Memories of a mother’s drinking

Valerie Farragher’s alcoholism almost ruined the lives of her family. Now four years sober, she is trying to help other women avoid that terrible fate

One thing at a time:  Valerie Farragher at home in  Co Mayo. Photograph: Keith Heneghan/Phocus

One thing at a time: Valerie Farragher at home in Co Mayo. Photograph: Keith Heneghan/Phocus

Sat, Nov 30, 2013, 01:00

It is unlikely that Valerie Farragher’s new work, Come Back When You’re Sober, will be anyone’s book of the year in those Christmas round-ups (see pages 10-11). But, chaotic, contradictory and self-published as it is, it probably should be.

This is the story of a modern, rural Irish family devastated by the mother’s alcoholism, told not only from the mother’s point of view, but from those of her five children and, briefly, of her husband, Thomas. The reader is exposed to the agony of everyone involved.

Sarah Farragher, the middle child in the family, writes about “trying to cook and clean and do my homework all at the same time . . . I would start shouting at everyone to ‘f***ing help me!’ My Father would always complain about the house being ‘filthy’. It looked like a ‘Pig sty’, as my Father would say! He also told us to marry rich as we would need maids. I still have my fingers crossed on that one!”

Sarah developed a sixth sense about her mother’s drinking. “The moment that my feet would hit the ground coming off the [school] bus, I could always tell if she was drinking or not.”

The four girls describe running round the house searching for their mother’s empty vodka bottles: “Mum is short in stature so they were never in high places,” says Louise. She also writes about trying to look normal: “If lying to teachers was an exam, I would have gotten an A.”

The teenagers bought drink for their mother, which was “Way too much power to give to a Teen”, writes Elaine, the eldest in the family.

They describe searching the countryside for their mother when she ran away, and of watching their father as they did so: “You can’t help but be scared if you see the strongest male role model in your life terrified,” writes Elaine.

“When Mum would drink, it was like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. She would have this look in her eyes as if to say, ‘F**k you, I’m going to make you pay,’ without ever opening her mouth,” says Sarah.

Elaine remembers Valerie before she started drinking. “There was a lovely mother before alcohol took over. She was the most dependable person,” she says.


Hard to believe
“Oh, it was bad,” says Valerie now. “And it was bad to read it, even though I’ve heard it all before. Sometimes I find it hard to believe all the stuff I did. And there was worse . . . I thought, Oh my God, they had to live it. I was drunk through it, and I was protected by the alcohol.”

The family thought long and hard before agreeing to write the book and appear in an RTÉ television documentary, Moment of Truth, which is due to air tomorrow.

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