“I fell head over heels for a cute guy who bought me a drink at a bar. He always had a funny sense of humor, so I wasn’t totally shocked that our engagement was actually playing a game. He was going to ask me to marry him when I earned 1,000 points. I was 24 years old, so play I did. There weren’t rules per se. I earned points by doing things he wanted, when he wanted, how he wanted: cleaning the condo, home-cooked meals, editing his work emails, sexual favors. When he was happy, I was also happy.
We flew to wine country and headed to Chalk Hill for a private tour. Sipping wine through the vineyards (wine was a huge part of who we were), we stopped for a picture. He pulled out my Valentine’s Day card early. I read what I think said ‘T I S O’ in bubble letters, and I said ‘Tiso?’
‘Tiso? What is Tiso?’ ‘No, that’s not a T, that’s a plus sign!’ +150. I hit 1,000 points. He got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I was ecstatic!
Wine started becoming an issue when I became a stay-at-home mom. I had our second son 18 months after our first. And our third son 17 months later. At his 20 week ultrasound, our son was diagnosed with a unilateral cleft lip and palate. Shock followed immediately by fear. I had so much anxiety about how to care for 3 boys under 3, especially with known (cleft) and possible unknown special needs.
His diagnosis changed how I felt about myself. Epic mom guilt. I was helpless. I cried for weeks. How did this happen? What did I do wrong? I should have been taking folic acid sooner, started meditating, eaten less jelly beans and more avocados, not carried 55 pounds of extra toddlers with my pregnant body…Endless mind games and negative self-talk. I was riddled with anxiety, fear, and sadness about our unborn child. I became invisible. Lost. A vessel. My husband had no compassion, interest, or time to share this journey with me. My pregnancy, my appointments, my emotions, my problems.
Our son’s beautiful God-given smile brought some extra challenges his first year—I exclusively pumped and used special cleft bottles. He had lip repair surgery at 9 weeks old with arm restraints, then palate repair surgery at 8.5 months with arm restraints, and he had therapy all the time. I was beyond exhausted, unprepared, under-supported, overwhelmed, and alone. I was lucky to be able to stay home with my kids, and it was insanely difficult. I got tired of paying people for their time. It’s wildly different than having support.
There was stale, silent trauma inside of me seemingly nothing could fill. I wanted to not feel like I did, not be who I was, not have the life circumstances I had. I wanted to escape my feelings of inadequacy, abandonment, and failure as a mother, as well as my suspicions about my husband. Champagne would take the edge off just enough.
When things were tolerable between us, I felt like his roommate. When things were not, I felt like a prisoner. Unseen. Unheard. Unwanted. I kept hoping, praying, trying to somehow reconnect and work things out. I couldn’t get his attention for a conversation. Or his time for a date. Or his support. Or ideas. Or hugs. Or love.
We took a ‘spontaneous’ weekend trip to Madison. It was the first night away after our son’s first major surgery. We went to a Badgers game, he gave me gorgeous diamond hoop earrings, then we got pizza and champagne at Lucille’s. He had me meet our new realtor… what were we looking for in a house, and when we would be moving? When she left the table, I started hysterically crying. He told me there was a possibility it would make sense to move… it would be best for our family. He promised we would figure everything out between us.
I argued in my head constantly….’Stop complaining! Just fix it. What is wrong with me? I must be losing my mind with these freaking hormones. I need a drink. Speaking of drinks, I need to make sure I throw out 2nd bottle I opened so he doesn’t get mad. Am I drinking too much? Of course not. All the moms have a glass of wine. This is called adulting.’
Liquid confidence and brief relief. I truly didn’t think it was hurting anyone. Sober days became very few sober nights. My ability to stop was unreliable at best. The time of day I started became earlier and earlier, but as long as I did all of my mom duties, kept up our home, paid our bills, made thousands of meals my kids wouldn’t eat…it seemed okay. However, things I felt kept me safely a ‘normal drinker’ were diminishing at rapid speed.
