Alcoholism at Work, At Home, and Everywhere in Between

An Addict’s Story of Admitting She was an Alcoholic

In the final months of my addiction, I allowed myself the despaired luxury of actually admitting I was an alcoholic. I came to terms with it. And then, I decided that I would simply manage my alcoholism along with everything else in my life. This seemed rational to me at the time because I figured despair, lying, and an aching liver could be maintained. Anything was better than not drinking.

Addiction is insanity, and attempting to “manage it” is like swimming with sharks and trying to talk them out of becoming their lunch. Sharks don’t bargain; they just eat. And addiction doesn’t do “management.” It just devours, as well.

“Addiction is insanity, and attempting to “manage it” is like swimming with sharks and trying to talk them out of becoming their lunch. Sharks don’t bargain; they just eat.”

Maintaining my addiction became very time consuming, and it definitely cut into my work. I am a teacher, and most of my early mornings meant loud bells, chaos, and seventh graders. These things do not sit well with hangovers.

Nothing sits well with hangovers. But, in my case, I tried to carry on. Each morning, I would sleep as late as I could, and then find myself trying to fit my bloated body into something reasonably professional. Everything ached, most of all my heart. I fed my two children, repeatedly begged, yelled, and blackmailed them to get out the door on time, grabbed my satchel which was stuffed with hastily graded papers, and headed out.

I was always on time. I didn’t allow lateness because that would show a crack in the veneer. People might see. Even though my appearance was becoming increasingly rumpled and haggard, I did not want to be observed. In fact, at work and everywhere else, I just wanted to be invisible.

It is hard to be invisible when your job entails standing in front of twenty twelve-year-olds. The good news is that these kids didn’t have very high standards. I leaned heavily on recycled lesson plans. I passed out reams of worksheets. I embraced the glorious end-of-the-week movie. I became as mediocre as possible, doing just enough to get by.

A shift had happened in my addiction. Early on, I always pushed myself to achieve perfection. I had a great career; had been loaded with accolades and Teacher of the Year awards. I loved my job and pursued it with vigor. I prided myself on being a Super Teacher, all the time. This label paired well with Super Wife and Super Mom and Super Cute and any other smiley-face sticker I chose for myself. As I frantically tried to keep up with all my shiny expectations, I drank all the more. It was a well deserved reward after hard day of being perfect.

But, after a time, my life slowly sank under all the bottles of wine, and my interest in other things faded. And then, before I realized, I had slowly swung on my pendulum of addiction over to Way Past Caring.

“And then, before I realized, I had slowly swung on my pendulum of addiction over to Way Past Caring.”

Outwardly, my slow decline jutted up against my normal perfectionistic behaviors. But no one else at work mentioned it, or interfered. This makes sense, because society is taught not to interfere or question the red flags, because that might be rude.

In our small town, we live in a hundred year-old old house, with creaky doors that don’t quite fit, and floorboards that tilt. Our kitchen, in fact, tilts so extremely that if a grape or tomato falls, it immediately rolls under the kitchen table, much to my annoyance. But, as we have lived in the house over ten years now, I no longer notice the slant. Even the errant olive or two doesn’t provoke me much. I had lived with it for so long, in our wonky, well-traveled room, that it didn’t even register.

This is how addiction also operates. You might notice someone rolling about, all askew, but you’re busy or tired, and you don’t want to offend. And then, before you know it, it’s just part of the scenery.

Meanwhile, my scenery was becoming more and more wretched. I remember looking over some graded papers and gaping at the red inked scrawls on them. I could barely understand my own comments. My scribbles were terse, like each paper was a nuisance and a bother.

I had graded the pile of papers the night before with my trusty glass of wine sitting nearby. This was normal, wasn’t it? Who wouldn’t want a glass of wine while you graded papers? I mean, this was sixty papers authored by pre-teens about the life of Edgar Allen Poe. Wouldn’t anyone need a drink for this?

Didn’t everyone feel the need to pour another glass, or two, with the onslaught of work and children and bills and husbands? How else do you do it?

“Didn’t everyone feel the need to pour another glass, or two, with the onslaught of work and children and bills and husbands? How else do you do it?”

There was now a fear, itching at the back of my brain, telling me that life without wine would be impossible. It might mean a conversation with my boss, and leaves of absence, and other impossible things. These thoughts would flare up at me, and I would pour more wine to subdue them.

And that is how I became an alcoholic at work. And at home. And everywhere in between.

And it would not be long until I would no longer be able to manage it.

