My husband and I were struggling in our marriage. His late nights out, emotional distance and constant defensiveness led me to think he was straying. I spent that year redesigning myself, hoping to retrieve his attention. I dyed my hair a saucier shade of blonde, wore outfits that begged to catch his eye and laughed when I wanted to cry.
One night, when he’d taken off for a weekend conference, I got so drunk after tucking in my daughter, I puked all over the wood floor next to our previously active and gleaming brass bed, tarnished now from months of disuse.
The following morning my 5-year-old daughter, with sleep encircling her concerned eyes, stood there staring at me, her bare feet immersed in regurgitated clumps of the scrambled eggs I’d managed to whip up the night before. I looked down at the mess I’d made, with limited recollection of how it got there, then peered at my daughter. Her eyes oozed the compassion of an adoring pup as she said, “Oh, Mommy. Are you sick?”
Shame gripped every part of my trembling body. I couldn’t bear to look in her eyes. The fear of not remembering how I had gotten here was palpable, and I was certain my daughter knew the secret I’d been keeping from myself and others for years.
I’m an alcoholic. I couldn’t hide it anymore.
Every last thread was ripped away from that warm cloak of denial I’d worn. Here I was, gazing into the eyes of my daughter, who’d come to yank me out of my misery. I was hitting my final bottom, after ignoring numerous red flags that had waved in my face for years.
I knew for a long time I needed to stop. I’d told her dad I thought I had a problem when we first started dating. He laughed and convinced me I didn’t.
Early on, I learned alcohol provided relief from the anxiety that raced through my life. Its liquid salve soothed the fear and confusion I often felt. It washed away the inner turmoil that disrupted the peace I sought.
The last thing I wanted to do was give it up.
It would take me two more months to quit.
Two months of hauling my body, heavy with fear and remorse, out of that tarnished brass bed to send my daughter off to school. Then I’d crawl back into it and stay there, as I succumbed to the disjointed sleep of depression until the bus dropped her off hours later. Her little finger, filled with endless kindergarten stories, poked me awake.
Each poke was like being slapped in the face with my failures as a mother.
Five months after I finally got sober, my husband moved out. My chattering on about how great it was to be abstinent seemed to threaten him. I was attending 12-step meetings daily, and the slogans tumbled easily off my tongue.
After he left, I brought my daughter to meetings. She dragged along her yellow sleeping bag with orange ducks waddling around it, and a tote bag filled with coloring books and crayons. She stretched herself across the stage in the town hall, wrapped in yellow, coloring pictures of Ariel and Beauty and the Beast with her little hands, next to tables where I spilled my guts and listened as others spilled theirs.
In summer, two “nooner” meetings became favorites of ours. At one, throngs of struggling people filled the basement of a local Unitarian Universalist church, with the smell of coffee floating through its musty air. My daughter sat on my lap, as too many members scouting for available seats often glared at kids who had taken one of theirs. I listened as she squirmed, holding her tight as drunken tales drifted around the room.
I met a woman whose story resembled mine, and she informed me of a meeting in a city next to this one, packed with old-timers, their wisdom like gold. The next day we headed to that meeting, held above a sketchy auto body shop, in a small green room on the second floor, with two rectangular tables surrounded by folding chairs that filled the space. I wondered if this was a good place to bring my daughter — it looked more like a site to score drugs than a place to gain recovery — as we climbed decaying stairs that creaked loudly as we ascended.
I sat down and listened as the promised words of wisdom floated around the room. My daughter sat next to me, eating the brown bag lunch I’d packed, yogurt and carrot sticks, raisins and juice, as a woman beside us wondered why there were no chips or soda in the bag. I laughed and said we were trying to get healthy. My daughter smiled at those who winked at her as she pressed close to me. Her presence made speakers mindful of what they said, but they were obviously grateful for the joy she brought just by being there.
I’ve been sober a long time now. My daughter is grown, and each year when my sobriety date rolls around, she beams with pride and tells me my getting sober was the greatest gift I ever gave to her.
I remind her it was a gift I gave us both.
Carol Weis is a freelancer who writes about addiction/recovery, mental/emotional health, single parenting, relationships and divorce. Her work has appeared in Salon, Literary Mama, xoJane, Scary Mommy, Addiction Blog, The Fix, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan and Woman’s Day, among others.
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