This piece has ben written by Hayley and describes how some of the memories we have as COA’s stay with us for a lifetime. Some of the feelings described will resonate with many. If you feel affected by a parents drinking then remember Nacoa are here to offer help and support. If you would like to share your story then please do get in touch.
The nights have drawn in to the point where it’s almost dark when school finishes. The world is still busy, there are people still bustling about, but the afternoon is turning into night, and lights are starting to go on in houses.
Looking at those lights from the outside reminds me of the way the lights used to make me feel. Standing on the pavement, looking at the orange glow from someone else’s window, takes me back to being a teenager, and the feelings rush at me.
When I was a teenager my younger sister had a paper round after school. On days when my mother was sober, we’d get home from school and my sister would go to deliver the papers on her bike. It was a short round, and would take her an hour. On days when my mother was drunk I’d go with her. We’d walk, because walking took longer, and we’d buy sweets to share as we went around. Usually a pack of Trebor softmints, and we’d see how long we could make them last without chewing them. I was crap, and almost always crunched first.
Those were the days when I first noticed the lights. A warm light from a living room or kitchen window, welcoming people home. I knew nothing about the people in those houses, but I was deeply envious of them. Those lights reminded me that I didn’t want to go home. My paper round was before school, I was done for the day, but rather than take off my shoes, collapse in front of the TV, maybe even start my homework, I was back out in the cold and the gathering darkness, putting off dealing with my mother. As far as I was concerned the people in the lit-up houses were normal, and that’s all I wanted to be.
Normal. Not being confronted with chaos when you walked through the door. Being able to predict how your mother is going to react when you get home from school. Not having to keep news back in case it made her angry, because while a good test result might result in being screamed at for being a show-off, a poor one could end up with being berated for being thick and lazy. Not good enough. Never good enough, whatever I did. Ugly. Pathetic. A fat waste of space.
There would be shouting when we got back to the house. We’d usually wait until our dad got home, the car in the drive offering relative safety, because he would be the target of her shouting, and we could slip in and hide upstairs. In those evenings, staring at the inviting glow, I was desperate for someone else’s life.
Even as I thought it, I knew how futile it was. All I could do was stare because that wasn’t my life. My mother was an alcoholic, and that’s why I was standing on the pavement watching my sister deliver the Echo. It could have been worse. I was fed, I was clothed, and it wasn’t like that all the time. There were days when she was nice, times when we all had fun, and I clung to that. Those were the stories I told, making my home life sound idyllic to anyone who would listen, keeping the days when she was drunk a secret. So much of a secret that it wasn’t even discussed within the family – on sober days we would all act like this was what it was always like, her drinking was a massive elephant in every room. Now I really regret not bringing it up more, trying to find a solution, but at the time none of us would risk causing an argument on a day when there didn’t need to be one.
I’m not a teenager anymore, I’m an adult, and a mother. Now, an orange glow from a window in the later afternoon makes me sad for the girl who I was, but also makes me feel incredibly lucky that I have a home that I always want to get back to. Reading other stories on this and other websites has made me feel less alone, but also more aware of how my mother’s alcoholism has affected me. I’ve always shrugged it off, thought that because I passed my exams, went to university, got married, and moved on, I’d survived, and it was done with. But reading the profile of a child of an alcoholic has made me look at myself. I have a tendency to people please, and I always look to older women for approval. I don’t like arguments and conflict, and I find it very hard to make myself vulnerable. I keep a lot of myself hidden, despite giving the impression of being open and happy to share. It’s six years since my mother died, and I still wake up with my head full of things I wish I had said to her when she was alive, and most of those words are angry ones.
When I collect my daughter from school I leave the kitchen light on.