Secrets and lies : my secret drinking alcoholic mother.

So after a short break we are back. This piece has been written anonymously. Want to share something as a child of an alcoholic? Then please get in touch. As always, remember Nacoa is always there if you need help and support.


It’s difficult to know exactly when in my childhood it started and when I realised my mum was on a one way journey to destruction, but what I know is that her secret daily drinking became more and more important to her until it was her only activity.

She had been a good mother in my early years looking after me and my older brothers, talented and funny, but from the age of eight or nine I remember her changing, and her drinking pattern changed from party / socialising heavy drinking to secret drinking in the house with bottles of whisky or martini hidden in kitchen cupboards, wardrobes and clothes drawers.

I would find glasses at any time of day half full of drink in random cup cupboards, under the sink, behind curtains and when I smelled them and asked what they were , there would always be some excuse.

The secret carried on as well as the drinking as I went into my teenage years.

The denial about her heavy and all day drinking and the lack of explanation for it seemed to be about her choice to continue despite the fact it was out of control, and about my fathers reluctance to address it or discuss it, with her or with us. I broached the subject over time with her later on several times, she always said she would cut down, she would never accept any help and rejected any suggestions. Her telltale fake telephone voice, fake laugh, exaggerated gestures, slurred voice on the phone, forgetting things, saying ridiculous things and developing strong beliefs about astrology, witch craft, tarot, became disconcerting for me and I started to see her as someone odd, to be wary of, to try to fix , instead of a mother.

Sleeping in the day, staying up listening to records at night, drinking, smoking , long curved cigarette ash tipping on to the floor. Me going back and forth asking her to go to bed, to put the cigarettes out safely. Calling out gas technicians , then too drunk to speak. Calling the doctor, then incoherent. Starting meals but unable to organise it properly. Never listening. Lying. Forgetting what you told her or asked her.

Driving us as children when she was completely drunk, over the grass and garden and then zig zagging down the main road.

By now she had her poison of choice– gin, her constant companion.

Telephone calls with slurred speech, nonsensical conversations never remembered. She started to have a poor memory , repeating questions. Her muscles wasted, her nerves to her hands and feet lost their use. She refused to see the doctor. She started to sleep all day, lost weight. She looked terrible. We couldn’t persuade her to go to the doctor and suddenly in the middle of this my father had a heart attack and collapsed in the garden with a cardiac arrest. My mum was in the utility drinking gin. The paramedics and doctors couldn’t revive him and he died. That’s when my world fell apart as both parents died at the same time, my father, and my mother in her living death as she got even more intoxicated and was admitted to hospital for alcohol detox and diagnosed with Alcohol related brain damage. I thought – finally she’s been detoxed, maybe she’ll be better and stop drinking and return to normal ? But like many other stories I’ve read on here, that wasn’t the case. After the detox she came out of hospital, hardly knowing us, having forgotten her own husband had just died, yet the first thing she said was ‘ Can I have a gin then?’ We had about about six bottles we’d hidden in the boot of the car – had to get one out, secretly dilute it and give her a dilute gin to placate her. That pivotal disappointing frightening moment says it all for me. Life with an alcoholic.

After this over the next few weeks and months mum continued to drink and became even more out of control. We asked for help, the social workers said they couldn’t do anything. We couldn’t manage her behaviour. She would drink, sleep, get a taxi for gin and same again. We organised carers, she wouldn’t let them in. She had social workers and she wouldnt let them in either. The neighbours were calling me saying there was an ambulance in the drive , they were worried she was eating cat food, she was neglecting herself even more. Eventually a different social worker came one day, couldn’t get access and called for a mental health section and she was put under section and detained in the psychiatric unit. She stayed in the psychiatric ward for three or four months until they found somewhere for her to live. I was told that it was impossible for her to live independently or with us and I could never leave her alone with the children( not that I ever had). She stayed under a mental health section in a home until she died.

