I got drunk for the very first time, in a bar, when I was 15 years old. I remember feeling at home immediately. The music was loud, the room was dark and smokey, and everyone looked really happy. I wanted to look happy. So, I sat up at the bar like a big girl and my friend Kerri ordered me whatever she was drinking.
Kerri was 23, and tough, and awesome. She smoked Marlboro Red 100s, so I did, too. She treated the men in her life like garbage, and they treated her like a princess. Her life looked so glamorous to me, and I wanted it. So, I did everything she did in hopes that it would fall on me. She had a four-year-old daughter who lived with her uncle. We would pick her up on Saturdays and we would drive around for hours.
That night when we left the bar I threw up, I got into an argument with Kerri and her cousin, was asked to leave, and passed out in a strange bed. I would love to report that my drinking career got any better than this, but sadly, I cannot. When I drink, at least one, but usually all of these things happen. These things did not deter me from drinking, but rather became the price I was willing to pay for relief. I continued to find parties and new friends when necessary.
At age 16, I found out I was pregnant. Kerri immediately suggested an abortion, but I couldn’t go through with it. I decided to keep her, but for all the wrong reasons. I remained sober throughout my pregnancy, mostly out of fear, and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl seven long months later. The first time I saw her, I fell in love. I was going to be better for her. I made promises that day that I had no intention of ever breaking. I was going to be the best mother I could to that baby…and then I picked up another drink.
Her father and I were never really “good” together. We fought constantly from the get-go and it didn’t take long for the relationship to get ugly.
I have always done the best I could with what I had and there have been times I was extremely limited. The abuse got worse and so did my drinking. My daughter’s father would buy the alcohol and make sure we didn’t run out. I think he liked me more when I was drunk, which made two of us.
The door to our apartment should have been a revolving one because that is how I treated it. When we would fight, I would move home with my father until things cooled off and he was able to win me back with his charm and vows to never hurt me again. I knew I was to blame and that I made him so mad because he loved me so much. He trusted me and I shouldn’t have pushed his buttons. I wouldn’t next time…and then I drank.
This went on until the last straw. It was the end of the line for my daughter and me and we went back to my dad’s for good. My father agreed to watch the baby as long as she was sleeping so I began to put her to bed right after dinner to get out. This went on for about a year.
My two-year old would wake me in the morning, after I’d had only a few hours of sleep and I would tell her to “Give Mumma a minute,” which sometimes turned into hours. I realized one morning that I had a problem. I could not be a full-time mother and drink the way I wanted to. The problem? I always drink the way I want to. The solution? Transfer physical custody over to her father.
I know today, after much work on myself, that I did not make this decision. I was not a bad mother, or a terrible person. I was sick with the disease of alcoholism. Alcohol told me when to wake up, when to fall asleep, where to sleep, who to sleep with, who my friends should be, and where we should hang out. As soon as I ingest alcohol, I no longer make decisions. It calls the shots.
Handing my daughter over to my ex was a choice that I drank about. I drank at it, around it, and through it. I got drunk and talked about it; cried about it. I perfected the victim role because it worked for me. I loved the sympathy people offered and the safety they provided me because of it.
After I dropped out of school and lived to recover from hangovers on the couch, my father asked me to move out. Once again, victim card in hand, I headed out to get plastered. How dare he? Didn’t he realize I was trying? And I was! Sadly, I really was trying to make everyone proud, … and then I drank.
I went to a party and met a boy. He was eighteen, and naïve, and innocent. He was perfect. We drank the night away and I told him my story. He felt sorry for me and invited me to come live with his mom and brothers. I accepted.
I got a job as a cocktail waitress down the street from the house. I took all the four o’clock shifts so I wouldn’t have to get up early, or even in the morning. I would go to work, finish my shift, close our bar, and then wait for the rest of my drinking pals to join me for the after party. Truth be told, it was never much of a party; more like a bunch of sad, lonely people getting together to drink it away. I know that’s why I was there.
We’d go to some dive bar that someone knew the owner of that as I remember was one floor down from the basement. It was dark, and sticky, and there was an overpowering stench of urine everywhere. I couldn’t wait to disappear there; and that is exactly what I did. My life became Groundhog Day and my calls to my daughter became less and less.
The last time I got drunk, it was because I lost my job, and my “friend’s” mother had asked me to leave. I went out that night with one objective; GET WASTED. It was a typical night for everyone else, but I couldn’t stop my mind from racing. I kept talking to my drinking buddies about what had become of my life. The more I talked, the more alcohol was put in front of me. I’m not sure if it was out of pity or to shut me up, but I didn’t care. I continued to talk, and drink, and by the time I was dropped off at home I was plastered.
I remember turning to my friend and saying something like “This is the last time anyone is ever going to ask me to leave.” And I meant it. I had wanted Terri’s life so badly, but I was miserable. I didn’t recognize myself and I was in a tremendous amount of pain and fear. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror without wanting to spit at the reflection.
I tried to kill myself with pills that night while listening to sad music and feeling defeated. I started writing a sad apology letter to my daughter for all the moments in her life that I would miss. I couldn’t finish it because I realized in the middle that I wanted to be there. I passed out alone and conflicted.
When I awoke the next morning, I went to the hospital. I was toxic with medication and willing for the first time to let someone else make the decisions. I was sent to detox. It was there that I learned what my biggest problem was. ME. I’m sure a part of me knew that, but I had only used that as a prelude for more drinking. It was during my stay in the locked unit that I learned I had a choice. With a power greater than me, I could make the changes necessary to fix my life.
I went on to further treatment to learn how to live without alcohol. I made my first sober friendships and watched some of those girls get drunk or high. I got to see the distinct line between my path and theirs, and I learned how to grow from those experiences by sharing my feelings with other sober women.
I have met some amazing people on my journey and have made some life long friends. Because I am sober I am capable of maintaining relationships in my life. Because I’m sober, I’m available to that little girl I could not show up for years ago. Because I’m sober, I’ve been given the rare opportunity to re-commit to those promises I made back in 1996. I’ve gotten married sober, and have had two more children. I got my degree sober, and have welcomed other women into recovery.
My life is better sober, but it’s not easy. I have struggles, still suffer from depression, and have bad days. The changes I have made have enabled me to find alternate solutions to the problems in my life. I know that drinking will not make anything better today and working with others will.
So, here I am.
Julie Maida has been in abstinence-based recovery since May 2, 2000. She is fiercely determined to advocate for and connect ALL women with the appropriate support and resources necessary to achieve their personal recovery goals. She writes about mothering with mental illness at juliemaida.me.