That day was the last time I bought into the lies that one drink will somehow not send me on that downward spiral to insanity and destruction of everything I love and care about.
The kids were still sleeping when I woke up early just to start drinking. The wine was hidden in its usual spot, my closet, and I stood in there at 6 a.m. to choke down whatever I had left. Not because I wanted to, but at that point in my alcoholism my poor body depended on those swigs simply to function normally. I downed enough to stop the shakes, the sick feeling creeping all over my body, the ringing in my ears. Today was the first day of school and a big one at that. My youngest was starting kindergarten.
He and I had quite a history. I was standing at a nurse’s station in a detox center when I found out I was pregnant with him. I had no idea. And now here we were, my baby with his little backpack, the youngest of four kids, heading to his first day of school. What the hell have I been doing all this time? The grip of addiction was still strangling me and all I could hope was that I’d get better sometime soon. I was so tired.
I took a quick shower, skipping out on washing my hair. I didn’t have the time or the energy to fix it today. After I got dressed, my husband was already in the kitchen. Coffee was brewing, and silence filled the room. He knew about the closet, knew what I had done. I had looked into those broken eyes countless times, and this morning’s overwhelming feelings of self disgust were the same as all the times before. Graciously he hugged me without saying a word. And we stood there holding each other, like soldiers witnessing a gruesome battle, carrying on a conversation without uttering a single word until I finally let go to wake up the other kids.
“I’ll start putting your bags in the car,” he said.
And the sad secret being kept from the kids remained intact.
It was her senior year of high school. My first-born baby girl had seen it all, from happy times in sobriety to life with a mom in rehab for the sixth time. Shelby was done with hearing apologies, but old enough by now to know I didn’t want to drink. She knew I tried, but she wanted her mother. I had one more year before she was gone and I felt every tick of the clock counting down as I wasted yet another day stuck in the fear and shame of it all. How many times had I failed her, and what if I did it again? She’d get her own ride to school, she’d hear the news, but would she forgive me one more time?
She had woken herself up for her first day of fifth grade, her last year in elementary school. I couldn’t help but think back to preschool days, her bright blonde hair and toothy grin. But like many memories, flashes of alcoholic moments clouded over the good times and I forced myself to think about something else. She was only four years old when she watched me get handcuffed out of the car and led away for my first DUI. I desperately needed to make new memories, not just for her but for me, too. All of my thoughts were killing me.
Since Spenser had snuck into our bed the night before, I only had one child left to wake up. Stella was still sleeping. She’d been waiting for this day — the beginning of third grade — for two weeks, excited to get back and see her friends again. I sat on the edge of her bottom bunk, reaching for her wavy brown hair. She rolled over and stretched, asking if it was morning. I realized this was it. I wouldn’t be back here for a while, wouldn’t be tucking her in tonight. Desperately wishing I could push rewind for the hundredth time, I just stood up and headed downstairs, feeling sad and scared and awful.
Eventually the backpacks we ready and the lunches packed. I took one last look around my house, swallowing the waves of tears ready to spill out of my eyes and ruin the picture of normalcy I was trying to paint for my kids. We got in the car, my husband driving, and headed to the school a couple blocks away.
A Long Good-bye
“Focus on the kids,” is what I kept telling myself. “God, just get me through this without crying.”
Hallway after hallway, at every turn was a flood of smiling parents with their best-dressed kids. The excitement was bubbling around me like Christmas morning. I, however, was in a private hell. Physically already feeling the effects of my maintenance wine consumption wearing off, I was dizzy, fluctuating between hot and cold. I thought I looked different than every other mom, so I kept my head down with a fake smile plastered on my face. I was an outsider, uncomfortable and out of place. We went room by room, starting at fifth grade, then third, and finally kindergarten. Each time I walked my precious child in and hugged and kissed them, holding back everything I wanted to say but couldn’t. I left parts of my heart, then grabbed my husband’s hand as we forced our way through crowds and out the door so I could breathe again.
At 3 o’clock, school would get out, but I’d be gone. My kids wouldn’t see me again until weeks later during visitation day at my seventh treatment center for drug and alcohol addiction. My bed had been reserved since the previous Friday. I’d begged both my husband and the rehab facility to let me wait so that I could do what I just described: take my kids to school for their first day of school, walk Spenser to his first day of kindergarten.
A Grateful Last Day
That was August 22, 2016 and I haven’t picked up a drink since that morning. There was no hard bottom circumstance like other times I tried to quit, just sick and tired of being sick and tired. I couldn’t do it anymore. I knew what was left for me: death. I’d been carrying it around with me for months like a dark cloud, convinced the impending death wouldn’t be easy enough to be mine. More than likely it would be one of these precious kids because I always found a reason to drive after I drank.
But that was the last time my body needed alcohol pumping through my bloodstream just to operate normally. It was the last time I needed to sneak away and find my liquid problem solver and stress reliever, my life-buffer that told me I needed a drink to cope. And it was the last time I bought into the lies that one drink will somehow not send me on that downward spiral to insanity and destruction of everything I love and care about.
First day, last day, same day. Sometimes a thousand failures lead up to that one success, but that one is all you ever needed. True freedom is accepting it happened the way it was supposed to; taking what you have and making a purpose out of it. I was tired of being sick, and sick of being beaten down by this disease. Sick of always having shame take me out, sick of drinking to escape the self-hatred of not being able to stop drinking.
In sobriety, our last day is our first. Sometimes we show up in hallways of institutions and sometimes in closed rooms, feeling uncomfortable and out of place. But once we lift our heads and open our minds, hope comes sneaking in. It’s that moment where recovery is possible — for anyone, even a mother like me.