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How I'm Normalizing Sobriety for My Son

When I was a kid, I was taught that drinking alcohol in excess was a normal thing that all adults do. It was completely “normal” to get wasted, chain smoke cigarettes, do drugs, drive drunk, throw up in the car, sleep around, start fights, play Rod Stewart’s “Wake Up Maggie” 25 times on repeat on the bar jukebox and generally make messes that you can conveniently blame on alcohol the next day.

Blacking out was “funny.” Day-long hangovers were “funny.” It’s all just so much fun – until it’s really not.

Sometimes when I think about my drinking and drugging days, I can’t breathe. I feel this enormous weight of shame and regret pushing down on my chest, and no matter how many times I remind myself that I’m no longer that person, I still hate myself for all of it.

The Things I Did

I was struggling with depression and anxiety and I was too broke to take medication regularly — and when I did take it, I mixed it with Miller Lights, a full pack of Parliament Lights, a few lines of coke and maybe a shot or two, depending on whether someone else was buying. I did it because I was in pain, because I thought my body and mind deserved the punishment and because it was “normal.”

And honestly, I have no idea how I survived it. I put myself in incredibly dangerous situations. I’d go home with total strangers. I’d get behind the wheel of a car, and drive with one eye covered because I was so drunk that I was seeing double. I’d go to a beach, stare at the ocean and seriously consider throwing myself in. I’d sit on my kitchen floor, crying and self-harming — because I wanted to feel something other than the pain. I’d drink an enormous amount of alcohol, then more drugs and keep drinking until the sun came up. I have no idea how I never got alcohol poisoning.

I’d also do generally embarrassing things, like texting gibberish to my exes, throwing myself at men who were clearly not interested, and barfing in the Denny’s bathroom (then finishing my eggs over my hammy, obviously). I’d get black out drunk and twist the bathtub faucet so when you turned the water on, it would shoot out of the tub. I did this many, many times, and I do not remember doing it — not even once.

My anxiety supercharged my hangovers. I never understood why my hangovers were so much worse than everyone else’s until recently, when I learned the term “hangxiety.” According to Psychology Today, increased blood alcohol content (BAC) results in elation, excitement and extroversion. Once your BAC begins to decrease, however, you experience increases in fatigue, confusion and depression. Drinking also increases your levels of norepinephrine, which is the neurotransmitter responsible for arousal. For people who are already struggling with anxiety, the hangover crash is accelerated as the chemical imbalance in your brain struggles harder than normal to even out, thus resulting in the signatures of my hangovers — debilitating anxiety, dizziness, confusion, overwhelm, sensitivity to light, etc.

I can’t tell you how many days I’ve lost to hangovers. I’d stay in bed all day, in the dark, watching TV and eating all the food I could afford to order. My jimmie jam was watching every “Twilight” movie in a row and ordering Domino’s.

The Things I Lost

I’ve lost a lot more than time to drinking — friends, dignity, my youth and the career I’d dreamed about since I was a little kid. I made a large, huge, colossal mistake that cost me everything — and I did it while getting wasted with my friends. It was a prank phone call that was supposed to be funny, and in the end, no one got physically hurt, no one was arrested and there was no property damage. But the fallout of my involvement permanently damaged my reputation and, being a professional in a very public occupation, I had to submit my resignation, and my employer eagerly accepted.

From there, I spiraled to rock bottom. I wanted to die. I continued drinking because, well, that’s what adults do. They drink when things are hard. They drink when things are great. They drink to celebrate. They drink to mourn. They drink to numb. This is what adults do.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I decided I was done with drinking. It was some time during that rock bottom phase. My then-boyfriend and I moved in together, made plans, adopted a few cats and got married. I got another job in my field, but after a few years, I became disenchanted. I knew I was ruined for that career. I was wholly unhappy and landed myself a brief stay in the psychiatric ward after I told my therapist that I was thinking about killing myself.

Things got a little better when I found a job in my current field — except I started a years-long battle with stress hives and swelling. But I quit smoking, I started seeing a new therapist, I worked with my doctor to adjust my meds, and I started rocking my new job. I was still drinking occasionally. Just a beer or two, or a glass of wine or a fun cocktail. But it always made me feel like shit and I finally asked myself, “Why are you doing this? What is the actual point of this?” It’s been a year and a half since I’ve had a drink.

The Things I Learned

Alcohol is not a problem for many people, but I am not one of them. I have no issues with seeing other people drink, as there is absolutely no temptation to relapse. I’d never throw away the work I’ve done to get and stay sober.

My son will never see me wasted. He won’t even see me drink. My husband has a healthy relationship with alcohol and enjoys the occasional drink. This is the exposure that my son will have to alcohol. He will never be taught that you’re supposed to get drunk — that it’s a requirement of adulthood. That’s not true, and I don’t lie to my son.

I won’t shield my son from the world, but I will teach him how to navigate life in a healthy, responsible way. And I still have so much growing and learning to do. Yes, I’ve removed alcohol, drugs and cigs from my life, but I don’t have a healthy relationship with food, and that is my next hurdle.

If you have kids, and you drink in front of them, I encourage you to really examine whether you are teaching them to have a healthy relationship with alcohol. If you tell them, “Mommy needs a drink because she is stressed,” they might hear, “Adults drink alcohol to solve their emotional problems.” If you and your partner get drunk and fight, you’re teaching your kids that this is the way adult relationships work (you drink alcohol and say hurtful things to the people you love).

I can’t imagine there are many parents who don’t want their children to grow up and become healthy, well-adjusted, successful adults. So don’t hamstring them by teaching them unhealthy coping mechanisms. The next thing you know, they’ll be sitting alone in their college dorm room, drinking bloody marys in the dark while watching “The Notebook” — another one of my jimmie jams. Or they’ll be sleeping with strangers, driving drunk, ruining their dream career, or staring at the ocean and thinking about how nice it would be a jump in and let the waves carry them away.

To be clear, I have absolutely no issues with people who drink in front of their kids, and I’m not here to tell anyone how to be a parent. I’m sharing my experience, and I’m only suggesting that you be intentional in how you teach them to consume or not consume alcohol. Alcoholism is a sad, messy disease. It’s not funny, it’s not normal, and it’s not what we want for our kids.

Image via contributor

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