As an adult child of a Mother who drank too much I was no stranger to the effects alcohol abuse had within my family. My childhood experience of my mother was marred by her daily drinking and punctuated by short lived periods of sobriety.
There was no history of alcohol abuse
It is important to note that my mother did not have a history of alcohol abuse in her family. She developed chronic depression after the death of my sister in 1973. And after years of struggling to cope with her death and being told
“that is was Gods will”
“needed to get over it”,
she succumbed to alcohol abuse in a bid to cope with that loss. My mother was first introduced to alcohol at a work function.
My Mother was a high performing sales manager
Contrary to popular belief, my mother was not an unemployed fall-down-drunk. She worked as the sales manager for a publication firm. She was what I later learned to be “a high functioning Alcoholic”. In fact, in my mother’s 30-year long career she rarely missed a day of work because of her drinking. She was a master at hiding her love affair with alcohol to the outside world.
At home, however…
A memory that sticks out in my mind as a child was watching the bus-stop across the road from our house while waiting for my mother to come home. When she came in she was the Mother I wanted to spend time with. I wanted to be seen and loved by this beautiful lady, and for a brief hour before she pulled the cork out of that bottle in the drinks cabinet, she was all that, elegant, refined, witty, and kind.
My heart would sink
The minute I saw her reach into that oak cabinet, my heart would sink, it was when I knew that the evening was destined to go horribly wrong. I would feel my belly flip, my mouth go dry with worry, I was acutely aware of the glug glug glug of the gin spilling out into a crystal tumbler. Every evening I would try my best to distract her, fighting for her attention, and each time was always sent away to play with the words
“later darling, mommy needs to relax”.
It became futile to try and talk to her
After a while it became futile to try and talk to her. She slid further and further away from me with each glass. I would be engulfed with worry and sadness. A short while later my Dad would come home. At first, he wouldn’t say anything, but myself and my three brothers knew! We just knew my Father was disappointed and that potentially there would be an argument, a dinner ruined, crying, doors slamming and horrible tense silences.
The Elephant in the room
No one dared challenge my Mother, not while she was drinking and most certainly not the next morning. We would tell her what she said and what she did. We were told that we were lying and she would cry and we felt responsible. My dad would shout, call her names, and us? We would take cover in the bedroom at the end of the hall and try and distract ourselves from the arguments, the banged doors, the futility of it all. Not only were we not allowed to discuss my mother’s drinking with her, we were not allowed to let anyone outside of the home know what was going on behind closed doors.
I became my Mother’s carer
I became my Mother’s carer. While she was drinking, I would make sure she wouldn’t hurt herself. I became her confidant, her friend, her Mother. We were all affected by my Mother’s drinking. My brothers all reacted differently. My brother Ciaran became rebellious and angry, Brendan was the clown and Dara, poor Dara the quiet one. It is fair to say that due to my Mother’s depression and subsequent alcohol abuse my Mother for those years was emotionally unavailable and absent to us. My Father had lost his wife too and I remember him being a lonely man. We had to grow up fast. Emotional hostages to something we neither understood or could fix.
SouthLady beautifully describes the impact a Mother’s alcohol abuse often has on families. But once again we see the pattern of pain behind the alcohol abuse. If Southlady’s Mother’s had received loving support and empathy around the pain of losing a daughter, her alcohol abuse would probably have stopped. She was most likely using alcohol to numb her grief. (Often called self-medication)
Are genes to blame?
While some types of genes have been linked to alcohol abuse, the exact process is not fully understood.
Pain and grief in families is very common factor in alcohol abuse. But it is not inevitable. It appears the more “adverse childhood events” or “ACE” we have the more likely we are to have a physical or substance abuse problem.
While SouthLady herself had an alcohol abuse problem, she made a full recovery because the pain behind her alcohol abuse was tackled.
Don’t blame yourself
So don’t blame yourself if you are finding it difficult to reduce your drinking. Instead focus on your mental health. Ask yourself if depression, past events or trauma in your life may be affecting your desire to drink?
You might find our Janus course useful which helps to identify the pros and cons’ drinking useful. Or if you think a counsellor might be helpful, here’s some tips here on finding the right one for you.