Remember that quiet kid at school? The one that wasn’t popular but wasn’t bullied either. That was me. I couldn’t complain with any part my school life;from primary school to secondary school I just kind of got on with it. At home was a different story though, a story I never shared with anyone at school, not even my closest friends.
One of my earliest school memories was my mum pulling me to school on a sleigh on a freezing winter morning, fighting with my sister over who had the most space. This is the memory I choose to remember, over the one that consists of me chasing her back down the road when she dropped me off because I was scared of leaving her on her own. That’s right not scared of going to school but scared to leave my 35-year-old mum alone. This is because I knew what she was going to do, I knew her routine even though I never saw it. She would drop me off at primary school, stopping at the shops to buy her fix of alcohol and of course some household items so she didn’t stand out as a ‘alcoholic’. I don’t know what age I was when I started to become aware of this routine or even aware of her drinking but I know it hit me all of a sudden and from that moment on I felt like it was my duty to look after her.
This is where it started for me, where I left my childhood behind and seem to age beyond my years.
One morning before school I was so anxious about leaving my mum alone that I came up with a plan that I thought couldn’t fail. I went into the kitchen and marked every bottle of wine we had, I left a thick black line on the label where the wine was up to so if my mum even drank a glass, I would know. I told my mum what I was going to do and she agreed, even watching me as I carefully measured the amount. That’s all I thought about all day at school, getting home and checking the bottles. And that’s the first thing I did when I got home, dumping my bags at the door I would head straight to the kitchen shouting ‘Hi mum,’ into the living room as I passed. I didn’t stop to see if she had a glass in her hand or listen to see if she was slurring her words. It was like some weird game I had in my head, a game where I knew what the end result would be. Waiting for liquid to stop swirling and balance out I checked every single bottle, and every one was how I left it, right up to the perfectly measured line. A huge sigh of relief and proudness washed over me. I’d done it. My plan had worked and my mum hadn’t drunk one drop. So I thought. As quiet as I could I put the bottles back in the fridge, I didn’t want her to know how keen I was to check up on her. I remember walking into the living room saying ‘ is it okay if (my friend) comes round’ this was because I would only ever have a friend round when my mum was sober. But as I fully entered the room I saw her in (what I called it) her drunk position. Sat in front of the gas fire with her arm resting on the glass coffee table to hold her head up. As she turned around her face fell out of her hand as she could barely hold herself up. She was drunk. Still to this day I’ve never felt disappointment like this, I felt like I had failed her and myself. I would stand in front of her screaming and telling her how much I hated her for what she was doing to herself and us while she just looked at me with a blank expression on her face.
It wasn’t like she didn’t care, it was like she just wasn’t there as a person and certainly not my mum.
That’s what’s so frustrating about having a ‘Functional alcoholic’ as a parent, You know the type of parent they can be yet see a side they choose to be. I craved for her to be my mum, the one who sung ‘cheer up Charlie’ to me when I was sad, the one who brushed my hair after a bath and the one who would ask me how my day was every night. Don’t get me wrong I had lots of these moments, and I appreciate every single one of them but does the good really out weigh the bad? Not in my opinion.
When I look back and think of the bad moments (which you can’t help but do) one sticks in my head far more than others and even to this day I’m not sure why. We were due to go to the local circus one night after school, the whole family. I remember being in primary school and telling all my friends I was going, most of which were going as well and watching the clock tick all day with excitement. I virtually raced home but when I got there I began to get that familiar sinking feeling, I hadn’t even seen her yet but I just knew. I went in the house and couldn’t find her anywhere so I looked in the back garden. There she was sunbathing on a towel with two empty cans of Stella and a glass half full propped up against her leg. I remember thinking ‘two? That isn’t bad maybe dad won’t even notice’ this is coming from a 8 years old, a 8-year-old who should have no concept of when alcohol starts to change a person. However that was just me being naive again, of course she’d had more. She sat up, red raw with sunburn on her chest and said ‘I’m fine, I’m not drunk’ before I even uttered a word to her. For the next hour we desperately tried to sober her up by making her coffee, of course we didn’t have a hope in hells chance but it was worth a try. We all got ready anyway, my mum standing front of the mirror her hand shaking as she tried to apply her mascara waiting for 6pm when my dad got home. Of course we didn’t go that night, I was heartbroken and spent the whole night working out what I was going to say to my friends.
In the end I went into school and lied, I told all my friends I went but didn’t see any of them. I nodded and agreed when they told me their favourite parts and prayed they didn’t ask me any questions, besides I’d got pretty good at lying now anyway.
That was my childhood, lying well pretending. Pretending everything was fine and I had a ‘normal family’. Even after my mum passed and I grew older some of my friends said they had no idea my mum was an alcoholic. I used to be ashamed of her, hiding her away from the world.
Now I want to tell everyone, yes my mum was an alcoholic but she wasn’t a bad person.
I was lucky to have such an amazing woman in my life and it’s took me losing her to realise this. We all have our demons and some are harder to fight than others but my mum gave it a bloody good go and for that I have the up most respect. I am now 23 and have been without my mum in my life for 7 years. I’m getting to the age where I’m thinking about starting a family of my own and building my future. And one thing is sure, I will tell my children all about their Nana, good and bad. If I could say one thing to my mum now it would be, ‘be proud’. Be proud of the 3 strong children you raised. Be proud of the family that has pulled together in your absence and be proud of yourself for being my mum and my role model. Not all stories have a happy ending but they all have meaning.
Such an amazing post written from the heart by Nicola. Raising funds for Nacoa, much like Nicola did, is so important for such a small charity tackling such a huge issue. If you feel inspired to raise funds in anyway you like, check out how, here.
And like always, you can share your story here!