The secret shame
of a binge drinking mother
Like many women, Jane didn’t consider her wine habit a problem — until her teenage daughter said it was destroying the family
The morning after the night before, Jane Smith winced in pain as the sun crept through her eyelids. Last night had clearly been heavy: an alcohol-fuelled hen night with friends, and as she attempted to recall it all, Jane consoled herself by thinking at least she wouldn’t be the only one with a sore head.
But then she realised her lips felt raw, tattered and swollen. And there was a distinct taste of blood in her mouth.
A bolt of pain shot through her face as she sent her tongue to explore. Pain was soon joined by panic as her tongue snagged against two jagged stumps where her front teeth used to be.
Support: Jane Smith has beaten her alcohol dependency with the help of her daughter, Zoe
Rising as quietly as she could so as not to disturb her husband Adam sleeping by her side, Jane, 46, dashed to the bathroom of their four-bedroom bungalow in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire.
A glance in the mirror confirmed what she already knew. Her face was bruised and battered and her teeth broken.
She looked like she’d been beaten up, but Jane’s only abuser was herself.
Jane, a respectable, middle-class, mother-of-five, had polished off four bottles of wine the previous evening.
Not surprisingly, there were huge blanks in her memory, but she could just recall going to the bathroom before bed, slipping on the tiled floor and smashing her face hard on the floor.
She dreaded Adam’s reaction — though he’d grown used to her self-inflicted injuries after a night out — but there was one person whose opprobrium Jane feared the most: her daughter Zoe, 15.
She had become so worried about her mother’s binge-drinking, Zoe had begged her to cut down on her alcohol consumption — and Jane had promised that she would. For two weeks, she’d managed without the evening glasses of wine she relaxed with after a busy day.
'When she drank, Mum became a different person, really loud and argumentative'
Zoe begged her mother not to go to the hen night, but Jane says: ‘I’d promised I’d stick to soft drinks. When I was out, I convinced myself one glass of wine wouldn’t hurt, and one turned into another. My fall off the wagon was spectacular.
‘When Zoe saw me, she was furious and shouted at me that I’d broken my promise. We both cried and I felt so guilty.
‘What sort of mother was I I was setting a terrible example.’
Indeed. Department of Health figures reveal British girls are the worst teenage binge-drinkers in the Western World, with 550 girls a month ending up in hospital because of alcohol, yet Zoe was in the bizarre situation of having to warn her mother not to drink so much.
It echoed the disturbing story this week of 14-year-old Sammy Booth who pleaded with a judge to spare her mother, Julie Cairns, 38, from jail after she was caught in a drunken car chase.
The Oldham schoolgirl wrote saying her mum had an alcohol problem, and begged for a chance to help her turn her life around.
A report recently revealed how alcohol will cause 210,000 needless deaths in Britain over the next 20 years through illness, violence or accidents.
This week’s BBC1 Panorama programme, hosted by Alastair Campbell, showed that it is middle-class ‘functioning alcoholics’ becoming increasingly likely to struggle with addiction.
The Office for National Statistics tells us 41 per cent of professional men drink more than the recommended daily limit of three to four units at least once a week. Women also drink more than ever, with alcoholic liver disease split evenly between the sexes.
Jane and Zoe when she was younger: The mother admits she used to drink to wind down after the children had gone to bed
‘Although she presented a glamorous image to the outside world, I saw what alcohol did to my mother and it tore me apart,’ says Zoe today. ‘When she drank, Mum became a different person, really loud and argumentative.
‘Sometimes, when I thought she’d had enough, I’d take wine from the fridge and hide it in my room.’
Zoe first started noticing how much her mother drank when she was 14, but Jane says the problem started long before that.
She’d met Adam, 44, in 1991, six months after the death of her first husband Peter, 32, in a tragic drowning accident. Jane found herself a widow, aged 26, with two little boys, Michael, then three, and Tom, one.
‘I felt so lucky to have a second chance at happiness,’ says Jane. ‘Adam became a wonderful adoptive father to the boys and we were thrilled when Zoe was born a year later, and Emily, now 13, and Jack, 11.’
Adam ran his own successful landscaping business and the family lived in a beautiful house set in one-and-a-half acres.
Jane says, ‘I loved having a big family but found it stressful keeping it all together.
‘I started using alcohol to unwind at the end of the evening when the children went to bed. It was just a glass or two at first, my reward for all those school runs, the cleaning, the baking and the home-cooked meals we sat down to every night.’
'I'd hide empty bottles in cupboards, the oven or the washing machine'
But her consumption crept up, glass-by-glass, to a bottle or two most nights of the week. Jane and Adam went to the local pub at weekends where she’d drink heavily. ‘I’d often get loud and embarrassing, or behave inappropriately.
‘No one pulled me up on my behaviour, because they were my friends, so I convinced myself I wasn’t doing anything wrong.’
But how did Adam cope ‘If I was really out of line, he might comment that I’d been “a bit stupid last night”, but that was it,’ says Jane. ‘I became really defensive, and any criticism would spark a furious row. He stopped wanting to go out with me.
‘I met girlfriends for a drink instead. But most of my drinking took place at home in the evenings.
‘I’d sip wine while I cooked, moving my glass around the house, and hide empty bottles in cupboards, the oven or the washing machine.
‘I’d suffered from depression since my first husband died, but alcohol made it worse.’
Functioning alcoholics: Women are drinking more than ever to escape the stresses of work and parenting (posed by models)
Finally, as the rows at home escalated, Jane promised to cut down on her drinking. And it was going well, until the hen night.
‘I was horrified when she smashed her teeth,’ remembers Zoe. ‘For a split second I hated her. She’d broken her promise not to drink and I felt betrayed.
‘I was scared her drinking would never stop and only get worse.’
After weeks of painful dental repair work, and looking ‘like a battered wife’, Jane finally did what Zoe had been urging for a long time: she sought help from her GP.
A week after that hen night in 2010, she went back to her doctor who referred her to the Gainsborough Foundation, a charity which works with the NHS to provide a unique six-week home detox service, with medication to banish cravings plus daily counselling.
‘Within weeks, my depression lifted, I felt healthier, my skin was fresher. Adam and the children were very supportive, but Zoe kept the closest eye on me. After all the rows and tension, it was great to be close to her again.’
It has now been more than two years since Jane had an alcoholic drink. She has completely rebuilt her relationship with Adam and is happy to be a ‘normal’ mum to Zoe, now 17 and at college.
‘I do worry that she’ll relapse, but she assures me there’s no chance of that,’ says Zoe. ‘I’ve got the mum I’ve always wanted.’
For advice on alcohol addiction, visit: www.gainsboroughfoundation.co.uk