Hayley Matthews' searingly honest first hand account of growing up with alcoholic mother - and what that means for her children

As the debate over Scotland’s poisonous relationship with booze rages and lawmakers consider banning alcohol from public events where kids might be present. Evening News columnist Hayley Matthews gives a searingly honest account of her own family’s tragic story

By Hayley Matthews
Tuesday, 23rd July 2019, 2:45 pm
Hayley Matthews with her mum when younger (left) and with her baby Oryn
Hayley Matthews with her mum when younger (left) and with her baby Oryn

I’ve just given baby Oryn his lunch from a little mug that says “I love you this much” which has the Large Nutbrown Hare on it and his arms stretched wide open.

My mum Janice gave me that mug. I don’t look at it much because someone who says they love you shouldn’t drive you to the brink of contemplating suicide aged 15 in your auntie Joyce’s kitchen after being thrown out the family home.

I’d complained about her drinking and shocking behaviour, let’s say it wasn’t well received and I was turfed out in an aggressive fit of rage.

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Hayley Matthews with baby Oryn

A few weeks later, I turned 16. My birthday cake ended up scattered down the communal stairwell at my aunt’s as one of her violent alcoholic friends screamed at me. But that behaviour was normal, it’s what I’d been used to.

I stayed with him after living with my aunt as I’d left school, barely scraping three Highers, but ended up fleeing his place most nights, sleeping rough in Wallyford stairwells to avoid more alcohol-fuelled violence.

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Confused doesn’t even touch it for me. How could she turn on me so spectacularly, then back to loving me? I suppose that’s the power of alcohol addiction, it’s more powerful than love, more important than family and stronger than maternal will. The peace didn’t last long.

Hayley Matthews with her eldest son

Despite the heart-breaking things she’s said and done, all fuelled by alcohol, she is after all, still my mum. I still love her and I forgive her because she wasn’t all to blame and she was, and still is, very unwell.

I don’t however love her behaviour so I made the tough decision to move my focus from her to my own children and let her be.

Too many times I’ve sat in AA with her, taken her to the Royal Ed in a lost attempt to get her help. But the first rule of AL-ANON (worldwide fellowship that offers a program of recovery for the families and friends of alcoholics) is that you can’t force someone to get help, they have to want to do it themselves. We’re all responsible for our own actions no matter how much we try and make someone else get help.

I’m an adult child of a parent alcoholic and I’m telling you this in the hope that those out there who are going through a painful time with someone who is alcohol dependent, can take some comfort knowing they aren’t alone.

Hayley Matthews with her mum when younger

My mum told me three years ago never to contact her after I casually asked her to my son’s first sports day which ended up in a physical fight in the street. I vowed never to get involved again, however I saw her recently shuffling for hours in the rain, confused, drenched, ill and in a very bad way.

I gave her dry boots and a lift, but told her I wouldn’t see her again and I probably won’t. It’s too painful to see her. She’s gone. She is unrecognisable now however, the mum I liked when I was very young died a long time ago for me.

I have two young children to look after and they are my focus as well as my very supportive and patient partner. I am determined to be the most positive role model for them that I can be and I’m grateful for all the love I’m surrounded by.

I forgive my mum for everything because she wasn’t all to blame. She has a heart of gold and would love to rescue all the animals, waifs and strays of the world but her need for alcohol overrides her love and passions for everything else.

I know she loved me at some point, she just loves alcohol more. Still, I’ll always keep my “I love you” mug and use it to make happy memories with my own family.

Scotland’s devastating relationship with alcohol

Scotland’s devastating relationship with alcohol has a long history, with many attempts made to reduce its impact, to limited effect.

In 2017 – the most recent statistics available – rates of alcohol-specific deaths were 2.4 times higher than in 1981, according to data from NHS Scotland and the Office of National Statistics. The problem had improved between 2003 and 2012, with death rates dropping steadily year-on-year for both men and women.

This had followed a steep increase between 1992 and 2003 when death rates were almost four times higher than when records began nearly 40 years ago.

Scotland suffers from a death rate 1.8 times higher than England and Wales.

In 2015, more than 3,700 people died as a result of alcohol consumption in Scotland.

More than 1,000 died due to alcohol-related cancers, more than 800 from liver disease or pancreatitis, nearly 550 from heart conditions, nearly 450 from pneumonia, and more

than 350 from unintentional injuries including falls.

These figures show 6.5 per cent of all deaths in Scotland, or one in 15, can be directly linked to the consumption of alcohol.