A few years ago, I was gathering my kids up after summer day camp, wrangling backpacks full to the brim with wet swimsuits and towels. My daughter was attending a local program that took place at a theater in the park. They learned all about acting, singing and dancing in the mornings, and in the afternoons they ran around in the sprinklers that watered the large lawn where people sat on the weekends enjoying outdoor versions of My Fair Lady or Grease. We were walking to the car, when my daughter saw a sign hanging next to a booth that said, “Beer and Wine – $5.” She stopped and tugged on my arm. “Mama, you should come here! They have wine! And it’s only $5!”
My heart broke in to a million pieces as I looked down at her sweet, innocent face. I wanted to burst out crying, but somehow managed to hold back my tears. I knelt down and looked her straight in the eye. “Sweetie, thank you for thinking of me, but you know, mama doesn’t drink wine anymore.”
She looked a little confused, and I couldn’t blame her. Until a few months prior, wine was my constant companion. I always had lots of rules around my drinking, one of which was that I would not drink in front of my kids. Or, at least, that was the plan. But then those rules started to bend.
OK, I won’t drink in front of the kids. Well, maybe if we’re at a BBQ with other families and the other moms are drinking. Or if it’s a Saturday and we’re watching a football game. Or if we’re at a fancy dinner. OK, not until 6 p.m. Nevermind, 5 p.m. OK, 4:30 p.m. on weekends. Well, I mean, I guess I could have a glass while I cook dinner, right? But not before!
You see where this is going… while I always contended that I wasn’t “that bad,” it became more and more apparent that I was losing control of my drinking. However, if you knew me, you probably had no idea. I was the epitome of a super mommy. I was perfection, personified. That’s how I proved to myself it was OK. I couldn’t have a drinking problem if I was working 50 hours a week at a high stress job, raising two kids, cooking healthy dinners and creating Pinterest-worthy birthday parties! As long as I was acting the part of the best mom in the world, I figured my dirty, little secret would stay hidden.
Until one day I woke up and I just simply couldn’t do it anymore. While I hadn’t had any public consequences from my drinking, I felt awful almost all of the time. Physically I was bloated, my skin was sallow, my hair was fried and I had dark circles under my eyes. I hid all of this quite well, but every morning when I looked myself in the mirror, I could see the damage I was doing to myself. I would wake up every night around 3 a.m., head pounding and mouth dry, hating who I was becoming. Mentally I was being eaten away daily by the shame and remorse I felt. I knew the way I was drinking was not normal. I knew I was losing control. And I was terrified if something didn’t change very soon, I would end up losing everything.
I can’t tell you why that day become “the day” for me. I know so many women, mothers just like me who love their kids just as much as I do, who weren’t so fortunate. I have watched as friends and people I love have sunk further and further into their own wine glasses, until they have lost nearly everything. I am one of the lucky ones. My children were very young when I quit, and barely remember. I’m honest with them and tell them I don’t drink anymore. I started talking to them early on, giving them examples they could understand and relate to. We talk about how I have an “allergy” to alcohol, in the same way many of their friends can’t have dairy or peanuts. If I drink alcohol, my body does not react in a healthy way, so I just can’t have it. End of story.
As my kids get older, I plan on talking to them about their risks for alcohol abuse. While addiction is still very misunderstood, doctors and mental health experts agree there are environmental and genetic factors at play. No one really knows why some people develop problems with addiction and others don’t, but if you come from a family where there is a history of mental health and addition issues, your chances for battling something similar in your lifetime are higher than the average population. I want my kids to be aware, and while I know I can’t protect them forever, I want to be an example of what long term recovery can look like.
On my very worst day in recovery, I still feel a million times better than I ever did when I was drinking. I thought that when I put down the wine glass, my life was over. I’d be boring and everyone would think I was crazy. But when I threw away that last bottle, that’s when my life really began. Now I can be the mother I always wanted to be. I may not be perfect, or anywhere close, but I’m doing my best. Some days are still hard, but I know that every time I choose to deal with my life head on instead of numbing out with a bottle of red, the road gets more beautiful. It may not be easy… but it’s always worth it.
(Photo Credit: Rita Clark Photography)