I am 51 years old and I still have not recovered from the trauma of my mother’s alcoholism.
Mental health services are a ‘normal’ part of my life. I experience anxiety (I call it fear) and depression and am on medications. I struggle not to use alcohol as a means of self-medication (to take the edge off my fear). I work and probably appear fine to most people but in recent years, I’ve had to take sick leave because of my mental health. I know that I need sick leave and a review of meds and symptoms when I self-harm and start to fantasize about suicide every day. I know that I’m stabilizing when I only think about suicide, perhaps, once a week, and then once a fortnight, and then every now and again.
My mother was a violent alcoholic. She beat me for reasons best known to herself. I told her that I loved her in the hope that this would defuse her rage but it never did. I was about 6 years old at this time. I went to school and worried about my mother all day. Every knock on the class room door was, I believed, someone bringing news of my mother’s death. Mostly, I thought that she would get knocked by a car. I also thought, often, that she would leave me. I panicked if she wasn’t home when I got back from school.
I was, more often than not, woken up by screaming angry voices at night – my parents fighting. I developed a sleep problem and started to walk in my sleep. Life was a terrifying experience with danger and the real possibility of death (my own death or my mother’s) lurking in my home.
My mother drank until I was about 13 years old and then became a dry alcoholic (obsessions with food, obsessions about controlling my life, buying clothes that she never ever wears and hoarding them in their packaging. Her home is practically uninhabitable.
When I became a mother, all of my childhood experiences came back to haunt me. I had flashbacks and re-experienced the self-loathing, shame, loneliness, sadness and, above all, the terror I felt as a small child. This meant a return to mental health services, to medications, and to talk therapy. One of the first things I said to my psychologist was, ‘Do you think that there is just something bad in me that caused my mother to hate me?’ I asked her this more than once and I really thought she might well explain my mother’s behaviour by somehow diagnosing me as bad. She didn’t, of course. She told me that it was the ‘child me’ who was asking the question because it is easier for a child to believe that she is bad than to believe that her mother is bad.
As an only child, I think that I have always felt the full effects of my mother’s addiction(s) with neither a buffer against my mother’s violence nor a confidante who would know exactly what was happening in my home. Unfortunately, my father did not act as a buffer and was too overwhelmed himself to think about protecting me.
I try, these days, to be a good mother to my daughter and to the child who haunts me. She’s very afraid of life, very distrustful, often sad, often very angry, sometimes wants to die, but also just wants to be treated with love and respect, because she isn’t bad. Right?