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Turning point

When alcohol turned this family’s life upside down, read how caseworker Zoe supported three children to be safe and their mum to create the change she needed to get them back home again.

Annette, mother

‘Zoe’s persistence was my turning point.’

I wasn’t much of a drinker in my younger years, but I remember clearly the day that my addiction started. It was a few months after my dad died and I took the children away for a short break. When we got to our holiday spot I realised I had no one to call to tell we had arrived safely. The loneliness hit hard. Anxiety crept over me like I had never felt before.

We went for lunch and they offered me a glass of wine with my meal. I don’t usually drink and hated the taste of it, but that didn’t matter. Within seconds of that first glass my anxiety melted away. Alcohol quickly filled my lonely heart. I had another glass that night with dinner. By the end of our holiday I was having a few glasses of wine every day. I didn’t think too much of it – after all, lots of people have a glass of wine with a meal. What was the big deal?

Picture of Annette and Zoe Smiling at each other

Picture of Annette and Zoe Smiling at each other

‘I felt caught between two desires – having my children or maintaining my addiction.’
Picture of Zoe and Annette sitting on a rock.

Picture of Zoe and Annette sitting on a rock.

When we got home I went into a liquor store for the first time in my life. I bought myself a bottle of wine. Before I knew it that bottle didn’t last the day. Then one bottle became two, then three. I was addicted. My mind and body couldn’t function without it.

I knew early on that I had a problem. I went to detox within three months of that first glass of wine and walked out with a new addiction – Valium. The Valium helped me to stop drinking until one day I decided it would be okay to have ‘just one drink’. That ‘one drink’ quickly turned back into three bottles a day. This is when the lies and deception really started.

I did my best to hide my drinking but people started to notice, including child protection services. Now I had become the kind of mother that my children needed protecting from. Of course, I denied that. I found ways to justify my drinking to myself. I made every promise under the sun to my family and friends that I would stop using alcohol and pills, with zero intention of following through.

I thought I could outsmart everyone that was worried about me. I would call my caseworker at the time, hoping that by initiating contact she would think that I was working with her. Before each call I would have a glass of wine – just enough to make me sound calm but not too much to make me sound intoxicated. It worked. Before long my case was closed. Now I could drink without having the threat of losing my children looming over my head.

Picture of Annette and Zoe hugging.

Picture of Annette and Zoe hugging.

Picture of Annette sitting on s rock.

Picture of Annette sitting on a rock.

Away from the eye of authorities my life, and my children’s, spiralled to new lows. That’s when a new caseworker, Zoe, became involved.

I felt caught between two desires – having my children or maintaining my addiction. Zoe was clear that it was one or the other. I knew I would have to go to rehab but I had no one to leave the children with. It didn’t seem like a real option for me. I kept drinking, while all the time Zoe was building relationships with the kids and a small army of people that would soon become my support network. The tactics that I used with my previous caseworker to mask my drinking didn’t work with Zoe. Zoe was as involved with my kids as she was with me. The kids were telling her all of the things that I was desperately trying to hide. My real life was exposed.

‘Zoe gave my children a voice. She listened to all of their worries and she did what I could not do – she kept them safe.’

One of the worst times was when Zoe told me my children weren’t safe with me. Hopelessness hit me hard. Zoe had made sure my children were safe with family and friends, but I went into a downward spiral. I thought alcohol was the only thing that could help me get through. Zoe had been told about my desperate state and came over to check on me, even though there were no kids in the house. She just wanted to make sure that I was okay.

I wasn’t okay. Zoe tried to get me to go to hospital but I wouldn’t go. I locked myself in the bathroom and finished off a bottle of wine that I had hidden in the cupboard. The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital that I had fought so hard not to go to. I was hooked up to tubes and a machine that was doing the breathing for me. I had been in a coma for days. There wasn’t any lower I could go.

Rehab was once again my only option but I was told that there was a six month wait list. I got in well before the six months thanks to Zoe. It was only once I was in there that I found out how incessant she was with her phone calls. Zoe was supposed to ring them once a week to hold my spot on the list. She rang them six times in one day! She rang so often that the staff had an emergency meeting and agreed to take me straight away. Zoe’s persistence was my turning point.

There is nothing easy about rehab, but I was able to get the most out of the program because I knew that I didn’t have to worry about the kids. I knew that Zoe was looking out for them. Knowing this let me throw myself into all that I had to learn and unlearn.

I left rehab feeling like a new woman. But I knew that I had caused a lot of hurt and my family needed help to start to heal. Zoe organised a Family Group Conference before my discharge. This conference put the pieces of my messed up life together. It gave us a clear plan, and with that a sense that maybe things would be different. I had purpose back in my life and people who loved my family and who would help to keep me well.

