My alcoholic Mum
Dani is 20 and grew up with her alcoholic mum. She tells TheSite.org that while she regularly bore the brunt of her mum's verbal and physical attacks, she often hid her suffering from others.
According to my Dad, my Mum has been drinking heavily since the '70s - long before I was born. She had a hard upbringing and developed depression when she was quite young, which I think has a lot to do with why her drinking problem started in the first place. I can't remember the first time I saw her drunk, but I do know that she started to drink more after she found out she had breast cancer. I was 12 when her cancer was diagnosed, but to be honest I didn't notice her drinking getting worse at the time. It was more of a gradual change.
My Dad used to travel quite a lot for his job, and sometimes I'd be left at home alone with my Mum for weeks or even months. I have a brother and sister but they're a lot older than me, so by this time they'd already moved out and started their own families.
Mum's changing behaviour
Mum was a quiet drunk at first, but as time went on she became more unpredictable and aggressive. She used to start drinking a bottle of wine as soon as I got home from school. I remember she only ever used to buy red wine, because she said she didn't like white wine very much. When we did our weekly shop at the supermarket she used to load up the trolley with about 12 bottles of wine - all for herself. One day, she put white wine in the trolley and when we got to the car I said, But mum, you said you didn't like white wine." She slapped me around the face for saying this.
She'd usually be drunk by 6pm. She'd sit in her seat in the living room for the rest of the evening, chain-smoking and making derogatory comments about me. I remember feeling sorry for her, so most of the time I'd agree with whatever she said or do what she told me to - even if it meant getting her another glass of wine. My Dad knew that Mum's problem was getting worse, so he started coming home from the office earlier and earlier to help out. When I was younger he'd get home at 9pm, but by the time I was 14 he'd be home by 5pm.
The first time she hit me was a shock. My parents had always given me a smack if I was being naughty as a child, but this was different and it soon became a regular occurrence. She started throwing things at me, too. There was this look of pure hatred on her face, like it wasn't my Mum inside. It scared me so much I still can't get the image out of my head.
Over the following months and years the violence escalated. She burnt me with cigarettes, threw me down a flight of stairs and slammed my head in the kitchen door a few times. If you were to see her you wouldn't believe me - I'm quite a big girl, yet my Mum is this tiny little thing, weighing about six stone but with an unthinkable strength and a frail-looking body ravaged by alcohol, cigarettes and general neglect on her part.
"There was this look of pure hatred on her face, like it wasn't my Mum inside. It scared me so much I still can't get the image out of my head."
Disguising the problem
The hardest part was going to school and hiding my cuts, burns and bruises. I went to a quite strict school where you weren't allowed to wear make up or jewellery, so keeping the marks out of sight was tricky. Sometimes, I wore bracelets anyway to hide the marks on my arms. I also wore concealer on my face, although disguising a black eye was a near impossible task.
The school guessed that something was wrong in my home life, and so the staff started to ask questions about what was going on, but I constantly denied that there was a problem. Some of my friends knew about my Mum and said they couldn't understand why I wouldn't tell someone who could help me get out of the situation. I didn't want to because I felt like I'd be betraying her. Sure, she behaved like a monster every night of my life, but she was still my Mum, my Dad's wife and a grandma to my nephews and nieces.
My Dad knew exactly what I was going through but didn't really do anything to help, which was very frustrating. I now understand why, because I realise that he felt there wasn't anything he could do. He couldn't take away all her money and cards to stop her from buying the alcohol, and he couldn't stay at home all day with her to make sure she didn't drink. He was losing the woman he loved to alcohol, and he couldn't help. That's got to be one of the hardest things a person can go through.
The irony is that while our home life was terrible, we lived in a tiny town where my Mum was a pillar of the community. She ran the local Red Cross group, cared for local elderly people and was head of the Brownies and Guides Association. She spent so much of her energy during the day being this stand-up citizen and proving to the world that nothing was wrong that nobody had a clue.
Making my own way out
I came to the end of my tether when I was about 15, and I began to retaliate when she got aggressive. I picked fights and made big gestures like pouring her wine down the sink in front of her. I started to cut myself, binge drink, smoke and take drugs. I spent my days in as much of a haze as she did. I felt like I needed to punish myself for what was happening, and I was confused about my feelings for her. I still loved her, but at the same time I hated her guts. To a certain extent I still feel like this.
I've sorted myself out and I'm living a decent life now. Mum's still sick but at least I don't live with her anymore so I don't have to deal with her aggressive behaviour as much. I've come to the realisation that all the help we've tried to give her hasn't worked, and that she needs to admit to herself that she's an alcoholic before she can get the help to make her better. The thing is, I think she's too lost inside herself to get better now. There's not much more we can do.
It still upsets me a lot, and I worry about how well my Dad is coping. I even cried while watching The OC on TV recently because one of the character's parents has a drinking problem. The thing is, I came through my experience of living with an alcoholic parent as best I could, and I think I'm a stronger person for it now. Even so, I don't really drink much myself these days because I'm scared that if I do, one day I'll become like her.