A mom looked at my coffee mug the other day as we dragged our kids into one of the last days of school. We were both visibly frazzled and knocking on burnout’s door. She raised an eyebrow at me and nodded at my mug. “Whadaya got in there?”
I knew exactly what she was implying. Not because she knew I used to dump Bailey’s Irish Cream into my morning coffee, but because there is an assumption that stress from raising kids drives people to drink. Booze supposedly makes the tough times better or at least more tolerable when you’re dealing with unruly kids and a jam-packed schedule. There is an expectation and acceptance that the day will end with a tall glass of pinot or a cold beer. There are jokes and memes about passing the wine, the booze, the mommy juice. I used to share them. I used to write them.
“Just cold coffee,” I told my friend. It could have seemed harmless to play along with the joke, but I made a decision not to make my journey insignificant by doing so. I also purposefully eliminated the urge to add “unfortunately” after I told her it was just coffee. Carrying around a mug of just coffee is no small feat.
I am an alcoholic. I have been sober for almost a year. I am proud of my sobriety, but some days, it is still challenging to stay sober. I am always aware that I am one drink away from going back to a very dark place. It is impossible to forget the clock checking for when I thought I could drink, the day-drinking I justified, and the concealed drinking at any and all extracurricular events. I was struggling. I wasn’t hiding behind the boozy memes in a saturated “mommy wine” culture—I was perpetuating it.
Before you mince my words, let me clarify: Not all moms drink. And not all moms who drink have a problem with alcohol or are alcoholics. Some of us are. And when you are no longer a card-carrying member of the drinking club, it can be awkward to hang with members who still are.
For the most part, my social scene hasn’t changed since I stopped drinking. With three little kids, it’s not like I was going out all of the time. The norm is to hang with other families, order food or bring a dish to share, and let the kids run around while the adults catch up and commiserate. Doing all of this with lots of alcohol was normal too. But my drinking wasn’t the same normal as everyone else’s. So now I pack lots of seltzer or tea when we go to these gatherings. Most friends know I am sober and do not offer me a drink, but sometimes a beer or bottle of wine is tipped in my direction.
I decline, but it still feels rude. Where I live, turning down a local craft beer is like telling someone their baby is ugly. It just doesn’t happen. Until it does, and I get the wide-eyed look of bewilderment. I feel like a prude for turning down something I admittedly miss, something that tastes so good. I feel uptight for turning down something that calms the nerves and dulls the senses. I feel weird to be the one to justify not drinking.
A mom on my daughter’ baseball team asked me the other day if I wanted to join her for a Paint and Sip event. She had one more ticket! Come! It will be a blast! I have done one of these events before, and I did have a blast. But I also drank several beers through my attempts to paint a jellyfish. I knew I didn’t have to drink alcohol this time around, but the idea of being in a bar, surrounded by the sight and smell of it was too much for me. I stumbled around my answer a bit. I didn’t lie when I said I had a lot of work to do that night and couldn’t afford to be out late.
But I didn’t tell the complete truth either. I was ashamed to admit I couldn’t be around alcohol in that setting. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings by saying so. I felt like I had already made it weird by overly thanking her for the invite. I wasn’t in the mood to make things really awkward by telling her I was a drunk. Also, I wanted her to keep inviting me to things.
For the most part, I can be around alcohol. It can be exhausting to be around it for hours at a time because the awareness of my situation becomes heightened as people get looser and start to talk closer. But I still like to be social. I want to be the one to decide if I show up or not. I don’t want anyone to assume what I can and cannot handle.
I am not afraid to show the not-so-fun side of parenting on my social media pages. Some days are just fucking wrecks, and I bitch about them or laugh at the absurdity of my life with three unruly children. Someone always comments about my need for a drink. They will hand deliver it if I want. They tell me I deserve a glass of wine or a cocktail.
I think about ignoring the comments. Then I think about how hard the year has been to stay sober. I think about how hard my other addict friends are working to stay clean. I know they get the same comments. So I usually make someone uncomfortable or confused by reminding them I stick to seltzer these days. If they push it, I am clear that alcohol wouldn’t really help my sobriety. If they still don’t get it, I am very clear: I am an alcoholic. Alcohol is not something I need or deserve.
I will raise my mug or glass to you in solidarity, but it will not contain the booze that has drenched playdates, moms’ night out, parental survival guides, and viral memes. Being a parent isn’t easy. Being a sober parent in the mommy-needs-a-drink culture isn’t easy either.