The first thing that comes to mind when I think of shame is in regard to my mother. There are things that have happened since then that perhaps caused me more shame and anguish than I can admit in a public space. Revealed to a lover in the early hours of the getting to know you process, often aided with a glass of wine. Which is ironic as the shame I feel about my mother is closely related to drink.
From the age of six I felt we had a very strange relationship. I was the sort of child that would walk the other way away from my parents or try to jump out of a moving car. In the early years I shared with my mother a love of riding and horses and in the beginning that was something that we had in common. I think I was about ten years old when I began to notice that she would drink beer in the morning whilst doing her ironing. A boyfriend of my sisters remarked that his was strange. No one else’s mum drank Carlsberg special brew for breakfast. It is so tricky to pin point exactly when the shame started but I know I felt a cloud of it around me from about that time. Friends would say they imagined I lived in a very dark house. I think emotionally I did but in actual fact we had a really lovely house in the country. It was just that the wall paper was starting to peel off the walls and the things in the cupboard were quite often years out of date.
I used to feel so embarrassed when my mum came to pick me up anywhere. She didn’t care at all about her appearance and I hated the car she drove. I wish she still had it now as it was a rover 2000, built like a tank. I believe it was an engagement present from my father which she let go when things were bad.
I was dressed in hand me downs and forced to have a mullet haircut. I’m sure this is why I developed such an interest in fashion and the superficial in my teens. It was my own, private rebellion. I remember the embarrassment of a school friend telling me they had seen my mother fall out of the car drunk to buy more alcohol from the off licence. We lived in a small, conservative village so it was humiliating and also really heart-breaking.
I was so worried about my mother I would follow her all over the house checking up on her. I developed my own issues with drug taking very early in my teens, but this recreational pursuit gave me a break from worrying. I sometimes used to wish I would die on the dancefloor. I think it’s fair to say that watching someone drink themselves nearly to death during your childhood can make you very self-destructive.
When I was fifteen my sister organised for her work to interview my parents about becoming foster parents. The application was rejected on the grounds that my mother was a chronic alcoholic and had been made redundant because of this and was seen as unfit to parent. I remember looking at my sister and saying, ‘well it’s a shame that no one put a word in for us.
I left home at nineteen to go to art college. Before I left I cleared the house of bottles. I filled a skip. I found jam jars of vodka in her bedside drawers and her office. I drove her to the doctor and accompanied her to see a liver specialist. He told her she would die if she didn’t stop.
Away at university I worried a lot about her. On my twenty second birthday she turned up with black eyes and bruises all over her body. I was distraught. I cried through the meal. I even thought my dad may have hit her out of frustration. By this time, we were all so fed up and didn’t know what to do. I made myself a promise that I would always tell her I loved her even if I didn’t feel like I meant it at the time.
Intuitively I knew that things couldn’t go on like this and the following year she was arrested for drink driving. It was the best thing that could have happened. In custody at four am she started to fit and had to be medicated. She was released the next day and we all went to the family home. Watching someone fit through cold turkey, especially when it’s someone you love so much has to be the most frightening thing I have ever seen in my life. Eventually after five days in our care her skin went black and she was rushed to hospital. I will never forget following the ambulance with my sister in the car. Neither of us able to speak.
She remained in the hospital for many weeks. I cannot fault the care she received whilst there. When she was discharged I bathed her as she was still very weak and unable to do much for herself. She was like a broken baby bird who had to learn how to live all over again. Her hands and feet had started to curl up but thankfully after time and care they returned to normal.
In court she was the highest reading for alcoholism they had ever had. It transpired that really, she should have been dead. She had drunk enough to kill herself several times over. The judge was sympathetic to her case as only someone with a really severe illness who had drunk for many years would have been able to with stand that amount. She was spared a custodial sentence and agreed to regular counselling as a part of her discharge.
As far as I know in the last fifteen years she has only ever had one relapse and that was drinking a beer. We are now approaching a time where the amount of time she has been sober since is equal to the amount of time she drank. I have to say that I am now incredibly proud of her. And my favourite thing is going to my parent’s house and sitting in the sunshine in their garden, which she once again tends with love. I guess it taught me many things, the first being not to judge people, the second to never give up on them and the third that there is always hope, no matter how dark things seem.