My mom was a great lady. Fiercely independent, she could stretch my dad’s paycheck to feed their 7 children, as well as embrace foster children when they needed shelter. She was quick and witty and funny. Mom sewed clothes for us, and we felt so blessed to have her make us special clothes. She made my wedding dress. Mom was a wonderful cook and she made sure to teach me her tricks of the trade. She passed away in 2012, at 83… I miss her very much, and I love it when I wake up from dreams with her. When I’m in the kitchen, I often hear her voice, guiding me when I’m twirling the spice rack and playing with recipes. ❤ But along with the love and laughter and inspiration, my mom left me with a darker legacy. A challenge to overcome.
When I was 17, my dad woke up at 2 in the morning to the sound of a thud. My mom had turned the wrong way coming out of the bathroom, and fell down a set of 7 stairs, landing on the slate foyer. My dad woke me up with an urgent demand: How much did your mother have to drink tonight?
I had no idea, because she was a closet drinker – Mom hid her bottles around the house and subtlety added it to her iced tea, so we never really knew when she started to drink, nor how much alcohol was in her glass.
I knelt at my mom’s side as she groaned in pain. Both of her wrists were twisted in a way I can’t describe, and blood was coming out of her mouth and nose. I remember hearing my dad in the kitchen trying to calmly talk with the 911 operator. I remember his voice cracking, but he was supposed to be the stoic patriarch, and yet… I could hear his emotions.
It is the first time I ever heard my dad afraid.
I remember my dad’s uncertainty as to whether he should call my brothers and sisters, and ultimately he made the decision to call my sister, who was 21 years old, newly married, and pregnant.
I remember my sister’s fear as she came into the house- not knowing if she was supposed to take charge as my big sister, but still wanting to be the child and let my dad be in charge.
I remember the clinking of the EMT’s equipment as they came into our home, briskly and professionally assessing the situation and asking us questions that we could not answer.
I remember them moving my mom and, even in her stupor, how she MOANED in the pain that she never remembered feeling.
I remember the ambulance leaving the house with the sirens blazing at 2:30 in the morning.
I remember the silence of the house afterwards and the uncertainty of my family’s future… would my mom be okay? Would she ever be able to write again? I was supposed to go to college in 2 weeks- would I go?
I remember the next morning when I was finally permitted to see my mom and the horrific pain she was in. You see, my mom’s BAC ( Blood Alcohol Content) was .23, and until the alcohol was out of her system, they would not give her anything for pain. She had broken both of her wrists, her nose, her cheekbone, and screwed up a knee.
My mom promised, never again.
But after numerous surgeries and recovering… she started drinking again.
When I asked her why, she calmly explained that in retrospect, she had not drank too much, she simply was “sleepwalking”, thought that she was downstairs versus upstairs… and when you are downstairs, you turn right to leave the bathroom.
In her mind, she had justified the whole horrific accident as a simple sleepwalking incident.
Even though it was 38 years ago, it was yesterday.
I will never forget the pain and the fear I felt that night.
Last October, I realized that the age that I am now was my mom’s age when she fell down drunk.
While I vowed to never be like her, here I was, shuffling around in slippers similar to hers – this was a rude awakening. Alcohol rules … the how much, the what, the when to start, the when to stop, the shifting rules that were firm in the morning, fading in the afternoon, and forgotten at night.
So, does alcohol rule, or do we?
At some point, the flip inside switches! And at that point, you realize that YOU are in control, and that YOU are way more important in life, versus that poison. I tossed out those frickin’ slippers and laced up my jogging shoes, for it was my time to change.
I realize that as life goes on and we grow, our shoes often change…
Until 10 months ago, I shared a relationship with alcohol. At one time, I could drink “normally”, whatever that means, but over the years drinking morphed to drinking too much, followed by abstaining, and then moderating with defined rules (and ultimately failing)….
It took me 30 years of drinking to finally recognize two things:
1. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.
2. All of this BRAIN POWER devoted to alcohol was leading to DECISION FATIGUE.
How many thoughts have whirled through my consciousness, dedicated to alcohol?
Should I drink today? DECISION time.
How much? DECISION time.
OK, WHAT am I drinking? DECISION time.
Sticking to just Beer? Wine? Hard stuff?” DECISION time.
What are the rules I must follow if I drink? DECISION time.
How many days during the week will I drink? DECISION time.
Remember the Brady Bunch episode, where Jan was upset that Marcia was getting all of the attention, and Jan kept ranting, Marcia! Marcia! MARCIA!…. this is like the fatigue I was feeling, but it was Alcohol! Alcohol! ALCOHOL!
Every time that I decided to keep alcohol in my bloodstream, there were always more and more decisions to make around it… obsessing about the rules I’ve made. When I failed in my efforts to control alcohol, the obsession resulted in shame and depression. I failed again. In those quiet, dark early morning moments, I would search my soul- WHY couldn’t I just control my drinking, and be normal, like others?. Exhaustion. Sadness. Despair, even.
But. Could I live WITHOUT drinking alcohol? Was there life beyond the bottle?
Face it: It is scary to think of a world without booze in it.
I read a story from a friend about being alcohol-free in a world where everyone is drinking, especially last summer during the Covid lockdowns, when private family events were happening at private beach houses, versus individual hotel rooms and sightseeing tours in New York City. She pointed out how pervasive the alcohol culture really is for many families: in the beach house kitchen, right next to the children’s assortment of juice boxes, there was a bigger assortment of alcohol for the adults- gigantic bottles of whisky, vodka, and rum.
Life for the children is celebrated with fruit juice and sugar; the adults numb themselves with a poison. While the child has to decide whether it should be orange or pineapple mango…. the alcoholic adults have to decide…. Who is the first one today to make a drink?
“It’s five o’clock somewhere”, Grandpa proclaims, and fills up the ice bucket… awkward laughter, but the bar is now open… and it’s before noon.
Addiction and alcohol – Alcohol addiction. No one wants those words strung together to describe their family routine. But it did describe mine. I’ve come to recognize that yes, there is life outside of the bottle. Imagine having a beach house with your family, and without alcohol influencing our behavior. This really does happen in other families!
Imagine the hot white sand, the smell of sunscreen, the soothing sound of the waves, and the salty cool ocean as you walk barefoot along the shore. There is no headache in the background, nor regrets from the night before….. instead, there is the laughter of young children as they discover that the tiny holes found in the hard packed sand means there are hidden clams underfoot – and as you dig into the sand racing for the clams, you celebrate the joy of today, versus the regrets from last night.
Decision fatigue is gone, because you’ve taken the decision off the table: today, I will not drink. Today, I am present.
Once you say to yourself, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired”, the freedom of sobriety is right around the corner. To think about drinking all of the time – the “Decision Fatigue”- it’s exhausting. I think this may be the obsessiveness that just tires you out, and to feel better , you need it removed from your life. I think that AA calls this emotion surrendering.
I also have a saying. “Protect Your Quit”. I think of my “Quit” is a younger, more youthful and innocent version of “me”.
I want to be sober to honor her.
I want to be sober to be a role model for my daughters.
I want to be sober so that my grandchildren remember me as a fun, enthusiastic Grandma… and this honors the younger version of me at the same time.
I know that one sip will transform and shift to one glass… to one bottle… to one night… to one weekend…. to one month…. to this summer…. and every time I fail, I hurt the real me that wants to be free of this vicious cycle. And it’s my choice whether to take that one sip.
Today, I will not drink. I will Protect My Quit. ❤
It is scary to think of a world without booze, but be bold and believe: It DOES exist!
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