Nicole Phillips says she had a good relationship with her mum as a young child, but it deteriorated as her mum slipped further into alcoholism. Picture: Supplied
Nicole Phillips says she had a good relationship with her mum as a young child, but it deteriorated as her mum slipped further into alcoholism. Picture: Supplied

‘She dragged us round by our hair’

I WOULD be the first person to admit that I have had a privileged life. I was lucky enough to live in many countries growing up. Our little family joke was that we were a global family; everyone was born in a different country - New Zealand, United States, Australia and the United Kingdom. Even our dog, Peppina, was born in Brazil.

From the outside, my middle class upbringing was perfect. Of course, like with many families, there was a dark secret which was finally exposed when I was 17 years old.

My mother grew up in the Bronx with her Irish/Italian parents. She fell in love and married my father, a successful businessman from the South Island of New Zealand.

My mum started drinking when Dad was out of town on business. The episodes began when he was away. Within a few short years it developed to most evenings and finally to both day and night. She became permanently drunk.

I will never know the roots of her dependence on alcohol and only she would truly know why.

I had a close relationship with my mother until her addiction took over 24/7. When sober, she was a warm, caring person who was proud of the young woman I was becoming.

It's a frightening contrast to the times my sister and I locked ourselves in the bathroom, cowering from her rage.

Dragging us by the hair was her favourite. A full handful of curls grasped deep into my scalp, before she would turn and walk down the stairs. My body would drop to the ground and be towed behind my mother until she'd had enough or simply passed out.

Her addiction and abuse finally got to a point where we had to protect ourselves from the one person put on this earth to protect us. We got a restraining order against mum, stopping her from coming near the house or my school. That was the most difficult thing that I have done in my life. I loved my mother and couldn't stand hurting her.

After my mother spent several failed stints in rehab, I finally spoke to her. She invited me for coffee down the road from where she was living.

I hadn't seen her for almost six months. I was now 17 and my heart had been broken too many times to endure any more pain. My emotional capacity had reached its limit.

She called me, sounding desperate and just wanted one last chance. "Please Nicole", she begged over and over. I relented and agreed to go along, before at the last minute asking a family friend to join me. It haunts me still that I was too scared to have coffee with my mum alone.

When I saw her I felt like I couldn't breathe.

Mum was a shadow of her beautiful self. She was a fifth of her normal size. Her skin was dark yellow, far from her original olive skin. The whites of her eyes looked like someone coloured them with a yellow highlighter. To put it bluntly she was no longer the radiant mum I loved. She was a strange drunk telling me how she was getting better, how much she missed me and how she desired us to become close again.

Four weeks later on April 19, 2006, she passed away - an abrupt end to a 10-year battle with excessive alcohol consumption.

I had no idea a woman in her mid-forties could die from alcohol until the doctors told us that there was no hope. We were told you have to be sober for at least six months to even be considered for a liver transplant.

According to the World Health Organisation, 2.5 million people die worldwide from alcohol-related diseases every year. That figure doesn't truly reflect the millions more family and friends affected.

The lines remain blurred between alcohol being the social norm and the path that leads to addiction.

We all know about various support groups, but why isn't it normal to talk openly about addiction to alcohol just as it is for cigarettes?

What does all of this mean for me now?

I do drink socially, never when I'm alone. Everyday I am fearful of turning into the person my mother became. I am scared to have children of my own. I am very conscious of addiction in general and have never experimented with drugs like everyone does in uni.

My mother would have wanted to be remembered for the love she brought into the world. She left as nothing more than a statistic.

If you are worried about someone in your life drinking too much, contact Al-Anon on 1300 252 666

If you have a personal story you would like to share, email:

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