It’s 11:30am on a gorgeous, crisp fall day. I’m sitting outside, soaking in the bright September sun with ten other mothers. It’s our usual Wednesday morning playgroup, and we’re chatting, sipping coffee, keeping one eye on our kids playing on the nearby swing set. I have a moment of clarity, a snapshot of myself: my long blonde hair is freshly frosted, swept up in a fashionable clip. I’m dressed in jeans and a colorful sweater, legs crossed, coffee cup perched in one hand. A friend is telling a funny story about her three year old’s latest tantrum. I see myself tilt my head back, laughing with the other Moms. It hits me, like a punch in the gut: I’m such a fraud.
Oh, God, if they only knew.
Greta, who is two, calls out to me to push her on the swings. I flash the other Moms a knowing glance – so much for adult time – and walk carefully over to the swings. I’m grateful for the interruption: my hands were starting to tremble, ever so slightly, and I was having a hard time holding my coffee steady.
I push Greta on the swings, her laughter coming to me as though from a great distance. My head pounds, my gut churns, and I’m starting to sweat.
“Two more minutes, then we have to go,” I whisper to Greta.
She immediately begins to wail. “NOOOOO! I wanna STAY!” The other mothers glance over, sympathetic.
I grit my teeth and smile wider. “I know you’re disappointed, but we really have to go.”
She jumps off the swing and throws herself on the ground, crying. I’ve got to get out of here. I scoop Greta up, and she clings to me, sobbing. Her cries cut me to the bone, the other mothers’ stares feel like lasers. Do they know? Can they tell? They are all smiling at me, wishing me luck. I give a quick laugh – oh, two year olds, what can you do? - and wave as I scuttle to the car.
I drive home, my hands gripping the wheel, my thoughts racing. I’ll be okay once I’m home. I just need to get home.
I put Greta down for her nap, humming to her until she falls asleep. My hands are shaking in earnest, now, and my headache is blinding. I head downstairs and open the fridge, telling myself I’m going to have a glass of milk to settle my stomach. My eyes fall on the one-quarter full bottle of Chardonnay, glistening at the back of the top shelf. I reach for the milk, and grab the bottle of wine instead. Just one sip, to take the edge off, I think. It’s not like I’m going to get drunk in the middle of the afternoon. Just one to feel better. I take a long swig, and my stomach heaves. I wait a moment, wondering if it will stay down. It does. I take another swig, and the shaking in my hands stops. My body relaxes, my mind is blissfully quiet.
An hour later the bottle is empty. How did that happen? I don’t feel drunk, or even a little buzzed. I feel normal, finally. Without thinking about what I’m doing, I go to the sink, fill the empty bottle one-quarter full with water from the tap and shove it in the back of the fridge. I’ll have to buy some more later, I think. Before Steve gets home I’ll replace the water with wine, and pour the rest down the sink because tonight I’m not going to drink.
And at that moment, I mean it.
My daughter wakes up from her nap, and we sit on the floor and do puzzles, play games. My body is warm, glowing, and my patience is infinite. Again, a snapshot flashes through my brain: a happy, involved mother playing with her child. A good mother, an engaged mother. Not an alcoholic mother. I think: alcoholic mothers don’t play with their kids like this.
At 6pm, we sit down to dinner. I’m smiling, slightly flushed, animated. My husband and I chat about our day and Greta babbles along with us, pleased at her growing vocabulary. I have replaced the bottle in the fridge, up to the same level as before, pouring three-quarters of it into a large water bottle now stashed in the bathroom closet. Steve and I have a glass of wine with dinner. I have promised him I’ll cut back on my drinking, so I make sure he doesn’t notice when I duck away to the bathroom to nip from the water bottle filled with wine.
It’s my turn to put Greta to bed. I’m in an expansive, buoyant mood, and I make a game out of brushing her teeth and putting on her pajamas. I kiss her good night, tell her I love her, and head back downstairs thinking: see? I can control my drinking. I played with my kid, fixed dinner, put her to bed. I am so much more patient after a glass or two of wine.
It’s 10pm, and I come out of a grey-out. I’m yelling at my husband about something – what? – I can’t remember. He looks at me with hurt and disgust and heads upstairs to bed. I’m crying, but I don’t know why. I turn on some sad music, flop on the couch and sob. Nobody understands me. I’m unlovable. I need a drink. I tiptoe to the bathroom and rummage around under the folded towels until I find the hidden water bottle. It’s empty. I begin to panic. I can’t be out, I’ll never make it, and then I remember another stash in the back of the coat closet.
One last snapshot: me, on my hands and knees in the coat closet, drinking straight from the open bottle, full of relief that there is more wine.
I think: tomorrow is a new day. It’s just that today was extra stressful. I won't drink tomorrow.
I don’t know it, of course, but I still have two more years of tomorrows to go.