When my son was a baby, my drinking would have been considered part of what is now (the very normal and encouraged) “Mommy’s wine time” culture.
I’d put him down for bed in the early evening – after a very long day of all things baby! – I’d flip on the baby monitor, head to the kitchen, and pour a glass of red. Flop down on the couch for the first time all day, and take in that first glorious sip as a well-earned reward. It would travel down through my chest and warm everything up… tension would start to ease.. and I could finally, finally relax. Everything seemed instantly better… and in between sips, the day’s frustrations and failures would just drift away.
I can’t say I got drunk back then. I was actually afraid to. My husband traveled, and would sometimes be gone for a month at a time, leaving me alone with our son. I was terrified of having too much to drink, passing out, and having him need something in the middle of the night. So I somehow kept booze at the “pleasantly buzzed but still able to function in a crisis” level.
My son was a terrible sleeper for a looong time! He’d fight naps during the day, wake at the tiniest sound, and lightly sleep and then wake up on and off for hours each night. I thought I’d lose my mind! I was beyond tired – I was The Walking Dead most days! But if I could have a glass or two in the evening, then I could handle the constant crying and the waking… trusty booze would just smooth it over a bit.
As he got into his toddler years, my drinking grew with him. Now he was starting to sleep a bit better at night, but daytime naps had dropped off. I was still largely doing it all on my own – and exhausted! So again, when evening came and he was finally down… ahhh. Blessed Silence. And that first sip. And that familiar warmth. Except… the sips weren’t really sips anymore. Now, I’d pour a larger glass… and that initial drink was over and done before the tension had even started to leave my body. I was on to the next one as quickly as I could finish the first.
The thought that I had to keep my intake at a safe level was still in the back of my mind… but other ideas started to creep in too. I’d pour a second glass and think, “the neighbors are close by” or “I’m good enough to handle an emergency – and besides, what are the chances?”
If my husband happened to be home for a stretch, well, that was just wonderful! If something comes up in the night, HE can handle it! So… 2 or 3 or 4 glasses isn’t a problem at all!
Pretty soon I was looking forward to him being home just because I could start filling my glass earlier and keep pouring later into the evening.
To me, I was being a responsible mom. I‘d never pound drinks like this if I was home alone with the baby! Just like I’d never drink and get behind the wheel with him in the car. I had solid rules firmly in place and I was diligent in keeping them, just as I was with my other responsibilities.
School years began. Boy, were those days so much fun! School-aged kids are so naturally inquisitive and affectionate… and spending time with him while he discovered the world around him.. I just loved every single minute! Drinking then was nightly. And had become necessary. Hubby was finally home more than away – and as relieving as that should have been, instead, we dissolved frequently into anger and misunderstanding. The one bright spot was, he was physically home. Another adult in the house… so my boozy evenings could begin much earlier and drag on well into the night.
Most mornings I was still up early though, albeit groggy and puffy-eyed… trying to remember what the day’s schedule looked like.. sloppily making breakfast… getting my son ready.. trying to be cheerful. He started going to a phonics teacher a couple of times a week for a little extra help with reading. I’d drop him off roundabout mid-morning and pick him up an hour or so later.
It occurred to me one particularly bad morning, after another night of fighting and then waking up miserable with a hangover, that I should swing by the grocery and pick up some of those mini bottles of wine – the ones in a four-pack (easy to hide in a purse) made of plastic (easy to dispose of). So I stopped. I picked up a pack, along with a bag of Doritos from the checkout, and then drove to the edge of the grocery store parking lot and sat.
I cracked open a bottle and took that first sip.
It was 10 a.m.
I can’t tell you how good that felt in the moment. On levels I didn’t even realize at the time. Of course, all the usual crushing anxiety started to melt, right away. But it was so much more than that. At that time, struggling as a young mom, and with all the deep marital problems we were having – I felt like the secretive nature of sitting there in my car, away from our volatile house, in the silence, doing something “forbidden” – something I could control when all else was clearly not under my control – though it was born out of desperation, was like a naughty pleasure. The habit formed instantly that morning.
I sat and drank a couple bottles. Ate the little bag of Doritos. Watched people come and go from the grocery. Made sure they didn’t see me take sips. Wondered what their lives were like. If their lives were better than mine. Wondered how I’d gotten to this point. Listened to music and let my mind go all over the place, replaying the fights we’d had recently. An emotional rollercoaster for an hour until I had to pick up my son.
The first time, since having him, that I drank and then drove.
That morning began a pattern that lasted half the school year. I’d drop him off, roll by the grocery store, grab those same little bottles and a bag of Doritos and sit alone in my car at the edge of the lot. Except now, sometimes crying for half of the hour, and then spending the other half trying to fix my face enough to pick him up.
At pick up, a couple of times, the phonics teacher came out to the car to say hello and update me on his reading progress. As I rolled down the window, she got a blast of cabernet and cheddar cheese fumes. I saw the shock on her face. From then on, I started parking in such a way that she had to come to the passenger side. I was glad when that class ended.
Fast forward a bit, and he started piano lessons. A girl from down the road had offered to give him lessons once a week for an hour! I was so pleased I could introduce more music into his life! I was so pleased… that as I heard the piano keys plinking away, I’d take that opportunity to shut my bedroom door and sit on the edge of the bed… with a mini wine bottle in hand. At that point, I had a decent stash in my closet. Another secret. Again, something I could control with the rest of my life so unstable, and our marriage unraveling.
I remember falling asleep on the bed one time and the piano teacher waking me to let me know she had finished. When did that happen?
