Hola Sober April 2024

I’m sharing my somewhat edited story today because I made a commitment to Maria, and part of being authentic is honouring that commitment. The other reason is that I hope by sharing it someone will hear something in my words that will help them along their way. This is Jean’s story . My brother and I were born in England to parents who, like many others of that era, had their fair share of hardship. My dad came from a large family but for reasons unknown he left home when he was 14 and joined the navy. When World War II broke out, he was enlisted to serve on the submarines. I have lots of photos of him with his shipmates drinking and celebrating their ‘victories’, but much of what he experienced was never spoken of. I remember visiting my auntie, his sister, many years later, and she said one day he just turned up on her doorstep with his bag - he never said a word about what had happened. My mum also came from a big family. She was the eldest and, because my grandmother was a heavy drinker, mum was often left to look after all her siblings, something she endured. She also contributed to the war effort as a courier – she would travel across the country into Scotland in the dead of night. I’m not sure what she delivered, in fact I often wondered if she was a spy, but in contrast to my dad she spoke about this as being the best time of her life. When I was about 2 years old, I squashed my arm in a wringer washing machine – mum had gone to hang nappies on the line and left me unattended. I don’t recall the event but I do remember being left screaming in hospital. I don’t know what the aftermath was in the household or how long I was in hospital because it wasn’t discussed, however in the years that followed I did somehow get the impression it was my fault.

In 1964 our family made the six-week journey across the seas to Australia. Encouraged by the Australian government to migrate for only ten pounds, my dad jumped at this opportunity to make a better life for his family. I mean, who wouldn’t - beaches, sunshine, steady employment, owning your own home. However, this wasn’t what we arrived to – for six months or so we lived first in a hostel and then in a caravan. It must have been hard for my parents, all alone in a new country with two young children. I remember our first Christmas - it was 40 degrees Celsius and I know my mum missed home. I was six and my brother was 10. My life changed when my mum got a full-time job – she was really happy to be working because it made her life bearable – she didn’t like living in Australia so working was her saviour. But this meant that my brother had the responsibility of caring for me after school and during school holidays, a job he could have done without. I was a very anxious child – I didn’t fit in at school and found it incredibly hard to make friends. I had a pommy accent for starters, plus a huge scar on my arm that I always tried my best to hide. There are bits in this stage of my story that I prefer not to divulge. I will say, though, that they were painful bits and for many years I resented my mum because she wasn’t there when I needed her most. So where did drinking come into my life? Except for the very occasional glass of sherry, my mum wasn’t a drinker, but dad made up her share. I remember he had a cocktail cabinet - they were very popular in the 70s. It had a pull- down door with a mirrored back and glass shelves where the champagne glasses and swizzle sticks were kept. There usually wasn’t much in the cabinet – dad saw to that. But on occasions when it was well stocked, I would see dad pour himself a drink and down it quickly, then pour another and pretend that was his first.


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