Living under shadow of alcoholism
Within minutes of Georgia Hall’s birth in the back bedroom of a tiny Broomhill flat, her mother was supping from a six-pack of brown ale. Most exhausted mothers want a cup of tea after hours of labour. Not Liz.
“I can’t remember a time when my mother didn’t drink,” says Georgia, now 46. “Alcohol always dominated our lives.”
Take the photograph of her, being held in her proud mother’s arms, as example. The scene is deceptive in its normality. At this family event, relatives were on tenterhooks, waiting to step in if the young mum had one too many again and lift the little girl to safety. If only for a brief time.
Within 18 months of the photo being taken, Liz had given birth to a son, drink had fully taken hold of her life and the father had fled after realising he couldn’t cope with two small children and their drunken mother.
Two other children, Georgia’s elder half-sisters, had been abandoned a few years earlier and adopted by Liz’s mother. And it was they who had the better life.
Georgia has very few recollections of being looked after as a child. She remembers squalor, and loving school because it was where she got hot dinners every day. And the teachers cared.
“The NSPCC became weekly visitors for me and my little brother,” she recalls. “How we didn’t end up in care I don’t know. I can clearly remember desperately trying to cover mother up with a crocheted shawl because they were at the door and she was lying drunk on the floor. I was five.”
Georgia now sees herself as having two mothers. There is Mrs Wibble - the ranting, nasty-minded, self-centred drunk. And then there is sober mum - a ‘lovely, funny, extremely intelligent woman that I love to bits’.
When her mobile rings, Georgia holds her breath, waiting to see which version of her mother is on the other end: “I don’t want to talk to Mrs Wibble. She makes me angry and upset.”
Mrs Wibble did disappear for a time. From the age of 11 to 15, Georgia had a sober mother: “She had been told she would die if she didn’t stop drinking; she had her third anti-alcohol implant fitted. Home became more ordered and she tried to make up for past neglect. But then she met a new man and re-married - and lo and behold, he was a drinker. The relationship undid all her efforts.”
On a daily basis, Georgia reminds herself that her mother’s alcoholism is an illness: “She reckons it’s genetic because an aunt had it too. And I think there is some chemical imbalance running through the family, making us susceptible.”
Is that what turned Georgia herself into a drinker? Or was it the cider that was always in the house for the kids; the binge on ports and lemons at the pub where she was taken by her mum to celebrate her 14th birthday?
She grew up thinking drinking was normal. And for years, her own life was clouded by alcohol. She scraped through her O-levels because she spent most of her time in the pub. And after discovering she hated being a hairdresser and beauty therapist, she found she loved being a barmaid. Mainly because of the free drinks.
She became a heavy drinker, then an anorexic, because she thought if she was thin then more people would love her. She fell in love with a man who loved a drink, they got married and had huge rows. Their two adored children, Harriet, then Sam, couldn’t hold them together. But eventually Georgia realised that she was in danger of following in her mother’s footsteps. She admitted to herself that she couldn’t stop her mother’s addiction, but she could change her own.
She got a grip on her own drinking and took control of her life. She carved out a career for herself as an aerobics teacher and fitness coach (many Esporta club members will remember her). She is now happily remarried, is a caring, selfless mother to her teenage children and has two successful businesses to her name.
She still drinks, but it’s about choice, not compulsion. “I enjoy a glass of wine after a hard day at work. I feel more confident at a party if I’m a bit merry,” she says. “I do sometimes get drunk, just like most people.”
Her mum’s alcoholism has made her stronger. “I’m driven and determined. When I believe in something, I don’t give up,” says the self-employed personal fitness trainer and owner of online sports bra business Bounce Busters.
This weekend is a massive one. On Saturday, she realises a dream – the launch of Underground Fitness on Ecclesall Road South, a studio to coach clients and teach pilates. But she will be thinking of Sunday and wondering if her mum is sober enough to be taken out for a Mother’s Day lunch.
If not, she will just post the simple Mother’s Day card it was so hard to choose from the shelves heavy with versions uttering heart-felt thanks for a mother’s care and devotion.
Either way, what she won’t say, but wishes she could, is this: “Please, mum, never be Mrs Wibble again. You have five grandchildren. They should be more important than another bottle of brandy. But I do understand it’s not your fault and I do forgive you. I don’t always like you, mum, but I will always love you.”
Cancer denied me a female role model
Some nights, Lynsay Greenfield dabs a little Chanel N0.19 in the nape of her neck before she goes to sleep. It’s 25 years since she lost her mother, but the familiar scent of the perfume she always wore takes her straight back.
Into her mum’s embrace and a world of beauty and grace. Frances Greenfield died of cervical cancer, aged just 38.
“I’m almost 37 and I don’t feel I have lived half the life I want to. For her to have known she was leaving two children and her husband... how must she have felt?”
It’s a question Lynsay often ponders. But there have been so many more. She had to grow up without the one woman in her life on whom she would have turned to for everything.
“We lived in Ireland; I remember lots of visits to different hospitals. I remember playing at my friend’s one day, when dad suddenly arrived and took me home. He told me mum was dying, but I didn’t really understand what that meant. When we got home, she was in a coma. She never woke up and died within a week. I was 11 and my brother was five.
“Our lives would have been so different had she lived. Everything changed that day.”
Lynsay’s dad moved his kids to England where their small convent schools became sprawling state ones. He did his best to give them all the love and care he could.
“But there were so many things, about periods and boys, that I was too embarrassed to ask him. Dad and I became extremely close, which was a really positive thing to come from it all. Sadly, I lost him seven years ago to prostate cancer. But all those years, I had no female role model. No confidant to ring for a chat.
“Mother’s Day always gets to me. It makes me feel bitter. I get angry when people moan about their mums getting on their nerves, or not always being at their beck and call. The ones who view seeing their parents as a chore get a piece of my mind. I’m an orphan; I tell them how lucky they are to still have them around.
“I still cry my eyes out for my mum now and again. I can still see her lovely face in snapshots stored in my mind.
“If I could, I’d tell her about Shaun, my partner of 17 years, and that I turned out alright; quite independent and strong, probably because I didn’t have her. I’d confess I’m sorry I messed about at school, but explain I’m now doing a job I love, and that it’s partly because of her.”
Lynsay is an account manager for a prestigious beauty brand in House of Fraser Meadowhall. She explains: “Mum always looked lovely. I remember her asking me to pick out an outfit for her and help with her make-up. She let me put her blusher and eye-shadow on - I suspect she wiped it off afterwards. To me, cosmetics were about sophistication and womanliness.”
She has one last question for Frances. wiping tears from her face, she says: “One thing has always troubled me. I want to ask if my mum could have been saved?
“I want to ask her: ‘Did you go for all your smear check-ups? Was the cervical cancer partly your fault, or didn’t doctors spot it in time?’”