Addiction is a mental health condition that’s still shrouded in shame and stigma, an unfortunate situation that causes many to live in the darkness rather than in the light of sobriety. Many of us who do manage to get sober do it for a multitude of reasons, but nothing brings that process to light like having children. One of my favorite creatives, Erin Williams of Goosecamp, wrote about being a sober mother so poignantly that I asked her to share a little more about her journey to sobriety and motherhood for Hope and Grace.
Here, in her own words, is Erin’s journey:
“I was not one of the cool kids. I was tall and awkward, had a wonky eye, wore hand-me-down clothes, always said the wrong thing. My early friends were weird, too; one was borderline abusive. I didn’t like myself. I tried to drown out my feelings, all of them, with television and Mama Celeste frozen pizzas.
I started binge drinking at 14 years old. I discovered that alcohol took me out of myself. Drunk, I had courage, confidence, swagger. It absolved me of the fear I spent my sober hours wading through. It numbed me.
I was never a normal drinker. At 16 I remember taking shots of vodka alone in my bedroom while my parents were out for lunch. I blacked out every time I drank. It often made me sick. I kept going.
They say a functional alcoholic has a job, but no soul; that was me. The disease had me after my first drink, and held me tight for 15 years. I told myself that as long as I had a job, I was okay. I had hangovers almost every day. On the weekends, I’d either be drinking or in bed. The only thing I did sober-ish was go to work; I drank at the movies, with family, on public transportation. I knew, deep down, that I had a problem. But I couldn’t imagine how I could live without drinking. How would I talk to people? How anxious would I be? How would I live with my shame?
In the summer of 2011, I lost my grandmother who I loved dearly. I was also robbed at gunpoint in my neighborhood. I quit my corporate job and got a new gig as a prep cook at a taco shack, where you could drink while you worked. I loss whatever sense of place, security, and peace that I had left. I got sicker.
And then one morning I woke up. I was on the couch of my apartment in Flatbush, Brooklyn. The front door to my apartment was wide open. It seems I’d forgotten to shut the door behind me when I’d stumbled in the night before, none of which I remembered.
I’d woken up like that a thousand times before, but somehow, on that morning, I asked for help.
That’s what grace is.
I got sober in a group. The other alcoholics I met carried me through early sobriety, taught me how to absolve the shame, become new again. Newly sober, I felt 14 again, like an awkward teenager. I had to re-learn how to do everything: talk to people, be intimate, feel feelings. It was difficult, but so rewarding.
I’ve been sober for five years now, and my life has changed completely. I have a career now that is (frankly) beyond my wildest dreams. I have a family. People depend on me. I have a daily opportunity to help other people. I’ve learned how to be grateful, open, kind. I’m trying to build instead of destroy.
Becoming a mother feels like being ripped right open. There is no greater vulnerability. When I was drinking, I felt protected knowing that I didn’t care if I died. Now, I need to live. I need to be here for her.
The day-to-day is hard. I’m so naturally self-centered, so obsessed with my own inadequacies and failures. Becoming a mother has meant learning how to give more and receive less. Also, to pay close attention to what I’m teaching her about how women should think about themselves. I want her to be strong, confident, kind. I don’t want her to see me living in my head and do the same. I also want her to think I’m fun.
Parenting is as monotonous as it is rewarding. You don’t have time for yourself anymore, which has largely been a good thing for me. It’s forced me to really focus. Your time becomes more precious. You learn what it means to care about something more than yourself.
To anyone out there struggling with addiction, I have nothing but cliches to offer you, but cliches saved my life.
You’re not alone.
Ask for help.
My default setting is “alone.” I don’t like asking for help. But as a mother, you have to. It’s not an option to do everything to keep yourself alive and everything to keep a child alive at the same time without help. There has to be someone who can watch her for 15 minutes while you bathe, or someone to feed her while you work, or someone to teach her why we don’t fling boogers at the wall. Raising babies is a community project, not a solo effort.
Getting sober is like that, too. I needed community, people who’d been sick like me and learned how to turn it around, how to want life again. It was other sober drunks that provided the scaffolding that held me up my first days, months, and years without a drink. They loved me until I learned how to love myself.
There is so much grace. It is largely unsexy, small, simple stuff. The hope is this: you will learn how to forgive yourself, and take care of other people. Motherhood is exactly the same.”