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I Survived!: Struggling with the pain of having an alcoholic mother

Indeed, one does not choose their parents, birthplace, neighbors, or siblings. Where a person is born is their home, and they grow up learning to love everyone around them. However, the sorrow of being born to an alcoholic parent, the kind everyone refers to as a disgrace, is profound.

Growing up in such an environment brings shame and a lack of enjoyment in childhood, as one often has to take on responsibilities beyond their age. Instead of being cared for by your parent, you find yourself taking care of them when you too need care. This was the case for Niyonteze Clementine.

Niyonteze is the eldest daughter in a family of two children. She grew up seeing her father abstain from alcohol, but her mother drank excessively. Her family was wealthy, but their fortune dwindled due to her mother’s alcoholism.

“We had about 20 goats. When my father went out to earn a living, instead of taking care of the goats, my mother would go drinking, and thieves would steal them one by one until only about six were left, and then they sold those,” she says.

Their family’s poverty wasn’t the only issue. Due to the financial strain, Niyonteze’s father began to get very angry when her mother was drunk, leading to physical violence.

“When I was eight, my mother got drunk, and my father beat her so badly she broke a bone, and they got divorced,” she recalls.

The divorce wasn’t easy for Niyonteze and her brother. Being young, they continued living with their mother while their father left and remarried.

Their poverty worsened, and when Niyonteze topped her primary school exams, she couldn’t afford to go to the school she had been accepted to and ended up attending a nine-year basic education school.

Now a fourth-year Civil Engineering student at the University of Rwanda, Niyonteze mentions that her educational journey was full of hardships, but government support through the ‘Ubudehe’ social stratification system helped her with school fees.

Her intelligence was a boon; when she was in secondary school, with the help of her school principal, she got a chance to study at Fawe Girls School, and the MasterCard Foundation agreed to pay her fees from that point until now.

She affirms that her mother’s alcoholism had severe mental and overall life impacts. “The primary effect of my mother’s drinking was not living with both parents,” she continues, adding that this led to her staying at school, even though it was close to her home.

Looking back, she sees her mother’s alcoholism as particularly damaging during her second year of university, as neighbors would often call her about her mother’s drunken escapades.

“In my second year at university, the impact was significant. I would get calls at nine at night, saying ‘your mother has fought someone, or fallen into a ditch,’ which was very distressing,” she says.

Niyonteze’s life began to change when MasterCard agreed to help treat her mother, leading her to quit drinking and start seeing various doctors.

The recovery journey was not easy, as her mother would sometimes drink alcohol with her medication, causing adverse reactions. When medication failed, she was taken to several counselors and eventually stopped drinking.

Due to her mother’s alcoholism, Niyonteze had previously shunned romantic relationships, fearing to be associated with her mother’s reputation.

“I had put aside any thoughts of romance, feeling I lacked the emotional capacity due to the shame that pulled me back from it,” she explains. “While my mother drank, no boy ever came to our house, nor did I feel like inviting anyone over, knowing we might find her drunk.”

Now, two years since her mother quit drinking, Niyonteze sees many positive changes. Her mother has become someone she can discuss and plan with, save money, and think about their family’s development.

She points out the broader impact of alcohol, particularly on families and children of alcoholics. She advises the youth not to underestimate the destructive nature of alcohol.

She believes that alcohol brings no good, as it only temporarily makes one forget problems, which remain after sobering up. Alcohol also drains finances, leaving nothing behind.

Having experienced these challenges, Niyonteze has decided never to drink alcohol and, along with her friends, has started creating poetry to encourage people to quit drinking.

Her future plans include finishing her studies to become an expert in construction, starting her investment firm, and establishing a non-governmental organization to help children traumatized by growing up without both parents due to divorce.

Straight out of Twitter