At the top of 2018, I was broken. I’d spent the previous year learning how to be a single parent and living on my own. I’d been cheated on in the worst way. I didn’t quite know where my life was headed and I coped with most of it with a bottle of wine, glass of vodka soda, or a few shots with friends. I floated through the year of 2017 in a haze of booze and terrible choices that I was not proud of. By the new year, I was sick of waking up on Sunday mornings depressed by the weight of those feelings I’d numbed the night before. A year ago (longer now) I said I was going to give up alcohol for a year.
I promised myself that I was going to get through the tough stuff in life, like when my 6-year-old is having a full weekend of meltdowns and dramatic fall-outs, without the crutch of wine. I swore to myself that I was going to be present in my life in ways that alcohol hadn’t let me be before. I wanted to know what it would be like if I gave up drinking for an entire year and I can say, my life has changed for the better.
I won’t lie and say that the entire year of not drinking was rainbows and blue skies. Seeing myself and others through a sober lens was not always the picture of beauty. At the beginning, no one believed that I’d stay alcohol-free for the entire year. In those moments of doubt, I was offended. It felt like the people around me couldn’t understand how important this year of sobriety was for me as a person and as a mother. Looking back on it now that I am on the other end, I realize that they simply had never hit bottom the way that I did the year before.
By the end of 2018, I’d condensed my speech to simply replying 'I had to do it for me.'
One of the most difficult parts of my year of sobriety was facing the reason why I was doing it at all. I am still in my 20s, though they are fast fading. I love going out with friends on nights I don’t have my son, and I generally enjoy having a good time.
That girl I just described drinks. That girl doesn’t walk into a bar, or go to dinner, or out dancing and order a ginger ale. I became that girl and it felt like I had to explain how that came to be every single time I turned around. It seemed like every time the topic of me not drinking came up, people needed a solid reason why. They wanted me to take my dirty laundry out and let it fly in front of their face as they inspected it to verify its severity. That was a hard thing to do.
I would be at a dinner party having a wonderful time and all it would take was me declining a glass of wine for the conversation to start up. Why aren’t you drinking? Do you have a problem? Are you an alcoholic? The faces of pity and of slight disappointment were bad enough.
But to have to rehash all that had led me to that place on a weekly basis was exhausting. By the end of 2018, I’d condensed my speech to simply replying “I had to do it for me.” That being both true and convenient.
Aside from every reason possible to give up alcohol for a year, my main reason was my son. In the previous year, I’d lost myself a bit. I found myself in positions that I thought I never would as a mother or a woman. I knew my life was unraveling when, in my own thoughts, I was embarrassed by the recap of the boundaries I’d give myself permission to cross. I wanted to be a mother that my own mother, if she were here, would be proud of. A mother my son could look back on, as an adult, and smile at the thought of who I was and how I raised him. The booze-soaked weekends weren’t going to make that happen. Not drinking in 2018 restored my patience. It gave me back quality time with my son, uninterrupted by hangovers. It gave me joy in parenting.
Alcohol affected my ability to be the best mom I could be.
In 2018, I dealt with a break up, being laid off, losing friends, and other travesties that come with being an adult. But, what I gained in 2018 was a sense of self, control of my life, a revived connection with the friends that stuck around, a restored love, and an ability to love myself again.
Last June, I proudly posted a Facebook update that said something along the lines of “6 months without alcohol and 6 months to go. Proud of myself.” My friends and family liked, loved, and commented on the post with encouraging words, even if they didn’t totally understand what I was talking about. A Facebook friend that I know casually commented “What are you? An alcoholic?” At first, that question rocked me. My face felt warm with guilt like I’d just discovered that I had a drinking problem because another person interpreted my journey for self preservation as fixing a problem that had already gotten out of control. To answer his question, no I am not an alcoholic. I was never an alcoholic but I struggled and that is OK to admit. Alcohol affected my ability to be the best mom I could be and the best version of myself. I recognized it and changed it.
Looking forward to this year and beyond, I have accepted drinking back into my social environment, but I am in control of it. When life is tough or I am frustrated, I don’t allow alcohol to take the place of the healing and comfort meant to come from a warm hug from my son or an encouraging phone call with a friend. I lean on my support during those times and not a bottle of wine. I’ve learned that I can have a drink without it consuming me. I’ve built myself up from the pebbles left over from 2017 and there is no drink in this world that can take the place of that.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for substance use, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357).