I arrived late for my coffee date with my friend, mainly because of my eyeliner. My Maybelline Unstoppable was only on one eye, lovely and jet black. The other eye was naked and afraid.
I spent five minutes in the car trying to smear it off, which only made me look like I’d been in a prize fight. And so, my entry into the coffee shop was paired with a deep sigh and copious apologies and dark glasses. “I’m sorry — we had a hectic morning and..." and my mom friend just smiled and waved me off. “Say no more.” Moms understand.
I wonder, though, if she would understand it was just this kind of nutty morning that a few years ago would have led me into a dangerous spiral of day drinking and despair.
I am a mom in recovery, and it’s tough. And wonderful. All at the same time.
There is some famous stress test out there that labels marriage, or acquiring a new job, or moving to a new town as top stressors in anyone’s life. But if you have ever tried to get a toddler to put on his socks two minutes before you need to leave, and he’s refusing because he says they feel “crunchy,” you know that parenting young children should be at the top of the stress list. It seems easy to want to pour a glass, or three, of wine all over parenting at the end of a long day. And I used to do that very thing. The wine felt necessary, like the only antidote to tantrums and sleep deprivation and picky eaters. And for a long time, I thought the wine helped.
Until it didn’t.
I was using that wine for all sorts of ulterior motives: to quell self-doubt and shame; to lessen depression, to lift me up; to bring me down. My drinking had a lot of strings attached, and then those strings snarled into a soul-sickness. With my daily increase of alcohol, a terrible paradox became true: the wine no longer worked. I could drink half a bottle a night and feel no warm buzz, only jangled despair and anxiety. I had built up an immunity to the stuff, and since I had been coating all my worries for so long with a numbing substance, I had no idea how to deal with discomfort or uncertainty about parenting. And, let’s face it, so much of parenting is a sort of blind man’s bluff: Will they sleep through the night? When do I take away the pacifiers? Do I ever get to have a real conversation with my husband again? Or properly apply eyeliner?
For me, wine only made things worse. It took my fears and questions and bloated them up to an all-consuming level of depression that only seemed to be fixed by, you guessed it, more wine. It was a terrible cycle.
And so, I stopped. I put down the wine and started feeling my feelings.
And it was bloody terrifying.
As the days piled up, with no heady cocktail to head off my malaise, I started through a tough journey of finding out just who Dana is. And I realized a very important truth: I kind of liked her. Dana-without-wine found hobbies and activities that she loved to do, like knitting and binge-watching pensive British detective shows and running 5K’s. Dana-without-wine found her soul again, and it was a clear-headed one, where her insides matched her outsides. I had a vision for my future. I could breathe again.
It wasn’t always easy. Toddlers at five o’clock do always seem to turn into feral creatures, and there were many nights when I longed to throw tequila into the mix to help. But I didn’t. I just kept getting through it, one day at a time, because every night when I would lay my head down to sleep I could feel it: my soul whispering, “Thank you.” That’s a better medicine than any martini. That’s how I found my true self, and learned to love her again.