The Sobering Truth About Motherhood - Page 2

By Rachael Brownell 09/12/11

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

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Since motherhood and guilt go together like love and marriage, it makes sense that sober motherhood and guilt go together like white and rice, like bikini waxes and pain. As I accumulate more sobriety, I develop a habit of blaming my kids’ every bad behavior or unhappy day on my drinking. Kids have a bad day at school? Because I drank. Perform poorly on a test? Because I drank. Didn’t like dinner? Because I drank. Everything was my fault, my fault, my fault. The drumbeat of doom and mommy guilt nearly drives me back to the bottle.

But as I admit these thoughts out loud, next to someone who laughs them out of countenance, I’m given a reprieve. For 20 seconds, I can forgive myself. Then 30. Sitting next to Paul is like sitting next to a motherhood life coach—one who smokes and swears under his breath. When I sit down, I’m bathed in forgiveness, and this room becomes a safe place to share the blackness of my life—a mini spiritual truck stop where the coffee sucks, but the love is deep and real and easy. 

I have a Higher Power who is a mix of Erma Bombeck, Buddha and my husband, Paul.

Do  other mothers feel like I do? 

I start to ask them, quietly, nonchlantly, as if I’m talking about the weather. But despite mybest intentions, I'm not always too subtle. I slip into my conversations my fear that I’ve wrecked my children's’ lives. If the other woman pauses for more than two seconds, I quickly volunteer the lie that everything is better now, easier, less taxing. Later, I’m sitting around a sunny table in a local cafe—the simple, homey place many local recovery folks gather on weekends after the round of morning meetings. A group of sober women gather to celebrate a friend’s birthday and talk turns to life and kids in sobriety. Soon a woman confesses that her nine-year-old calls frequently when Mommy is away, at the grocery store, or at work. We all nod sympathetically as she concludes it’s probably “an attachment issue related to my drinking.” Another friend, bemoaning her alienation from her teenage daughter, states tearfully that her “years of drinking” (now several years behind her) are likely the cause of this current relationship crisis. We point out that even mothers who aren’t alcoholics fight with their kids and that God created teenagers to lower our self-esteem. She looks at us like she wants to believe that everything will be all right. She looks at us from the bottom of that pit of Mommy Guilt and we try and throw her a rope ladder. And in that moment of grace, all of us straining to pull her out, something is lifted and lightened. We’re no longer alone.

I’ll have four years sober next month. Paul moved to Oregon and I no longer hate raising kids sober (at least not always). I have lots of help and eat too much ice cream and confess my maternal shortcomings to my sponsor and the lady waiting in the grocery store line next to me. I have a Higher Power who is a mix of Erma Bombeck, Buddha, and Paul. Every day I try and tell the truth, talk to another woman, laugh, and keep looking for that rope ladder out of secret maternal shame. And sometimes, I have sex with my eyes open.

Rachael Brownell is a freelance writer and author of the book Mommy Doesn’t Drink Here Anymore. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her  boyfriend, her kids, her books and a closet that is no longer full of skeletons.

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Rachael Brownell is a frequent contributor to The Fix and the author of the book Mommy Doesn't Drink Here Anymore. She has written about the importance of humor in sobriety and natural highs, among many other topics. You can find Rachael on Linkedin and Twitter.