Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: sober mothering

Sober Mothering: Letting Him Go.

I’m coming up on two years sober, it’s like a sing-song in my head, “two-years, two-years.” In the end, who really gives a shit?

My son, for one. He told me the other day: “Mama, it’s good to see that you have so much POWER.”

He said it like that. “so much POWER.”

I was like, “Dude. What do you mean, POWER?”

(We’d been talking about how my mother had died when he was a baby, and how having three kids was driving my sister nuts sometimes, and how I’d made a conscious choice to have only one child. I know you feel lonely sometimes, Dude, being the only kid in this house, I said, but I knew early on I could not have handled more than one. For one thing, I just loved you so much, and I didn’t want anyone else messing that up. We connected strongly, very early on, you and I. For another thing, I knew I was trying to change a lot of things my own mom had done, and I wanted to boost my chances of success. I knew I couldn’t have done what Aunt J did and had three. She’s doing an amazing job and I couldn’t have done that. So I stayed home with you the first year, and I made sure you had friends from when you were like 2. And I’ve driven you everywhere and never complained about driving. I want you to have friends.)

We were sitting on the couch in the living room. He looked into my face, with his deep brown-velvet eyes, and said, “How many people do you know who have been able to overcome their addiction?”

He hardly ever brings up that subject. Addiction.

(A lot, I thought. Then I thought about my parents, some of my cousins, my other family.)

He held my gaze and said, “How many people do you know who have made helping other people with this their work?”

“There are a lot of people who help other people with their addictions,” I said.

“How many people do you know who have DIED from their addiction?” he retorted.

So that’s what it comes down to: I’m here for him. I didn’t die. He knows that, and that’s what matters.

The boy at 5, bearing flowers.

“I remember when I was like 10 or 12, I don’t remember how old,” he said

(ten, it was when you were ten, the year grandpa died and i lost it)

“you stayed in your room like ALL DAY and never came out.”

I pushed a lank lock of hair off his forehead. “I’m sorry about that,” I said.

“But you’re always out of your room now,” he said.

He was just accepted to the creative and performing arts public high school today.

The boy licking the bowl.

He still drapes himself across me in the mornings. He’s as tall as I am, bigger-boned, oily-skinned, with a peach-fuzz-baby-boy-mustache. He burrows his face into my belly. He knows it’s where he came from. Yesterday I went to a meet-and-greet at the (private, expensive) high school he really wants to go to next year, and I studied the girls on the “student panel”—the swotty girl with braces and brass-buttoned jacket who comes from 45 minutes away; the sexy theater-studies girl in white rag-dress and combat boots; the girl kitted out in little black number and platform spike heels. Isn’t there a friggin dress-code at this place? I thought. They all have long hair and black-varnished fingernails and possibly piercings and tattoos and they have CURVES, and when he goes up to high school next year, braces off and looking all hot and angular in his skinny brown cords and tobacco-suede Gravis chukkas, he will belong to them—las chicas. And that’s cool—maybe not cool, it’s fine, I’ll suck it up and be the Cool Mom when it happens. It will happen.

But for now I’m still Mama.

 

The boy, age 3.

Motherhood and My Addiction: By Guest Poster Tara

Guest poster Tara, who blogs about sobriety at The Act of Returning to Normal, writes today about how her alcoholism and her motherhood were intertwined—she drank to soothe her fears that she wasn’t a “good-enough mother”… and, later, she got sober in part out of her desire to give her kids a sober mom. I’m grateful to Tara for this post—I so closely identify with her feelings about motherhood: intimidation; inferiority; setting up the goal of perfection, and never being able to meet it.

Tara, I’m so glad you’re sober today. 🙂 Happy Mother’s Day.

Readers interested in guest-posting can email me at guinevere (at) guineveregetssober (dot) com.

***

Motherhood and My Addiction

by Tara

Drinking motherDuring the last few months of my drinking in the summer of 2010, I was in a serious funk. Believing that my problem was a depression that had nothing to do with the copious amounts of alcohol I consumed, I considered going to my doctor to ask for anti-depressants. The part of me that was concerned about my drinking was also convinced that if I wasn’t suffering from depression, I would definitely have to cut back. I couldn’t contemplate quitting altogether, largely because it seemed impossible, like running a marathon. So I pondered anti-depressants, but procrastinated about making a plan to take them. Part of me was afraid I would never be able to drink normally, even if I did feel better.

