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Filling in the Blanks

Jun14

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Our guest contributor’s name is being withheld upon request.

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When I introduce myself from here on out, I am supposed to say, “Hi, my name is ______________, and I’m an alcoholic.” That’s the first step, according to the brochure some nice woman handed me as I entered my first AA meeting day before yesterday.

As I have left that space in my introduction blank, it’s fairly obvious I’m not all the way there yet. That step, and all the subsequent ones I’m going to have to tread, are not entirely clear to me yet.

It’s not that I have any doubt that I’m an alcoholic. I know what alcoholics look like, and they look a heck of a lot like me. And my mom, and my aunt, and my grandfather, and my cousin, and my great-grandmother. I am well-acquainted with alcoholics, and the specter of all those slurry words and empty, glassy stares loom large in my childhood memories.

I hated it. Hated them sometimes, and I swore that no matter what, I’d never end up like them. I’d never allow my children and grandchildren and nieces and great-grandchildren to equate me with “alcoholic.”

For a long time, I simply avoided alcohol, figuring that would be the best way to circumnavigate my inheritance. In high school and college, I was everyone’s designated driver, the responsible one who, as a bonus, could lord all that moral superiority over my drunken classmates, mother, and grandfather, knowing I was above all that. I would never be like them.

When I had my own children, and it came time to deliver an ultimatum to my mother – she’d have to choose, alcohol or her grandchildren – I had already begun to slide down the same slope she’d traveled. I knew I was slipping, and I knew where that slope led, but to reveal that reality to anyone else would be to admit I might just be like my mother, and I was too angry at her to allow any such comparison.

When my children were young, avoiding that comparison was easy. My children were too little and too oblivious to comprehend how many glasses of wine I’d had. I figured I’d get the drinking back under control by the time they were old enough to be observant. Because, of course, I could stop any time I wanted to.

I just didn’t want to.

This year, we started to talk to our oldest, very observant child about alcohol. We were matter-of-fact and blunt. Alcohol has had a tight and devastating hold on both sides of his family for generations. We told him that it’s going to be very important for him to pay attention to his drinking. To know the difference between social drinking and problem drinking.

Yes, very important, I repeated, as I sociably sipped my wine.

Three days ago, sociability slipped into problematic which slipped into unconsciousness, and I was careless enough to let that happen in front of my entire extended family. I’d like to say my observant eldest child did not notice, but I have no idea. I don’t remember. That’s a blank, too.

The next morning, my father informed me that I’d have to choose – alcohol or them – and I chose them. I cried, threw up, showered, and drove to my first AA meeting. My husband offered to go with me, but I knew these were steps I’d have to take alone.

When I walked into that church basement, packed with one hundred other alcoholics, I wasn’t fooling anyone. No introduction was needed; I was simply one of them.

This weekend, over a dinner without that problematic glass of wine, I will have to look my son in the eye and say the words that fit into that blank up there at the top of this page for the very first time. While I am scared to death, it will be a relief. It will be the end of ten years of sliding and the beginning of my journey back uphill.

My son introduces me to his friends as many a lot of things – mother, wife, writer – and I I’m incredibly proud of those labels. Proud enough that I refuse to allow this newest label to obliterate everything else I’ve worked so hard to become. I’ve finally done the math and figured out that the only way I get to keep those other identities is to admit the word “alcoholic” to my list of identities.

Because when my son is my age, I want him to be proud of me, particularly if our mutual inheritance grabs hold and threatens to drag him down. As his mother – particularly his alcoholic mother – the most important gift I can give him is the power of my example to guide him if he ever stumbles upon the treacherous terrain of our family’s well-worn slippery slope.

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23 Responses to “Filling in the Blanks”

  1. meg Jun 14 at 1:46 pm Reply Reply

    beautiful…good for you. You are brave. Be well. Be healthy.

  2. Elena Jun 14 at 2:13 pm Reply Reply

    Beautiful and heartbreaking–and incredibly courageous.  What a monumentous step in realization- and although I know the journey will not be easy- stepping out to tell it like this, shows just how strong you are. 

  3. Eli@coachdaddy Jun 14 at 2:25 pm Reply Reply

    Your children are extremely lucky.

    The sentiments you shared in your closing paragraphs never even come close to the conscience of many alcoholic parents.

    Love your bravery, also. 

  4. Jennifer Jun 14 at 2:38 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you for sharing your story here. I share a similar inheritance, and I have struggled against it for a while – sometimes much more successfully than others.

    And I completely understand your desire to provide your son with “the power of your example” as he starts to navigate adulthood and its challenges. For what it’s worth – from a complete stranger – you have provided me with a powerful example today.  You will be on my heart and mind this weekend, and I wish you many blessings and triumphs in this journey. 

  5. Suebob Jun 14 at 3:19 pm Reply Reply

    You taking this step will be one of the things your children are proudest of. My relationship with my father improved 1000x after he quit drinking, which happened very late in life. I wish he had done what you are having the courage to do. We would have had so many more happy years together.

  6. Mom101 Jun 14 at 3:50 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you so much for writing what must have been a very difficult piece, even with the anonymity. I know it will do so many people so much good; I too, had a much improved relationship with a family member after their drinking stopped. I wish you the best of luck on your journey, one day at a time.

  7. Titania Jordan Jun 14 at 4:18 pm Reply Reply

    I am so moved by this piece.  Thank you for sharing and I wish you so much strength, peace, and clarity in the days to come.

