A friend just posted this on Facebook and I thought I would share for the benefit of anyone feeling left out about not drinking on New Year’s Eve…
It is very early in the morning and I haven’t slept a lot. I haven’t slept a lot since I stopped drinking and I wasn’t sleeping very well before that, either. I have a lot more energy now that it isn’t mostly being used up by my much-abused liver.Listening to The Bubble Hour, especially as it related to mothers who drink, got me thinking so much.
For an anxious, driven perfectionist like me, mothering is tough (it is tough for everyone). I had a few weeks with all three children where the initial rush of breastfeeding hormones and the relief of not feeling sick all the time protected me from depression in a bubble of love. I enjoyed that very newborn stage. I was helped along by having a fair bit of support, not having any major breastfeeding dramas or birth injuries, and losing all the baby weight almost instantaneously. The bubble eventually burst. I felt like I had lost my identity and my freedom. I developed rage like nothing I’d ever felt before. There have been occasions when I have feared that I would actually physically hurt my children. I seem to swing a lot between being intensely annoyed by them and irrationally panicking over their safety, with far too infrequent moments of bliss in between.
Or perhaps the moments of bliss come at a normal frequency. I think I have swallowed the modern Internet myth of motherhood skin and all. My mother was a great mother (aside from her continued insistence on living with my father, which is a story for another day). She was always there when I needed her at every stage of my life, until the Alzheimer’s kicked in. She did not fuss. My brother and I spent large amounts of time alone and unsupervised. She did not break up our fights. She yelled so rarely that it was truly terrifying when she did. She struck an incredibly good balance between letting us know we were loved, and letting us be. I remember panicking one day as a teenager because I had been up early journaling (some things don’t change, although in those days it was all devoted to some hapless idiot who didn’t love me back) and had accidentally left my journal open on the living room table and gone to school. It had not moved when I got home. Most mothers would have taken a peek, if not devoured the entire thing. Mine did not. She looked at me incredulously when I asked if she had touched it and laughed “No, I imagine it is terribly boring”.
You are not supposed to parent like my mother did any more. Not supposed to read books while the children wrestle to the death on the carpet, or teach them to tie their shoelaces from up a ladder painting the ceiling. There is pressure to be involved, totally, as if parenting were as absorbing as that book or that task. It isn’t. At least for me. I am happiest on the days when I manage to be more like my mother, and I think the kids are, too.
The socially acceptable way of dealing with being exhausted, overwhelmed and overcrowded as a mother is to drink. We all do it and we all talk about it. Crap day with the kids? Wine. Can’t stand the noise, the mess, the crying? Wine. We do it, firstly, because it works. It creates a warm glow around those messy moments, helps you to connect to those around you when what you really need is time alone. Secondly, it is the unselfish option. When what you need is an hour at the gym or a nap or a conversation with an adult or a week-long yoga retreat, wine is the socially acceptable thing to ask for. Hell, you don’t even have to ask. You can still be there, doing all the things you need to, just transported to a place where you don’t resent it as much.
There are things I find virtually intolerable without wine. Eating out with exhausted children last night was one of them. Husband sat there in his rosy wine bubble while I felt like an exposed nerve, wishing desperately that I could eat alone without children declaring the food disgusting or spilling drinks all over themselves. It’s not fun. Nobody finds it fun. Why on earth is there a social pressure to pretend that we do?
Going to pole dance classes twice a week is the first time since having children that I have regularly asked for proper time away from them. Going out at night is not proper time. For one thing, I nearly always cooked them dinner and got them into bed before I left the house. For another, my husband actually encouraged it because he enjoys time alone. Again, the easy thing. The sacrificial, selfless thing was to get my release by going out to bars and drinking because it didn’t inconvenience anyone else. It was at a time when the children were not even awake. I would trudge through my hangovers the next morning, still doing everything I needed to do for everyone else and nothing I needed to do for me.
