What It's Like to Grow Up with an Alcoholic Mom


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What It's Like to Grow Up with an Alcoholic Mom

It's an embarrassing, never-ending story that makes me feel like a cliché.

This article originally appeared on VICE Germany.

I know a bunch of alcoholics—habitual drinkers and binge drinkers. I also know lot of people who are children of alcoholics; I am one myself.

However, most personal accounts of living with alcoholism that I've read—especially since the internet has been around—cling to a certain ridiculousness. They often contain certain sensationalist tropes of abuse or neglect, and even when I share them online because something about them rang true or touched me, I feel like I'm an embarrassing cliche. But what can I do? It's my story.


My mother always drank a lot. When she was young, it was normal. Her friends called her "the queen" because she was always the center of attention. Both she and my dad were musicians and that meant they traveled a lot. I understand it sounds like a generalization but to me, her extroverted personality and routine-free lifestyle provided the perfect venue for her alcoholism.

Things got infinitely worse once she and my dad broke up. She loved me and wanted to take care of me, but was overwhelmed by the separation.

My first memory is of one Christmas Day that I spend crying because she has hit me. I'm sitting in the hallway of our apartment, thinking about how she's been beating me up every day for weeks, and how I'd hoped things would be different on that special day.

By this point, my mother has become a teacher. When I'm sick, she buys me stickers and candy. I like being sick, but she forgets about her kindness when she drinks. I lock myself in my room and she stands in front of the door for hours, cursing and yelling at me to come out.

In the mornings everything is OK: My mom buys me my favorite chocolate and if I bring up her beating me the evening before she says: "You're lying. I would never hit you. I love you too much to do that." She still believes that's the case today.

Her sickness gets worse with age. She still goes to work—she manages to keep it together that way—so I dread the weekends and her time off. During her time off, she drinks during the day and by the end of it, she often needs me to help her walk. As her condition worsens, she gets more paranoid. One day she decides to sprays insect repellant through the crack of our landlord's door, because she's convinced that he's poisoning our water.


Another memory I have is of walking into our living room once on a Sunday. It's a big, tidy, and light living room and my mother is sitting on the sofa staring at the cabinet on the wall. It's made of dark wood that's shining in the sunlight. "You," she says to the cabinet, "I can see it now, you're made of gold."

She constantly comes up with rules and then forgets them. If I come home half an hour late, she screams at me for being a prostitute. I'm 16, she's 43. We go to expensive restaurants and she drinks before and after the meal. She accuses me of overeating, then she complains I'm eating too little. She tells me that I'm fat so I stop eating. For about a year I eat half of a roll, a salad, and six apples a day. If I eat more, I punish myself.

I'm 17, and I go on vacation with a friend. When I get back, she's in the hospital. Apparently, while I was away she suffered delirium tremens—a kind of epileptic attack that alcoholics get from withdrawal. She almost died. I am told she had delusions that I had died, dressed in black, and walked from cemetery to cemetery, looking for my grave.

I visit her in the hospital, in the psych ward. She's sober for the first time in years. I don't recognize her. It's as if I actually have something like a mother instead of a monster. She paints me an owl.

It's autumn. She comes home and starts drinking again. I end up pouring the bottle of alcohol-free champagne she brings down the drain. We sit in a restaurant and she wants to order wine, but I ask her not to do it. "Drink if you want but not when I'm around," I beg her. She orders wine and I leave.

I realize that alcohol is more important to her than I am. I realize that I can't help her. I realize that the addiction is stronger than me and that it always will be. I'm 18 so I move out.