“Mama! Ma—-maaaaa!!” Lily exclaims as she crawls over to me in the dark, steadying her small, soft hands on my cheeks and nose.
Before I try to open my eyes, the thought, “It’s too early for this,” runs through my mind. I take a deep breath and look over at my daughter’s bright eyes that say she’s ready to take on the day. I feel a smile from within break the cringe of tiredness as I wrap my arms around her.
While the sun is not yet up and I would have loved an hour (or three) more sleep, I wake this morning lighter than I have most July 5th’s over the past couple decades. Today marks one year since I decided to stop drinking alcohol for good.
Over the past 15 or so years, I’ve taken breaks from drinking for a few months here and there. On a few mornings while nursing particularly bad hangovers, I have pondered the thought of going to AA. However, I didn’t compulsively drink like the stereotypical alcoholics I had heard stories about, and by the time my greasy breakfast and coffee were finished, I’d reasoned with myself that I didn’t have a real problem.
That said, alcohol has been a part of most of my great regrets.
While I had once thought it helped calm my nerves, over the past few years, I became aware of how much more anxious it actually made me. I started to second-guess whether I would have done or said something differently without that sip or glass of wine. I noticed more seemingly illusory highs and darker lows the more regularly I drank.
And having my first child held a mirror up that made clear the ways I was lying to myself that my alcohol use was just fine. I had a similar experience with social media. As my daughter played next to me while I read an article that I had found on Facebook about attachment parenting, I realized that who I wanted to be and the choices I was making were not aligned.
I have a high value of presence. Social media use while my daughter is around clearly conflicts with that. Similarly, when I turn to a glass of wine at 6pm or wake feeling fuzzy from the glass of wine (or more) the evening prior, I am not able to be present with her. This became easy for me to see.
And through that reflection, I started to see how the wine not only prevented my ability to be fully present with my daughter, it prevented my ability to be fully present with myself and others. In some ways this is obvious because that’s kind of the point of drinking, right? If we’re fully honest with ourselves, although we may disguise our desire as fun or sophistication, we often drink to take the edge off.
As I started to see what was going on more clearly, I realized that I drank to calm social anxiety, and I drank to escape difficult emotions. As a new mom, I could see how 5 o’clock wine is widely accepted as a mother’s reward for enduring the tantrums, puke and diapers and seemingly constant fatigue. However, I also saw what a slippery slope that could be for me.
If I start to numb out or tune down the stressors of motherhood today, I will only need to continue to strengthen my numbing as the years go on.
I had been contemplating the end of alcohol use for some time before last 4th of July, so it was almost like I gave myself an excuse to stop that day.
On the 4th of July 2017, I attended 3 or 4 gatherings between 11am and 11pm. At each party, I had a glass of wine. I was likely never over the legal limit as I drove my daughter in her car seat to each destination and then home. I played with her each place we went. Even still, I drove and played with guilt in my heart.
I woke up on July 5th ready to stop.
Yesterday, on July 4th 2018, I attended a daylong party with newer friends and a house full of people most of whom I didn’t know. I drove my daughter both ways without a seed of guilt. In fact, we had such a fun day together, and I got to be fully present to her and each person I met.
Over this past year, I’ve learned to work with my social anxiety. Initially, it was a challenge to not be able to reach for a drink for comfort. Today, I can walk into most any room and either feel at ease or be able to work with my uneasiness.
When I feel defeated in my mothering or torn between commitments, doing none of them as well as I would like as I tend to all as best I can, I feel my sadness, frustration, anger, and defeat. I cry, and the feelings are able to run their natural course.
As I strengthen my ability to feel emotions, I know I’m strengthening myself to face more, to take on more, and to be more of who I want to become in the future.
I spent years, decades even, vacillating over whether or not I wanted to quit drinking. Now that it’s gone, I miss being a part of special toasts or being able to bond with friends old and new this way. But what I am gaining far outweighs the loss.
A lifetime of sobriety happens a day at a time, so that’s what I continue to commit to. So far, it sure is worth it.