A large part of the reason I know I need to quit drinking is that I know I need to be a better parent. I know I have re-wired my brain chemistry so that I pretty much only get pleasure from drinking. There have been a couple of glimpses of change in the past two weeks – like getting really excited about a good cheese – but they have been rare. Mostly I have felt exposed, irritable, tearful. I have come to realise how many situations in my life were made tolerable by drinking, and how much time alone I need when I don’t have that social lubricant to sweep away my irritation and restlessness.
There is no real conclusion to this. I don’t know if I will ever enjoy parenthood. I don’t know if I’ll one day be a grinning moron enjoying the antics of my over-tired, sugar-hyped children in a restaurant, or whether I will spend my last savings on a plane ticket to the other side of the planet and never come back. Stay tuned, I guess.
Updating from the passenger seat of our car. We are halfway through a seven hour car trip to our favourite beach town. I have spent all of that time so far (minus a few Internet dead zones) listening to the Bubble Hour. That is good shit. So many “ah ha” and “me too” moments. Some excellent insights about parenting in early sobriety – essentially, make sure children are fed, clothed and breathing and let go of all other expectations. And some real hope for what life is like further down this road.
Day 17 here. Mood is unpredictable still but I am trying to just roll with it.
It is nearly 3pm on Christmas Day in my sunny Southern Hemisphere corner of the planet. I’m so full of duck and ham and roast potatoes that all I can do is moan contentedly, and that’s before I hit up the cheesecake.
I’m sober. Clear, present and calm. Not dusty or ill from the night before, or into the umpteenth glass which tips me from rosy to dysfunctional. Just sober.
Merry Christmas, indeed.
This morning was not my finest morning.
Decided to take all three children down town in the midst of Christmas insanity to find a new lampshade (see previous post re: red wine incident). Buying a plain white lampshade is apparently as difficult as sourcing a non-alcoholic wine which doesn’t taste like insecticide. Six stores later we found something vaguely resembling what was needed. My phone, meanwhile, was going off like the world was about to end with work calls and emails. I technically don’t work on Monday but it is all hands on deck at the moment dealing with the shitstorm which occurs at this time of year (custody battles, alcohol-fuelled assaults, people wanting to settle their new home purchases on Christmas Eve, etc). The kids were amazingly patient up until this point so I decided to reward them with milkshakes and me with a coffee.
Mistake. I knew in my bones we should have gone home. I knew I was at the end of my tether and so were they. But my usual thought process goes something like this:
“You should go to the cafe and get them a milkshake. It’ll be fun. That’s what good mothers do. They can handle three kids and lampshade shopping and milkshakes. You can be a good mother, too.”
It may have been okay except that the cafe lady knew my mum and started asking about how she is (the news is not good) and then I accidentally ordered two chocolates and one strawberry instead of two strawberries and one chocolate and all hell broke loose. Four-year-old got the wrong milkshake and totally lost his mind over it. I dragged him outside to try and calm him down but that didn’t work because I wasn’t calm and he ended up sitting on the footpath howling while I uttered the words “I hope somebody kidnaps you”. Yes. That happened.
The phone kept ringing.
The other two hurriedly finished their milkshakes and we got in the car and I started to howl, in a manner that put middle child to shame. Proper, heartbroken sobs. Over lamps and milkshakes? Yes. And over how the world suddenly seems too noisy and smelly and in my face, and over how I am so anxious about explaining to my boozey relatives that I am not drinking at Christmas, and over how an initially low-key Boxing Day has morphed into 17 people coming for lunch.
All the things I need right now (space, silence, really long runs) are out of reach until the allegedly festive season is over.
This is so hard. So, so hard.
I’ve been sober for seven days (well, this is day seven and I ain’t drinking so close enough).
I got to thinking after my last post that leaving a proper sobriety attempt until the calm and magical place that is January was probably sensible. Sensible has never really been my thing, though, so I started then and there. I’m aware that it is/will be all kinds of hellishly awful to not be drinking in the season of alcohol aplenty. There is something appealing about the awfulness. Some sense that I need this to really bring me to my knees in order to reach a place of acceptance.
