I look at the clock through my glossy eyes. It is 3:06 a.m. I need a drink. I reach for the stale wine on my nightstand and gulp down what is left. I get up and scrounge through my purse, where I find some nip bottles. There are a few drops left in each one and so I drink down the leftover drops of alcohol in as many tiny bottles as I can find. I must calm the shakes and the nausea before I can do anything else — before I can think, go to the bathroom, sleep even. I consume enough residuals — that’s what I call the leftover drops in the tiny vodka bottles — to think about something other than alcohol for a few minutes.
My kids? When did I fall asleep? Did I tuck them into bed? I think long and hard and try to convince myself that they don’t know. I look around for clues in my bedroom and the kitchen, and I try to collect memories about the previous night that just aren’t there. I check my phone for information that may help me piece together what happened last night. I discover a slew of text messages that I wish I could unsend. The texts messages, however, offer no answers to the questions racing through my mind. What happened? How, where and when did the kids fall asleep? How did I behave? Did I clean up after dinner? Maybe they don’t know I was drunk last night. They are young. I was OK enough to fool them, right? I tell myself that, but I know it’s a lie. I desperately want to drink more to kill the guilt — to kill all the feeling I have. I want to be numb. Then it won’t matter. Then I can just start over, drunk, as if last night didn’t happen.
I tiptoe into my kids’ rooms to confirm that they are there and they are breathing and they are OK. I see them sleeping soundly in their beds, and I wonder who I was last night — was I the fun, carefree drunk or the mean, weird, scary drunk? I feel sick to my stomach and I just can’t wait until I can drink more so I don’t have to feel this. I am happy they are OK and safe, but it is all about me. I want to know that I am OK and that they still love me, despite my drinking. I want to know that they won’t be taken away from me. I want to be certain that their dad, my ex-husband, doesn’t know I did it again. I fucked up, I blacked out, I endangered them.
I stand next to the bed of my oldest daughter and shake her gently. Molly, Molly, I whisper, as I try to rouse her gently with my hand on her shoulder. Her eyes open and she looks at me. I am sorry, I mumble in a shaky voice. I was sick again last night and I am sorry. Are you OK? It is OK, she says. Yes, I am fine, she utters as she rolls over to go back to sleep. I continue with words that I speak more to ease my own mind than hers: I love you so much and I promise I will be better. I kiss her forehead and let her go back to sleep.
I promised I would be better that morning in her room. I meant it as much as I could as I stood there, hungover and craving alcohol. I didn’t want to get sick again. Sick — that is the code word we (my 9-year-old daughter and I) used for drunk. But day after day, I woke up and my first thought was alcohol. It hadn’t always been this bad. For 15 years, I was a high-functioning alcoholic. I drank wine every night, but I was a fun drunk and it didn’t interfere with my responsibilities. I didn’t drink and drive, I never missed work because of alcohol, and I didn’t dare drink before 5 p.m. This was my life as a functional alcoholic and I loved it.
I loved it so much that waiting until 5 p.m. became more and more difficult. I woke up and was immediately looking forward to that first drink. I started having a drink or two on my lunch break, and when no one noticed, it became a daily ritual. Alcohol quickly became my best friend. When wine didn’t have the same effect as it once did, I made the switch to vodka. I fell in love with the Smirnoff nips that they sell right next to the cash register at liquor stores. They were easy to hide and cheap, and the buzz was immediate. Before long, I wouldn’t leave home without four or five nips in my purse. And so began my love affair with vodka and what would be the worst four years of my life.
I drank at 8 a.m. I drank at work. I drank with my kids. I drank and drove regularly. I lost jobs, I hurt everyone who came close to me, and I was constantly lying to hide my drinking. At my lowest, I drank things like vanilla extract and mouthwash when I could not get my hands on anything else. There were ambulance rides to emergency rooms, DUIs, 1½ years on probation, intensive outpatient treatments, 13 trips to detox centers and three in-patient rehab stays. Alcohol was wreaking havoc on my life, yet I could not stop. I always went back to the bottle and I always believed that this time, I would be in control. This time, I wouldn’t get drunk.
On Feb. 3, 2014, my parents called an ambulance to come and take me from their house to the hospital. It was 10 a.m. I was inebriated and had been driving. At the hospital, it was discovered that my blood alcohol content was .34, more than four times over the legal limit. It was a miracle that I was alive and that I didn’t hurt anyone on the road that day. I was presented with the opportunity to go to a six-month rehab facility, and there was no doubt in my mind that I needed to go. I was desperate. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I wasn’t sure sobriety was possible, but I was ready to give it one last try. I remember telling myself: This is it. This is my last attempt at sobriety. If this doesn’t work, I will die an alcoholic death.
While I was in rehab, I fully accepted my powerlessness over alcohol. I learned how to ask for help and I was lifted up by so many other sober alcoholics. With each passing moment, not drinking became a little bit easier. The days that I didn’t drink slowly added up to weeks, months and years. I learned to live sober. I laughed sober, I danced sober, I apologized sober and I dated sober. I woke up with a clear mind each morning. I fell in love with sober mornings. I brushed my teeth and didn’t gag like I used to when I was hungover. I had vivid, wonderful dreams, and sleep became a restorative part of my day that I looked forward to; I was not passing out, but falling asleep. I cried sober. I felt things I hadn’t felt in decades — like guilt, shame, sadness, embarrassment, fear, happiness, gratitude, love and hope. I felt the bad and I felt the good, and I felt them deeply. I cried so much in early sobriety. I cried happy tears, and tears of sadness and confusion. I would cry at a beautiful sunset, after a great job interview or when I noticed the dimples on my daughter’s beautiful face. It was all so overwhelming. I had never dreamed that sobriety could feel so good — so much better than drunkenness. Gratitude, hope and faith grew in the holes of my spirit that alcoholism left behind.
Today I am a loving, sober mother. I will humbly celebrate five years of sobriety in February 2019. As I look back on who I was, how I drank and the immense amount of pain and fear I caused my three children, I can’t believe that was me. I feel different. I am different. When I wake up now, my first thoughts are words I speak to God: Thank you for another day sober. Please help me stay sober today.
This morning, I snuck into my daughter’s room and gently tapped her on the shoulder. Molly, Molly, it is time to wake up, I whispered. Breakfast waited on the table and as she ate her cereal, I helped her study for her vocabulary test. I am sober, I am reliable, and I am capable of loving today. Five years of sobriety doesn’t undo the years of drunken damage, but today I am the mother my children have deserved all along. The scars, the pain, and the damage? We work through that as best we can, one day at a time.
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