My Children Saved My Life

by Stephanie Warden
Originally Published: 
Stephanie Warden's sons walking while holding each other's hands who saved their mother's life
Courtesy of Stephanie Warden

One section of my temple throbs as my mind wanders to ice clinking the glass. Foam escaping the stein. Wine staining my teeth.

The jagged abrasion torments my mouth as my lymph nodes fight back. Searing pain ventures up nerves to my right eye as the feeling of exhaustion consumes me. How did it ever end up this way? How have I not captured my monsters over a decade of recovery and self-actualization?

Armed not with a shield, but dull sword, I look my demons in the eye. Every sip, stir, drink helps me forget, or at least pretend to. Stress and inadequacy don’t linger quite as long. Pain sears so much less. Playing hide and seek with laughter and joy becomes a game I can win even though I don’t always know the secret hiding spots.

Constantly my thoughts dart to the lager in the fridge, the Grey Goose on the shelf, the Merlot on the rack. Usually I keep control clutched close, not far within reach. Unsure how my obsession ran rampant behind my back, my mind now races to trace the problem’s source.

I never faced anxiety or depression until my early twenties, but I turned to drinking when it started. I drank to not worry. I drank to feel alive and uninhibited. I drank because I thought people liked that Stephanie more than a sober one. I binge-drank most weekends until I went on a work trip and had to be escorted back to the hotel by a co-worker, because I could barely walk. That’s when my husband, Jon, said he had enough.

I remember telling Jon the story with a laugh, saying I had accidentally mixed cold medicine with beer. Jon didn’t laugh. I think it’s the only time I remember seeing the reflection of disappointment in Jon’s eyes. He said I needed to control my drinking or quit.

“How could you have just started a job a month previously and gotten so drunk around your new coworkers that you needed help walking back to the hotel?” he demanded.

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His anger threw me back. I had done some pretty shitty things when I was drunk — this seemed so innocuous. Hadn’t it been worse when I sent text messages to old boyfriends or the time I drunkenly told my sister I didn’t know if I was over an ex-boyfriend while dating Jon? My sister told him the next day, and he called me on my drive home from my sister’s house to tell me he couldn’t see me anymore. We broke up for three months before we made our way back to each other.

How could I give up alcohol? How do you give up on a trusted friend and confidant?

In college, alcohol bound me and my new friends together. I had a roommate who could drink a case of beer without batting an eyelash and typically drove afterward. I remember an old boyfriend getting high and drunk, and breaking into cars on campus just for fun. Too many of us went out for bar all-you-can-drink specials and ended up taking a not-so-special person home with us that night to make out with or even more. Almost every weekend we got drunk, ate Domino’s Pizza and boneless buffalo wings, woke up with the worst hangover ever, and repeated the same song and dance the following weekend.

On my honeymoon, we went to an all-inclusive resort. I decided at the beginning of the trip to get my money’s worth by drinking all the rum and Diet Cokes my body could handle. I passed out by the pool embarrassing Jon, leading to our first huge fight as a married couple. Apparently, I said some pretty mean things to people walking by the pool just loud enough to hear.

After college, I met a great group of friends at kickball who never seemed to have left college. Theme parties and drinking games were the highlight of most weekends. Most everyone else could control themselves, but not me. I couldn’t just have one beer. One glass of wine. I had to drink like it was my job to be fall-over, ridiculous drunk. I wanted people to think a party would be better if I was there — even if the entertainment was at my own expense — even if people were sometimes laughing at me instead of with me, like I always presumed.

One night I drove over to an ex-boyfriend’s house drunk off of a bottle and a half of wine. I knocked on his door and he and his girlfriend answered the door. He stepped outside and I blubbered an apology about how much I nagged him over the years, but I made him promise he would treat his new girlfriend better than he did me. His depression often left me feeling lonely and partially led to my habit of drinking in the first place to forget how alone I truly felt when I was with him. But, if I am honest with myself, I was born to face addictive behaviors because of my father.

Courtesy of Stephanie Warden

Squinting my eyes, I can almost smell the cocaine dust wafting into the air or the sticky stench of pot. In addition to playing make believe and reading bedtime stories, he snorted lines and rolled joints. Some days he would wander over to pick us up with a black eye from a drug deal gone awry, more promises unmet. Others he would take us to Wendy’s for a burger for his employee discount hoping we didn’t ask many questions or for too much to eat.

Addiction coursed through his blood each day rendering it impossible to escape my own codependent behavior, my own pulsating addiction. For years, relationships remained nearly unbearable. With each crazy outburst and drunken rage, I created distance between what was and what could have been. Should have been. Failed relationships, doomed friendships … a craziness not containable, until I became a mother.

Marcus and Malcolm — my sweet little M&M’s — I think you saved my life.

One more drink. Lessen the pain. Three less thoughts. Numb the chaos inside my mind.

I looked down and squinted both times, counted, wondered if I was ready. Puzzled at how I could take care of another when I often fought my own demons.

But, instantly, I loved you.

You two were the missing piece. When I was pregnant, I used to lay on my back before I closed my eyes to dream of you. Carefully, I rubbed my skin to remind you I care, that you were always the best part of my thoughts.

Sometimes I scampered into the kitchen just to catch a glance of you on the ultrasound photos we would hang on the fridge, to remind myself that life’s not that bad.

My mind may have made me doubt my love for you at first, but I always knew deep down I loved you more than I even thought I was capable of.

When you came, everything changed.

No more washing away worry with the foam in the stein or the drops from the Merlot-stained glass. No more wondering what foolish thing I will say next to impede my carefully laid out existence.

Piggy back rides replaced crazy parties. I soon found hangovers and merry-go-rounds don’t mix. Trips to the zoo trumped trips to the bathroom to throw up.

You saved my life. And I can only say thank you.

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