Oh how pop culture likes to glamorize moms who drink. It's all so fun and silly, right? And heck, moms work super hard! We deserve a little drink right? Yeah!!! Even Hoda and Kathy Lee have a healthy glass of wine on their desk every MORNING on their show. So see, it's okay to get started early!
A sippy cup of wine at a your child's recital (hey, we need that "mom juice" right?!). Play dates with wine "tastings" for all the moms while the kids get their very important social development time (pat on back for being a good mom who will then drive those precious babes back home after that fancy and sophisticated wine tasting).
Then there are the hilarious (but also so practical!) products like the purse with a hidden wine compartment and a little hidden spout at the bottom you can drink from! Great for work, great for shopping, great for travel, great for those long boring games and recitals your kids are in. Oh yeah, maybe we can handle being Soccer Moms, after all!?? Hey, it's always "Wine Thirty" for moms! Do you hear the drums calling??
I did. I bought into all of this. Not like I needed help rationalizing my abnormal drinking. But man it was great seeing main stream media and consumer products reinforcing my need for approval at what I knew deep down was not healthy or normal for any person, much less for a mom to be doing while she cared for her baby and toddler.
It's not like the drinking started with becoming a mom. Oh no, I enjoyed that recreation on a daily basis for well over a decade before I had my son. I started drinking in the pretty typical way most people do. Experimented in high school, went to college where it was part of the culture and an expected part of becoming an adult. Then frequented bars and clubs in my 20s where ladies often drank for free. (Having plenty of drunk women is a great way to get men into a bar, as it turns out. Great marketing scheme really.)
Then my 30s really sealed the fate of my alcoholism. I had a corporate job now. I had my own apartment. I was living that Sex and the City lifestyle and thought I was pretty darn cool. And there were plenty of others my age playing the same game to hang out with, making it all seem oh so normal. Work hard, play hard, right?? Every day of the week had a good reason to booze up.
Monday: I mean c'mon, Mondays suck. You need it. You deserve it! You didn't even call in sick from your resulting Sunday hangover!
Tuesday: Two-Fer Tuesdays! I'm on a tight budget. It just makes financial sense to drink on Tuesdays.
Wednesday: Hump Day! Yeah, we got through half the week! Plus, Wednesdays are good days to connect with others, either for work or for acquiring dates or partners in crime for the real partying coming in a couple days!
Thursday: Shoot, that's really close to Friday. And Friday is Casual Friday anyway. And if you get hungover, it's Friday so you just have to remember you only have to suffer through that one day and get yourself to...
Friday: Yep, you did it (thanks in part to that super greasy breakfast burrito and 32-ounce Mountain Dew)!! It's Happy Hour time! Always great to blow off steam with co-workers at Friday Happy Hour. Which turns into happy hours and hours and hours and often ends up at a club until 3 AM. Hey, it's all part of being a young professional! And 30 is the new 20, right? So then 40 is the new 30, which is actually the new 20, so that makes 40 also the new 20. So I'm still young, let's partayyy!
Saturday: Oh man, the pain sets in. What better way to avoid a wasted Saturday being hungover than continuing the party! 10 AM Bloody Mary Breakfast ya'll!! Ah, feeling much better. Now we can make it to that afternoon sports event or through the mundane Saturday afternoon chores. Did you know you can fill a Big Gulp cup with beer and nobody will know you're drinking while you grocery shop or fold clothes at the laundromat! (Until you breathe on them, but just don't breathe near people!) All of this leading up to the big obligatory Saturday night of partying (you can't NOT go out, right?).
Sunday: And then the double whammy of Sunday pain kicks in. Thank God most places have great deals on Bloody Mary's and Mimosas. I mean, you need to go out to get something to eat anyway, right? And then it's Football Sunday! Off to a friends to split a 6 pack, or 12 pack or a case or two while enjoying the games. It's an American tradition, gotta do it! (Not that I even like Football, but whatevs.)
And on and on it goes like this, week after week. Month after month. Year after year. And then… one day you realize you just might possibly, maybe kinda sorta-ish, could have a problem? When was the last time you went a day with no alcohol? Hmm. Well, I could stop if I WANTED to.
This brings us to: DENIAL. A very long and powerful stage and if you're lucky, you live through it.
