When My Child Remembers My Drunk Moments
Seven months of sobriety haven't erased the hurt.
This wasn’t the first time my 10-year-old daughter prompted me to remember an event that I desperately wanted to forget. This had become a fairly common occurrence now that I had acquired seven months of consistent sobriety. On this particular day, as we pulled into the movie theater parking lot, she was reminded of the day we ended up in this same parking lot two years before. I had brought her to a dance competition on a Saturday morning that year — only to realize it already had taken place on the previous Saturday. I had missed it by mixing up the dates. I then took her to the movies to try to make the day “more special,” as if I could somehow undo the fact that my drinking had yet again led to utter and total disappointment for her.
I felt myself growing defensive and resentful in that parking lot. I thought as soon as I heard her question, How could she? How dare she? Yes, of course I remember, Molly, but all I really, truly want is to forget that day and everything else I have ever messed up with my drinking. Why can’t she focus on the here and now, the sobriety, the improvements? Doesn’t she understand that I am sober now? I have been sober for seven long months.
Seven months of sobriety felt like a huge accomplishment to me. And it was. I had hoped that it was also enough time to erase the past not only from my mind, but from Molly’s, too. I wanted to make all of the bad memories go away forever. I didn’t want to feel the guilt, the shame and the self-hatred her questions aroused in me; it was all just too painful. And for these reasons, for a fleeting moment I resented my 10-year-old daughter. I resented her for making me look at who I was, for holding up a mirror, for saying, “Remember when. Remember who you were? Remember how you hurt me?” I couldn’t look at it all. I didn’t want to. The easier thing for me to do was to deflect.
“Yeah, Molly, I remember.” My tone said it all: Don’t bring up things like that. How dare you?
Fortunately and unfortunately, at seven months sober, I was still learning. I was still struggling with my ego; caring about me, me, me; being preoccupied with what I, quote-unquote, deserved. I didn’t know how to process my guilt and shame. I didn’t know how to put my ego aside and look at my daughter as the hurt, broken and scared 10-year-old that she was. I didn’t know how to take responsibility for her hurt.
I didn’t yet have the words to speak to Molly on that day or on any of the other days she said, “Remember when, Mom? Remember when you were acting crazy in Disney World? Remember when my friend was supposed to sleep over but you were in the hospital?” Or the times when she would question my sobriety. In my early sobriety days if I laughed loudly or started dancing in the kitchen, she would ask, “What’s in your cup, Mom? Mom, are you OK?”
I didn’t want to remember any of my time before sobriety. I wanted to make all of the bad memories go away forever. But for some reason, on this day, this one question from my beautiful, innocent and strong 10-year-old daughter helped me to see that this wasn’t possible. Seven months of sobriety wouldn’t erase the hurt, the lies, the disappointment and the fear that my drinking caused. I had to face it all. I had to sit with those feelings and own them, and I had to be there for my little girl and show her that I was indeed changing.
I knew my first reaction — to quickly snap, “Yeah, Molly” — was selfish. So I took a deep breath in through my nose and exhaled through my mouth. I made a conscious decision to accept the emotional pain that Molly’s question evoked in me and to take responsibility for the pain I caused her. This was enough to open me up to the possibility of doing things differently. This was enough to open me up so that I was able to remember what Liz, my AA sponsor, had shared with me not too long before.
Liz told me I was being selfish and defensive in my reactions. She called me on my bulls*** and said that this was about Molly’s healing, not my sobriety or guilt. She opened my eyes, and I was able to see that Molly was desperately seeking some sort of comfort. She was expressing herself in a perfectly normal 10-year-old way and trying to say, “Mom, I am scared. Mom, I don’t trust you. Mom, I am hurt.” Most importantly, she was asking, “Mom, are you OK? … because if you are not, then I have to find a way to protect myself.” I should have been celebrating her resilience in that moment! I wanted to see her strength and to celebrate her, and I wanted to do things differently.
I was now ready to hold myself accountable, push aside my ego for just a minute, and be the mom Molly so deserved. I realized in that moment that Molly was not pushing me away, as it had felt to me through my distorted perspective. In reality, she was inviting me in, sharing her emotions with me and ultimately saying, “Mom, help me.” With this powerful epiphany, I remembered the words Liz had given me to speak to my hurting daughter when I was ready to own them.
With a shaky voice, a warm heart and an abundance of discomfort, I finally said what my daughter needed to hear:
“Molly, that must have been so hard for you. I am so sorry you had to go through that, and I want you to know that you deserve better. I am a different person today, and I am working really hard every day to stay sober and be sure that you never have to see me that way again. I love you.”