About 12 or 13 years ago I awoke like most every other morning the previous couple of years: exhausted, nauseous, dry mouthed, slight headache. I made my way to the kitchen and reached to turn on the coffee. In front of the pot was a folded 3X5 card. On it my 9 year old daughter’s neat but curly handwriting said, “Mom, did you know that you forget stuff a lot and repeat yourself at night?” And then, on the back of the card, “But that’s okay, because I still love you anyway.”
As I write these words now, my throat slams shut and my heart is so heavy, just the same as the day I read those words. And I vowed to myself at that moment, that I would do whatever it took to stop my drinking, to gain control, to be the mother that both of my kids deserved. And I did. I kept that vow right up until 5 o’clock that same evening.
Okay, I wrote those first two paragraphs a couple of weeks ago and had to take a break. Even now when I read them again, I cry. I have kept that note in a small zipped compartment of my purse for all those years, moving it from purse to purse, reading it and vowing every time to make a change.
I was not a binge drinker, more of an every day, sometimes more, sometimes less kind of drinker. I didn’t get full blown drunk every night, but I did drink every night, many nights to excess. Sometimes it was as little as two glasses of wine, other times it was five or six or more. And it wasn’t only wine. In fact, I could keep a better lid on the wine than I could hard alcohol, gin to be exact.
It’s surprisingly easy to sneak alcohol. I was the hostess with the mostest. “Need a little more salad? Let me go in the kitchen and get that for you.” (Stealthily opens freezer door, quietly unscrews gin bottle cap, quickly pours just a finger full into glass, not more because we don’t want anyone to notice.) “Oh, you guys just sit here and relax. I’ll do the clean up!” (Rinse and repeat)
I wasn’t hung over every morning, but definitely it was many mornings. I got up, gulped coffee, hopped in the shower, and for the most part, I functioned. Pretty icky tummy some days, foggy brain many days. I look back on that time and cannot believe that I punished my body for so many years.
I was what many people would call a functioning “problem drinker.” I muddled and faked my way through days, vowing I would not drink quite so much that night, and some nights I succeeded, but many nights, I did not. I would start with “just a small one” to get through dinner prep and usually ended up drinking more than I intended and more than I should. I would awaken in the middle of the night with a pounding heart, dry mouth and headache. And my heart ached as well. It ached for my children, for my husband and for myself. In the middle of the night I spoke such vile and demeaning words to myself and was ashamed of that as well. I now know there is a name for that too: Negative Self Talk (NST).
All that time, all those years, I felt so alone. No one knew how much I drank. My husband might have suspected that I drank a little too much, but I was really good at hiding it all. And no one knew how much I despised myself. I despised myself for drinking too much, for being so weak and even for my middle-of-the-night NST. I mean, who does that? Who constantly drinks too much every single day, and then awakens in the middle of the night calling themselves every vile name in the book? Even that very behavior was shameful to me.
At some point I became so scared of losing the love and respect of my children and husband, of dying an early death from alcohol, that I started researching for help online. After all, I was lying awake in fear and loathing anyway.
I knew for sure I could not go to an in-person meeting. Never gonna happen. I had far too many obligations as a mom to attend daily meetings, and there was no way I was going to let anyone, including family and friends, know that I needed time and space to solve my problem.
Oh yeah, I was busy doing all the things my family counted on, and I was willing to risk my life and theirs by not getting the help I needed. I could and probably would end up leaving them early by not taking the time required to stick around for longer. Believe me, the irony of this was not lost on me then, and is not lost on me now.
So, during my middle-of-the-night searching I did find some online groups for women and I actually considered joining, but they just didn’t feel right. They were all abstinence based and that scared me. If I tried and failed with abstinence, then I was doomed. And who knows? Maybe it was also just too early in my journey for me to be able to recognize the help that was available to me.
As I look back on that time now, I realize that those were my very first baby steps to a better life. I sure didn’t know it at the time. It felt like the end of the line for me, like I was such a failure, so alone in my failure, that I was up in the middle of the night looking online for help from strangers.
Somehow, someway, I stumbled on to Moderation Management. I think it was an article about or by Gabrielle Glaser that got me here. I sniffed around the website for a few days, finally set up a separate email account and started lurking on the listserv.
And boy, was I confused! There were lists everywhere, acronyms and slang that baffled me, and crazy cheerful people who actually seemed happy to be dealing with the common problem that was devastating my life. I also read heart rending, gut wrenching posts and amazingly compassionate replies. I saw people ask for help, and answers full of wisdom and truth. I thought I was looking for some place or some people who could tell me what to do, tell me the steps to take, give me smart little tips, and then I would do it. It never occurred to me that the “answer” would be the people themselves.
Of course, all these smart people did have tips and tricks to help me learn to abstain and moderate. Delay, drink water, count, breathe, brush your teeth, drink tea, go to bed. But the most important thing they offered was the gift of themselves. I met bright, funny, generous, compassionate people who had the same problem I had. And as I got to know them, I recognized them. I recognized myself in them. I learned that I was not alone, I was not a loser, I was not doomed to fail. It was so easy for me to see the goodness in these people, so easy for me to love them. And from them, I learned to see the goodness in myself, learned to love myself.
The power of Moderation Management is the people. By forming relationships and seeing the good in these people, I formed a better relationship with myself and saw the good in myself. I saw myself through their eyes and knew that I was not alone. That knowing is the most crucial tool I gained at MM. As some wise person once said, the two most powerful words in the English language are “me too.”