Getting Sober Didn’t Make Me A Better Parent
When I finally admitted to myself that I had a drinking problem, I was able to consider what I wanted to do about it. For a couple of years, I kept drinking. It was easier to not deal with a drinking problem by drinking. It wasn’t until I admitted that I am an alcoholic that I had to make another decision: Do I keep drinking and continue my pattern of slowing down for a day or two at a time to pretend I have control, or do I stop?
When I made the choice to stop, it was not for me; it was for my kids. At the height of my drinking, I hated myself too much to give myself the kindness or grace of doing anything that put me front and center. If I was the only one to consider, I would have drank myself to death. But I had enough strength left in me to know I did not want my kids to witness that.
I quit drinking so I could be a sober parent. But getting sober did not make me better parent, or at least, it hasn’t yet.
I was a high-functioning alcoholic who, even with booze, could not escape my need for perfection. Guilt and shame played roles in my quest for perfect appearances too. My writing career, health, and emotional growth suffered, but on the surface I was a great parent. As long as I had my alcohol, that is. Gin was a great companion for hours on the floor with babies and toddlers. Time to feed the babies? I can do that. Let me get a beer. Time to hang out and read stories? Do puzzles, make art, build with blocks or Legos? Play, make a mess, or do anything that requires supervision? Sign me up, but let me make a drink first.
I didn’t only use the idea that “kids are hard, so let me get a drink” notion that is the root problem in mommy wine culture; my thinking was also “playing with my kids or spending time with them means I get to drink.” Alcohol stunted the healing and discovery I needed to do, but it also slowed me down to make it look like I was an engaged parent. It was a great way to stay engaged at the park or a playdate too. Hidden alcohol in a travel mug was motivation and the companion I wanted to have when I was a stay at home parent navigating the playgroup, library, music time scene. Accepting invitations from parents who were happy to have mimosas through lunch time was a great excuse to get the kids together.
If I had a drink in hand, I was present.
Except, I wasn’t really present. Not like I thought I was at the time. Even though I was physically present, I was mentally somewhere else. I was happy to use alcohol to avoid myself and the impact other people had on me, specifically the impressions my children made on me. As long as there was a wall of protection and distraction between the reasons I drank and my role as a parent, then I was able to maintain the façade.
In order to stay well, I miss bedtimes so I can get to AA meetings. I tell my kids I can’t play a game until I get in a good workout. I am less patient and snap at them more.
I wasn’t dealing with PTSD from years of childhood sexual abuse that was triggered by my young children. This was no fault of theirs, but changing diapers, giving baths, and watching them grow into the toddler age I was when my abuse started hit me in ways I never anticipated.
I wasn’t trying to understand why I was so uncomfortable in my body. I was avoiding the growing need to numb myself with alcohol in order to get through the day living in a body that doesn’t feel home to my identity. Examining that would have meant admitting the female gender I was assigned at birth was not right. And if being a female, a woman, is not right, then what am I?
But when I stopped drinking, I couldn’t fake it anymore. I had to admit I am transgender. I had to find ways to live authentically. I had to find ways to heal from very old wounds. When I stopped drinking for my kids, I had to start living for me and that looks selfish at times.
I quit drinking so I could be a sober parent. But getting sober did not make me better parent, at least it hasn’t yet.
In order to stay well, I miss bedtimes so I can get to AA meetings. I tell my kids I can’t play a game until I get in a good workout. I am less patient and snap at them more. I know I am coming off as harder and less nurturing than I used to be. I apologize for my sharp tone and tell them I am working through tough stuff. I love them. They know this, but they also sense this love is coming from a new place.
It is coming from a safer and more mindful place, even if the edges are sharp. This is to be expected, though, because I am no longer numb. I am no longer avoiding feelings. I am in the thick of healing from past traumas and discovering who I am while being in the thick of parenting three small children. I am raw and on edge and doing my best to become the parent I know I can be.
I will give myself the grace to say I am still a good parent. I know the benefits of sober parenting, but the real payoff will be in a year or two or more when I have had time to practice being a person in recovery. I am discovering the strength I have in myself. I am learning how to be uncomfortable. I am learning how to be present without a vice to get me there. I am cultivating in myself what I want to grow in my children.
My kids will remember a sober parent. I want them to also see and remember a parent who loved them enough to learn to love myself.
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