Confessions of an Alcoholic Mom, Part II: Staying Alive and Getting My Sanity Back

The Isolation of Parenting Created this Perfect Bubble of Despair

It meant drinking, alone, in rapidly increasing amounts, for the first three years of my children’s lives. It meant sickness, and fear and insomnia and anxiety and depression and weight gain and age… and eventually, liver and kidney pain. It meant hiding vodka bottles in my closet and laundry room. It meant suicidal thoughts on a daily basis. It meant insanity.

(Read – Confessions of an Alcoholic Mom, Part I: Motherhood and Alcoholism)

The craziest thing about insanity is that, most of the time, we don’t know it’s happening. Of course, there might be an occasional twinge about all the drama and odd behavior, but mostly? We stay unaware. Because, really? Who would want to know?

I going to own the insanity here. When I was in my worst stage of addiction, I still attempted to rationalize my drinking. I wanted, in essence, to spot the raving beast in the distance coming for me and yet say, “Well, would you look at that. Yep. That’s a man-eater for sure. But, I’m sure he’ll go right past me once he finds me.”

(Read – Is Your Wine Habit Becoming An Addiction?)

The raving beast did not amble past. And, finally, when my sons were very young, I fully realized the horrible entrapment that is alcoholism: I couldn’t stop drinking. And, I couldn’t NOT keep drinking. Either way, I felt I would die.

“I fully realized the horrible entrapment that is alcoholism: I couldn’t stop drinking. And, I couldn’t NOT keep drinking. Either way, I felt I would die.”

So, how did I finally get my sanity back?

It’s a process that still continues today. It’s sort of like surgery, but it’s the kind that involves post-op rehab for the rest of your life. Fortunately, the rehab, while challenging, has a stellar insurance plan: a happy, joyous, and free life.

When I was a kid, I loved the Little House on the Prairie books. They were so very rugged and outdoorsey, so very, very different from my own life. But, I do remember feeling a bit sorry for Ma. She kept having to trek to whatever pace Pa decides to set. There was no end to his wanderlust. She would have to pack up the wagon and head out to endless challenges. Wolves. Hardtack (whatever that is). Cranky natives. And, to make things worse, often the travels had no definite end point in mind; Charles would know it when he saw it. Too bad for Ma, I don’t think there was marital counseling back then.

Ma Wilder’s life is kind of how I viewed getting sober. It would be a hard and harrowing journey, with no real end point. Just long days and scary nights, possibly stuck with an annoyingly enthusiastic leader,  your sponsor.

I am no Caroline Wilder. I would have been whining from the first day out on that prairie. The prairie is hot. There’s killer grasshoppers. And, I can’t eat rabbit – it’s not vegan. I am a complete wimp. And so, when I look back to those early days of recovery, I am rather amazed at my pioneering spirit. I could only take the fewest possessions. Myself. My hope. And a much simpler life. Sobriety whittles down at you, forcing you to collect only the most valuable tools for the long journey to keep you alive.

“Sobriety whittles down at you, forcing you to collect only the most valuable tools for the long journey to keep you alive.”

My first weeks of no wine found me looking at time in a new way.

I would actually set a timer, some days, for thirty minutes, and decide that if I wanted to drink at the end of those minutes, I would. I would pair this strategy with my newfound talisman, the serenity prayer. I also had to finally figure out what I enjoyed doing, which took a while. When all you do is drink and exist, fun hobbies get dusty. I managed to find a few and kept them ready for the itchy times. I would divert myself enough with a walk, or some chocolate, or, quite surprisingly, knitting. I endlessly searched out laughter, piling up my Youtube subscriptions with Seinfeld outtakes and cat videos. My bedside was stacked with every recovery memoir I could find. I developed a sparkling water and fresh basil “mocktail” for 5pm. When I was drinking, I never had the patience for mixed drinks, but now, it seems I had become quite the mixologist. All of these became part of my “Stay Sober Rituals.” They let my brain look elsewhere, if for only thirty minutes, for peace. In so doing, I rebuilt the synapses. Slowly.

“I also had to finally figure out what I enjoyed doing, which took a while. When all you do is drink and exist, fun hobbies get dusty.”

There were times though, of course, when the thirty minutes would buzz at me, and I would know the despair of still wanting a tumbler full of cheap wine. It was at moments like these that I fought for my recovery with the one thing I initially feared the most: a twelve step group. I had dreaded the idea of attending meetings, but when I finally found the courage to attend one, I was amazed. These people, from so many different walks of life than mine, were mypeople. Each meeting helped me file away more tools to help me do this whole sober thing, day by day. I didn’t have to go it alone.