It was summer and I was working from home. My kids were at summer day camp. I drank vodka at lunch every day. Cautious about consuming too much, I measured the portions carefully, stopping after lunch so that I wouldn’t be too drunk to drive to camp to pick them up. Each morning I promised myself that I wouldn’t drink until after they got home. By lunch each day I broke my promise. Later, I would thank God that I had this one small responsibility. I think it was the only thing that prevented a complete downward spiral into absolute drunkenness. I believe if not for that one ten-minute drive each day that I would have started drinking after breakfast.

The weekends were a different story. It was during this summer, on the weekends, that I began drinking before lunch while my family was out grocery shopping and I was home alone cleaning up the house. Looking back, I’m not sure why drinking in the mornings seemed necessary, but I wanted solace from an anxiety I couldn’t shake. I wanted to recapture the wake-and-bake feelings I had in my early twenties—that feeling that all was well with the world. Back then, I lived in San Francisco and smoked pot all the time; then, it seemed okay to chase peak experiences because it aligned with my desire to be more laid back, more “Californian.” I was trying to change myself the only way I knew how, from the outside in, and saw smoking pot as a style choice, on a par with wearing bell-bottomed pants and listening to folk music. I stopped smoking pot in 2001 when I was pregnant with my first child. At the same time, I put away my bell-bottoms. In my mind, getting high was tied to youthful exploration and at odds with my new sense of responsibility to my daughter. It was easy to let it go.

Ten years later it seemed I still wanted the hard edges of life to melt away so that I could be left with a good feeling. I wanted to be there for my kids but I felt like I wasn’t good enough as I was. In order to be a good mother, I believed I had to reshape myself into someone who loved them enough to help them, to listen to their stories, and to automatically have all of the right answers. I wanted to give them a sense of self-confidence and well-being my parents hadn’t given me. When I was drunk—just enough—I thought the “bad mother” parts of me moved into the shadows. I thought that I had to feel good to be a good mother. I thought that to feel bad meant I was bad.

There were many tangible moments that underlined my sense of failure at motherhood: “forgetting” to sign up for sports because practice was scheduled for times I typically drank, and hurrying along the bedtime routine because I needed to get back to my glass. I’m also sure there were embarrassing moments I don’t remember: slurred words,  stumbling, and forgetfulness. I loved my kids more than anything else, but I couldn’t fully accept that my drinking prevented me from connecting deeply with them.

Then two things happened that finally led me to seek sobriety. First, in a fit of pain over my failures in parenting, I tried to hurt myself. I don’t say kill, because I don’t think that was my intention at the time, although clearly it could have been a consequence. Second, my mother-in-law lost her temper because she saw everyone in the house tiptoeing around, pretending we were fine. She now admits that it drove her crazy to be with us, because although she couldn’t put her finger on why, she knew things were not good. Her anger wasn’t specifically directed at my drinking, even though she definitely thought I drank too much and saw through the lies I told her about cutting back. She knew that my life was unmanageable even though she didn’t know the truth about when or how much I drank.

After going through these two things, I was finally able to accept that things were not “fine.” I understood I had lost myself completely and I would never get out of the mess I was in—unless I first stopped drinking. This comprehension humbled me and for the first time in over ten years I asked to be released from my addiction. I prayed every day and counted the minutes. It sounds simplistic, even now, but for the first time in years I was able to put more than one or two days of sobriety together. This simple prayer worked for a few weeks, until I realized I needed help if I were going to put any amount of time together. I found AA and it helps me to stay sober.

After months of drunken contemplation about whether my family would be better off without me, when I got sober I understood the pain my kids would feel if I just disappeared. My memories of the night I tried to hurt myself, and the scars on the inside of my wrist, keep me focused on the fact that no matter how shitty things may seem now, they were truly shitty when I was drinking.

Sober Life: Being A Sober Mom

Said goodbye this morning to my 13-year-old, watching him shamble down the front steps into the first mild morning we’ve had this year. There was something about how he looked walking toward the school bus, wearing the new coat that he calls his “rock-star coat,” which he bought on his own when he walked with his friends from our house down to the shops last week… I watched him from behind, and coupled with that feeling that he’s no longer my little boy came a regret that I’d spent a number of years of his early childhood unsober.

I shut the door, locked it, walked back into the kitchen and started washing the dishes from breakfast before settling down to work. Pretty soon my tears were dripping into the dishwater. Sometimes I can’t do anything about it: I Regret The Past and Wish To Shut The Door On It.

