Motherhood in Sobriety

Three years into sobriety, I gave birth. This is a letter to my daughter about her alcoholic mother.

Dear Lucy,

The second that doctor sliced me open and grabbed you, pulled you out and held you up to the light, I felt a bone-crushing, spooky love that I’d never felt before. My arms were splayed on either side of my body and I couldn’t move them, but they held your cheek up to mine and I felt you. I sobbed hysterically and so did you.

I am a good mother. Today, you are ten months old, so being good means that I read to you, feed you vegetables, build tall towers of blocks for you to knock down, keep you warm, and love you with a fierceness that you never, ever question. It also means that I never take a drink.

Since you’re half my soggy genetic material, I fear someday you might know what I mean.

Drinking made me feel like I fit into my own skin. I was born with a too big, too clunky, too awkward spirit, an amorphous thing, that a god I don’t believe in jammed into a disproportionate, human-shaped meat. Two arms, two legs, all the parts were there, but it felt all wrong.

Taking a drink was like easing into myself. The bitter taste, the slow burn in the throat, the warming in the stomach, and then the release of discomfort, passing in a slow howl, like puncturing a tire. I drank because it made the world make sense, and I made sense in it.

As a young teenager, I learned that drinking instilled in me the confidence I needed to talk to boys. Some of those boys took advantage of me in sickening, disturbing ways. I learned that I couldn’t control what happened to my body when I drank. The only cure for the bad things that happened was to drink more to help me forget.

There were thousands of mornings that I woke up and promised myself that it wouldn’t happen again. Each of those mornings was exactly the same: my eyes flash open; I realize I’m still alive; I check to see where I am; I try to remember how I got there; my head roars like a thunderclap; I tell myself this is the last time. As the hangover dissolves into day, so does my resolve. By six o’clock there’s a martini in my hand, all gin. As I take the first sip, all of the crashing in me starts to calm, nothing but little waves lapping at the shore.

While the first martini squeezes my brain back into my body, the second makes me giddy with excitement. Not only has last night’s replay loop vanished, but now I’m noticing how smart I sound in conversation, how funny my jokes are, how the puffiness and ruddiness of my face add a youthful quality.

Two drinks in and it’s time for dinner; wait any longer and I won’t eat at all. Dinner comes with wine, usually white, at least half a bottle. I feel good, socially apt, sophisticated. I talk about what region the wine is from, where the vegetables were sourced.

After dinner, there’s grappa, Irish coffee, an expensive liquor. I’m teetering on the edge of my chair, saying less now than before, spinning but not badly. I drink coffee to revive myself, because I need to keep drinking. There is an inextinguishable desire woven into my roots that tells me I need to keep going. I quickly think about how much alcohol I have at home: a six pack? Wine? How many bottle are left? One six pack for two people is not enough, because whoever I’m with might drink three. I try to think of a reason to stop at the corner bodega, so I can casually recommend picking up more beer “just to have.”

At home, I crack open the first beer. It’s early, maybe ten. I turn on the television and queue up whatever show I’m currently on. The first beer is ice cold and deeply refreshing. When the first episode ends in a cliffhanger, I push for another one, and then another. In this way, I can drink four or five more beers before heading to bed.

My drinking always had consequences. I drove drunk into a telephone pole and badly hurt my friends. Men abused me. I stopped trying to get anywhere with my life, because as long as I could afford to drink, I was okay. They say a functional alcoholic has a job, but no soul. I always had a job.

I used to wonder if I’d ever be able to have children, because I couldn’t imagine going nine months without a drink. Would I also have to stop drinking if I were just trying to get pregnant? Would that mean a whole year without drinking? Drinking just one or two was never an option for me; one only guaranteed that I would not stop until total obliteration. I drank so I wouldn’t have to feel my life.

