One Year On

Kicking off #COAweek2020 with this incredible piece from Harriet. No doubt many will relate. If you feel impacted in anyway, please know that Nacoa can offer help and support. If you would like to share your story then please get in touch.

It took five years of ‘rock bottoms’ for me to admit to myself that my mum was an alcoholic.
The starting point in my mind was the day I discovered her half-dead on the sofa after a
reclusive period of alcohol-fuelled self-destruction after my dad left her in the cruellest of
circumstances. This was followed by three years of lengthy hospital stays punctuated by
organ-failure related comas and two years of care homes and wheelchairs as a result of a
drunken fall. Finally came the last year of trauma, watching her waste away, throw up blood
– a hallmark sign of end stage alcoholic liver disease – and endure countless rescue missions
with ambulances rushing her to the nearest trauma centre.

Nothing is more painful than watching someone you love killing themselves. Death by
alcohol is a slow, drawn out, torturous process. From the morphing of her personality – the
self-centred demands, the cruel bullying, the half-hearted attempts to convince me, her
only child, that she was trying to stop drinking. To the physical deterioration – extreme
weight loss, broken bones, head injuries and immobility. None of this was really her.
No matter what tactic I desperately tried – begging, caring, mothering, anger, periods of
estrangement – none of these could bring her back from rock bottom. Any child of an
alcoholic will know this feeling of complete helplessness. For me, therapy was the lifeline
which taught me that I couldn’t help someone that didn’t want to help themselves and
allowed me to build boundaries to protect myself from the protracted death happening
before my eyes. In the case of my mum, I know she loved me with all of her being, but she
didn’t have enough strength left to save herself.

Since my mum died in January 2019, the whole ordeal has become a blur and I am able to
remember all the positives that came before alcohol. I am also becoming more comfortable
with honestly labelling my mum as ‘an alcoholic’ to people close to me because they know
that she was once so much more than that. She was once an adoring mum, a sparky
character, with style and elegance and there is so much more to her story than the woman
who ended up dying from drink. But, I am still struggling to use the term ‘alcoholic’ to
people outside of my close fold because of the shameful image that is attached to it in our
society. I really want to gain confidence in openly using the word because alcoholism needs
to come out of the shadows and into the spotlight – it’s not shameful, it can affect anyone,
it has complex roots and deserves attention just like other mental health issues and

My mum was a relatively private person, who didn’t like to be the focus of attention.
However, I think she would be happy for me to share our story so that more people learn
the truth behind alcoholism, so that any child of an alcoholic knows they are not alone, and
so that any parent reading this, teetering on the brink of alcohol dependency, might find the
help they need to turn it around, in a way that sadly she couldn’t.

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