being a mom
I Drank For A Year Before I Wrote ‘Drunk Mom’
Almost five years ago, I started drinking again. Iâ€™m not sure why. Or there are many whys and I tried to explore them in later parts of my memoir, Drunk Mom (Penguin Books). One of the whys could be that I had post-partum depression although in my case it was more like post-partum euphoria â€“ I was too happy. The first time I saw my son, I was on an operating table, getting my belly stapled after an emergency C-section; from neck-down my anesthetized body felt dead. On seeing him, I cried with joy â€“ maybe it was from all the drugs but it was also from love that seemed so big it swallowed me whole.
And spat me out.
Specifically, it spat me out a month or so after he was born. I was still dangerously happy and my boyfriend and I were celebrating my sonâ€™s arrival with some friends, and someone handed me a champagne flute with ginger ale in it except it wasnâ€™t ginger ale; it was the real thing. At parties, I always drank drinks that pretended to be real drinks â€“ for example, ginger ale instead of champagne â€“ because I was a sober alcoholic. Later that night I tiptoed to our dark bedroom with a friend, who came over late, to show him the baby. We stood and watched the baby silently, in awe: my baby seemed to glow in the moonlight. I was a little drunk.
That flute of champagne wasnâ€™t what made me relapse but drinking it was like getting permission to drink again; it was a lie that I told myself: I could do it right this time, drink. After that it was months of trying to care for my sonâ€¦ and drinking and not being able to stop. I tried harm-reduction groups, 12-step meetings, rehab. I kept drinking. I was desperate and guilty all the time and near the end of that year I thought about disappearing for good. I donâ€™t know what I mean by that exactly â€“ perhaps resigning myself to drinking myself to death on the street somewhere, which is a form of suicide. I just knew that I had no hope of getting sober and worst of all â€“ that I was the biggest liability in my sonâ€™s life. My job was to protect him and there I was doing the opposite. Lucky for me, I had people in my life who picked up slack when I was incapacitated â€“ my sister and my boyfriend, mainly. They didnâ€™t understand what it was that made me drink, they kept asking: why canâ€™t you snap out of it? I couldnâ€™t explain. I didnâ€™t have the words to describe the inside of my mind, the mind of an addict. Why was I going against the most life-affirming instinct (mothering) over and over, why was choosing to keep dying?
I was writing about all of that a little at that time â€“ drinking, mothering. I thought there could be a whole novel about a mother who drinks. An ordinary villain. I gave that fictional mother all of my real thoughts. After I got sober, I decided to try to publish this novel that was not really fiction but rather a memoir. Denial was part of my addiction and in sobriety I no longer wanted to hide behind a story I needed to own. My literary agent and the publisher interested in the book wanted to make sure I really wanted to expose myself to the public, to tell the world about that year from hell and what kind of mother I was. I was a mother who drank and Iâ€™m a writer who could write about it.
The book has been out in Canada for more than a year now. It just came out in the U.S. By now Iâ€™m familiar with the sort of reactions that my publisher was concerned about. Ultimately, the negative reactions donâ€™t really matter or maybe they matter only in the way that they expose how some people think about addiction.Â There are lots of positive reactions too. Any kind of reaction helps to start a conversation about addiction â€“ what it is and how it is and how to fight it.
What I wanted my book to be â€“ besides simply being a story worth telling â€“ was an insight into the mind of an addict who even in the context of something as important as being a mother cannot stop using. I imagined that I was answering all those questions I used to hear when I was drinking. Maybe I donâ€™t have the answers to whys but I could show you how and maybe through hows the enigma of addiction can be understood a little better. Iâ€™m not embarrassed about this book even though, yes, sometimes I think how in the so-called ideal world (whereâ€™s that?), I wouldâ€™ve loved for my first book to be about something else â€“ a coming of age story, a love story, a story about an elephant, anything, really. But instead Iâ€™ve got this story and every story is important, even a dark, disturbing one.