A while back I posted a guest blog from Lucy Rocca, who with a friend had set up http://www.soberistas.com a website aimed at helping people like her, who had had a drink problem, and were now trying to stay dry by celebrating being dry. Today I post another brilliant piece from Lucy on life with and without the bottle.
‘This week is Children of Alcoholics Week.
For many people the image of an alcoholic is a down and out, someone swigging from a bottle of cheap, blow-your-head-off cider in the local park, a lost cause. Or perhaps it’s a stressed out mother on a council estate who has to reach for the vodka bottle before she can make it downstairs to give the kids their breakfast. Maybe the word ‘alcoholic’ conjures up images of lost souls, people with nobody to care for but themselves, who shuffle down to the local Spar each evening to pick up their next bottle, cheeks flushed with broken capillaries and hair unkempt.
I know a girl who spent much of her childhood living with a mother who drank too much. Her mum functioned expertly on a hangover, managing to make the school run on time each day, never missing a day’s work and always finding time to walk the dog/feed the cat/clean out the rabbit hutch (the pets changed over the years; the drinking did not). For a long time the little girl didn’t know that Mummy drank too much wine, the first bottle always being cracked after the bedtime story had been read and she was tucked up in bed, safely removed from the emotional mayhem downstairs.
The weekend mornings threw up evidence of excessive alcohol binges, with the coffee table always laden with empty wine bottles and CD cases strewn all over the floor, their contents being played late into the night as the wine sparked off memories, and a nostalgic melancholy led to a desire to hear music from the good old days. The little girl’s mum would often be discovered by her daughter early in the morning lying on the settee, mascara streaked down her cheeks, still fully dressed in yesterday’s clothes. It never occurred to the mother that this might make her little girl feel uncomfortable and slightly anxious.
The mother was suffering from depression and struggling to fight her way through an acrimonious divorce from the girl’s dad, and was prone to mood swings and lethargy. The alcohol served to numb the pain momentarily, but it intensified the darkness of her emotions during the day and she was unpredictable and snappy. There were many occasions when the little girl didn’t know quite how to approach her mother, unsure as to what reaction she would be met with. Black moods gave way to over the top alcohol-fuelled joyfulness, fake and loud and frightening.
The mother didn’t pour vodka on her cornflakes and nobody thought for a minute that her daughter should be put into care. She never missed a mortgage payment or a bedtime story, the clothes were always ironed and the beds made. No tragedies ever occurred, no house fires caused by the careless depositing of a cigarette end whilst drunk, no terrible drunk driving incidents with the innocent little girl sitting unawares in the back of a car, her reckless mother at the wheel. But despite this, the little girl was affected by her mother’s alcohol abuse, as there were countless times when she did not have the full emotional presence of her mother due to that mother being drunk or hungover.
Many weekends slipped by with the mother too tired, depressed and suffering the consequences of excessive booze to be bothered with going for a bike ride, helping with homework or making fairy cakes. Too much of that little girl’s childhood was spent in the shadows of an insidious alcohol dependence that she was completely oblivious of, whilst simultaneously being scarred by it.
The girl is now 14, and her mother is teetotal. It’s impossible to know for sure but the girl’s mum thinks, hopes, that she has made up for her less-than-perfect parenting during the drinking years since she gave up alcohol two years ago. She has talked for hours to her daughter about why she drank too much, how sorry she is, how she wishes she could turn back the clock; the daughter tells her she has forgiven her and that she bears no resentment.
As the months have gone by, the closeness has resumed and a strong bond has been forged once again between mum and daughter. The mother has lasting regrets, permanently etched into a memory tainted by alcohol abuse, but she desperately hopes that by recognising she was never in control whilst stuck in the midst of all that booze and subsequently making the decision to never drink it again, she has managed to claw back a healthy relationship with her remarkable daughter.
What seemed like a fondness for an innocuous bottle of wine each evening eventually manifested itself in a powerful dependency upon alcohol – a dependency that was tenacious and difficult to break. Today the mother is happy and grateful that there were no tragedies as a result of all that alcohol abuse, but she will forever carry with her the wish that she could turn back the clock and fully appreciate her daughter’s childhood without the fog that drinking created all around her, giving her little girl her full attention as a parent who is not dependent on alcohol. I do know that the lives of the mother and daughter continue to improve with each alcohol-free day that passes; I know that because the mother is me.’