As I pulled into the empty church parking lot, my stomach lurched as I put my car in park. My mind was racing with dozens of thoughts and questions in rapid fire succession. What if someone I know sees me here? What if I can’t find the room where the meeting is? I guess I could just go home, right? Do I really even need to be here? Will I have to call myself an Alcoholic?
Earlier that same morning, I posted an update on my blog about my experiment with not drinking alcohol for seven whole months and how it felt lonely and isolating. I wondered out loud (on the internet, of course) if I was an Alcoholic. A friend from my past immediately reached out and asked if I had ever considered attending a 12-step meeting. She added that she thought it might speak to my personality type, which was her nice way of saying it would speak to my rule-follower, Type-A, Virgo, list-maker self that wants all the gold stars. I had purposely avoided the rooms of A.A., but I figured it couldn’t hurt to give it a try.
As I dropped my son off for afternoon soccer practice, I drove a few blocks away to the nearest church and marched myself into a dimly lit room and took a seat in the back row. The next 55 minutes would change the trajectory of my life as a woman, as a wife and—most definitely—as a mother.
When I decided to quit drinking, it was more of an experiment and a challenge posed to me by my general practitioner. I had filled out my medical intake form and finally told the truth about how many drinks I consumed in a week (21), only it wasn’t the whole truth because all of those drinks were doubles (so more like 42). She put me on an 8-week elimination diet and we started with alcohol first. It was the hardest and best thing I’ve ever done.
The idea that I deserved to check out from my life every night is one that had grown slowly over time. Motherhood was hard for me to embrace and I suffered from postpartum depression after my son was born. I also owned a wine bar on the Sonoma Coast and drinking was my job. I created girls’ nights out and started a book club, so that I could get out of the house and drink after work, too. All the while volunteering in the community and being PTA President for a few years at my son’s school, which was actually just penance for all the times I was absent or hungover in the morning, which had become a daily occurrence in our household.
Over the years, I was filled with intense anxiety and shame about the mother I was. I felt like a total fake. As my son’s teenage years approached, I knew I didn’t want to be that mom. You know, the mom that would laugh a little too loudly when his friends came over for a sleepover because I’d had too many glasses of sauvignon blanc during dinner prep. Or the mom who continually posts pictures on social media of her adult beverages in what I can only describe now as a desperate and quiet call for help. Parenting a teen was starting to have new challenges and I knew I needed to be on my A-game for this next phase of development.
On February 3, 2015 I quit drinking. Seven months later, I walked into the rooms of A.A. and have never looked back. My greatest pleasure, and one that will never get old, is waking up without a hangover. Twenty-six months into my recovery, I am finally the mom I always wanted to be. I’m late to the party on this motherhood gig, but my family has been generous with me and loved me when I couldn’t love myself.
As I step into the teenage years with my son, I feel present and accountable. I feel sturdy and capable that I can handle whatever comes my way.
And just like they say in the rooms, I am facing the teenage years one day at a time.