One morning, a few years before you were born, I woke up. It was a morning just like all the other ones. I took a minute to figure out where I was (on my couch), how I got there (no idea), and who I was with (my friend Sarah). I noticed the front door to our Brooklyn apartment was wide open, another detail I couldn’t explain. Sarah left, and I dragged myself to the bedroom, where your Dad lay sleeping. I looked at him and said, “I need help.”

That’s what grace is.

By the grace of a higher power I call “whatever”, I made it through that day and night without drinking. I made it through the next day, too. As I sit here writing you this letter, I’ve made it through 1,540 days.

I had to earn those days, one at a time. I had to learn how to sit in my own skin, in all that discomfort, with the shameful memories that snuck up on me and pounced. I had to learn how to go to dinner without drinking, how to watch TV without drinking, how to talk to and relate to other people without drinking. I felt like a teenager again, noticing strange feelings and thoughts suddenly unobscured by the thick fog of a daily alcoholic haze.

After I became pregnant, I’d sit in my alcoholic meetings and cry. I used to not drink for myself, but now I also needed to not drink for you.

When I drink, nothing is more important than figuring out how to keep drinking. I don’t care where I am, who I’m with, how they’re treating me, or how much danger I’m in. I don’t care about anybody or anything besides drinking. I don’t love anybody more than booze.

I’m not going to drink today, and so today I will be capable of loving you. I hope, in this way, I can stack up the days every day of your life. I hope you never have to feel the sting of my absence, because I’ve chosen to disappear.

I love you fiercely. I love you with every deep down particle of myself that I spent years trying to squash.

I urgently hope you don’t share my disease. I hope you grow up knowing how to love, nurture, and take care of yourself. I hope you don’t feel the same pull towards oblivion that I do. I’ll love you even if you do, and I can teach you how to ask for help.

Love,

Mom

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25 thoughts on “Motherhood in Sobriety

  1. This made me ball like a baby. You put into words my very same existence that still to this day I have a hard time admitting. I am an alcoholic also. But I haven’t drank for over 3 years and have two amazing children. I too pray they do not have to experience the disease, but if they do I’m going to love them through it so hard. Thank you for this. You are so brave.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ok. This one had me in tears. You are quite remarkable dear Erin. Thanks for being brave enough to share your story. I knew you had mountains of talent and your unique world view needed to be shared. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My heart is with you In both of your mammoth struggles–to be a fabulous mom (you already are) and to stay sober (you are). If you ever need help with either or both of these-/ and we all do sometimes -/
    ASK. We all have weak tired moments, just reach out to someone. Having a child doesn’t make us perfect–but it can make us feel more vulnerable. Learn how to reach out. Does this make sense?

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  4. I don’t remember how I found my way here, but yours is the only pregnancy/mom blog that I’ve found that sounds anything like what goes on in my head, so thank you. Pregnancy (and from what I understand, motherhood) can be pretty isolating; at 32 weeks pregnant, it’s been really nice to read something affirming.

    Liked by 1 person

    • thank you, that is high praise. also, YES. it really can be. i’ve had to fight hard against the isolation of it. the last bit of pregnancy and the first weeks of motherhood were, for me, all about survival mode. but then the proverbial clouds part, you put your adorable baby in an adorable seasonally appropriate outfit that an old lady at the grocery store will needlessly criticize you for, you make mom friends, you get into your groove. you can do this!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Fist bumps from a fellow mom in sobriety. My story is different from yours but I intensely relate to the feelings you describe, of not fitting into your own skin, of the world collapsing to the single tiny thought “how can I keep this feeling” upon taking a drink, of getting sober for yourself, and staying sober for your kid. Right now, I’m finding that the hardest part of parenting sober is relating to other moms, who always want to let loose with a bottle of wine after the kids go down or relax on the porch with a beer while the kids play in the front yard. I want those things, too, but I can’t (won’t) have them, and I also want the easy lubricant of booze to help me make the mom friends that I need, and I struggle with having to pretend like being sober is easy because I don’t want to scare people off from inviting me to the next mom’s night out.