  8. Hi, I'm Natalie. Jun 14 at 4:41 pm Reply Reply

    This is a fantastic post. Godspeed. 

  9. Mihow
    mihow Jun 14 at 5:33 pm Reply Reply

    Thanks for writing this. I think it’s important to put these things in writing for others who are experiencing something similar. It’s also important so others who have been there before can offer you words of encouragement. 

    Your post reminds me of something I read on CNN recently about Tim McGraw the country singer. He gave up drinking and when asked, one of the reasons he gave was “I didn’t feel I had any moral high ground with my kids in the long run.” I thought that was a pretty solid reason for not getting a buzz day in, day out. You know? I don’t know him or his music, but he made me nod. 

    Good luck to you. You have made an amazing step for everyone in your life, especially you. And thanks for writing this for other people to discover. Perhaps your words will give another mother, father, son or daughter the courage to stop drinking as well. And AA is an amazing support group. Godspeed, my friend!

  10. sarah gilbert Jun 14 at 6:50 pm Reply Reply

    Brave and beautiful. I’m thinking of you, whatever your first name is <3

  11. Tetman Callis Jun 14 at 10:15 pm Reply Reply

    I’ve been down a similar road. I just want you to know that.

    It’s going to be difficult. You probably already know that.

    If you ever want to write to me about it, just to have someone you can communicate with in complete confidentiality, you know how to find me.

    You take care of yourself, now.

  12. Nicole Feliciano Jun 14 at 11:37 pm Reply Reply

    Wishing you strength and luck and lots of patience with yourself. 

  13. Ellen Jun 14 at 11:57 pm Reply Reply

    Good for you. When you have bad days, read this post again and remember why you need to do it.

    I haven’t had a drink in five years and am happy for my children to know me only as their mom who doesn’t drink. I explain more to them each year as they get older and hope that I can be an example so they don’t stray down the same road that I and many of my family members have traveled. 

    Also, I found that for me it was about taking control of my life, rather than relinquishing control as taught in AA. But whatever it takes you to get there is the best way to go. Good luck!

  14. Laura Jun 15 at 8:19 am Reply Reply

    Talking to your kids about the risks that live in their genes regarding alcohol is the best way to help them navigate that part of their life, especially if they’re old enough to remember your drinking. Our son is seven and we’ve had many open conversations about my husband’s alcoholism. Arming him with knowledge is the only thing we can do. He’ll make his own choices when the time comes.

    And honestly? You’re in good company. Now that our family is a part of the recovery community we have met some amazing, inspiring people. Thank you for writing this!

  15. Julie Marsh Jun 15 at 8:52 am Reply Reply

    Wishing you all the very best. I’ve been sober for 2.5+ years, and I can identify closely with your story and your decision. Feel free to reach out – helping make it safe for others to share and support each other is why I’m so open about my own alcoholism.

  16. Amy Jun 16 at 9:07 am Reply Reply

    Please ask your husband attend al-anon meetings. While his gesture to come with you to the church was very loving, it also comes from a place of co-dependence. He needs to care for himself too and learn how best to support you, himself, and your kids during this time. I honor your courageous choice and wish you the best. Be well. 

  17. Scary Mommy Jun 16 at 12:54 pm Reply Reply

    I think that showing our children that we are people – people who struggle, rather than just their parents who’ve never messed up or made a wrong choice is a much braver way to go. And you are very brave, indeed.

  18. erintintin Jun 18 at 10:58 pm Reply Reply

    you’ve taken the hardest step. so happy for you.

    i encourage you to explore al-anon/ala-teen for not only your husband and your children, but for yourself.

    if you have been affected by someone’s alcoholism, you belong.

  19. Another Mom Jun 24 at 1:15 am Reply Reply

    I’m incredibly grateful to be sober over ten years in AA.  I met my husband after five years without a drink and now I have a beautiful baby boy.  The women I’ve met through AA have accepted me at a level I’ve never found anywhere else.  I still remember the first days when even 30 days of sobriety seemed impossible.  Good luck to you and your family, you’re not alone.  

  20. Denise Jun 24 at 11:49 am Reply Reply

    So good of you to face this Giant and there is much hope for you and your children with your choice! I lived surrounded by alcoholism (lost one sister already to alcohol/drugs) and have another on the “just a glass of wine”  that she can’t do without road. I still have deep scars from my early childhood alcoholic father. You can conquer this and will set a healthy stage for your children! In my family it was a secret, called and drinking problem, and never faced head on allowing it to continue to take roots. You are pulling out your roots! YES! Remember “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”Philippians 4:13. Gods protection and Blessings to you -D

  21. Denise Jun 24 at 1:36 pm Reply Reply

    Thanks for this. I could have sworn I was reading my sister in law’s story. She has 3 boys and stepson and she’s just passed her first year of sobriety and is now mentoring others at AA. Her oldest is now 16 and I hope that she can set the same example for him. I am so proud of her and how shes’ turned this around. Congrats to you as well.

  22. Jen Jul 03 at 7:08 am Reply Reply

    My husband comes from a similar family and started trying to get sober at 23, after years of destructive behaviour. At 26 he finally “got” the program and has been sober ever since :) 

    With genetics such a huge factor in this disease he figured the best shot he can give our kids is to raise them in an alcohol free but educated environment (they all know all about alcoholism and why he attends meetings).

    My only advice is to stick with AA and if its not working go to different meetings in different places.  Once my husband found the right group our whole lives changed.  

    Good luck. It’s not easy but it is so very, very worth it.

    Thanks for sharing xx

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