I’m one of the carers you’ve been hero-worshipping – yet every night, I hide my alcoholism from my dying mother

The Florence Nightingale-like depiction of people who care for others can make you feel inadequate if you don’t recognise yourself in those portrayals

Tuesday 16 June 2020 11:53 BST
‘I hope anyone thrust unexpectedly into a caring role lets people know if they’re struggling’, writes Anonymous
‘I hope anyone thrust unexpectedly into a caring role lets people know if they’re struggling’, writes Anonymous (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

According to data released last week to mark Carers Week, there were 9.1 million unpaid carers in the UK before coronavirus hit. A further 4.5 million have taken on these responsibilities during the outbreak, bringing the total to 13.6 million. I feel like a hypocrite counting myself among these numbers.

I've lost count of the number of times someone has told me they admire me for the sacrifices I've made to care for my dying mother.

Their praise makes me feel sick with guilt.

Few people know that sometimes, I resent my role – and drink an entire bottle of vodka most nights after my mum has gone to bed.

I became a carer if I dare call myself that three years ago when I was fired from my job in sales and, unable to afford my rent, returned home to live with my mother.

It soon became apparent her health was deteriorating: whenever she got out of a chair, her joints seized, and she shrieked in agony.

Our relationship also became tense and frequently erupted into furious arguments, which typically centred around her disapproval of my drinking a bottle of chardonnay every night.

One night, she screamed at me that my father, who died when I was seven, had been an alcoholic and I was just like him. I still don’t know if this is true.

Not long after this incident, my mother was diagnosed with inoperable cancer in her spine: although the condition is terminal, she could live for years and will require full-time care.

Despite our arguments, she is the most important person in the world to me and the thought of losing her is devastating.

My two brothers (who my mum refers to as her “pride and joy”) have been little help, which left me with sole responsibility for cooking, cleaning and dispensing her cocktail of medication.

As her health declined, I needed to help with bathing and take her to the toilet. The sight of someone I love being so frail is devastating. On nights when her pain is particularly severe, she asks me to sleep in her bedroom, which doesn’t offer much privacy when you’re 40 years old.

I would do anything for her, my mum, but the stress can be relentless, and the house sometimes feels like a pressure cooker. My drinking worsened and I switched from wine to litre bottles of vodka. To disguise the extent of my drinking, I hid these bottles in the laundry room.

The first time I shoved a bottle of vodka in the laundry basket, I could no longer deny to myself that I was, and still am, an alcoholic.

However appalling my actions sound, I’m convinced my habits never place my mum in jeopardy – I’d move out if they did. From the research I’ve done, I now know I fit the profile of a high-functioning alcoholic: I always care for her well no matter how much I’ve had to drink.

My relationship with my mum continued to be volatile. One night, she turned to me and said: “I must have done something wrong to have a daughter like you” before going to bed in silence.

Another night she punched me in the stomach without provocation and the following day, misspelled my name on my birthday card.

A few months ago, the GP expressed concerns my mum could be in the early stages of dementia. Although this would explain her aggression and forgetfulness, I worry her behaviour reflects her disappointment over the way I’ve turned out.

The week before Boris Johnson ordered us into lockdown, she fainted and was taken to A&E by ambulance at 2am. I sat alone all night in a rigid hospital chair while she was heavily sedated. A nurse came in to check my mum’s blood pressure and coughed. She joked she might have coronavirus. I doubt she’d make the same joke now.

When my mum regained consciousness, she said: “I’m sorry for making things horrible for you.” My heart shattered. I told her things would change between us. I’m not sure if she remembers our conversation. If she does, she shows no sign of it.

The A&E doctor referred my mum to the vulnerable person’s team to see if we would qualify for help from the local authority. This meeting was postponed due to the virus, but the possibility of getting support has made us feel more optimistic.

The Queen and Princess Anne speak to carers on Zoom call for Carers Week 2020

With lockdown easing, I have made an appointment at an addiction centre. I hope I stick to this, but somehow can’t imagine getting through a day without alcohol.

Although I’m no fan of the royals, I was pleased to see Kate Middleton encouraging those suffering with alcoholism in lockdown to seek support, following news that a quarter of adults are drinking more.

I worry for those 4.5 million who have become carers during the outbreak. The Florence Nightingale-like depiction of carers can make you feel inadequate if you don’t recognise yourself in those portrayals.

I hope anyone thrust unexpectedly into a caring role lets people know if they’re struggling.

Things could have been different for me (and my mum) if I’d been honest sooner.

The name of the author has been concealed to protect their identity

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