I couldn't possibly be an ALCOHOLIC… I am successful at my job, even got a promotion! I'm clean, take a shower every day, my house is clean, all my laundry is even done! (I mean, that Big Gulp cup full of beer helped with that one but…) I have enough money to buy my booze. It's not like I'm digging quarters out of the couch to by a 40 ouncer. Well… there was that ONE time. But it's not my fault my car broke down and cost $800 to fix! I happened to be broke that ONCE and that wasn't my fault.
**Enter nagging thoughts of truth behind the thick veil of denial**
Oh look, an online quiz!! "Are You An Alcoholic? Take this Simple Quiz!" Better get a glass of wine for this… aren't I so funny!? Alcoholics aren't funny, they're sad. I'm a fun drunk! Okay, got my glass (mug) of wine. Hey, don't they say red wine is good for your heart? Damn straight. Here's to my heart! Cheers!
Okay, diagnostic quiz, here we go.
Have you ever drank more than you intended to? DUH! C'mon, everyone has done that. Nobody has ONE drink. This quiz is ridiculous. (Okay, this may not actually be a true diagnostic quiz.)
Have you ever tried to cut down on alcohol and not succeeded? I can cut back! At Jenny's wedding, I only had two beers! I mean, the kegs ran out realllly early so it's not like I had a choice but still, I only had two beers. I even remember catching the bouquet! (Dang that was 5 years ago. I haven't even had a boyfriend since then. I mean, I had some hookups, don't get me wrong! James from the bar… man, he was hot. Did I not give him my number? He never called me.)
In the past year have you experienced strong cravings for alcohol? Pfft. Only every Thursday through Saturday! Ha ha! Doesn't everyone? Sure, I drink the other four days of the week too but it's not like I CRAVE it on those days. It's just part of the routine, my social life. I could just have sodas on those days, it wouldn't be a big deal. But THEN I'd look like I have a problem, huh?? Everyone would look at me weird if I ordered a Diet Coke and then the rumors would start flying! Better not do that.
Have you stopped doing activities you used to enjoy in order to spend time drinking? Well, that gym membership was too expensive. That's why I stopped playing racquetball every Tuesday with Sarah. (Wow, I haven't seen her in so long! Four years?? I need to call her. Maybe next week.) Canceling that membership had to be done. Who has an extra $50 a month to spend on that? The economy has been doing so bad. I'm surprised anyone still goes to the gym at this point. (Shit, wasn't that last overdraft for $63 from Applebee's? But I bought a round for everyone, that's why that one was so much. And I wasn't expecting to spend that much, that's why it was overdraft.)
Has your tolerance for alcohol increased, meaning you need to drink more now to feel the same effect as you used to? Really, come on! Anyone who drinks more than once a month learns how to handle their alcohol. It's not that you're addicted, it's that you've learned how to manage yourself better. We call it "going pro!" I can have six drinks, walk a straight line, say my ABC's, and drive more safely than I drive sober. I've never even been pulled over! (Yet.)
Well that's enough of that stupid quiz. Since when is Redbook Magazine the authority on addiction, anyway? Duh! Time for another glass of wine, gotta take care of that heart of mine, right?
All of these insane rationalizations, excuses, and distortions of the truth are so insidious. They say if you tell yourself a lie enough times, you begin to believe it is actually true. Over ten years of telling myself these things kept me sick for so much longer than was necessary. There wasn't any situation I couldn't rationalize my way out of. Not even after I had my baby.
When I got pregnant, I stopped drinking. Just like that. Easy peasy. For this, I am very grateful to this day that somehow I was able to not drink for nine months. It was a wonderful thing, and amazingly easy to do. But, ultimately, my ability to do this would send me further down the addiction spiral. If it was that simple and easy for me to not drink for nine months while pregnant, then I certainly was NOT an alcoholic! An alcoholic wouldn't have been able to do that. What a relief!!
My beautiful son was born and my life took a seismic shift, as anyone's does when they first become a parent. However, it mostly wasn't what I thought it was going to be right from the start. While still in the hospital, I wasn't able to lovingly cuddle my son and breastfeed him and gaze into his eyes for hours on end. (Why did they keep bringing me the baby? Keep him in the nursery, I need my sleep!)
Instead, I had panic attacks and depression took great hold of me. Fear of my new responsibility as a mother shocked and stunned me. I went completely numb in the hospital. I wasn't able to breastfeed whatsoever because of this. After breaking down sobbing to my OB about this, she quickly got my son onto formula and assured me he would be fine on formula and that it was more important for me to relax and take care of myself so I could recover. (A happy mom has a happy baby.)