How does this make me feel? When I was younger, I felt strong – as if I was her parent, and determined never to be an alcoholic after the horrors I’d witnessed. It left me with insecurity and anxiety though. I also felt ashamed, unconfident, anxious, uncertain about my own future,different, intrinsically faulty in some way as if despite not being an alcoholic, somehow I might follow her path in another way. I’ve achieved, but there’s still been a high cost, and until recently, when the anxiety became really bad, none of this was addressed. Instead, like a true COA I had just moved on and denied / shelved the feelings.

If I had had nacoa or other support as a child, teenager and young adult, it would have helped so much. All of those confusing events and feelings I didn’t understand and my dad didn’t explain , could have been talked through in the open.

There was a real trauma of losing my mum into a caricature of herself halfway through my childhood, then crushing disappointment when it was too late for her to recover despite all my efforts , and finally acceptance she chose her path of substance misuse over me.

19 Comments Add yours

  1. A says:

    I am so sorry that you lost both your mum and your dad. There were parts of your story that felt so familiar to me. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t experienced “nonsensical conversations” will understand the pain of just this one small part of living with an alcoholic. I hope you are feeling okay after sharing – I know how hard this can be. Sending gentle care, A

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Al says:

      Thankyou for your kind comments. It’s good to share the story and see if it either helps or resonates with people. So many secrets in the family, even though we were never told to keep it a secret , it just felt disloyal or like an accusation to say anything at least until I was an adult. Also there is traumatic/ complicated grief there- I had no space to work through the trauma or grief of my dads sudden death as my mum was completely out of control. So much guilt there and role confusion.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jody Lamb says:

    I am so sorry that you have this very, very familiar story. Thank you for your honesty and sharing your experience.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Al says:

      Thankyou for your kind comment . I agree it is such a typical story of a long term heavy secret drinker. Really my mum was like a hard core alcoholic but behind closed doors. She was drinking at least a litre of gin a day. So sad to think how her life could have been otherwise.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Amanda says:

    I am so sorry for the devastating loss of your mum and dad and it sounds like you did so much to try and help which shows how strong you really are. They are such difficult and painful experiences and I hope you sharing helps you as much as it helps me just to know we are not alone. Sometimes I have felt like I couldn’t possibly be okay after all that’s happened like it was pointless to even try but when I read other people’s stories it does empower me to think that they have overcome (or are at least trying to overcome it) It inspires me to keep trying.
    Somewhere out there today is a kid feeling helpless watching their parent talking rambling incoherent, curling ciggarete ash hanging (used to infuriate me as I would be cleaning it up). The good thing is they have organizations like Nacoa and COA and I will do everything that I can to publicise and support them just so they don’t have to go through this nightmare alone. Take care and thank you. Xx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Al says:

      Thankyou for your kind words and understanding Amanda. As I went along the journey I always hoped there would be some sort of happy ending. That’s probably the hardest thing. The other thing is grieving for her is also difficult as I am never too sure when I really lost her. I do feel lucky to have had her in early childhood, and I do try to hang onto that. The other main difficulty I have had is that when I was young it was easy to see I was nothing like my mum- and as awful as it sounds it didn’t feel like she was my real mum. As I have got older, it’s more challenging to come to terms with the fact that I have to accept she was, and that led to quite a lot of the confidence problem I developed. Thankfully there is always help out there and these complex issues are something I can talk about in counselling therapy. I would recommend to anyone in the same situation to consider counselling .

