Samantha’s story: Alcohol, my family and me

Samantha Kingston | April 2024 | 8 minutes

In 2018, Samantha lost her mum to stage four liver disease due to alcohol dependency. Samantha’s shares with us how her relationship with alcohol developed as she grew up, as well as where it is now as she starts her own family.

My first exposure to family drinking is not something that I can pinpoint directly, it felt like something that was and has always been present. The clink of the bottle opener against the beer bottle, or the bubbling splash as the wine hits the glass, have always been associated with family get-togethers. The boxes of beer on the side or bottles in the fridge just seemed normal. I never questioned it when I was younger, only now as an adult whose relationship with alcohol has changed drastically over the years.

Reflecting back, its presence in whatever capacity around the family was important or key to the reason we were all together. If you were lucky enough to be sitting at the adult table at Christmas, birthday celebration or at the restaurant table, being handed a bottle of pop or J20 felt like a rite of passage when I was growing up. You were now part of the celebration, even though you were not quite sure what that meant, but the important thing was that you were included. That was important to me.

Alcohol’s presence very much shaped my early teenage years. It was perceived as normal, so why wouldn’t we be drinking? The first house parties that I attended, we always found ways of getting access to alcohol. Asking friend’s older brothers or sisters, or the cool parents that were happy to also help. It was not a problem to ask for it. Being so used to having it around, my early interactions were not healthy. I didn’t understand my limits or the impacts that it would have on my mental health. It was just copied behaviour without any understanding.

My view on alcohol did change quickly, as my mum’s dependency spiralled and became more concerning. I no longer associated it with being normal. My immediate family were starting to learn about the impacts of dependency, and we became more aware of the impacts. My immediate family were starting to learn about alcohol dependency, and we became more aware of the impacts through our experience.

But of course, my mother’s drinking was a hard topic to openly discuss, and I can understand why some family members found it easier not to say anything and carry on as normal.

After losing my mum in 2018, I have spent a lot of time educating myself on alcohol. Researching and having open discussions around it. The impacts it has had on me, my family and others. Going forward, especially when I start my own family, education will be really important. I don’t want to remove it from my family life or restrict access but being confident enough to share the knowledge I have. That way for those who ask they will have all the information they need to make their own informed decisions around alcohol.

The topic of alcohol is still very much taboo, and it’s rare for it to come up in discussion with my wider family. I have not drunk in six years, but I am still gifted alcohol or handed alcohol at family events and when I question this it’s normally met with “I forgot you don’t drink” and awkward looks.

I am currently pregnant, and this has been a really interesting experience with the wider family. Whereas before some have ‘forgotten’ or have tried to avoid mentioning that I don’t drink - there is now an ’acceptable’ or more ’approachable’ reason for why I don’t. The topic is easier to talk about because the reason for not drinking is now seen as ’valid’. Even though I will still not be drinking after I am no longer pregnant.

When it comes to family events where alcohol is present, I have really focused on my boundaries and what I am comfortable with. When I first stopped drinking, I used to really struggle with being around alcohol. Not because I wanted to drink it, but that I was still dealing with the pain of losing my mum. It would feel disrespectful. This was an anger that I personally had to learn to understand. Again, through education, therapy and talking this anger subsided. I still have boundaries in place which my immediate family have always respected. I know my limits and I am not afraid to remove myself from situations when I need to.

By having open conversations with my immediate family sharing my viewpoint and limitations, they have allowed me to feel comfortable in my own decisions and choices around alcohol which I feel, in turn, positively impacts my wellbeing.

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