This is an INCREDIBLE piece written by Hollie. It explores with compassion how Hollies mum became an alcoholic and shows the huge ripples of impact caused by this. Hollie also tells an important story of hope and how she has worked through the devastation caused, citing how important it is that Coa’s get the support they deserve.
I am now 34 years old, turning 35 at the end of the year – my mother died when I was 18 and I wanted to talk about what can happen to Children of Alcoholics that do not get the support that is so desperately needed.
I come from a relatively large family – 4 aunts/uncles on my mother’s side and one aunt on my father’s side. My grandfather on my mother’s side died in 1971 (long before I was born but his death still had an effect on me all those years down the line, although indirectly.) All my mums’ brothers & her sister lived relatively close to me and also to the hospital that my mum spent most of the last few years of her life in. My dad’s family are from Scotland and lived up in Aberdeenshire (we were in Essex/Cambs borders) and I did not have a particularly close relationship with them – mainly because they were so far away but also because as I got older I did not see eye to eye with my Dad.
We were, as far as everyone else was concerned, your typical middle class family. Large 4 bed house, big garden, nice cars, 2 holidays a year, mum was on the board of Governors at my school, dad did the bbq at school fetes – you get the general idea! But on the inside it was all slowly falling apart and it became apparent to me at around 8 or 9 years old that my mum had a problem with alcohol. The reasons why I had no idea at that age but now at 34 years old it seems anyone could have or should have seen what was going on and stepped in. However, this was not the case. By the time I was 11 and just starting secondary school in Sept 1997 my parents had separated and were going through divorce proceedings – not soon enough as far as my brother and I were concerned – staying together ‘for the children’ is never a good idea as its normally the children who suffer the most from this.
I won’t go to deeply into why my mum drank but I can say it was a combination of the loss of her father when she was just 13, the lack of support from her own family – especially her mother – and the violence & sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of my father. It was only after she died that I found out about the latter after dragging it out of her best friend. She hadn’t wanted me to know to protect me but I feel like I always knew there were elements of my parents’ marriage that went ‘right’ I just didn’t know at the time why. I also found out after the fact that my mum’s family knew this was happening and did nothing to try and stop it. I do know that whilst I may have had periods where I was angry with her because of her drinking and I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t or couldn’t stop, I have never blamed her – in fact as I have got older I very much understand it.
When I was around 14 she started having extended stays in hospital, neighbours would find her passed out and bleeding from where her liver and kidneys were packing up, her weight plummeted as she didn’t eat, she was jaundice and would just drink orange squash from a mug with vodka in it. There came a point where I had to decide what I was going to do to protect myself – my younger brother lived with my dad, my dad and I did not get along – I had moved in with my mum not long after the divorce – I knew I needed to finish my education but I also needed to keep a roof over my head and food in my tummy. My mum was in no state to look after me as she could barely look after herself and her hospital stays were getting longer & longer and the time at home between them shorter & shorter. So I took myself off to the Polo Club I had been working weekends at for the previous couple of years. I love horses – they were my sanity and stability for a long time. The owners gave me a bed in the grooms flat and a barn of 12 polo ponies to look after. I came to arrangement with my school and social services (me – I did that – not my father, aunt, grandmother or any other adult) that I would continue to live there & that the school would send me work so that I was able to keep up with the rest of my year as we were rapidly heading towards our exams. Amazingly I came out of school with 10 GCSE’s grades A-C – am still not sure to this day how but I did it! By this point it was 2002 – her family were barely visiting her – they would put in the odd appearance siting ‘busy lives’ and ‘she’s done this to herself’ – basically she was an embarrassment to her middle class Irish Catholic family. Her best friend, who I now call my second mum, used to drive me 2 or 3 times a week to see her in hospital as I couldn’t get there on my own. She was & still is more ‘family’ to me than any blood relation and I love her dearly.