After two alcohol-related hospitalizations, my husband told me I had to go to rehab. I was adamant I didn’t need it, but I didn’t have an option. He wouldn’t let me come home. I couldn’t blame him.
I went for 30 days to a posh place in California. I was absolutely sure I was going to get an A+ in addiction. I sent an email to friends ‘Dear Everyone, This is Kristi. I’m writing you from rehab, but don’t worry, I’m not an alcoholic!’ I was living in complete denial and delusion. I couldn’t see myself or what was really going on in my life at all. I so badly needed to stay sober, but I didn’t want to be an alcoholic.
Certainly, armed with all of this information on addiction, triggers, and neuropathways, now I’d get it right. Just as long as I followed the rules. I knew all of the information and said the right words. I went to the right places. I had a sponsor in AA. And…I continued to secretly drink at home in my closet.
3 months after rehab, our family moved from Chicago to Madison. My husband said it was a move for work (he works remotely). It would be a fresh start for us (in the same state as his family). No one would know about my alcohol issues. Our money would go further. Public schools were better for the kids. It would be closer to our lake house for the summer. I was devastated to leave my family and all of my friends in Illinois with our marriage being so fragile, but what option did I have? Besides, starting over without a bruised-up reputation sounded promising.
We looked like we were a happy family together. We continued the motions of being together. But what was unresolved remained unresolved. Our trauma hadn’t brought us closer together. It took us much, much farther apart.
The morning of our 7th wedding anniversary, the day after our youngest son’s second birthday party and when I was 6 months pregnant with our daughter, I found out about his affair. We went to dinner that night. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to jump to conclusions. Certainly, this man who just promised me a new life together in a new city was not having an affair with a coworker. Women’s intuition is rarely wrong.
I was a puffy-eyed, sleep-deprived, pregnant torpedo of hormones, but I wasn’t going to lose my family without a fight. We called her together from his phone. It will forever be one of the most horrendous conversations of all time.
They said it was emotional support and innocent flirting. She was a mother, she would never! I dropped it. I had to. I was pregnant with his 4th child! But I knew it wasn’t nothing, and it wasn’t over.
I had our daughter two days before Halloween. I was absolutely elated. I took the kids to a costume party less than 48 hours after having her. Newborn in one arm, champagne in the other. People were so confused. ‘Excuse me, did you just have that baby 2 days ago? Why are you here?! Where is your husband?!’ Brut Rose All Day with a newborn, no family nearby, no solid friendships in my new city, postpartum depression I was trying to ignore, conversations about infidelity…my drinking SKYROCKETED.
I’ll skip all the depressing details of my most destructive drinking, but the consequences went from bad to worse. I hosted a Bunco party for my new neighborhood friends and passed out an hour into it. I had to get picked up from a Tuesday afternoon manicure because I couldn’t drive. I asked my neighbor for champagne at 10 a.m. saying it was for cooking and I couldn’t run to the store. It was awful.
My husband and I went on a sales trip the first week of May. The time away from the kids, having no responsibilities, and his ego being through the roof gave me a glimmer of hope. Was he actually trying?! We actually had fun together. I stayed sober the first 3 days of the trip. May 15th, I was admitted to a psych ward for 3 nights. On Monday the 20th, he offered to take our daughter with him to the gym to ‘give me a break’ after my hard weekend. He had divorce papers delivered. Without a conversation. While I was home alone.
I stayed sober for 37 days in a row. And then I didn’t. I had a drink with my estranged husband at a Bon Iver show, and in the next week, I got 2 DUIs, spent a night on the 5th floor of a high-security prison in Gary, Indiana, hired a full-time nanny to take over my role in our family, kissed my 4 kids under 7 goodbye, and checked myself into inpatient rehab for two months.
