As she sank into the depths of alcohol addiction, Gillian McFarlane knew she had to do the best thing for her young daughter.
Rather than give up the bottle, however, the former air hostess made a decision that will horrify parents everywhere.
She packed five-year-old Sara’s suitcase and sent her to live with her Italian father in his homeland – so she could continue drinking herself into oblivion.
Miss McFarlane has now given up alcohol but her daughter has settled in Italy and she has only seen her a handful of times since she left.
The 48-year-old, from Bishopbriggs, Glasgow, hopes her experiences in the grip of a deadly alcohol addiction will act as a cautionary tale.
She is racked with guilt for uprooting her only child and haunted by the look on little Sara’s face when she learned she was being sent away.
The youngster is now 11 and lives in southern Italy – 1,200 miles from her mother – with businessman father Antonio Decesare, 38.
Miss McFarlane became teetotal two years ago after she was admitted to hospital and doctors warned that just another sip of alcohol could cost her her life.
Recalling the moment she knew she could not look after her daughter, she said: ‘As disgraceful as it sounds, I didn’t have the energy to be a mother. All I wanted to do was drink. I’ll never forget Sara looking so confused when I started packing her bags to take her to her father.
The youngster is now 11 and lives in southern Italy – 1,200 miles from her mother – with businessman father Antonio Decesare, 38
‘It was heartbreaking and I felt full of guilt but at the time I thought it was the right thing to do.’
Miss McFarlane turned to drink three years after Sara was born when she and Mr Decesare split up in 2005. She began leaving Sara with family or friends while she sat at home drowning her sorrows.
She said: ‘I knew what I was doing was wrong but the urge to drink was just too strong.
‘It sounds awful but I resented the fact she was there because I couldn’t drink myself into oblivion.’
Miss McFarlane’s condition deteriorated when her mother died at 73 from stomach cancer, so she decided to send her child to live with her former partner.
She said: ‘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.
After Sara had gone, Miss McFarlane’s drinking continued. She even started to steal alcohol when she could not afford to buy it.
The woman who once lived the glamorous life of an air hostess was unemployed and going speedily downhill. She said: ‘I was a lost soul and I wanted to die.’
By early 2010, the alcohol was taking its toll on her health.
‘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.’
Tests revealed she had cirrhosis of the liver, kidney problems, fluid on the abdomen and a collapsed lung. ‘Doctors said if I touched one more sip of alcohol I’d die,’ she said.
She was admitted to Glasgow’s Royal Infirmary, where she remained for six months receiving help and counselling. It was there she realised she had to sort herself out for the sake of her daughter.
When she was discharged, she immediately threw out all the alcohol in her home. Then she went to Italy to see Sara for the first time in five years.
Miss McFarlane said: ‘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.’