2 years later Mum passed away in Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridge on the 8th April 2004 – 1 week before her 46th birthday. All of a sudden it was all hands on deck – my aunt wanting to come with me to register her death ‘oh you won’t know the answers to the registrars questions’, they had her buried 100 miles away from me in a church she had never been to or heard of but her brother was the priest there so ‘we’ll just put her there, John will retire there, she’ll always have family close’ – he was sacked 2 years later for hitting a choir boy. Another uncle – the eldest brother – decided he best pay for the catering at her wake because that was the ‘right thing to do’ and my grandmother – the Matriarch of the family – did nothing. Supposedly to upset by the whole thing – I now realise all this was guilt & shame on their part although I very much doubt they would ever admit it. On the day of her funeral whilst the wake was happening in the rectory at the church I found myself outside on my own sat down by her newly filled in grave, looking at the beautiful sprays of yellow & white flowers I had chosen for her – freesia’s and lily’s her favourite – I completely broke down I was crying so hard I could barely breathe. I managed to get myself back up the driveway and was confronted my aunt (her sister) who told me to ‘pull yourself together – she has been dead a week now’. That sentence perfectly sums up my family and the way they are.
After everything had settled down after her death I went back to work and threw myself into it head first. For nearly 13 years I had little to no contact with the maternal side of my family and none with the paternal. Even though they were divorced at the time my father refused to come to her funeral to support his 15 year old son & 18 year old daughter. I worked and worked and then worked some more! All I could do was focus on working hard and earning as much money as I could to keep myself afloat. Fortunately most of the jobs I had in polo came with accommodation & sometimes even a car. I was bitter, angry and resented everyone around me. I was filled with so much rage and anger that it would usually come out in the form of an epic meltdown in the yard because a horse had knocked a bucket over or something else as trivial. I struggled with drugs & alcohol myself, at one point I was doing so much cocaine I genuinely don’t know how I didn’t overdose and kill myself.
In 2017 I realised I couldn’t carry on as I was anymore – I had no tolerance for people and what I saw as their mainly first world problems. I started seeing a psychotherapist who helped me realise that I was not ‘mad’ or ‘crazy’ like I thought. Slowly between her and my GP we started working through everything. I always assumed that my anger issues were because of my mum and the fact she had died and I couldn’t save her. I took me a while but I eventually realised the reasons why I was filled with so much hate and anger were not because she had died and left me behind but because I had been left to deal with it all by myself – my father and her family had seemingly got off scot free and I had been left to carry the burden, having to get a special power of attorney granted at the age of 17 so I could take over her financial affairs and stop her house being repossessed, talking daily to consultants and other medical staff about things I really didn’t understand, having her call me from her hospital bed in the middle of the night hysterical because she knew she was going to die. No matter how strong you are that is traumatic for anyone.
So now its 3 years on from when I started seeing my therapist – I have been properly diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, Complex PTSD and Hypervigilance. Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition that affects every part of your body from muscle pain, pins & needles, muscle spasms and awful headaches. Whilst no one can officially say what causes Fibromyalgia doctors believe it is the result of repeated psychological and/or physical trauma. C-PTSD is as the name itself suggests a more complex form of PTSD it is caused by multiple traumatic experiences over a long period of time which has resulted in insomnia, nightmares, long periods of feeling flat or detached from the world, a lack of empathy for other people, a tendency to over react at minor things, social anxiety & difficulty forming lasting relationships. Finally Hypervigilance which in itself is a symptom of C-PTSD; It leaves you in a state of increased alertness that can last for days or even weeks –you are constantly looking for danger and watching other people – their body language, tone of voice, the way they look at you. You are constantly in ‘fight or flight’ mode assessing whether this person is a threat to you in some way. 99% of the time they are not and there is nothing wrong but it does not stop you from constantly being ‘on alert’. There is one small upside to Hypervigilance and that is that you get very good at reading people – sometimes seeing that they have a problem or are struggling with their mental health before they themselves even realise it.
Having not had the chance to finish my education – I never had the chance to do A Levels or go to university – I am starting a part time psychotherapy degree later this year with the aim of eventually using my experiences to help other people when I am qualified.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to support the Children of Alcoholics – even if they seemingly have family around them it does not mean they are necessarily getting the support they need and deserve.
Learn from me.