Decades of Drinking Behind Her, a Mother Faces a Steep Road Ahead

PHOTO Lynn Wardlow was a drinker for over 20 years.

At the end of a country road, inside the walls of a quaint and calm Hattiesburg, Miss., home, a family was in crisis.

Lynn Wardlow, a 50-year-old wife and mother of three, had been a drinker for more than 20 years. All the while, though, she ran a family business and raised her children.

VIDEO: Mother of three opens "last bottle" says of family: "These people aggravate me."
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In January, "20/20" visited Wardlow. It was the day before she'd planned to give up alcohol for good.

"My hands are shaking," said Wardlow as she packed her bags. "God, I hope I remembered to bring underwear."

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In the morning, Wardlow would travel from the Gulf Coast to Palm Beach, Fla., check herself into a medical facility for detox and then enter a 30-day rehab program for her alcohol addiction.

Meanwhile, Wardlow planned one last hurrah. She took a bottle from a cabinet in her bedroom.

"Would this be my best choice for my last bottle of wine?" she asked.

The last year in the Wardlow home had been particularly difficult, especially for the children -- Bo, 21; Jessy, 20; and Marina, 17.

"She's been drinking every night for as far back as I don't even know," said Bo. "The last year there's been a lot of drama, and it'd be nice if things were just normal for even just a little while."

Wardlow poured herself some wine. "My kids want me to just stop, stop, stop, but I like, I don't think I can just stop," she said.

"And if I did, I don't know if I would feel very good, or if we might have to go to the hospital, because I just stopped after I've been going, go, go, go for so long."

Wardlow's children have witnessed things no child should ever see: their mother passed out in her closet, in a drunken rage at a bookstore, in a car attempting to drive after an alcohol-infused fight.

"It's hard to see someone you love have to be addicted to something in order to feel better," said Marina.

"It makes you feel like you've done something wrong," said Jessy.

Drunken Moms: 'When She Gets Like That'

The kids say their mother's drinking had reached a critical point. Last April, Wardlow was diagnosed with hepatitis C, unrelated to her alcoholism. Unless she quit drinking, she could die.

But even the threat of losing her life, the family said, hadn't stopped Wardlow from consuming alcohol.

"I want my mom to get better and not just for our sake but for her sake for her health," said Jessy.

Wardlow's last night at home was tense. The alcohol fueled her anxiety of what was to come.

"I think after two drinks, I'm like, you know what, these people aggravate me," said Wardlow, who ran the family's ceiling construction business. "And they aggravate me during the course of the day, and at the end of the day, I have a couple of drinks."

The kids knew better than to stick around once Lynn started drinking. Wardlow's husband, Bob, soon became a target.

"If you want to spend more time with Bill O'Reilly and your computer then go ahead," Wardlow cracked.

"When she gets like that, conversations can turn to arguments," said Bob.

"Or being an a**hole can turn to arguments," said Wardlow. "Maybe I'm just able to say, you know what, [I've] had it up to here!"

The next morning, her head a little clearer, Wardlow acknowledged that rehab may be her last chance.

"I've affected my children. ... Our relationships would be different if alcohol wasn't a part of my life," she said.

But just before she walked out the door, the leftover wine from the night before called to her.

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