dependency and what it really means, I had thought it was something else to. I definitely have this trait; I am a nurse, and this need to help other people, almost to the point of not looking after myself is immense. I always seem to pair up with really needy people too, no wonder!
I am really working on this in myself; I am stopping before stepping in to situations/relationships that perpetuate this pattern. I am trying to focus every day on what I need. I have had loads of counselling in my life, no one ever mentioned the co-dependency thing, and I guess that they don’t want to label you.
There is loads of stuff on the Nacoa site that I wished I had known 20 years ago. Like I never knew what “normal” was, I always feel guilty, and I always find a way to blame myself for something even if there is no way that it’s my fault. I grew up stifled and ashamed and wasted a lot of time trying to find out what was wrong with me. I am still anxious especially around other people; it’s like I can’t read a lot of normal social cues and am always waiting for something shocking or bad to happen. I am constantly scanning for it, even though it’s not there now.
But generally I am fine. I am mostly happy now, I have a son and a partner, and we live in a little terraced house. Motherhood is a challenge because I am starting from zero. It was lonely to begin with because it’s a time when every woman needs her mum, it’s like you have to feel the loss all over again. That’s huge.
But every day it gets a little bit easier, as my confidence grows. Now I can see something beautiful being mirrored back at me when I look in to my son’s eyes. It’s a mixture of happiness and love, mostly love.