Confessions of a Wasted Mom
Play dates peppered with wine were the norm for this mother—until the night she took her kids for a ride.
It’s four in the afternoon and I’m at a play date with all three of my kids at the home of a “fun mom” from my six-year-old daughter’s class. A couple of this woman’s friends and their kids are here trying to burn off the long march from late afternoon to bedtime known by parents as “the witching hour.” The inevitable bottles of chilled white wine come out and are met with audible groans of relief. But when the glasses are passed around, I say no with a smile and a simple, “Not today thanks”—like I’m just not in the mood.
I’m a mom who doesn’t drink anymore.
One of the moms who doesn’t know I’m in recovery glances at me as I sip on my Diet Coke—which I totally get. Two years ago, a couple of kids, a bottle of wine and—with any luck—a few Vicodin left over from someone’s C-section sounded like the perfect play date. I had no trouble finding other mothers who shared my enthusiasm. Drinking worked for me. It worked to lessen the anxiety, the fear, and yes, the boredom I felt as a mother. It also helped me bond with other parents who still—thankfully—enjoyed an adult pastime like wine.
Maybe the other woman is worried I’m judging her. Maybe she thinks I’m sitting here sipping my soda and wondering what kind of a mother ties one on with her kids underfoot. But of course that is not the case. The truth is, I miss it. I miss how alcohol allowed me to tolerate conversations about breastfeeding and the horrors of public school and the importance of organics and the few other topics my life had narrowed down to. Drinking helped bridge the gap and allowed me to feel a part of rather than apart.
I authored two books with alcohol-infused titles—Sippy Cups are Not For Chardonnay and Naptime is the New Happy Hour—and sang the praises of the “cocktail play date.” I even went on the Today Show twice to defend the practice of drinking with other parents as a perfectly acceptable social practice.
When there was backlash on The Today Show website or the Amazon reviews of my book, I felt defensive. I wasn’t telling people, after all, to down a bottle of wine, smoke a joint and swig a few shots of their kid’s prescription cough medicine to get through a day at the park; I was simply putting forth the ancient notion that drinking, in moderation, can ease the pain.
And that’s how I believed I drank.
Until I didn’t.
Around the time that my daughter turned two, I started to question myself and wonder if I wasn’t getting dependant. I was a daily drinker by then, often grabbing a glass of wine at lunch because I could. But then I got pregnant and didn’t drink through my whole high-risk pregnancy. Eight months without a drink. Problem solved. Nothing to worry about here, folks! Clearly I could stop anytime.
But after giving birth to preemie twins, my consumption picked up almost ahead of where it left off. It morphed into daily drinking, combined with Xanax and a feeling that after a glass or three, I really didn’t want to stop until I was completely out of it. I drank all evening every evening and found that even if I tried, I couldn’t take a night off. But I didn’t cross any lines. Instead I moved them back inch by inch.
Although I always drank in a way that I now know is abnormal, it was still easy for me to believe I wasn’t an alcoholic. Alcoholics are homeless, gutter drunks or slurry abusive moms swilling mouthwash when they run out of Bushmills. I was simply a woman who had a little too much wine, at night, by myself or with my husband, while my kids were asleep and out of harm’s way. I was definitely not an alcoholic. I was so much better than that. Until I wasn’t.
At the last cocktail play date I attended before I quit drinking, apricot martinis were the order of the evening and I found myself swilling a few while a nanny stood by watching the children. Finally, after a long day spent worrying about my twins, it was my time. The buzz took over, my “off” switch disengaged and I had quite a few before I finally strapped my kids in and drove home—most certainly over the legal limit. It didn’t matter how far back I’d pushed the line: I’d just gone crashing over it. For the first time, my husband was enraged at my drinking. And for the first time, I saw myself clearly. A mess who’d just barely avoided becoming Lifetime movie fodder. I had just played Russian roulette with everyone I love.
A few days later, I attended my first 12-step meeting. I’ve been sober for almost two years.
And the truth is that I feel out of place at the play dates I used to find so amusing. Still, when I feel the pull and want “just one glass” so I don’t feel so different, I remember that I am different at least when it comes to how I drink. I’ve driven drunk. I’ve gotten so drunk I’ve puked repeatedly—on a first date. I’ve done things I don’t remember and don’t care to remember. I’ve embarrassed myself and other people. Worst of all, I’ve let myself down as a mother. To stay sober today, I can’t allow myself to paint a prettier picture of my problem.
Besides, the benefits of no longer being a drunk mom are plentiful. I take more pleasure in parenting. I have a new appreciation for my mom friends who never drank much in the first place. And I’ve acquired sober mom friends with whom I’ll discuss everything from cooking to breastfeeding.
But I’m still not going to talk about scrapbooking. You have to draw the line somewhere.
Stefanie Wilder-Taylor is an author whose fourth book, I'm Kind of a Big Deal: And Other Delusions of Adequacy, will be released June 6th. She's discussed drinking and parenting but not usually together on Oprah, Dr. Oz, The Today Show, Larry King Live and HLN. She adores her children, her husband and almost all reality television.