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The Sobering Truth About Motherhood

Children are adorable blessings—but raising them sober isn't for the faint of heart. Here's what motherhood in early sobriety is really like.

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Wine blots out the whine. Photo via

By Rachael Brownell

09/12/11

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I have 60 days sober and I’m sitting in a women’s meeting. The room is plain but clean and smells like the industrial strength cleaner they use in daycare centers. There are 10 women sitting around the table sharing their stories. Someone is taking her one-year coin and sharing about how her life is so much better than she ever imagined it could be. I sit bathed in shame and guilt. I have a secret that is so big and powerful I fear it others will be able to hear its drumbeat. The secret is this: I don’t like raising kids sober.

When you first stop drinking, everything in your life is louder, harsher, realer, and much, much worse than it looked under the comforting haze of the checked-out booziness that guided me through these past few years. My kids’ screams seem louder, their manners non-existent. The household demands are ceaseless, the piles of unwashed clothes seemed to grow higher every day. Even the dishes seem dirtier. My husband’s quiet reserve now seems more like sullen depressed withdrawal—his daily naps previously tolerable, now filled me with murderous vengeful rage. And sober sex? With your eyes open? Not in a million years.

It seems a bit embarrassing to admit this, but raising kids is a lot easier when you're half-drunk.

I am Sleeping Beauty waiting in vain for my Prince to come, only to discover I’ve taken too much Ambien, overslept, gained 30 pounds, and stopped using birth control. I long to hear another mother admit that raising children sober is more difficult than doing so with wine glass in hand. If there are other mothers like me, I haven’t met them yet. “Keep coming back,” they say. And so I do.

Every day at noon, I start attending a meeting in the industrial section of town. Approaching the door of the meeting, I have to dodge large trucks as they deliver large steel beams and menacing-looking construction equipment to the company nearby—a fitting effort given my belief that everything is more difficult sober, even walking across a parking lot. Once inside, I find a perfect seat in the middle, near the back of the room, next to an old guy, who later introduces himself as Paul. Paul is very quiet, and has the exact number of days sober as I do. 

Over the next few months, I come to rely on his familiarity—the magnificent walking stick, camouflage jacket, and the smell of cigarettes mixed with Ben Gay. Paul assiduously avoids eye contact and discussion of feelings. His droll one-liners about living in his truck make everyone in the room laugh uproariously. Paul and I count the days together. “Today I have 61 days sober.” 62, 63, 64. Day in, day out, we sit together. And other than brushing my teeth, this is the first consistent thing I’ve done in years. 

I bring my youngest daughter to the kids’ room in the back of the noon meeting—a converted storage closet that is clean and warm, where she can watch Dora or Diego and eat her snacks. She’s getting used to it and our routine. Paul smiles and cheers us on from the sidelines. He smiles when he sees us. “Hello there, sweetie! Put your girl in the back and have a seat.” Sitting with Paul, I sometimes lean over and make jokes about all the unrealized promises of early sobriety. “You know, Paul, raising kids is easier drunk.” And he laughs and responds, “You know, sweetie, there’s a lot of wisdom in that statement right there.” I share, “I haven’t spoken with my husband for weeks and he’s sleeping downstairs now.” And he nods and offers, “Hm-mm... be careful there.” Paul has an ex-wife and a few adult kids spread around. Sometimes he looks at me and my daughter and offers, “You have a chance to do it right, kid” or “You’re doing great! Keep up the good work!” or “Man, raising kids is hard, in’t it?” 

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