I check my phone and it’s 1:24 p.m. Certain that those six minutes will equip me with all the time I need to: amass snacks and settle my 5-year-old on the couch for SecondTV Time (the pandemic made me do it), crate my puppy (so she doesn’t eat my pillows), boil myself hot water (because: comfort), AND get my laptop upstairs into my room, and log on to Zoom.
I struggle with time management.
But when I finally settle and log on, I’m greeted by mamas I’ve known for over 10 years. Some are new moms, cuddling their babes. Some have multiple children. We meet every Friday afternoon at 1:30. I didn’t meet them through the shared experience of motherhood, though. I met them when we were all focusing on a shared struggle. A decade ago, we were all new to a 12-step program and bonding over our shared experience in getting sober. Now, with a pandemic making in-person meetings null and void, we joined Zoom culture to talk about our daily struggles. (A recent study showed heavy drinking by women is up 41% in the past year.)
I never planned on being a sober mom. I never planned on being sober, period. I didn’t view myself as someone who struggled with addiction. An over-achiever in school, a workaholic in grad school, a person who knew alcoholism ran down my family line so just-don’t-become-an-alcoholic, my belief system involved diligence and willpower to overcome whatever roadblock lay in my way.
But I couldn’t stop drinking. Sure, I didn’t drink every day, I never got arrested, I wasn’t even a blackout drunk. I’d white-knuckled it for three months for a writing deadline, and it felt great living a life without hangovers. But I couldn’t stay stopped. I’d promise myself I’d never drink again, then I’d turn a corner and start texting friends about happy hour. I’d wake up the next day, promise myself never again, and the cycle continued.
Listen, my story is more complicated than that, and if you ever want the details, I’m happy to share. But trust me when I say no one joins a 12-step program because their life is going great. When I joined, I’d given up on any plans for a future. I called myself a writer, but hadn’t written in six months; I desperately wanted a partner and a family, but was incapable of vulnerable intimacy; and I really, really hated myself.
In those rooms, I immediately met a group of young women also struggling to give up alcohol, one day at a time. Once we took the alcohol away, we got to start working on ourselves, discovering the reasons we drank in the first place. Anxiety and depression, along with self-centered and negative thinking were common themes. They gave me hope. We bounced around New York City, going to rooftop barbecues and meetings and picnics and parties, keeping each other accountable. We found ways to have fun without booze, cope with life’s challenges without harming ourselves, and grow into responsible adults.
Our lives got fuller – some of us moved. In the ensuing years we’ve celebrated our joys and sat in support as we’ve walked through struggles. It hasn’t all been sprinkled with fairy dust. There’s been death, job loss, infertility, divorce, a pandemic… and much, much worse. But there hasn’t been a single event or circumstance that a sip of alcohol will make better. I never know what that first drink will lead to. I’ve known too many people who’ve died from this disease. And, since I personally believe it’s an incurable disease, all I can count on is not drinking today.
I’m not reliant on those New York City women alone. When I moved to Indy, I found other friends through 12-step groups (turns out, we’re everywhere!) When I got pregnant, I found the other pregnant women, and we supported each other through the early years of child-raising. They got me out of the house for playdates. When I realized I needed help with postpartum depression, they were benevolent listeners.
And my social life is not confined only to women who don’t drink. That’d be cutting out far too many people I adore, and that wasn’t why I got sober. My husband drinks. We’ve agreed to keep hard alcohol out of the house because that was/is my poison. But he enjoys a few beers with his buddies on a Wednesday night—socially distanced now, of course. My best friend became a sommelier the same year I got sober. She was and is one of those people who leaves a few sips of wine in her wine glass. (I’m confounded by this.) During the pandemic, as her wine shop struggles to stay afloat, I bought wine for my mom on Mother’s Day (another One-Glass-Is-Plenty kinda gal), and champagne for my real estate agents for selling our house during The Time of COVID. Am I enabling a drinking culture or helping a small business survive? I believe the latter. My problems with alcohol are just that: mine and mine alone. But facing them and learning to be as honest with myself as possible has brought an integrity to my life I once only dreamed of.
The other day I was taking a shower, and my daughter came into the bathroom (we’ve rocked a solid open-door policy since December 6, 2015.) She, like me, wears her feelings on her face. It was clear, through the steam on the glass door, that frustration emanated from her being. With a grimace she said, “I hate to have to tell you this…”
Then she drew her arm forward from behind her back. She was holding her Moana Barbie, and Moana was wearing Jasmine’s pants.
“But these pants are never coming off.”
To give in to my initial instinct of laughing would be to make fun of her current Truth of the Moment, one she’d already succumbed to, drowning in the quicksand of belief that these pants were permanently, irrefutably stuck on the wrong doll for all of eternity. Who knows how long she’d been trying to get them off. Long enough to be so fed up she needed to quit, find me, and share the tragedy.
So instead of laughing, I suggested she wiggle at those pants a bit on one side then the other ‘til they shimmied off her hips (I’d like to thank my own hips for teaching me that trick.) She got them off and skipped out of there light as a feather.
Her misery was both adorable—and relatable. Sometimes my Moments of Truth are wildly extreme and catastrophic where I, too, believe something is irrefutable for eternity. Sobriety has laid bare my feelings. And they are usually on par with a five-year-old’s. I’m easily frustrated. I want what I want when I want it. If I like something, I want more of it. And then some more. I want you to fix me. If I’m uncomfortable, surely you must take on the discomfort too. Seeing these waves of emotions so clearly, mothering myself when I see them arise—it all allows me to see them in others, too. Especially my daughter.
I never expected sobriety would make me a calmer, more compassionate mom. But it has. It’s been one of its greatest gifts.
When Leslie asked me if I wanted to do an article about Mommy Juice Culture and/ Dry January for Indy Maven, I said yes without blinking an eye, only to realize I knew nothing about it. I don’t even want to imagine what kind of mom I’d be if I threw alcohol into the mix. The thought fills me with fear. But before I got sober, the thought of not drinking ever again filled me with fear. Isn’t it strange how things change?
Maura Malloy is a writer, actor and one-time TedX-Talker. If you are struggling with alcohol, you can reach out to her directly. She didn’t get sober alone, and you don’t have to either.