Thirteen years ago, I was a fearful new mom. The fear settled on me as soon as I knew I was pregnant. I knew I was pregnant even before I took the drugstore test. I could feel it in my body. I’d gotten pregnant by accident and after the second line in the pregnancy test’s window confirmed what I already knew, I stood in the front hall and burst into tears—I was sure I had no idea how to raise a kid, and I had no confidence that I could figure it out. I read lots of books, and I even wrote a book about my pregnancy (which was great—my pregnancy, that is), but books didn’t give me that sense of Being Right inside myself.

My son, at a couple weeks old. From my first book. (Photo by Charlee Brodsky.)

When my son was born, and I saw his face, I knew he was the one I was supposed to meet. You know what I mean? His eyes were open. They were stone-colored, and he looked hard at me. I was absolutely flattened by love. I swore to myself I’d do my best.

My best turned out to be several years of addiction.

I got sober when he was turning 11.

As I finished washing the dishes I thought to myself how I can’t turn the clock back. My kid is one person I have to make living amends to. You can’t go to a child and tell him the ways you’ve harmed him… The facts of parenthood force me to live as an example of sobriety, to live as healthily and as spiritually-directed as I can today. Letting the rest go is the hard part. The self-recrimination. The thoughts, when I look into his face, of “what if?” What if he’d been given a different mother. What if I’d been able to get sober earlier. Blah blah blah, self-pity.

I know how I’m supposed to think. I’m supposed to stay in the present moment.

Doing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen always makes me think of my own mother. She taught me specific ways of house-cleaning. She did not tolerate drips or crumbs on the countertop. She did not tolerate leaving dishes in the sink. We didn’t have a dishwasher. She used to point to her piano (which is now in our front hall) and say, “There’s my dishwasher”—to emphasize the point that she’d chosen to invest in a musical instrument rather than a kitchen appliance.

I used to think at those moments that, actually, I was the dishwasher, and so was my sister, but I never said so.

We didn’t even have a sink-sprayer. There was a little cup by the faucet that we used to rinse out the sink. (Of course, we had no disposal.)

This morning as I wiped the countertop clean I thought of my mother. She’s been dead of lung cancer from smoking, it’s been almost 12 years.

Recently my father-in-law died, and my husband, on the first night after his dad’s death, curled up next to me in bed and asked, “Where do you think we go after we die?” It was a childlike question borne of childlike feelings. I thought of my mother then. There is nothing left of my mother’s body, surely, except her bones. Her grave is on a hillside 15 miles to the east of here. But can it be said that there is nothing left of her, when I so diligently empty the sink, when I wipe the countertop clean… when I beat myself over the head for making mistakes—the way she taught me?

Instead of doing my yoga at home today, I went to my friend Jenn’s class. I needed to get out of the house, and I needed to hear Jenn’s voice. As I walked in, she was already leading the students in opening meditation. I sat down on my mat, and Jenn said, “Now think of a place of comfort,” and the first thing that came to my mind was my  mother’s lap when I was a child. I could feel her shoulders under the blue-and-brown flannel shirt and I could smell her cigarette smoke, and I could hear her voice. Though my mother hit me when I was small, I also remember how much I used to love it when she sometimes held me on her lap. She also sometimes sang, or read books.

I held my son, I sang to him, I read to him… even when I was not sober…

I started to cry in the yoga studio. (I was in the back…)

One problem I’ve had is that I made my mother my higher power. I did everything she said, down to wiping the countertops clean in a certain way. I am a good reporter and student because I can remember conversations and lectures verbatim, because I was trained to remember things my mother said (or else).

I can see that my son won’t have some of these problems. I’m not his higher power. He is not my confidante. He has privacy, and a good relationship with his father, and productive friendships. There are appropriate boundaries between us.

Driving home from yoga I was thinking that, at the very least, I’m here. I’m alive and well, if not perfect. (By now you will have noticed that I’d like to be perfect… 🙂 ) I think kids are hardwired to forgive their parents, especially if their parents make an effort. If my mother had gotten well, and had lived to see my son grow up, I could have let go of everything that had gone before.

I mean, by the time she died, I had let go of it anyway. … Anyone know what I mean?

But who knows how much possibility for growth, how much joy we might have had?

And she would have been here. Priceless.

//

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