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Al says:

    She developed a distressing type of alcoholic dementia , Korsakoff’s syndrome and frontal lobe brain damage so it affected her personality and behaviour a lot. She was unable to form any new memories and just asked the same questions over and over, and she had no motivation to self care , she also became aggressive and lost all sense of a normal way to behave around other people.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Fiona says:

    My father suffered from Korsakoff’s syndrome also, almost to the point of becoming like an Alzheimer’s patient. He didn’t even know who I was sometimes. He suffered alcoholic seizures and was hospitalised a few times, until eventually he ended up in ICU. He contracted MRSA and blood poisoning and died at 52. That was 20 years ago. I still live with the guilt that I don’t miss him in my life. Had he come back out of hospital, everyone else’s life would have been a nightmare. He made my mothers life a complete misery.
    I find it hard to tell my children nice memories I have of him, as most of them are tinged by alcohol.
    The knock on effects are apparent still now, my brother and I couldn’t be further apart – and 20 years on, I think this could be partly why. Such a waste.
    Thanks for sharing. Xx

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Al says:

    Hi Fiona I’m so sorry to hear about your dad. Such a young age to pass away. Yes my mother was exactly like an Alzheimer patient she didn’t know our names or recognise us, and had some awful behaviours.
    It’s a hard thing to come to terms with as we know it could have been prevented if she had stopped drinking at some point along the journey. Alcoholism is so destructive.
    Thankyou for sharing, take care xx

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Al says:

    Something I wanted to share was this book that helped me to understand some of the common issues that occur in families of alcoholics:’ After the Tears , helping adult children to heal their childhood trauma ‘ . By Janet Middleton Moz and Lorie Dwinell. There is a chapter on sibling relationships x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. coaisathing says:

      Thank you, a great resource

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Al says:

    I just wanted to add an update to my story here. In counselling I have been able to explore a lot of this now, and no longer feel scared of following her in some way, I’ve been able to see I am a different person and always have been.. Even though her drinking behaviour has damaged me to some degree, I now understand that the feeling of being unsure what normal is, or even being faulty in myself, comes entirely from her alcohol addiction, and not at all from myself, so I can also reassure myself on that. Thinking habits are hard to change, but it can be done. Good wishes to us all xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. coaisathing says:

      Thank you so much for this. Love to see change and progression. You’re always welcome to write again 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Al says:

        Thank you ☺️ (Sorry cant’like’ your comment as can’t seem to log into the WordPress system 😕 )

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Al says:

    I have been watching some YouTube videos today by Jerry Wise from Family Tree counselling in USA , very good videos on COAs

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Ali says:

    This is my story – I just decided to read it through. It’s interesting to read from a distance of nearly a year.
    I find it sad to read , and complex. It’s clear I wanted to help her and fix her , and it’s clear how a lot was unspoken and secret and how I kept tabs on her from a young age. Its as if I was monitoring her throughout childhood- no wonder I am sensitive to my surroundings and hyper vigilant.
    It’s interesting to see how this affected me as a teenager, me showing a lot of strength but the focus shifted to her rather than my own happiness and development. But because she was not functioning as a parent – she could hardly help me adjust to her alcoholism when she was the alcoholic causing the problem and drunk, and my father who wouldn’t talk about it , there was no support for or focus on me. I think later in life this translated into a focus on trying to overcome and be strong during adversity. I don’t think I had any notion of self care or putting myself in any way first as an adult.
    And the frustration of helping someone who lies and wants to drink and continue the way they are is then followed by a grief when you know they won’t recover and it was all for nothing. I wonder whether my need for control and anxiety is from having that sense of things being beyond my control as a child, with my worst fears sort of realised in the end. It’s worth remembering that the parent alcoholics are the problem here- as COAs we are the ones coping with and reacting to an impossible situation of secret addiction and the coping methods we learn for that become unhelpful habits later in life when we are no longer trying to control an alcoholics behaviour.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Graham says:

    Your story really resonates i grew up with an alcoholic mother and always blamed myself for her drinking it really stays with you decades later

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Jesse says:

    Your article has completely opened my eyes and gave me another view point. Thank you for that. I can relate to this article so much. I’m 25 and I’m dealing with this situation. Granted my mother’s drinking had started way before me. It’s a constant battle with her about her problem. Every confrontation always ends in another horrible lie.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Ali says:

    Hi Jesse I’m sorry to hear about your situation but glad my story has helped you. Do you have a supportive father / other relatives to help you or are you near to an Al Anon group in your area?


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