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  6. Fist bumps from a fellow mom in sobriety. My story is different from yours but I intensely relate to the feelings you describe, of not fitting into your own skin, of the world collapsing to the single tiny thought “how can I keep this feeling” upon taking a drink, of getting sober for yourself, and staying sober for your kid. Right now, I’m finding that the hardest part of parenting sober is relating to other moms, who always want to let loose with a bottle of wine after the kids go down or relax on the porch with a beer while the kids play in the front yard. I want those things, too, but I can’t (won’t) have them, and I also want the easy lubricant of booze to help me make the mom friends that I need, and I struggle with having to pretend like being sober is easy because I don’t want to scare people off from inviting me to the next mom’s night out.

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    • oh my god, YES, all of it. i tend to tell people i meet who have the potential to be a good friend pretty quickly that i don’t drink. in some ways, it’s easier with new mom friends because they tend to be the least bar-hoppy types, at this stage. but still, if i see one more meme on facebook about how mommy needs her wine.
      i miss being able to shut off my brain at the end of the day; i miss the off button that drinking provided. it delineated day and work from night and relaxing. i have to work harder to relax now (an oxymoron) and so i tend to just not relax well or often. tv helps.
      i tend to be up front quickly with new friends about my not-drinking. i would rather risk alienation than someone bringing my old favorite wine to a lunch at my house or something. also, the people who tend to not want to hang out with sober folks tend to have a bit of a problem themselves.
      thank you so much for writing that. i know maybe one other sober new mom. it’s so nice to be able to relate to someone who is feeling my feelings so precisely.

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      • I am inspired by your approach. Sobriety (and therapy) has taught me that I am a control freak and even admitting that I don’t drink, that I am different, is more vulnerable than I’m comfortable with. I want and, frankly, need to be up front about it, though. Besides protecting what often feels like fragile sobriety, it would probably save a light of wasted time and energy. Thank you for writing this. It is so refreshing to talk about this to someone who gets it.

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      • yes, sobriety is fragile. but also, us sober women, especially parents, are some of the strongest and bravest people i’ve ever met. there’s some really beautiful shit about surviving the kind of disease we have, one that wants to eat us alive. i can already tell you’re a bad ass :)

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  8. Damn. I don’t know now you do it. I mean, I do, but I think that’s the phrase that communicates my shock and awe. Especially right now with moms realizing how treacherous, consuming, and difficult motherhood can be, and loving that “glass of wine” or 5 at the end of the day. Or middle. Or beginning. It’s such an accepted coping mechanism right now, we even love to celebrate it. And we all know it’s kind of iffy and maybe not ok and are testing the waters for “just how much is enough?” and “where is that line?” but we, moms, get so much permission to “have a glasss” because, MOTHERHOOD. So really, really good job. So impressed. I, for one, would love a more detailed post on how you live without it. To all of us who also have a hard time being in our own skin, and to all of us who are mothers on top of that. What do you do now with all the angst and vulnerability?

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  9. Wow. I just read this on Buzzfeed. I pretty much bawled through the whole thing. I am 3 years sober this July and pregnant with my daughter. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about how grateful I am that I was able to stop feeling the pull towards alcohol. It has been so much hard work and it hasn’t been an easy road, but this life I have with my husband and our daughter on the way is more fulfilling than a drink could ever give me. Thank you for the brutal honesty of this post and sharing something so private.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you for this. I’ll be celebrating two years of sobriety in a couple weeks and am 27 weeks pregnant with my first child. There is almost nothing more magical than reading words of a stranger that could have been plucked from my own brain. Sometimes the internet is a lovely place. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. My daughter is 17 months old, if I stay on this path, she will never have to see me drink and that is a gift beyond comparison. I can barely mention sobriety and my daughters name in the same sentence without tearing up. Thank you for sharing such a personal and wonderful story.

    Liked by 1 person

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