I was a drinking mother. Today I’m a sober mother and it’s been that way for one year and almost three months. I’m also seven months into my third pregnancy, due with our first baby girl in June. I have two boys, one is five and one is three, a husband, a house and a dog and a fence and even a minivan.
I don’t know what you think of when you imagine an alcoholic mother, but I wonder if any of us really even knows how to define what that looks like. In my humble opinion, alcoholism looks different on every drinking woman. Some of us drink throughout the day, some of us wait until the evening and then overindulge. Then others of us can make it a few days without a drop, but alcohol is really what we want the most, to take the edge off, to escape, to claim our time.
My story is not horrific and yet it is still wrought with the potholes of my disease, the memories that haunt me and do their best to heap shame on me. I drank too much, there’s no getting around that. And my obsession with alcohol affected every aspect of who I was, including my mothering heart and life. In fact, I see clearly now that motherhood was indeed the catalyst for my free-fall into addiction.
My addiction had always been there, don’t get me wrong, that’s what it does, it lies in wait. But motherhood overwhelmed me with such an intensity that I turned to the one thing that seemed to work for me. At the end of a long day, alcohol was my carrot on a stick, my reward, my very own thing that had nothing to do with diapers or whining or a thousand snacks thrown to the floor. More than anything, it numbed my intense fears, those that every mother is familiar with–the possible loss or illness of a child, the painful things they will surely endure in this life and the failures I was sure to make…
Wine was my drug of choice, to stave off all the things I didn’t want to feel or fear, my bitter-sweet companion from 5 p.m. on, night after night, month after month. I drank to feel better, having always struggled with depression, and I also drank to sleep. I hid the amount I was drinking from my husband, I downed glasses of wine before evening tee-ball in secret. I ran a bath for my kids and rushed back and forth from the kitchen to the bathroom for drink after drink. I tried not to let them see. I believed it could be worse. But I knew. I knew I was an alcoholic. I think most of us just know, somewhere buried in our denial and guilt, we just know–drinking is different for us. The desire is too intense to be normal.
I would tell you the details of my story (which can be found here) today, but I believe there’s something more to say, beyond those details: I wish every mother could be given the gifts I’ve been given in sobriety, because much of this recovery journey is about self-care, healing and time to myself. These are things every mother needs but we’re not at all set up to get them. It’s heartbreaking to me that we must reach the end of ourselves through the breakdown of our mental health or through addiction in order to get what would save us from the start: Time-even just an hour a day, to reflect, to think, to simply be in the quiet.
In the early days of sobriety, I had no choice but to get help. I could not do it on my own, I knew that whole-heartedly. And because I could finally finally say it, “I’m an alcoholic,” that help would finally come. I had spent years putting on the face of strength and perfectionism, self-reliance and happiness. I could no longer do it. There was no choice. This is a terribly humbling experience, of course, because I assumed that it was just me that was this broken, weak, unable, addicted, failing…
but those are lies.
I am a mother and I’m absolutely crazy about my children. I adore them and I passionately protect and care for them, I think about them all the time, I worry, I run them around in a minivan and I take them to the park. I sweep the kitchen floor too often and I break up brotherly fights. I teach, I make, I fold, I comfort, I pray, I strive, I do and then I do some more. I am courageous and I am exhausted and I am scared and sometimes way too isolated.
Entering a program of recovery from alcoholism meant that I had no choice but to spend time out of my home, away from my children, my husband and all the things that needed doing. I attend innumerable recovery meetings, where I sit and listen and learn and have these holy experiences with broken people like me. We are all broken, that’s what I have come to know more than ever before. We are broken and we all need help and we do a whole lot of coping. That’s not my fault. That’s not your fault. It just is.
While that’s the truth, that this mothering gig is terribly hard and we’re doing it mostly alone, we continue to expect perfection from ourselves. All the cards may be stacked against us and yet we think we must be the problem. Not patient enough, not energetic enough, not wise enough…not enough.
What I have come to slowly learn (and will spend my life learning) is that I am enough. I may not be able to do everything well all at the same time, but I am just the mother that my children need and want. I am letting go of the ideas I once had that put enough pressure on me to drive me to my glass, day after day. I am accepting the chaos and imbalance that is motherhood because I have no other choice.
The guilt remains, of course. It just comes with a mother. But I’m learning to be more gentle with myself, especially in my thought-life, to not believe that I’m taking something from my children by taking time for myself. To understand that discovering who I am is one of the greatest gifts of motherhood, not something that should be avoided until these beautiful young people leave my nest. To finally believe that asking for and receiving help is the right thing to do and that it may even teach my children an invaluable lesson–People need each other and we are stronger for it.
My children have a mother that will admit exactly how broken she is and then encourage them to live in the freedom that is authenticity. I have so far to go, believe me…but I am here, I’m really here, now…sober and reliant and in need.
This is better.
*Image Credit: Phil H