When I cut my alcoholic mum out of my life, I had no other family left
24th August 2022

As most students excitedly booked tickets to go home after semester one at university, I was buying gifts for my friend’s family.

That’s because I wasn’t going home to my mum for Christmas in 2019 – like I usually would – but to a friend who graciously let me into their home, horrified at the mere notion of me being alone at Christmas.

Why did this happen? Simply put, my mum wasn’t speaking to me – the one and only family member I regularly saw – so I had no one else. The taut band that was our relationship had finally snapped under pressure.

It had always just been me and my mum.

Due to different circumstances – such as arguments, distance and the drama any family has – she didn’t have a great relationship with her family. She was a single parent and the only other consistent relationship she had was with alcohol.

Alcohol transformed her into a different person. It’s like I had divorced parents, and alcohol had me in its care on the weekend and on holidays. On those weekends, I grew to hate the parent that appeared to ‘take care’ of me, and couldn’t get enough of the mother that reappeared in the week.

On Friday evenings, I’d feel a pit open in my stomach as she’d pour herself a glass of wine. It would devolve into me pouring her alcohol away when she ended up passed out on the sofa, then getting into screaming matches with her after, begging her to stop drinking. An endless cycle.

These times were battlegrounds I tried to survive; I was not always successful. Experiencing this until I moved out at 18 for university – as well as every time I went home on breaks – set the stage for our estrangement.

Each altercation, each missed or ruined milestone, and each glass of wine stressed our relationship – strained it, pulled it taut.

Missed my 18th birthday because she was drunk? Pull. I had to apply for both sixth form and university all by myself? Tug. She was hungover when she came with me to move to uni? Twist. Too drunk to visit me, ever? Wrench.

If I asked her to confront our issues, she would simply say ‘goodbye’ and then not respond

These and so many more stretched the band of our relationship to its absolute limit, so tense and strained that it shouldn’t have been a surprise that one day it snapped.

In late 2019, I made a move on something I’d wanted to do for years: change my last name. I had several reasons for this – one being I wanted a name that made me proud to say and not worried that it would trace back to my mum after her alcoholism had already damaged my life and many of those around her, by association. Due to being so far apart, as I was at uni, I rang her to break this news.

I broached the subject of changing my name and the conversation took a nosedive; she put the phone down on me, furious. For weeks, I didn’t hear from her and because I couldn’t reach her by phone and text, I sent her a letter explaining myself instead.

She finally contacted me and I expressed how I wanted to start addressing our problems. She asked ‘What problems?’. I said her alcoholism.

Snap. The band broke.

She put the phone down on me. Again. After this, she would only speak to me to upset me.

My mum would talk about how I should ‘let go of the past’ (her alcoholism) while she drunkenly slurred her words down the phone. She told me she would kill herself, or that I wanted her dead, as soon as I’d pick up the phone, despite me not saying a word.

If I asked her to confront our issues, she would simply say ‘goodbye’ and then not respond. The final sign of our estrangement was her telling me in January of 2020 to remove all my belongings from her home, or she’d trash them.

I scrambled to find a way to cross the country, to pack up my life and to confront my mum. When I did see her in January, she was a shell of a woman thanks to the alcohol. She was so pale, so tired, swaddled in her blue dressing gown, swallowed up by the sofa in the living room.

Every milestone or event, I think of her

She was a shy reflection of the woman who’d threaten me over the phone. It was a haunting image I struggle thinking about, even now. I collected my things and said a tearful goodbye.

That was two years ago and it was the last time I saw or spoke to her.

Since then, I experienced Covid-19 and lockdowns, just like the rest of the country. I finished my degree, started a new job, celebrated two years with my partner, and had my graduation ceremony – all without my mother.

Times where I’d want to call her and ask her about her week, seek out her guidance, look to her for support and support her in return, never happened.

I go through highs and lows, Christmases and birthdays without her. The absence of her creates a void that only I can see.

Every milestone or event, I think of her. While she was drunk in almost all of my previous milestones, she was at least there, reachable. Now I couldn’t even tell you where she is, how she is, and I fear it will stay like this, estranged forever.

But while I miss her everyday and carry the weight of what happened everywhere I go, I still am here. I am somehow surviving, despite what has occurred.

When I revisited this painful story, I could still see where I survived and succeeded, despite it all. I went to sixth form, went to university, graduated with a first, I pulled myself up and I am the one in my corner, especially as estrangement leaves me without much else.

I still wear the metaphorical broken band of our relationship like an albatross around my neck, but its tautness no longer holds me back.

I am still here. If you have experienced anything similar and you feel like I do, you should be proud. Because you are here too.

Degrees of Separation

This series aims to offer a nuanced look at familial estrangement.

Estrangement is not a one-size-fits-all situation, and we want to give voice to those who’ve been through it themselves.

If you’ve experienced estrangement personally and want to share your story, you can email [email protected] and/or [email protected]

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