As a recovering alcoholic, I will never use the past tense and say I’m recovered – and that’s ok. This disease isn’t like having the flu or a broken leg. The treatment for me, embracing recovery, is an on-going process, it’s a journey - it’s a way of life.
Alcoholism runs on both sides of my family. My Grandfather spiked his morning orange juice with vodka, my Grandmother had strategically hidden scotch bottles throughout her home. Both my parents drank socially, but my father’s drinking progressed, and he did things and hurt people in ways I believe he wouldn’t have otherwise. Those actions brought a lot of pain to my family, and my parents divorced as a result. As F. Scott Fitzgerald so poignantly wrote, “the man took a drink, the drink took a drink, the drink took the man.“ He was confined to a wheelchair for the last 10 years of his life severely compromised from a series of strokes and water on the brain – he died from a cataclysmic stroke 8 years ago.
Growing up, I was convinced my drinking would never become a problem. I never fathomed becoming an alcoholic. I also vowed I would never marry anyone who was married to their drinking. I dated a few guys who drank too much and a lot of my friends in college actually drank more than me. My drinking compared to theirs reassured me that I was fine. My former husband didn’t have any drinking issues – but after we divorced, I again dated men who had serious drinking problems; and it got ugly. I became Florence Nightingale convincing myself I was ok as I was going to save them and get them sober. I snuck into a few AA meetings to find out what made them tick and “audited’ a few Alanon meetings hoping to learn how to crack the code and get them to stop drinking. Little did I know I was blossoming into an alcoholic right alongside them.
As a single mom, I was living in a charming little house in Greenwich, ran my own company, volunteered, sat on various Boards and committees, attended Book Club, played in a tennis group and had a beautiful little boy. On the outside you would have never known there was a problem. But just under the surface was the undertow of this disease – a strong current with a relentless pull. What wasn’t noticeable was that I drank at home almost every night. I drank at dinner parties and social events and was hungover at least three times a week. Having a glass of wine had become my companion, my friend, a habit and something to look forward to and depend on.
When did I pass through the looking glass? When did my social drinking evolve into problem drinking? It was when unacceptable behavior became acceptable. When I began to do things that only problem drinkers or alcoholics might do. I drank to get over a hangover and when that didn’t do the trick – I popped a Percocet. I drank on Sundays, I drank before 5pm. Driving with a “Roady” in the car on my way to pick up my son from evening hockey practice. I physically craved alcohol.
But it was when the ability to take care of my son began to falter – that got my attention. In fact, that frightened me. With a pounding headache, I would pack his lunch box and put him on the bus in the morning and then crawl back into bed calling into work sick. At night, I would read him a bedtime story with a glass of wine on the night stand and intentionally skip some pages so I could get on with my night. At the time, I was also in a volatile personal relationship and by staying in that relationship I was exposing my son to things I would have never exposed him to – arguing, late nights, my being too hungover to be able to play with him outside, unexplained behavior – and it all came rushing back to me.
I was beginning to do to him what had been done to me. I swore I would never, ever, let the disease of alcoholism in, and I was the one who opened the door. For many mothers, if they won’t get help for themselves – it’s their child who somehow gives them a purpose – a reason to live. Whether that’s our mothering instinct or God’s Grace – it gave me a higher calling – a higher purpose.
Being a single mom in recovery was tough. I was going to meetings and on many occasions had to bring my son with me – we called them my “feelings meetings.” I didn’t have a husband I could lean on, my family was not nearby, and I couldn’t always get a sitter. I would pack up his backpack with goldfish, a juice box and his plastic action figures, and have him sit in the hallway while I sat in a chair and listened. Everyone who I first got sober with knew my son. A man who had done time at Sing Sing was a friendly face and playmate along with a homeless man who had been living on the streets of Costa Rica. We all had something in common – we were trying to stay sober a day at a time and I trusted this group of people with my son like they were family.
After a full day of work and a quick dinner at home, I would sometimes go out again to go to a meeting. I will never forget when Jack Hayden said, “Mommy, why do you always have to go to those meetings - it gets in the way of us spending time together.” That slayed me. But I was told that I would be a better mother – sober. I had to have faith that being sober, being present, being responsible was what my son needed in the long run. Jack is now 30, and I have been sober for 22 years. I identify now more with my recovery than I do with my disease. My recovery is woven into my relationships and conversations with family members, friends and colleagues. In fact, I am a Recovery Coach - recovery is now my profession.
Recovery is a process; it takes willingness, commitment and humility but most of all courage.
In the words of Eugene O’Neill, “Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The Grace of God is the glue.” Sobriety is a God send – it is a gift – an opportunity to change. It’s a recovery in mind, body and spirit. As a result of my sobriety, I am free to discover and strive to be the best person and mother I can possibly be. I am a grateful recovering alcoholic – grateful because this is the only disease I know whose remedy enables you to become a better person.
#recovery #motherhood #soberliving #wellness #courage