I slurred an apology and said I hadn’t slept the night before.. wrote her a check and noticed her leaning in to “sniff” me. She was gracious and didn’t mention anything. I was ashamed. But as the months passed, I think she just got used to it. And I no longer cared what she thought.
We moved several times after that, to places where we knew no one. Starting over and over again took it’s toll, but one thing remained steady in my life. I could always rely on booze. It didn’t matter where we lived or how hard the adjustment – there was always a store nearby where I could find my friend. The companion that pulled me through my son’s early childhood, and who was there for me when everyone else had left. In good times and bad, sickness (that it had caused) and health (which was starting to decline) – wine was there.
Our last move took us several states away from where we had lived before – and to absolutely nothing familiar. School, church, neighborhood – my son struggled mightily to reorient. As did I.
Eventually, with his little boy magnetism, we were invited to his friends’ birthday parties. By that time I was stashing those mini bottles in my purse, under the seat in the car – even *on* myself if I was wearing a baggier jacket. I made the rounds at different events, my anxiety was absolutely through the roof! I’d make trips to the bathroom to hurriedly get in another gulp of wine to take the edge off – and then rinse out my mouth with water and mouthwash (which I also started carrying in my purse). Pop a stick of gum in and hope my wine breath wouldn’t bowl over the other moms at the party. I actually got fairly good at timing all of it so that I wasn’t gone long enough to “cause concern”. We only went to a few of those parties, and then at some point, the invitations stopped.
Evening drinking now began at 3 pm.
And I proudly held the line. No drinking before school got out.
At that time, my son started karate lessons, and wow, did he pick it up like a complete natural! His karate promotions were amazing events, where sometimes he’d move up in rank two, or even three, beltloop colors! I was so proud! And so happy he’d found his niche and also a solid group of friends. I actually came out of myself enough to chat a bit with the other parents as we waited for evening practices to end. I tried so hard to break out of the isolation. But when I’d get home from his practices, I felt like I couldn’t rip the top off a bottle fast enough! I’d pour one and the next and the next until I felt “evened out” again… or should I say, until I began not to feel.
That was the goal now. I just didn’t want to feel anything anymore. It was too much. Everything hurt too much. The losses, the loneliness, our horrible marriage… I just couldn’t face it all without some kind of buffer. I didn’t know any other way.
As happy as my son was with our new home and his new friends and new interests, I was simply deteriorating.
Drinking again in the mornings, against every promise I had made to myself.
Drinking to the point of incoherence that he could see.
I had always hidden it fairly well when he was younger… but now, he could not only see it and smell it – he knew and understood what drunk was.. and “alcoholic”. And I knew that he knew I had a severe problem. That just stabbed my heart so deeply.
He came to know all my hiding places for booze around the house. He came to hate when I’d pick him up from karate reeking like chardonnay mixed with peppermint gum. He dreaded my attendance at his baseball games, because I’d spend half the game drinking in the bathroom or nodding off in my camp chair. He hated when I’d lie about “forgetting something” at the grocery store – he knew I’d come home with booze every. single. time.
He started accompanying me to that same store to try to stop me from buying wine. He’d literally steer the cart away from the aisle, and I’d fight to steer it back. Of course, I would always win that battle.. and his face, I won’t forget. Deeply saddened, angry, and scared all in one – his eyes pleading with me not to give in to the compulsion to drink that night.
It took years of spiraling downward and finally being terrified on a number of levels – health-related and others – to get me to quit my “mommy’s wine time”. God-willing, for good. But foremost, it’s my son, and remembering what he has had to endure because of my drinking, that keeps me doing the work I need to do to stay sober each day.
Over the course of his 16 years, I’ve had a million Day 1’s. It would stick for awhile, until the next thing, big or little, would knock me down, and I’d reach for the bottle again. Basically, I’d remove the booze, but everything else stayed the same.
A method I now know fails every time.
It took a ton of reading, educating myself on what booze really does to the body – and then finally reaching out to a community of others who are on the same path – for me to gather together healthy tips and tools that can replace what alcohol supposedly did for me all those years. Tools that truly help instead of the facade that booze had always offered. And a community where I can work on sobriety at my own pace, fully embraced for exactly who I am, and where I am, on this journey. No judgment.
124 days sober. I can’t begin to describe the changes in myself. But most of all, the wonderful changes in my son. I have never seen him happier… or lighter. He’s free from the chains of alcohol, just like I am – maybe more than I am. A question that never fails to get me through cravings is: how could I ever enslave either one of us again?
Alcohol abuse is never a private affair. It reaches its tentacles into absolutely every area of our lives. More than any other loved ones, it is our children who are most burdened with the crushing weight of our addiction. Children have to shoulder a burden that even many adults can’t handle – and kids have no choice in the matter.
It’s easy, especially when they’re little, to think we’ll “get it together” at some point before it impacts them.
Honestly, there is never a time in their development when our drug use – yes, drug use! – doesn’t affect them on some level.
Booze is insidious. It can get a grip on us and turn quickly into a monster we’ve never imagined. The earlier we address why we drink and what triggers our drinking – and get some healthy methods of coping and dealing with stress and anxiety – the more likely we are to go into our children’s future years fully present and ready to help them navigate this crazy world, just as parents are meant to do.
It is never too late to remove the burden of alcohol and let them be kids again!
What a tremendous gift – one that only we can give them.
(And to the parents of grown children who fear they’ve missed their chance.. that they can’t repair the damage. It’s also never too late. ❤ )
More reading from Boozemusings:
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