‘I Am Never Going To Have Even A Sip of Alcohol, Mom’
Why my daughter’s pledge leaves me feeling guilty instead of proud.
“I am never going to have even a sip of alcohol, Mom.”
Molly has been speaking these words to me for as long as I can remember. While most parents would beam with pride, I always receive them with a pang of guilt. It was my fault that she feared alcohol, after all.
I still feel sick to my stomach when I think of a particular sleepover that happened 10 years ago. Molly was hesitant to invite her friend over because she was afraid drunk mom would show up. I promised Molly I wouldn’t drink. I wanted her to have a fun night as a normal 6th grader. “I won’t drink, Molly. I promise.”
But I broke that promise. Drunk mom did show up. I did everything in my power to cover the smell on my breath, to disguise the foolish behavior. Molly and her friend seemed to have fun. But I was consumed with shame and guilt over broken promises, vodka breath, lost patience and the fact that I just couldn’t stay sober. Not even for one night. Not even for my daughter.
Even after eight-and-a-half years of sobriety, it’s a night I'll never forget. Truth be told, it’s one of many; my alcoholism ruined Molly’s childhood. Alcohol was poison — to me and to her. It destroyed our family. At 8, Molly became the mom to her younger siblings. She cooked and cleaned when I could not. She lived in fear and chaos. She kept my secret from her friends and family. She protected me and loved me and put my pieces together again and again, even though she was way too young, scared and neglected — neglected by the one person who was supposed to provide love and security. Alcohol stole her mother.
When I finally did get sober, Molly, at the tender age of 10, was firm in her vow to never drink. “Not even a sip, Mom.”
And then came the high school years. On most Friday and Saturday nights, Molly sat home with me and her siblings. “Molly, can we make cookies from scratch and watch a movie together Friday night?” her siblings would ask. We loved spending time together — and loved that Molly was still a part of that (while her friends were out partying). Some nights Molly would log on to Snapchat, show me where the party was and tell me who was there (basically everyone). “You’re not going?” I would ask. “Not invited,” she said. I wanted to ask why, but we both knew it was because she didn’t drink. To Molly, that was just a fact of the life she was choosing to live. To me, it was a reminder of times past, a trigger for my guilt and the opening up of questions, to which I was not ready for answers.
How could she NOT be invited? Isn’t there anyone else who doesn’t drink? Were her friends afraid she would tell on them? Did she want to go to these parties? Did she know that alcohol isn’t poison to everyone? Do her friends know that I am an alcoholic? Does she resent me for instilling this fear in her? Does any part of her still hate me for being … well, me?
I didn’t want to be the reason she missed out on anything. I wanted her to be a normal teen, taking a normal first drink at a normal high school party. Secretly, I resented those high school kids for not inviting her.
Perhaps I resented myself more.
And so I stuffed it all down. And every Friday and Saturday night, when Molly would be home while her friends were at the party of the week, I also stuffed my guilt. I wanted to tell her she deserved better. I wanted to tell her I was sorry. But I couldn’t. I wasn’t ready.
And then I was. Because with time, communication and willingness, healing eventually happens. One day, I was ready to have the hard conversations. And in her final weeks of high school, Molly seemed to know it: She had been invited to an after-prom party, she was nervous, and she was talking about it! Actually, we talked a lot, and I told her many of the things I had wanted to say for years. We talked about how to be safe around alcohol. We talked about what drinking looked like for me when I was 18 and how it progressed. We talked about how some people can drink safely. We talked about God and faith. And we talked about my shame. I also told her that if she wanted to be a “normal” teen and try alcohol, well, then that was OK too.
“Mom, stop it! I am never going to drink and I don’t want to!”
Molly has the strongest head on her shoulders of anyone I know. She makes up her mind and nothing will change it. She is and always has been — even at 10 years old — a person of her word and of integrity, and I love and envy that about her. She is also my daughter, which means that my alcoholism is and always will be a part of her. A beautifully messy and significant part of who she is, a part I cannot take away. Nor would I want to.
She is not me.
Molly went to her first high school party after her senior prom. I sat in the kitchen nervously awaiting her return the next morning, questions running through my brain. She came home and happily, nonchalantly said, “Mom, I just drank water and it was no big deal. No one even cared. They just said to me the next morning, ‘Molly, you drank all the water.’ ”
I smiled at the irony of it. “It was so easy,” she added, and then turned to go searching for her siblings.
This month AARP is launching an initiative, “Our Kids in Crisis,” with a special report in AARP Bulletin, stories throughout aarp.org, The Ethel, The Girlfriend, Sisters From AARP, and The Arrow e-newsletters. Plus, there's a virtual summit with experts and teens on September 20. For more stories, advice and insights, and to register for this important informational event, please join us at aarp.org/teensincrisis.