***Submitted by Laura
Unlike many of the women posting on this site, I haven’t been sober long. No “geological years of sober time” (as David Foster Wallace put it) for me to brag about. In fact, I’ve been sober only 18 hours.
I considered myself an ordinary drinker until perhaps a year ago. A glass of wine (or two) with dinner. Drinking to the point of tipsiness a few times a year. I hated hard alcohol and never touched it. And yet I’m now a woman with a bottle of vodka shoved into the back of our tiny kitchen linen closet, where I’m (almost) certain my husband and two-year-old son won’t discover it.
I didn’t drink during pregnancy. I didn’t drink during the first six months of breastfeeding. But when I began to wean my son, I went racing for the wine bottle after the last nurse of the night. I was confident the glass or two would depart my system by the time he woke up, hungry again, at 3 AM. And as the months went on, the two drinks became four, the wine turned into vodka, and the predictable stupid downhill roll of the alcoholic’s wheel began.
Parenthood is staggeringly hard, isolating, and frustrating for me. (An emotion that I never confess in public, because other mothers look at me as if I have three heads. It’s not hard for them. For them, even the tough times are lovely.) Alcohol is the way that I’ve coped, the way I’ve shored up my million weakness and failures. When my high-intensity son rejects the dinner I’ve just made for him; when he refuses to sit on the potty; when we run out of money again; when he kicks me, hard, in the stomach during diaper changes, I long for a drink. Anything to damp down the desperation and anger that rise when I simply don’t know what to do.
I had a child late in life, after much ambivalent discussion with my husband. I had never been around babies, or toddlers; had never taken much interest in them. But now there is this interesting, challenging, very beautiful little boy in our lives, and yet I cannot shake the feeling that I am not up to the task of raising him, that he should be with someone who can love him better, love him correctly, as every child deserves.
After a double shot of vodka, though, such anxieties recede. I can play Thomas trains with him for an hour without wanting to crawl out of my own skin. I can shoulder the burden of working eight-hour days, followed by the classic second shift of cooking, housework, cleanup, bathtime, book time, and bedtime, if only the magic silver liquid in the tall, etched shot glass is there for me. I won’t snap at him when he refuses to brush his teeth, screams his way through hair washing, and displays all the predictable illogic of his age. I can roll and tickle him and tell him how much he is loved.
I’ve gone to several AA meetings now. I’ve introduced myself, collected phone numbers, listened to everyone’s stories, bought the books, chatted politely after meetings. And yet, and yet. I don’t understand how the process is intended to work (perhaps because I can attend only a few meetings a week). When does the feeling of peace descend? When does the longing for a drink cease? How can the process work given that I’m a defiant atheist? When and how do I develop a sense of community with the other alcoholics in the room? I haven’t yet answered these questions, and while I’ve gone without a drink for a day here, a weekend there, I’m still the woman with the vodka hidden in the linen cupboard.
Last night my husband and I decided to remove all the alcohol (including that hidden bottle) from the apartment. I will see if I can go thirty days without a drink. The prospect is a desert to me, I must confess: no damper on my sadness, and no euphoria to balance my frustration.
I am standing at the bottom of an enormous hill, wondering how I will reach the top, knowing there is no top, because there is no drink, no relief waiting for me. I hope I can reach the month marker; I hope I can find other ways to still my anxiety, to access my love for my son. I hope there is another answer besides the magic silver liquid in its tall, etched glass.
But at the moment, there is only the endless upward road at my feet.