There’s a real sense of finality around the fact that when I hit ‘publish’ on this post, I can never take it back. To blog about breastfeeding and the ins and outs of being a thirty-something feminist mother doesn’t elicit the same fear as this post’s topic, because being a breastfeeding thirty-something feminist mother isn’t anything to be afraid of or ashamed of. It’s not making any sense yet, is it? It will in a second, I promise.
This post, this one here, the post i’m about to write about the process of being a superficially normal, clean-living, middle-class, earthy, mindful mother-woman with a past has been brewing since I first started writing. I often allude to it on social media and in conversation, but have never committed my experiences to a blog post in this way. But I’ve felt compelled to for a year or so now, so let’s just do it. Oh cut to the chase, will you? Okay, here it goes: as well as being all of those other things that sound really positive and wholesome, I’m also a long-term sober alcoholic.
An alcoholic is someone who has lost the power of choice in drink – an addiction, it’s using alcohol to change the way we feel, and not being able to stop once we start. Some people go decades of heavy drinking before consequences and the realisation of one’s inability to stop kicks in. For me I was already almost done killing myself with alcohol by around six years after picking up my first proper drink, and I first found recovery when I was 22 years old. I’d always self-medicated to change the way I felt, to ease my discomfort in just being in my own skin, but when I found alcohol, I hit the ground running. I remember the exact moment of ‘clarity’ I had when I thought, “I should just be drunk all the time, why isn’t everyone just drunk all the time?!”. Heh. Experience tells me that when I ingest alcohol, I have no choice over what will happen or how much I will consume, or what I’ll do. I will drink til I blackout, and I’ll have to get back up and do it all again because it’s the only way I can cope and I have kick-started a physical need. Once I pick up that drink I’ll tear through places, situations, through whole people and families. In case you’re thinking “oh but you were young! everyone drinks a lot when they’re young…”, I tried out this theory again after a period of recovery: nope, definitely a raging alkie. So consequences and shame and guilt and the fact that I was probably going to die soon (given that I could no longer come-to every morning without feeling like my internal organs were vibrating, and I was starting to wear my liver on my face) brought me into recovery, and – very luckily – I was desperate enough to stick at it and keep returning to rooms of abstinence-based recovery, first to take and then to give back.
For some reason it’s been easy to blog about eating disorders (that I picked up almost as soon as I put the drink down, because I still felt the compulsion to change the way I felt about myself), breakdowns, post-partum psychosis, leaking nipples – but alcoholism? It’s like ‘ew’, I don’t want the readers of my blog to know I’m a sober alcoholic! Who wants to read the blog of someone with a hideous and filthy past?
There’s shame there. Apart from the fact my actively alcoholic years feel like a past life, and almost no remnants of that are left, there’s the vague memory of the way I behaved, the way I couldn’t stop, the way I couldn’t stop the way I was behaving and the pain of the memory that I had no idea that I wasn’t inherently a bad person, I was a sick person. I’m not going to talk through the details here right now, they’ve been dealt with in the healing process of recovery that I’ve gone through, but I do want to communicate to you how valuable I think it can be to be a parent with a past, a past that you’ve healed from and accepted, however terrible it seemed at the time, however much you thought you’d never, ever be able to look the world in the eye again.
Here’s the breakdown:
My kids will get to see me as a full human being. Okay, so they don’t know hardly anything about the actual nuts and bolts of my experience at the moment because they are still teeny, but I hope as they grow I can be as (appropriately) honest with them as I feel they deserve. They know that mummy spends regular special time with close friends who share a common interest and experience. They just don’t know what that common interest and experience is. I want to be able to tell them, if it comes up, how I was gravely sick and how I got well, and do so without shame. The best medicine that I take from my recovery nowadays is laughter and honesty (something I never thought possible, literally) – about the horrendous, the mistakes, the reality of having known a rock bottom from alcoholism, having spent literally years with a permanently burned esophagus, a semi-permanent UTI, and the inability to admit defeat and accept help from anyone, no matter how close, no matter that I loved them but couldn’t because I hated literally everything, mostly myself. And my solution to this was to just keep on drinking almost all of the time. Yeh, so they don’t know any of that yet, but I hope one day my past can become their strength as well as mine.
I go easy on myself. I just realised I forgot to cut down the bush that’s intruding into the neighbours’ garden and I said I’d do it last week. It’s kind of okay though, put into perspective when I remember that 10 years ago I forgot to wash my bed sheets ever to the extent that larva (or larvae?) started breeding in them and making me sick. I had a prioritisation problem: Tesco Value vodka > washing detergent.
I recognise the importance of being happy over seeming happy and successful. I hear it said a lot that the problem with social media is that it makes everyone feel miserable because they’re always trying to appear happy in their posts, or judging themselves against others’ commentaries on their own lives. I don’t do this – if I’m happy, I share happy, and it’s a deep happiness in spite of circumstances rather than as a result of them. Because I’m free today to truly communicate deep joy without any intention of gloating.
And I distrust the measures of success that we use on our kids at institutional level – I truly would much rather they were happy within themselves than hitting targets or being ‘motivated’ by competition.
I long for deep connection over procedural parenting. And I don’t always get it right – but I feel like there is absolutely nothing better than raw, pure connection, no matter if bedtime routine has been breached, we’ve surpassed our quota of movies watched for the week, or we’ve had chips more than once in the last few days, my emotional availability is more important than whether my parenting strategy is on fleek. Do people still say ‘on fleek’?
I will not feel shame at being myself. In life, I’ve spent a ton of time feeling shame and guilt and disgust at my past behaviour, fuelled mostly by the need for more alcohol to numb my raging head, and the pursuit of escaping my mad mind. I will not spend anymore time hating myself. In general, and it’s taken several years, I’m now quite open with people (as in, who are not also recovered alcoholics, as well as those who are) about my past. Often it’s not appropriate to be so honest, and I adhere to social etiquette on this, but I see no point in denying who I am – and if we’re going to get to know each other well, I won’t hide that from you. It’s also taken me years to realise that my own experiences of alcoholism can actually help people who are suffering quietly, and to be secretive about it can actually deny someone some relief from what they’re going through, and – ultimately, possibly – the chance to see what recovering from the hopelessness of addiction looks like.
Holy shit, that should be a tshirt: “This is what recovering from the hopelessness of addiction looks like”.
I encourage my kids to look at why they made the choices they did rather than only chastising them for the choices in themselves. Actually that’s a big fucking lie – in public I often chastise the behaviour, out of fear of judgement, anger, desperation that I just want the moment to pass, etc. But generally I encourage self-reflection, something that is a part of my program of recovery (and I hope I will always practice this way).
I hope I can help them see the world differently. Like hate comes from fear and criminals aren’t necessarily inherently bad people, etc. My son said to me, “in school they said that criminals are naughty, but criminals can actually be sad people who need help and don’t know how to be happy, that’s right isn’t it?’. That’s what we talk about. *That’s my boy.*
A note to finish on: My life is full now of people who say, “but i JUST can’t imagine you like that…”, when i describe my past. What a joy that is, to have healed to such an extent. But luckily there are a few who’ve seen it first hand, who stick around to remind me not to get complacent and to be grateful for as well as accepting of my condition, my experiences, my narrative.
Note: I haven’t mentioned any other substances, but needless to say they were there. As Amber Valetta said in her Mind, Body, Green talk, “if you told me that if I lick the carpet it’d work…I’d do it”. Alcohol was my main/constant addiction where other things came and went.
I’m always happy to hear from anyone who is at where I have been with alcoholism and addiction. Peace out. Love each other. Etc.