I needed to stop running away. I couldn’t heal myself while hating myself. I picked a rehab close enough that the kids could come once a week with our nanny. It was a lifeline to have those 90 minutes of snuggles. My husband came for couples therapy a few times too. We didn’t make much progress. They asked him about his affair in therapy, and his answer was, ‘I know I should feel guilty… I just don’t.’
I was sobbing over losing my family and my future because of my alcoholism. I took all of the blame. I was emotionally empty. Spiritually soulless. Riddled with anxiety. I didn’t trust myself. I didn’t like myself. I certainly didn’t love myself.
The work inside treatment was all-encompassing. Emotional, mental, physical, spiritual. Peers are witnesses and teachers and fellow survivors and mirrors. They are you and me. The healing isn’t in the knowledge, it’s in the connections. In the honesty. The vulnerability. The emotional rawness. The ‘real’ real.
I was scared of myself. I was scared of alcohol. I was scared of the truth. I was scared of what it all meant. What it all could mean? That who I had become was who I would always be.
TISO was our ‘I love you’ word over the decade we spent together. Surely with those points, I had earned his love too? I wore it engraved on a necklace with my kids’ names. It never meant ‘I love you.’ For him, it meant ‘I control you.’ For me, it meant ‘I serve you.’ The foundation of our marriage was broken from the start. I auditioned for his approval, attention, time, and love for over a decade. I became an isolated, unstable puppet under this tangled web of half-truths, infidelity, love bombing, and gaslighting.
I people-pleased my way into a relationship not meant for me and stayed far too long because of my dependence on alcohol. Alcohol allowed me to stay in situations where I could slowly abandon myself and drown my intuition. The longer I stayed, the more suffocated, confused, and speechless I became. This is why I share my story. Because I wasn’t allowed to before.
My new life in recovery cost me the entirety of my old one. Not all relationships with my family, friends, or versions of myself survived this massive lifestyle and mindset shift. I tried to hold onto certain parts of myself, maintain some slight control. But that’s not how this works. I white-knuckled sobriety through raw emotions, sleepless nights, and shaky mornings.
To say it’s been humbling would be an understatement. For months, I went to meetings, listened, and cried. I didn’t want to admit I was powerless, but I did. I didn’t want to give up control, but I did. I didn’t want to take ownership, but I did. I didn’t want to hear my story in theirs, but I did. I didn’t want to have compassion for myself, but I did. I didn’t want to tell my truth or accept the reality, but I did.
I rebuilt myself while dissolving my marriage and single-momming 4 kids during a global pandemic. To say it’s been empowering would be an understatement. In recovery, I learned to trust myself, to use my voice, to know my worth, to find the similarities, to lead with kindness, to love what really matters, to only accept relationships I deserve, to create boundaries that keep me safe, to rise up from the ashes of self-destruction.
Everything is easier without alcohol subconsciously directing my life. Without lies told, feelings ignored, and trauma stored. I slowed way down. I said no to people to say yes to myself.
The challenges I’ve walked through in recovery (emotional, spiritual, physical, financial, legal) gave me the opportunity to become an independent, confident, happy, healthy woman. A version of myself I am proud of.
I refuse to rush through this one precious life with my kids. In our house, we don’t keep secrets, but we respect privacy. We talk about big feelings, the world right now, and always being kind. The blessings are simple yet extraordinary. I feel love grow during these seemingly normal days of summer. Days of t-shirts, no makeup, no schedule. I’m so thankful I decided to actually show up. I feel so alive.
I stay busy adulting, reading, talking to my therapist, leading weekly meetings through Sober Mom Squad, doing DIY completely wrong, having honest conversations, connecting with other women, and writing about momming sober. The best of it. The worst of it. The work of it. The worth of it.
I’ve let go of the pieces of me that were weighing me down. I had to break free from addiction, a toxic relationship, and unrealistic expectations (of myself, of others, of life) to find my authenticity. A sober mom who loves her simple, messy, freedom-filled days.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kristi Tanner from Madison, Wisconsin. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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