I’m a recovering alcoholic mother, and the child of an alcoholic mother. I won’t put my children through the same dark chaos
As a child, I used to lie to my mother about when parents’ evening at school was. Not because I had been underachieving, but because I was scared she would turn up, drunk, staggering around and slurring, again.
My childhood was mostly spent caring for myself and my mother as she took to her bed, wailing, with bottles of vodka. She went in and out of hospital, eventually ending up in a care home in her early 60s after years of absolute darkness and chaos, having wrecked her mind and body.
Rather unbelievably to me now, my childhood experience did not put me off drinking, and I went on to drink socially as an adult. I wasn’t going to be defined by my mother’s behaviour, I would tell myself firmly. My number one rule was that my drinking would never affect my children. I was determined to be a good example. I had asked my mum, sometimes sobbing at her hospital bed, terrified she would die, to please, please stop drinking.
When I heard my own children say: “We want you to stop drinking, Mum,” it shocked me to my very core. Had my drinking problem become so obvious? I had been telling myself I was fine for years. Everyone drank socially. Then I told myself everyone had a bottle of wine, or two, or three, every evening. Then, everyone had a hangover that lasted for days. Then, everyone blacks out and loses their memory. How on earth had this happened?
I realised I could not stop drinking. Years of “social drinking” had caught up with me and I was now totally addicted, just like my mother. Addiction had crept up gradually, taking away everything that I loved and stood for. I had come to rely on alcohol for confidence, socialising, getting to sleep, and getting over my constant hangover. My life became a web of lies. I could not look after myself or my children. I had somehow graduated from swishing about with a glass of bubbly in a wine bar after work to drinking in my living room, in the daytime, with the curtains shut.
Two years ago, I ended up in rehab, after a police cell, then hospital. While that sounds awful, it saved my life and I consider myself lucky, as it was there I finally got sober. My mother never sought help for alcoholism and it ruined her life, resulting in alcoholic brain damage and needing 24-hour residential care. I knew that I couldn’t fight alcoholism alone any more, so from hospital I went straight to rehab, where I stayed for six weeks. In rehab I learned to say that “I am an alcoholic” and share this with people.
The mental and physical benefits of being free of alcohol quickly became apparent and it was a relief to gradually reclaim control of my life. My confidence and self-worth came back to me, bit by bit. I gave up my career in the law, retraining as a counsellor. While life isn’t easy for anyone, I feel I am capable of dealing with any problems that arise now. I believe I would lose all of this again if I picked up a drink again. It’s just not worth the risk.
I try to learn from the experiences of other alcoholics, and I believe that being brutally honest, sharing with each other and never, ever “sober-shaming” anyone for not drinking is the only way we will repair the damage alcohol does to our society.
The actor Anne Hathaway recently spoke about giving up alcohol until her child is at least 18. This has drawn a mixed response, with one Guardian columnist arguing that it isn’t “the end of the world” if a child notices her mother’s imperfections, even when it involves “drunk parenting”.
I am the best mother now that I have ever been. This doesn’t mean I am better than anyone else. It means I am better than I was, when I was drinking. Now, I get up and make my children a packed lunch, rather than wake up late, hungover, shouting at them. Now, I listen to their concerns and enjoy time in the evenings with them, rather than rushing them to bed as soon as possible so that I can crack open a bottle of “well-earned” wine and smoke in the garden “in peace”. I am present for them.