This piece has been written by Ashleigh and as well as describing what growing up with an alcoholic parent is like, Ashleigh offers hope and inspiration in how she has taken the positives from such a difficult experience. This is a piece that will resonate with so many.
There is a photo of my Mum by my bed. In the photo, Mum is sitting smiling in front of a lovely summer background with a very small me sitting on her lap. This photo shows a version of my Mum that I have little or no memory of. My Mum died when I was 11. Others would say this was an unexpected death as it came out of the blue and happened very quickly, but even as a child, I knew that her death as a result of her drinking was a very real possibility.
My brother and I had recently been taken off my mother by social services and placed in the care of my father and stepmother at the time. In all honesty, this probably contributed to a rapid downward spiral for my Mum and has left me with a lot of guilt as I felt nothing but anger towards my Mum for those last few months. At the time, I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t stop drinking. When we were told that Mum was in hospital with hours to live, I remember the screaming and feeling like I had been ripped in two. However, I felt a strong sense of guilt as another part of me was feeling relief- relief that I would not longer have to care for my mother when she should have been caring for me.
I don’t ever remember a life when my Mum didn’t drink. Dad left when I was 5 which contributed to Mums drinking getting worse, but she had drunk for years before this. My Mum was a beautiful, loving person, but for reasons unknown to me she was ill and needed alcohol to get by.
My childhood is littered with traumatising memories that still haunt me as my 27th birthday approaches. Whenever I feel cold, I am taken back to lying on a cold, tiled kitchen floor, crying and trying to wake Mum up, hugging her close to make sure she was alive and to keep warm. I have memories of Mum not wanting us to leave her to go upstairs when she was drunk in the living room, so getting us to pee in a basin in the kitchen. I remember Mum turning up to school drunk and the feeling of dread and embarrassment that came with it.
It is a shame to say, although I know there are some memories, I don’t really have any happy memories of my Mum being sober. I know she was sober for a few weeks when she came out of hospital after being sectioned, but I remember feeling on edge wondering when things were going to go wrong again.
As a child, I was in charge and spent my life looking after my younger brother and mother, making small meals when we were not fed, turning lights out at night, locking doors and making sure Mum didn’t fall asleep with a lit cigarette. As an adult, I spend my nights checking doors and plugs, making sure the oven is off and trapped in a ritual afraid that something bad might happen. I have been diagnosed with OCD, depression and anxiety like many others who have had alcoholic parents and the doctors say I may battle this for the rest of my life.
I miss my Mum everyday but cannot help but wonder if my life would be what it is now if she was still alive. Would Mum have got the help she needed? Or would I be caring for her, dreading each phone call? Would I be a teacher now or would I have spent my teen years looking after Mum instead of studying?
However, I feel I have to take the positives from my experiences. As a child, school felt like a safe haven. I was looked after, I could learn, and I felt safe. As I grew up, I decided that I wanted to be a teacher in a hope that I could help children to feel safe too. I have spent three years volunteering with and raising money for a local charity that work with children with parents that have drug and alcohol issues. I spend time each week with a child as a befriender, giving them time away from home, the chance to try new things and to have a trusted adult to confide in. This was an opportunity I was offered before Mum died and I remember thinking how great it would be to have a little escape. Mum left me some money when she died, and I have been able to buy my own home and turn it into a home that I know my Mum would have loved. I am certain that if I am fortunate enough to have children of my own, I will be the best mother I can possibly be to my children and give them the love I know my Mum tried so hard to give to us.