Downing yet another glass of vodka, Gillian McFarlane closed the curtains and fell to the floor drunk as her five-year-old daughter Sara slept upstairs.
Gillian’s drinking had worsened lately. She was consuming a bottle and a half of vodka and half a bottle of red wine EVERY DAY.
As her downward spiral went on, the former air hostess reflected on the impact her drinking was having on her child — and made a decision that will horrify parents everywhere.
Gillian sent Sara to live with her ex, who had moved to Italy, in order to continue drinking.
The 48-year-old mum now realises she was in the grip of alcohol addiction. But she is still racked with guilt for uprooting Sara from her life in Glasgow and carting her across Europe — all so she could drink herself into oblivion.
Sara is now 11 and still lives in southern Italy — 1,200 miles away — with her businessman father Antonio, 38. Italian is now her first language.
Two years after she went teetotal, Gillian, who lives alone, admits she is still haunted by the look on Sara’s face when she learned that she was moving abroad.
Gillian says: “I’ll never forget Sara looking so confused when I started packing her bags to take her to her father.
“It was heartbreaking and I felt full of guilt. But at the time I thought it was the right thing to do.
“As disgraceful as it sounds, I didn’t have the energy to be a mother.
“All I wanted to do was drink. It wasn’t fair on her.”
Before she became an alcoholic, Gillian says she was a good mum to her daughter. She cut out alcohol completely during the pregnancy.
Sara arrived in February 2002. But three years later Gillian and Antonio split up. He returned to his homeland — and Gillian turned to alcohol to numb the pain.
She recalls: “I felt desperately low. I asked my mum, Isabella, to take care of Sara for a few days so I could be alone to clear my head.
“Walking back from Mum’s, I stopped at the local shop to buy some wine. Then I slipped a bottle of vodka into my basket too.
“As soon as I stepped through the front door, I poured myself a large glass of wine. And then another one.
“Soon the bottle was empty and I crawled into bed, drunk.”
Gillian began leaving Sara with family or friends most days while she sat at home drowning her sorrows.
She says: “I knew what I was doing was wrong and that I had a little girl to look after. But the urge to drink was just too strong.”
Gillian even took to drinking when Sara was around.
“I tried to do it discreetly, so I’d tell her to do a jigsaw puzzle or sit her in front of the TV. Then I’d slip into the kitchen and pour myself a glass of wine. I wouldn’t get blind drunk around her but after I tucked her into bed I’d carry on drinking. It sounds awful, but I resented the fact she was there because I couldn’t drink myself into oblivion.”
Gillian says she was still functioning at this point — and would get Sara to school on time in the morning, wearing clean clothes and neatly turned-out.
But Gillian’s condition deteriorated when her beloved mother died at 73 from stomach cancer.
Soon she could no longer drive Sara to after-school activities because she was over the limit.
Painfully aware that she was failing as a mum, Gillian decided to send her daughter to live with Antonio.
She says: “It all happened very quickly. One minute I was talking to Antonio on the phone and the next I was packing Sara’s bags.
“I broke down when I packed her favourite teddy bear. I hadn’t stopped loving Sara but I knew I had a big drink problem.
“She deserved to be taken out and played with — and I knew Antonio was a great dad who would do that.”
With Sara taken care of, Gillian’s drinking continued. She even started to steal alcohol when she could not afford to buy it.
Gillian, who is unemployed, says: “My looks deteriorated and my eyes looked dead. I was a lost soul and I wanted to die.”
By early 2010, the booze was taking its toll on Gillian’s health. She says: “My stomach was swollen and I looked like I was full-term pregnant.
“It was terrifying so I went to my GP to see what was going on. He referred me to hospital and I was immediately admitted for tests. They revealed I had cirrhosis of the liver, serious kidney problems, fluid on the abdomen and a collapsed lung. I also had yellow eyes from jaundice.
“Doctors said if I touched one more sip of alcohol I’d die.
“I was admitted to the Royal Infirmary in Glasgow and remained there for six months, receiving help and counselling.”
Many alcoholics suffer vomiting, shaking and cold sweats when they stop drinking, but Gillian’s experience was less dramatic.
She says: “I think my body was closing down and didn’t have the energy to fight.
“I had regular blood transfusions because my blood wasn’t clotting and as a result I was black and blue with bruises.
“I didn’t feel like talking and was quite negative to begin with.”
Then one evening Gillian says she had a spiritual moment, when her mother “visited her” in hospital and told her to wake up.
She says: “It was the most surreal moment of my life. I’d given up the will to live and was hoping I’d die.
“But hearing my mother’s voice changed everything for me. I realised I needed to sort myself out for the sake of my daughter.
“I started to take my counselling more seriously and was determined to battle my demons.”
That July, Gillian was discharged. She says: “As soon as I got home I threw all the alcohol out of my cupboards.
“Antonio was understandably sceptical that I had changed but he invited me to visit them in Italy.
“I burst into tears when I saw Sara at the airport. It had been five years since I had seen her face to face. She had grown up so much and was even more beautiful than I remembered. Her dark hair was long and wavy and she was now olive-skinned after so much time in the sun.
“It’s crazy to think I’ve only seen her eight times in five years and I try not to dwell on it too much.
“I get sad when I think about all those precious moments I’ve missed out on. But it wouldn’t be fair to uproot her now from the life she knows — and loves — in Italy.”
Gillian hopes her story will serve as a cautionary tale for those tempted to turn to alcohol when at a low ebb.
She says: “If just one person reading this seeks help then I’ll be happy. I’ll never forgive myself for giving my daughter away.
“But I find some solace in the fact she’s happy in Italy and is being well looked after. Antonio has been kind and understanding. Initially, he had to cut me out of Sara’s life for her own good. But since I turned my life around he has changed towards me.
“He knows how much I adore Sara and has helped us rebuild our relationship.
“I’ve been sober nearly two years now and I’ve never felt better.”
Antonio says: “I have admiration for Gillian and a lot of respect as she beat a huge addiction to alcohol and I know it wasn’t easy for her.
“We’re working together to make things as easy as possible for Sara, and Gillian knows she’s welcome to visit whenever she wants.
“She’s an excellent mother when she’s sober and I’m so glad she is back in Sara’s life.”