The life I’ve been living for over eight months now is an ugly one. A lonely one. A dangerous one.
Night after night, after my son is in bed – sometimes earlier, if his father is home – I pour my first drink. A strong one. I recoil from the sharp taste of vodka or whiskey, both of which I’ve grown to hate. Sometimes it makes me gag, almost comes back up. But I never allow that to happen. I suck the drink down through a straw. Make another. Then another. My body relaxes and my mind becomes fuzzy. I grow sociable and talkative. Rarely do I become an angry or depressed drunk. Rather, I become the person I feel is the best version of myself, the one I used to be while sober – cheerful, fun, laid-back, interesting. My social anxiety dissipates. Things become less irritating to me. My frustrations, fears, and that unnamable empty sadness I carry around are buried – or more accurately, soaked – in a poison that is killing me.
I sit in a blue rocking chair where I tried and failed to breastfeed my son less than a year ago. It emits a maddening repetitive squeak as I rock and drink, but I don’t care. I don’t care about anything. I just want to get to that far-away, mellow state where life seems good, hope still exists, and I can tell myself that tomorrow, I will give up the bottle and make a fresh start. Lately, more often that not, I pass out in that chair, sleeping so deeply I cannot be shaken awake.
In the morning, I’m shaky and nauseated and dehydrated. My partner – I’ll call him Steven – is the one who gets up with our baby, feeds him breakfast, plays with him while I sleep off hangovers. I groan in protest when Steven wants to make it to his very flexible job by earlier than ten o’clock. We might have had whiskey-soaked sex the previous night, but now I want nothing to do with him. Together on-and-off for more than ten years, we’ve ceased to become a romantic couple. Now he is merely my co-parent, my roommate, my financial support, and my enabler.
I muddle through the day trying to be the best mother I can even though my hands shake as I guide spoons towards my son’s mouth and I have to listen to him wail in protest when I must run to the bathroom again with digestive issues. When you don’t have a gallbladder, and your liver is constantly busy trying to process toxins, the bile needs somewhere to go. Forgive the unpleasant image, but it’s something I’ve dealt with every single day for nearly a year.
I never vomit, and I rarely have headaches. But my body temperature is irregular; I have hot flashes at thirty-three. I can’t eat regular-sized meals anymore, and I’m very particular about what foods I can tolerate during the day – often chicken soup or broth is all I can manage. I’m always tired; I don’t sleep so much as become unconscious for five or six hours a night. My body is worn down. I lose my breath easily. I have coughing fits from the permanent lodge of mucus in my chest. I’m overweight, not from eating but from liquid calories. My muscles ache, and I struggle to heave my 25-pound child into my arms.
I say a few things on Facebook, read aloud and talk cheerily to my son, and spend the day lonely, wanting a drink, aching for something better. I don’t know how to regain the joy I used to have.
When I was twenty-one, I rarely drank. I wasn’t a partier. I was beautiful, thin, and blonde. I worked, and went to classes, and danced, and sang, and laughed, and threw Frisbees and footballs, and rollerbladed, and painted my fingernails, and flirted, and kissed, and was always surrounded by friends. I didn’t need to drink. Life itself was enough.
At twenty-two, I met Steven. It wasn’t his fault. I didn’t become an alcoholic because of him. The shitty fact is, it was likely always in my brain chemistry to become an addict. They run rampant on both sides of my family. It was always there, waiting. All it took was a relationship with a “social drinker” to change my attitude about alcohol. I saw that it made me freer, bolder, less shy and anxious, relaxed, witty, more fun. And from that point on, it took over my life.
By twenty-five, I was doing shots before going in to work my job as a jewelry seller at K-mart. By twenty-seven, a counselor told me to go to AA. By twenty-eight, I was drinking at every family gathering, every social function, every holiday, and often alone. By twenty-nine, I was living back at home with my parents, drinking secretly up in my childhood bedroom every single night.
I’m not even sure how my body was even healthy enough, at age thirty-one, to conceive a child. And here I have to apologize to the infertile couples who are hating me – I know I didn’t deserve him. I didn’t deserve a beautiful, full-term, perfectly healthy son. I did not drink after discovering I was going to be a mother, but I drank during the first weeks before I knew he existed and worried throughout the pregnancy, turning to Google countless times trying to determine how much damage I might have done. The answers were frightening. I almost expected a miscarriage throughout the first trimester, but my son was a strong one from the start. I felt him astonishingly early for a first-timer. Later, he kicked me with such force I almost expected him to emerge alien-style from my belly. He kicked until he broke the amniotic sac, forcing his birth five days before my scheduled induction.
He was pink, and wailing, and alert, and utterly perfect. The only issue was that he had breathed in some of the amniotic fluid and needed to be suctioned. I was stunned at my new role, but I loved my boy and wanted to protect him with a fierceness I’d never known before.
I had hoped motherhood would be enough motivation to keep me sober.
It wasn’t. By the time he was three months old, I was back to nightly drinking.
When I’m sober, my brain is my worst enemy. It prevents me from sleeping peacefully. It tells me what a failure I am, what a mess I’ve made of my life. It regrets everything I missed out on when I was younger. It berates me for being fat, ugly, socially awkward, useless. It panics about the future. It worries about money, my health, my wasted potential.
To quiet it, I drink.
Nobody but Steven knows. It’s my secret. We live hundreds of miles from our families. We have no friends in our current location. It’s just us, estranged partners struggling to raise an energetic, happy, rambunctious almost-toddler. He works long hours, and after the baby goes to bed, I’m alone. In my rocking chair, with a drink at my side.