Sober

Being the mother of a 12 year old girl means I get to listen to modern pop music again. A lot of it is repetitive drivel, but there is the occasional diamond. I liked Pink’s “Just Give me a Reason” from earlier this year, which inspired me to check out her earlier material. I stumbled on this song, which seemed appropriate for this blog:

I’ve been reading addiction memoirs lately. These are the titles I’ve read:

Dry, by Augusten Burroughs

Mommy Doesn’t Drink Here Anymore, by Rachael Brownell

Drinking, a Love Story, by Caroline Knapp

Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood, by Koren Zailckas

Parched, by Heather King

Unwasted, by Sacha Scoblic

Sober is the New Black, by Rachel Black

I liked all of these books, though some more than others.  I feel like I got something out of each one, and I’ll probably talk more specifically about them in future posts. For now, what struck me is that all of these people were different – different ages, different in how low their “bottom” was, different in how long they drank, how early they started drinking, whether they considered themselves alcoholics, or whether they drank to be sociable or drank to tolerate loneliness, etc. – but in many key ways these stories were all the same. This can be summed up in one sentence:

Alcohol made my life better, and then it made my life worse.

It made me think about how alcohol can obliterate your individuality. You might be a quiet drunk or a boisterous drunk, a mean drunk or a sloppy, sentimental drunk – but take a bunch of drunk people and they will all be a lot more alike than the same number of sober people.

Each writer gets to a point, too, where she has to describe daily or nightly drinking, and what struck me is how boring it is. I don’t mean I was bored reading, just that all the things that make a good story – learning, growth, life – stops. You’re just waiting, as a reader, for the writer to hit bottom so growth can start again. David Sedaris, one of my favorite authors, sums this up nicely:

Worse than anything was the dullness of it, night after night the exact same story … Call me at 11 pm, and after a minute or so I’d forget who I was talking to. Even worse was when I placed the call. “Yes,” I’d say. “May I please speak to … oh, you know. He has brownish hair? He drives a van with his name written on it?”

“Is this David?”

“Yes.”

“And you want to speak to your brother, Paul?”

“That’s it. Could you put him on, please?”

Most often I’d stay up until 3 am, rocking back and forth in my chair and thinking of the things I could do if I weren’t so fucked up.

 Hope everyone has a wonderful, sober Labor day weekend!

 

 

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Shit happens

The very first time I remember using alcohol as a coping mechanism was when I stepped in cat shit.

I was a new mom, on maternity leave with my newborn baby. The baby wasn’t sleeping and was crying a lot. My c-section incision was hurting as I walked around the house bouncing and rocking her. I wasn’t in a good mood.

Finally, luckily, the baby spit up, and she calmed down after that. That was the good news. The bad news is that it was more like a series of projectile vomiting episodes, and the baby, the couch, the nursing pillow, and me were all now doused in baby vomit.

I changed my clothes, the baby’s clothes, and put her in her swing while I ran our clothes downstairs to throw them in the washer.  At the time, our cat had a tendency to poop on the laundry room carpet instead of in her litter box. Usually I was very careful to check the floor before stepping into the room, but I was in a hurry. I was thinking about the baby vomit soaking into the couch cushions upstairs, and how on earth I was going to clean it. So, with my arms full of vomited-on clothing, I stepped in a pile of cat poop with my bare feet.

Oh, shit.

After I cleaned up my feet, and then sprayed the carpet and scrubbed it, and then attempted to clean the couch and the nursing pillow, I was crying with frustration. The only alcohol we had in the house was an ancient bottle of vodka. I poured myself a shot and threw it back. And then I floated through the rest of the afternoon. Cat poop, baby vomit, crying baby? I laugh at all of you.

I didn’t repeat this experiment then, but the memory stuck with me.  And years later, when I was drinking much more frequently, figuratively stepping in cat shit was a welcome excuse to drink.  In fact, I would have to say I sometimes wanted to be stressed out, I wanted shit to happen, if it meant I could have a drink at odd times of day. I deserve this.

That inversion – going from using alcohol to cope with stress, to welcoming stress if it allowed me to drink – is surely where a line was crossed. It’s when I should have realized that alcohol was a bigger problem than any of the problems I claimed to need alcohol to deal with. But I always thought my problems needed to go away first. I’ll quit when things are easier, when I’m not so stressed. Meanwhile that gave me a perfectly logical, perfectly perverse reason to make sure my problems didn’t go away after all.

Ugly

This one’s for all the parents out there.

I don’t like being a mom. I don’t like having my attention divided all the time. I don’t like not having any downtime. I don’t like being a disciplinarian. I don’t like making people do things they don’t want to do.

I love my kids. I love the moments when I connect with them as people, but I hate being in charge.

I have never wanted to admit this. I talked, like everyone else, about how busy I was, how stressed I felt. I discussed the daily frustrations with the same laugh, the same “what can you do?” ruefulness. All the while feeling like a fraud.

The result is that I have spent many years feeling very, very sorry for myself. And it went to the heart of why I drank. It was to soften the outlines of what I perceived as a cage.

I always thought the sky would fall, the world would end, if I ever gave voice to this. But I realized that doesn’t have to be the end of that thought. The next step is, okay, so what do I do about it? Yes, my children need me to be in charge, to say no to things and put up with the resulting storm, and to make them do things sometimes that they don’t want to do. They need that from me. But my needs are important too. And if I have a better handle on what I want, I can figure out what to ask for. That’s not possible if I’m trying to deny it all the time.

Not that I didn’t ask for downtime, before. But it was always coming from a place of resentment, and I usually used my asked-for downtime to do something mindless, like play Angry Birds. Nothing wrong with that, but I could actually feel myself vibrating with tension as I supposedly relaxed. “I’m relaxing, dammit!” sums it up. Of course with a drink in my hand.

This is what I’ve found.  It is much easier to say “I’d like to spend some time tonight doing some writing” than it is to say “I’d like to spend some time tonight playing Angry Birds.” Nothing wrong with either one, as I said. But for me, it’s easier. And pursuing my own interests naturally leads to the “me” time I so desperately wanted. For example, a friend of a friend, who is a screenwriter, offered to read my screenplay and help me with it. I made the time because this is something important to me. And we spent an extremely enjoyable couple of hours talking about character motivation, plot mechanics, and writing visually. Then I came home and put my mom hat on again.

And the world didn’t end.

 

Out of the mouths of babes

I ran an errand with my daughter, a quick grocery store trip after dinner.

On our way to pick up a gallon of milk, we walked through the liquor section.

My Daughter:  Mom, why did you used to drink brandy?

Me(scrambling for an answer): A lot of grown-ups do. I thought it helped me. But I realized it didn’t.

Daughter: I’m glad you don’t drink anymore, Mom.

Me: I am too.