Child protection has closed its case now, and this time it is for real. Zoe gave my children a voice. She listened to all of their worries and she did what I could not do – she kept them safe. Zoe is an angel. She is the reason that my children love and trust me again. I can’t thank her enough.

Zoe, caseworker

Looking back to when we met, I quickly understood that when Annette is sober, she is honest and reliable and completely focused on her children. But when she drinks, nothing and no one else matters.

In the beginning our relationship was rocky. Annette had so much fear and too much to lose by opening up to me about her drinking. She had done a good job of hiding just how serious it was getting. I tried to explain how devastating it was for her children – the chaos at home, the lack of supervision, the conflict and the fighting. But Annette wasn’t ready to hear that at the time. She had all sorts of ways of justifying her drinking in her own head. She taught me more about addiction that anyone I know or any book I’ve read. It was all-consuming. I knew I just had to stick in there.

Pictre of the ocean.

Pictre of the ocean.

‘She taught me more about addiction than anyone I know or any book I’ve read. It was all-consuming. I knew I just had to stick in there.’
Picture of Annette laughing.

Picture of Annette laughing.

While my relationship with Annette was tenuous, my relationship with her children was blossoming. Very quickly they began to tell me what life was like for them. I think they could sense that I might be able to help their mum. The girls started calling me when they were worried. One time they rang and said there was no food. Another time they rang to say their mum was drinking again. I let them know they could call me about anything. I wanted them to know I was there for them.

It took a long time for Annette to trust me. I could see that she wanted to change and I figured if I showed her I was there, one day she would open up. Annette eventually found the courage to tell me her story and reach out for help. I say courage, because I know how deep Annette’s fear ran that her kids would be removed if I ever found out just how much alcohol had a hold on her. What she didn’t understand is that I already knew this – the kids had been telling me everything. I was just waiting for the time when she would tell me, so that together we could find a way to bring about change.

Annette wanted to change, but there needed to be action. The alcohol made Annette unpredictable and angry. The risks became too high. The kids needed to be somewhere safe while we worked on getting Annette help.

The intention was always to have the three children and Annette living together soon. Annette agreed to a Temporary Care Agreement but I knew that this short separation hurt her. I wasn’t surprised when I got a call from a worried friend that Annette was in trouble.

My job is about keeping kids safe and that means I need to connect with and care about their parents too. So after that call I knew I had to go and see Annette. When I arrived I got really worried. The mix of alcohol and pills had taken effect. I did all that I could to get Annette to a hospital, but she wouldn’t have a bar of it. She tried to hide by locking herself in the bathroom. Little did I know that she had a bottle of wine in the bathroom cupboard. She drank it all. I literally had to bang down the door until she opened it.

Picture of Annette and Zoe.

Picture of Annette and Zoe.

'My job is about keeping kids safe and that means I need to connect with and care about their parents too.’

As soon as I walked in, Annette collapsed and was barely breathing. I called an ambulance and did everything I could to rouse her and keep her alive. It was touch and go.

In those horrifying moments, I was so sure I was going to have to tell Annette’s children that their mother had died. There was a long wait at the hospital before I knew that I didn’t have to find those words. It was a tough day in a job I love.

That day was Annette’s rock bottom. I will never forgot it and the days after – the worry that we all held, the sadness and anger that it caused the kids. But I will forever recognise it as the day Annette had to have. It was her turning point.

I knew that Annette’s only chance was rehab. Annette knew that too. The six month waiting list for a spot was not going to work for Annette or the kids. I was supposed to ring once a week to secure a spot. I rang the next day and the next and every day after that until they admitted Annette. She got in. It was Annette’s turn to make the most of it. And she did.

You can’t explain the feeling that you get as a caseworker when you see a parent become all that they have always been able to be. Annette was determined to regain her old self, and with that the love and trust of her kids. I involved Annette in all of the decision-making about her children, even when she was in rehab. It was important that she showed everyone that she was getting back to the parent she once was – responsible and capable.

Leaving rehab was going to be a critical point for Annette and I knew that she would need all the support she could get to stay well. I called a Family Group Conference. It mattered to get the right help and the right people at the table. That group of people came up with a plan to support Annette to remain sober. Everyone played their part and the plan worked. But there was so much hurt in the family, so much of the past that couldn’t be forgotten. I got a Family Functional Therapist to work with the family too. This really helped. Together, Annette and her family shared their feelings, and together they are healing.

Annette and the kids are all together now. She makes the decision every day to stay sober. Annette is making all the right choices and she and her kids are all the better for it.

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Last updated: 19 Nov 2019