What a relief! At that moment, my spirits lifted. Maybe I could handle this motherhood thing! Yeah. I could do this. This would be fine. The next day we were released to go home. Hooray! Everything would be great once I was back home in my own space. I'll never forget putting my tiny son into that carseat and making sure I had every strap tightened perfectly and quadruple checking that the seat was clicked in properly. And then ordering my husband to drive slowly and carefully all the way home. Except for one quick stop we needed to make first. Baby was on formula, right? Soooo... a couple beers would be just fine.
Of course I rationalized this to myself and to my husband. What could he say when I reminded him of the 9 months I'd been sober, so obviously I could control my drinking and I had just GIVEN BIRTH! He saw what I went through! If anyone deserved a beer or two it was me! And it began… again.
For the first month or two, I kept in "controlled" to a point. My husband and I worked out a system for caring for our newborn overnight by taking turns every other night. On the "his nights," I could let loose! I mean, the baby would still wake me up at 5 AM or earlier but I'd get to sleep a solid night! And 6 beers wasn't that much compared to what I used to drink! See, I was better. And it was hard being a stay at home mom with an infant. I deserved to unwind, that's for sure!
Slowly but surely, the amount and frequency increased. Quickly I was back to every day and back to drinking the 10-12 beers a day like I used to. And I made a rule, I couldn't drink until my husband got home from work. Because I was responsible! See how responsible I can be! The countdown would begin around noon each day. Five hours 'til I can drink! Four hours 'til I can drink! Around 3:30 it was time to take the baby out for a stroller walk. That's what good moms do, let their little ones get out and experience the world, get some fresh air and a little sunshine. So off we would go walking, and the convenience store HAPPENED to be long the route. Surely it would make sense to go ahead and pop in there and buy my beer for later. I mean, I was out anyway. (And this way I'd have them ready to go the second my husband walked through the door!)
Then it seemed okay to go ahead and have a couple beers before he got home. Two beers wouldn't impair me. I didn't have to be that neurotic about my rule of no drinking while alone with the baby. 4 o'clock was close enough to 5:30, right? And it's always 5 o'clock somewhere! Man, now I know why people love Jimmy Buffett!
And then two beers before 5:30 become three before 4:30 and then four before 2:30 and on. And on. And on.
By the time my son was a year old, I had a whole new routine! First thing in the morning I'd pack up my son and we'd go to run errands. You know, pick up food for dinner (I planned dinners! Again, such a responsible stay at home mom!), get more diapers or formula or baby food, and make a stop at a park for some healthy play time for my son. Look at me out here at the park in the morning with all these other bright and shiny moms! I'm doing okay with this mom thing, I really am! May as well grab more beer on the way home. With nap time on the horizon, it only made sense to chug two or three beers. It would help me get sleepy so I could "sleep when the baby sleeps" like everyone was always telling me to do. And we weren't going back out anywhere, may as well enjoy a little beer buzz in the morning and sleep it off during nap time. My husband would never know.
Wait, was I hiding my drinking? That was one of those quiz questions, I think. Wasn't it? Well, this wasn't really HIDING anything. I did plenty of stuff during the day I never told my husband about. Would I tell him I drank two glasses of milk? Or that I ate three cookies? Of course not. Then why should I be expected to tell him I had a couple (few) beers? I'm an adult. And it's hard being home all day with a baby. Most of my social time was now spent with an infant! I needed to feel more like an adult. And heck, all these women on morning talk shows are drinking wine and talking about Booze-day Tuesday and Wine Wednesday and Thirsty Thursday. This is what people do. I gotta stop being such an overthinker about this. Sheesh!
In my own way I had settled into my motherhood routine. I wasn't unsafe. I'd never drive with my son in the car if I had drank. I was really organized about how I worked it all in to make sure my son was safe. I'm sure this is/was how most stay at home moms handled the pressure, lack of sleep, and isolation of becoming a new mom. There were even playdates where you could go and drink wine with moms while the kids played. Us moms had to stick together in this. In the 60s moms were popping valium (wasn't it even called "Mother's Little Helper"?) or drinking gin while playing Bunko or Bridge together. This is how moms have survived for generations!
And then a HUGE change came to be. My husband got a new job on the other side of the country. 2,000 miles away! And we'd need to move there in the next month!!
HOW could I possibly get through this level of stress!?
(Read on in Part 2 of this story for my horrific fall from grace that became the worst and also best day of my life.)