“I was arrested ten days out of my second rehab for a DUI with a child abuse charge because my 4-year-old daughter was in the car with me. I picked her up from preschool in a blackout, pulled over along the side the road ‘to rest’, and woke up with officers knocking on my car window with Rebecca screaming in the back seat. Earlier that morning while I was running errands alone, I pulled into a grocery store without thinking, bought wine, and drank it in my car before my brain could process what I was even doing. That’s all it took to trigger my cravings for more.
Back at the house, unaware of where I was, there luckily was a babysitter caring for my 4-month-old, my toddler, and my 6th grade daughter. As I sat in a packed jail cell, I tried to wrap my head around how on earth I could have been stupid enough to drink again. The shame and agony of that moment crushed me to an unbearably hopeless state, one that ironically made me want alcohol to numb the pain. That was the power of my alcoholic mind. My husband Pete was furious and left me in jail until the following night. Not only did I lose my license for a year, I was on strict legal probation with visits from child protective services, and Pete breathalyzed me daily while taking away all access to money.
Looking back, I’m not completely shocked I drank that day. I was overwhelmed the minute I left treatment, but I wouldn’t admit it. When I got out of that second rehab, and the ten days that followed, I was greeted with judgmental preschool moms who looked at me as though I were unworthy to be a mother, and I believed them. My first day back they wouldn’t even look at me, and playdates and phone calls ceased to exist. These were the same women who cooked dinners every week for my husband and kids while I was gone, clearly sending a message their support was for them, not me. I came home to the newborn I barely knew, whose pregnancy I found out about in a detox center, and the reason why I dragged a breast pump with me to rehab. I had a hundred demands on me with four kids and a husband who had desperately missed me, and the massive agenda given to me by my rehab treatment team. And I was trying to do it all by myself.
The story of how I became a closet alcoholic mother started long before ‘wine mom culture’ and social media, and it is filled with misconceptions. My own childhood was tumultuous with alcoholic parents. My father was a raging drunk with a quick temper, and my mom drank her wine to cope, I guess. He would fly into fits of anger while my mom tip-toed around like the rest of us. During this incident, when I was trying to waterski behind our old, second-hand ski boat, he got so mad at me he left me in the middle of the lake to swim back to shore. By the time I was 23-yrs-old, I’d been sexually abused, in treatment twice for an eating disorder and depression, lost friendships and jobs, and was unwed and pregnant.
Fast forward to August of 2002, when I finally found happiness. My daughter was in kindergarten when I fell in love and eventually got married again. Pete and I met in recovery at a time where I was focused on both sobriety and motherhood, but our love was instant. I had a couple slips in my sobriety, but he never gave up on me. Seven years and two more kids later, our family made a life-changing move to a new state across the country for my husband’s job. I had four and a half years of sobriety when we left Texas.
Motherhood can be a lonely business, especially with young kids. I was used to knowing my surroundings, used to having familiar friends and family around. Things quickly felt overwhelming, and one day, alone in my car, a simple thought crossed my mind. ‘I don’t want to feel like this. It’s too much. I wish I could just turn everything off for a few minutes.’
And just like that, a thought of a drink popped back into my mind. I pulled into a gas station and bought a four-pack of mini wine bottles and drank two before I even got home with the intention of throwing away the other two and never doing it again. I just needed a break, and wine came back to be my pain reliever.
Alcoholism is a great liar, no matter how much time sober I’ve got. I was back to hiding bottles within a week. My husband soon suspected something was wrong but could never catch me drinking. I was a master at deception. I played with my kids and did household duties. I went to playgrounds, ran errands, and had dinner made by 6:30 p.m. on weeknights. My alcohol tolerance allowed me to function in public without getting noticed, as long as I didn’t go above around .12 on my secret, hidden breathalyzer. The afternoon was spent madly drinking water to sober up in time so my husband wouldn’t notice. Sometimes, though, I didn’t make it.
‘I’m worried about you,’ he’d say. He was always trying to find my hiding spots. Both Pete and my oldest, Shelby, were more than suspicious. Soon he found a pile of empties under the garage stairs. Horrified, he said, ‘You’ve got to stop. Emily, you need help.’
I didn’t want to face it; I desperately wanted to be a good mom like everyone else. My addiction took over. I woke up in the middle of the night and drank to stop the shaking, and I woke up extra early to do the same. On the outside, other moms saw someone who never drank. I played the typical frazzled mom with young kids, but inside I was dying.
Over the next six years, I went to six inpatient rehabs, plus outpatient treatments, detox centers, jail, psychiatric hospitals, and emergency room visits. In total, I’ve been institutionalized over 20 times because of addiction. My body was so physically addicted to alcohol that I would experience horrible effects the minute it was out of my system. Once in the middle of the night, I was convinced a radio was playing somewhere in the house and spent an hour trying to track it down until I realized it was coming out of the walls. That’s delirium from alcohol withdrawal, and a huge reason why I went to detox for help. I’d stay sober for a few months to a year, until I couldn’t reel myself back in and the drinking got completely uncontrollable. Rehab was necessary because I needed to get away in order to focus on myself. It was impossible for me to put my needs first. I simply couldn’t do it out of sheer guilt and the power of the alcohol.
