I send this out on the day after Mother’s day. A kind of Motherhood hangover. On the day when moms are celebrated for the ideal. For all they Give. I almost didn’t survive that giving.
My Daughter is one and a half. My days are full of new joy and new terror. She’s beautiful, her world opening up in larger and larger circles of awareness with each hour. With every breath, I think of her, from sunrise, till the time the house finally goes quiet at 10:30 pm
That’s when I ache. A wave of dissatisfaction, exhaustion and despair lands in my body, and it feels like betrayal. Why do I feel like this? Was I not blessed with a healthy kid, a supportive family, piles of privileges?
I pace the room- towards the cabinet, then back towards my bedroom, then towards the cabinet again. Damn it. I don’t want to drink. But what can I do? Completely wrung out by new motherhood, I’m empty. That emptiness hurts, and I long to fill it with Something. I need this ache to go silent.
The culture supports, even celebrates this. Moms, you give everything, and we admit you don’t get much- but you get Wine! It’s your reward for emptying yourself, over and over again. This is your time, when the house is quiet. Or even if the afternoon is too hard. This will fill you back up. This is how to care for yourself - Because no one else can.
I started drinking after pregnancy as soon as I could. Nothing could have prepared me for the tremendous weight of being Needed All the Time. My mind, my physical body and all of its resources, and who I thought I was vanished into the void of Mothering. Anxiety, depression, and exhaustion - running in dissonant tandem with a love so deep I would cry just looking at her.
I learned to drink when I feel. It’s the first lesson of adulthood.
A few glasses in, I feel something unlatch. The relief. The satisfaction. Like an exhale I’ve been holding in all day. I unfold on the couch like a crumpled piece of paper. I feel good, in an underwater way. I feel like whatever I’m doing is Enough.
It lasts 45 minutes. Unless I drink more, a headache will start. If I can get to the sweet spot of exhaustion and drunkenness, I’ll be able to stumble into bed in a few hours. I’ll wake an hour later, sleep split in a headache. Advil and water. Back to bed for what nighttime remains. Often my kid wakes, and I’m holding her and rocking her as my shame and nausea sing lullabies. I’m sorry. I love you. I hate this. This is all I can do. It’s true. This is all I can do.
The morning... Fuck. Each is harder than the one before. I’m in sleep-debt, the alcohol never allowing my body to drop into the restoration it needs. What I have to give my daughter is… Less. And as she bounds into toddlerhood, she needs More. Her world opens as mine contracts. I have so little to spare. I feel broken. How does anyone do this? Why can’t I?
Drinking in motherhood is slow motion self-torture. An unbearable love, and an unbearable shame, pulling me. I feel dead. I feel like nothing. Still, I am needed.
It takes years. Finally, I’m crying in a friend’s lap. I’m empty. She sees what I really need. Time. Time to take care of myself. Time to refill my resources. Time to learn who I am again.
She helps me talk to my husband, and we eventually find a bit of childcare for the kid. Two days a week. I start to crawl back into my body. There are so many feelings.
The age I started drinking in response to Feelings, is the age when my personal growth stopped. When the support system of college, and close friends and surefire destiny dropped away. Just Reality, raw and unbearable. There was only one survival ritual I had learned. I could hear the ice in the glass as I drove home from my first office job. I could hold my breath till then. I could hold my feelings till they had the filter of numbness. Now the only thing making Feeling bearable, is killing me. This time I have to feel, or die.
I tell everyone I’m done drinking. Sometimes it’s true. There is often still this moment, near the end of the day when I'm empty again. Stress and dissatisfaction. Alcohol would numb this feeling, push it forward another night.
Moderation is months of more torture. When is it ok? Everyone has one or two. My day was rough. I try drinking only on the weekends. I try just wine. Then just beer. Then only when I’m out with friends. But there’s no rule I can’t find a situational excuse for. This addictive substance is stronger than my will. If I want my life, my peace, my joy and my motherhood back from alcohol, I’ve got to take it ALL back. Somewhere around year 36, I reclaim myself.
I simply can not fuck around with alcohol if I want to live.
So now, I start some hot water. I’ll make a pot of tea first, just that. Sit with the mug. Write the feeling in my notebook and see what happens.
How novel- to wait and feel it out. When did all the other options for dealing with life disappear, replaced by the resigned, looming “I need a Drink?”
So let’s just make some fucking tea and see what fucking happens, ok? It’s small and I can do it.
Not only does the feeling pass, but I realize why I was feeling it. I’ve done too much again, given too much without taking care of myself. Or another time: I’m in a stressful situation and I want to quiet the aggravation. I write, I drink my tea, and I go the fuck to bed. Sometimes feeling better, sometimes not. But I will not wake with a hangover and live my day half-dead.
So much of my energy was tied up trying to manage alcohol and my feelings around it. I cut that cord, and that energy is… Free again. I have space to breathe. And into the empty space, all that I have been wanting to pursue, comes rushing in.
This is where the magic started.
This is truly condensed, and I will write more. To put it all down in a few paragraphs feels like it was a short jaunt down a marked path. It wasn’t. I had dig this trail out with my hands. What I ached for was connection. To be heard, to be given a moment to find my breath and speak my heart. The permission to set free my shame. That I could be both in the heights of the brightest love I’ve known, and simultaneously in the darkest night of my soul. I write this, so someone can feel held, and seen, and known.
Hey Mama. You too will live again.