We hosted our end of year party for our firm and the firm we share a building with last night. (This was planned ages ago and calling it off was not even a possibility). I cooked, cleaned and decorated all day. Just before guests were due to arrive I was in a fine state, half-dressed, sitting on the bathroom floor, tears and mascara flooding down my face as I emailed my sober buddy about what seemed like the sheer impossibility of the evening ahead. Little did I know, it was actually going to be much worse than anticipated.
Two guests turned up on time. One has two children. Dealing with other people’s children is one of the lesser joys of parenting, but most are okay. These two are not. They are a cyclone of noisy, undisciplined, uncontrollable chaos. It seemed to be contagious. In three seconds flat the place was a war zone.
An hour and a half late, the remaining guests arrived. They had all been to the pub first and were obnoxiously pissed. Dinner, meanwhile, had started to congeal. A glass of red wine went flying across the room and landed all over a white lampshade. Someone (an adult) let one of the dogs in and gave it a lamb bone from the dinner table to chew on the carpet. A small child (not mine) with a water pistol managed to totally ruin my hairdo and bring me about as close to strangling someone as I have ever been. At one point I stood in the middle of the room, clutching a non-alcoholic beer, watching my house being destroyed around me in a weirdly out-of-body moment that felt like I was hovering slightly above it all.
And then I started to laugh. Well, it was a kind of cry/laugh but the whole thing was so disastrous and I was so raw and freshly sober that it became really funny. I’ve never found this funny before so I’m chalking it up as a win.
I’m so emotional. Everything has been un-dulled. Woke up so happy to not have a hangover that I danced into the kitchen. Spotted last night’s mess, started crying. Hugged the kids and laughed. Hugged the kids and cried. Without the blur of drunkeness or the wall of hangover between me and the world, I feel so exposed. Even more so at this stressful, highly-strung time of year when everything is more intense at the best of times.
Um, in other news, I have lost a kilogram despite eating all of the cake. I discovered a reasonable tasty AF beer. My Christmas shopping is basically done and I will be napping this afternoon no matter what. Here’s to more cry/laughing and feeling my feelings.
I was really hoping not to write in here until something had changed. By something, I imagined that I would have miraculously learned to live without alcohol or, even more miraculously, learned to drink occasional glasses of wine and then nonchalantly move on to water and go to bed at a sensible hour.
I actually did manage the latter for a brief yet delicious period after getting back from Europe. I felt so happy about having done that trip, and so enlightened about what it was like waking up in beautiful places without a hangover, that I thought moderation was mine. A glass of wine or two with the girls on Friday night and up early for yoga on a Saturday morning like the grown-up I so desperately want to be.
Fast forward a couple of months and I was sitting at my desk at work utterly crippled by anxiety, the worst I have ever experienced in my life. All it took was a few tricky clients to tip me right over the edge. I managed to hyperventilate, cry, shake and chew off all my fingernails at the same time. I became so anxious about the sound of the phone ringing that I had to turn my mobile off after work and miss calls from people I actually cared about.
The anxiety led to drinking and the drinking led to more anxiety and I am/was stuck in a very familiar circle of disaster.
I started taking medication again, but four days of crippling nausea was enough to make me decide I would try anything (seriously, even if it involves drinking nothing but green smoothies and working out for 8 hours a day) before I do that to myself again.
I guess I’m at the same place I’ve been in basically every post I’ve written on this blog. Deeply concerned about my alcohol consumption, yet unable or unwilling to take the step into a completely alcohol-free week, or month, or year. Completely aware of the relationship between my drinking and my shaky mental health, yet utterly reliant on that brief sense of freedom I get somewhere between the first glass and the end of the bottle. Utterly conflicted about the fact that the thing that makes me feel better is the thing that made me feel bad in the first place. Totally convinced that a life without drinking will involve permanently obsessing about not drinking while feeling totally awkward at every social event for the rest of my existence.
I’m the least sober blogger in the history of sober blogging. Eighteen months of boring you all to death with this rubbish and I’m no closer to figuring this out than I was the day I started.