Somehow, I made it out in 2016. I sat on my back porch and the thought came to me that my fourth child was about to start kindergarten and my oldest was about to be a senior in high school. I knew I was running out of time and chances. All the games I played with death while wondering if I’d ever escape the nightmare of alcoholism had caught up with me.
My last drink was on my children’s first day of school. I left for my 7th rehab after I walked the youngest to his classroom, and I haven’t had a drink since. The biggest changes I made was putting sobriety first, believing in something bigger than myself, and learning how to forgive myself. It sounds so simple, but as a mother with a head full of guilt, shame, and expectations, it was incredibly uncomfortable learning how to rearrange my priorities. I wanted to make up for being an awful mom in those first sober months and I wanted to forget about the past. Yet, each day I worked on myself was the real gift for my family. It just didn’t feel like it. Over the course of the following three years, I’ve watched my family heal right alongside of me. I’ve earned back trust and respect. My kids are active and do well in school and activities, my oldest daughter is a junior in college, and I’m still happily married. I’ve become a writer, helped other women, openly shared my story with others, and embraced who I am with both joy and forgiveness. If I can do it, anyone can.
I’ve been around sobriety since 1990 because my mom got sober when I was 15 years old. I’ve seen a lot and learned most of what I know by failure and experience. I thought I knew it all in those first few years of sober bliss when life was sweet and easy for me. But I look at things much differently now.
My advice to moms who’ve found themselves over their heads with their drinking would be this:
- Other women can relate. I remember thinking no one had a story as bad as mine. Once I reached out and started to listen, I saw I wasn’t alone after all. Not only were there others like me, they listened without judgement and supported me as I worked through issues my life.
- All you have to do to start is to not drink today. That’s it. Worry about how you’ll get through tomorrow, tomorrow. It is about baby steps, and we know what that looks like. It won’t be perfect right away.
- Get real, because time doesn’t slow down. Alcoholism is progressive, and so are the kids. Dig in, be honest, and remember, every minute you spend working on your sobriety is proving how much you love your children, because you know they deserve a healthy, happy mom.
- You deserve to forgive yourself. That was so hard for me. Even in good times, I’d look back and think I still needed to be punished. How selfish of me, because I was robbing beautiful new memories with my kids by torturing myself in my mind. They only got a part of me even when I was sober until I learned how to open the door to self-respect and self-forgiveness.
- Don’t just own your story, own your recovery, too. At one point, I had so many people telling me what to do, it made me nuts. I even told God we needed to start completely over, and He agreed. However, when you decide to work your sobriety, make sure you don’t do it alone. It doesn’t work. Use a 12-step program or another type of group, look online for resources, seek out some spiritual guidance, pray, do it all. Don’t look for what’s soft and comfy, look for what speaks to you and what works for you.
My suggestions for how to support a mom with a drinking problem or in early sobriety:
- Offer to do grocery shopping. And by this I mean, ask them to make a list for you so you can go. We have a hard time saying yes to help, and grocery stores are usually where we buy our booze.
- Don’t ask us ‘why’ questions too soon about our drinking. Most of the time we don’t have an answer.
- Try not to lecture or belittle. We heard you. Anything you’ve said, we’ve already told ourselves except a hundred times worse.
- We don’t know what’s best for us. Alcohol is controlling the person you love. If you think the kids are in danger, do something. Do it out of love as we are sick. Likewise, we might need professional help.
- Also, there is truth to the saying, ‘loving them to death.’ Alcoholism is a family disease. Educate yourself on the disease and behaviors surrounding loved ones, and seek out support groups.
The worst days I’ve survived became my greatest possession. They’re the most powerful thing I own. I learned the hard way about the power of secrets and shame, about expectations and self-forgiveness. But most of all, I learned I’m not alone. When I speak honestly, it gives other women a chance to say, ‘Wow, me too.’ Hope doesn’t have to spread from mountain tops or experts. Most of the time I find inspiration from people just like me…regular moms. We love our kids and we hate what’s happening. I’ve never met an alcoholic mother, or any mother really, who doesn’t need encouragement. So that’s what my purpose is today, to encourage and support others on this journey by openly sharing. It’s just a little payback for the life I have today and a way to say I believe in you.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Emily Redondo of McKinney, Texas. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more inspiring stories about overcoming alcohol abuse here:
‘I awoke to no vision in my right eye. The last I remember was sitting on a lobby floor, half dressed, my friend begging me to stand up.’: Woman overcomes decades of alcohol abuse, now nearly 2 years sober
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