Most days in early sobriety for me felt like a long yoga session. There was lots of deep breathing, slow movement, all the while trying to twist myself into the shape of a human pretzel. I was awkward. I wobbled a lot. But I was learning, finally, that I was worth the effort.

 

Confessions of an Alcoholic Mom, Part I: Motherhood and Alcoholism

I thought I was smarter than the booze.

I am one of those people who, five minutes into an episode of Criminal Minds, is convinced I know who did it. I would shout out, triumphant, “It’s the UPS guy!” and my husband would groan and leave, the show ruined. I was usually right. I prided myself on always being a step ahead.

Struggling with drinking? Workit Health can help.

I thought this should also apply to my drinking, even though alcoholism hangs on every branch of my family tree. My father, who is now over forty years sober, once told me to regard liquor like it was used chewing gum stuck to the bottom of a desk. I ignored this visual, and imbibed, regularly. Surely, I am a very separate branch on my messed up family tree. Surely, I am smarter than an inanimate material. Surely, I’m not an addict, like my father, or, like my brother, or nearly every other leaf in our messed up ancestry.

So, it might surprise you to know that in college, I didn’t drink like an alcoholic.

I drank like a college kid. I learned to appreciate Keystone Light and concoctions at frat parties called “Trashcan Punch.” For my twenties and thirties, I still didn’t drink like an alcoholic. I did wine tastings and bought a martini shaker, and weathered a bad break-up, all without red alcoholic flags fluttering at me.

And then, I got married and gave birth to two adorable, funny little boys that have blessed my life in a million ways. I had everything I ever wanted: a loving husband, a great job, and two kids.

And that’s when I started to drink like an alcoholic.

I love my boys. But, it seems, my perception of mothering didn’t quite match up with reality. It’s easy to identify the obvious triggers: my children are chaotic, messy, loud, and nutty at an Olympic level. At the end of the day, a nice dry glass of red wine was all I needed to combat the nutty.

Now, enter Facebook, the gateway drug for tired moms with possible drinking problems. I live and “like” in the era of Funny Mom Memes about Wine. Social media was practically shouting at me that moms drinking chardonnay was medicinal, as if motherhood was some sort of infectious disease. As a result of all this, I began downing nightly glasses of You Deserve This while I binged on Netflix and folded fifty-thousand diapers.

“Now, enter Facebook, the gateway drug for tired moms with possible drinking problems. I live and “like” in the era of Funny Mom Memes about Wine. Social media was practically shouting at me that moms drinking chardonnay was medicinal, as if motherhood was some sort of infectious disease.”

Last May, I spotted a few posts on Twitter about giving teachers parting gifts of wine. The bottles were labelled, “I’m the Reason You Drink” with a picture of a sweet toddler. I get the joke, but these funny memes and pictures still sting.

Yes, my drinking went off the charts after my boys were born.

But, it wasn’t them. It was simply me, all along. Even though my alcoholic drinking didn’t show up until my forties, my alcoholic behaviors, minus the booze, had been around since I was a child. My family, and the isolation and stress, just added more coal cars to my loaded train headed to Margaritaville. The guilt and self-loathing that I buried beneath tequila and limes each night only made the train run faster.

The isolation of parenting created for me this perfect bubble of despair.

It meant drinking, alone, in rapidly increasing amounts, for the first three years of my children’s lives. It meant sickness, and fear, and insomnia, and anxiety, and depression, and weight gain, rage, and eventually, liver and kidney pain. It meant hiding vodka bottles in my closet and laundry room. It meant suicidal thoughts on a daily basis.

It meant insanity.

I couldn’t quit drinking.

I had finally found myself outsmarted by the alcohol. Even with my great husband and kids and life, and without ever getting arrested or blacking out and ending up in Vegas, or any of that stuff that belongs on an Intervention episode, I had, very quietly, and very successfully, drank myself into full blown addiction.

And so, I got sober.

I am in recovery, forever. Now I have two kids, a husband, a great job, and no wine bottles clinking around in my closet anymore. Some moms would say parenting two crazy kids without wine is impossible, but I am proof, every day, that my life is better without it.

“Some moms would say parenting two crazy kids without wine is impossible, but I am proof, every day, that my life is better without it.”

I am not smarter than the alcohol.

And once I realized that? I was free.

Read: Confessions of an Alcoholic Mom, Part II: Staying Alive and Getting My Sanity Back