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‘I quit college to care for my alcoholic mum’


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‘I quit college to care for my alcoholic mum’

Image copyright Contributor/Getty It was always a relief to find mum still alive when I got home from school.She’d be sitting on the sofa in the corner of the living room, exactly where I’d left her that morning. I knew she’d been drinking all day.Together with my sister and younger brother, I would wash her,…

‘I quit college to care for my alcoholic mum’

Niamh and her mum against a backdrop of soft and alcoholic drink bottlesImage copyright
Contributor/Getty

It was always a relief to find mum still alive when I got home from school.

She’d be sitting on the sofa in the corner of the living room, exactly where I’d left her that morning. I knew she’d been drinking all day.

Together with my sister and younger brother, I would wash her, change her into her pyjamas and brush her teeth. Or if she was too out of it, we’d just tuck her in and make sure she was in the right position so she wouldn’t choke if she was sick.

It started when I was nine. Back then, mum was still able to go about her daily life but the minute she got home from work she would reach straight for a bottle of wine.

For a long time, I accepted it as normal but as I got older – things got worse.

A few years later, I started finding bottles of white wine mixed with juice hidden away in drawers or down the side of the sofa. I’d even find them in the washing machine.

First, she stopped doing chores like our laundry and making dinner for us. Then, she stopped going to work. She’d been a nurse and had been so passionate about her job

At first, she was signed off sick on statutory pay but she had credit card debts so we were constantly worried about money. I started doing the food shopping and making sure she paid the gas, electricity and mortgage.

‘Lost in a fog’

Mum stopped driving. She stopped getting dressed. She stopped doing nice things like going for walks or taking us out for coffee. Instead, she spent all day staring at the TV with the same movie on repeat. It was like she was lost in a fog.

Government statistics estimate that there are 200,000 children in England who are living with alcohol-dependent parents. But it took us a long time to accept that’s what mum was, because she didn’t accept it herself. If we mentioned it she’d get defensive and we’d end up arguing.

Between the ages of 15 to 17, I watched her get taken into hospital over 15 times. It became our new normal – we’d see the same paramedics three or four times.

Me or my sister would go with her to hospital because mum would lie and say she didn’t usually drink, and we wanted to tell them what was really going on.

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Niamh felt like she lost her mum to drinking

After a stay in hospital, she’d often stop for a while and I’d be so proud of her, but then she’d pick up a bottle of wine. Now, I understand it’s an illness and she had a voice at the back of her head egging her on. But at the time it was like being heartbroken over and over again.

Once she was taken to resuscitation. It’s the bit of the hospital they take you to when your heart might fail. Her heart rate was too high – something alcohol can cause – and I thought she was going to die. It was the most scared I’d ever been.

I didn’t talk to anyone at school about it because I was afraid my mum would get in trouble. My marks suffered and I felt like I couldn’t even start thinking about my future. Eventually, I went to the doctor for my mental health but the waiting lists were so long that I started seeing a private therapist which my gran helped pay for.

It was tough with my friends too. I distanced myself because I couldn’t cope with hearing them complain about their parents doing things like reminding them about homework – I felt they couldn’t understand what I was going through.

At the same time, I was also realising that I was gay. I would have liked to come out then but I pushed it aside because of what was happening with mum. I just felt so lost.

‘I was the parent, she was the child’

As well as caring for mum physically, I also became her emotional support. It was like our roles were reversed – I was the parent, she was the child.

If she was sober enough to go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, she’d tell me about it and I’d give advice. It was me asking where she was going, when she’d be back, asking her to text me. I made sure she took her medication and booked her doctor’s appointments.

At 16, I made the decision to drop out of college to look after mum. I was increasingly scared of leaving her alone.

My brother was mostly living with my dad at this point and my sister was at her boyfriend’s a lot. So it fell to me to look after her. I felt resentful of my siblings at times but I did understand – if I’d had the option to escape I’d have taken it too.

By this stage mum wasn’t eating much and would sometimes go missing for days. She looked like a zombie – drinking and depression had taken over her whole being. I’d lost the mum I remembered from childhood, who would plait my hair and stroke my face during bedtime.

It all came to a head, the day she tried to take her own life. It was a couple of weeks after I turned 17. I was upstairs and heard her calling the hospital saying she’d taken some tablets. I rushed down and an ambulance came.

It broke my heart, but it also made me angry because I had given her so much and tried so hard to save her.

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Amelia (L), Niamh (centre) and their mum have rebuilt their relationship

That day acted as a wake-up call – mum went into rehab soon after, and started the process of rebuilding her life. She is now 10 months sober and is settled nearby – living by herself.

It took me a long time to forgive mum for the hurt she caused but she’s helped me understand what drove her to drink. Now, I’m learning to trust her again.

My life has changed too. I’ve gone from being a full-time carer to focusing on my own life again.

I’m enrolled in a new college and following my dream of becoming a journalist. I’ve also made friends online through being a fan of the Korean boyband BTS – they’ve really helped me through the dark times.

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I’m still having therapy once a week and have started to rebuild my confidence. I’ve also come out to my friends and family as gay.

Today, my relationship with mum is on the mend and our roles are reversed once more – with her back to being my mum again.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article help and advice is available here.

You can find stories by other young people on the BBC Young Reporter website.

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