Monday, February 15, 2010

Snapshots ~ Before

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.

33 comments:

  1. Holy shit. That was powerful, real and brave. I so get those feelings. I'm so so glad you stopped.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Brave and courageous. That's what you are.

    ReplyDelete
  3. We all keep snapshots...some good, some bad, some just snapshots...they all serve a purpose...at least you have seen what some of your purpose is! Gros Bisous. L

    ReplyDelete
  4. This was an amazing post. Thank you for sharing this with the world.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Oh Ellie ~ you are so good for me! I replied over on BFB. At the meeting last night we talked about faith and about how God only gives us obstacles and struggles for a purpose. I do believe we have a purpose in his plan, and I think it is grand!

    ReplyDelete
  6. This is very powerful and very, very real about what the disease of alcoholism tells us when we go without and what it tells us when we get a little in us. Thank you so much, Ellie.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Oh Ellie. You brought tears to my eyes.
    God Bless you.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Wow. That's all I can say is WOW - I am you (was).

    ReplyDelete
  9. Wow, Ellie,

    I came over from BFB -- you moved me to tears. That is me too, it's all of us. You are so brave to share it. The more we air these dirty secrets, the less power they have over us. You honor yourself and all of us by sharing your pain and your truth.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Your writing and your honesty are gifts to all of us.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Ellie - what you have to say, your honesty, your braveness, everything...is so amazing! Please, please write a book! The world needs your voice!

    ReplyDelete
  12. this is a book. please write it.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Oh, thank you, everyone, for all your supportive comments. It means so much to me. This is actually an excerpt from the introduction of a book I'm working on. So the comments about writing a book are just the shot in the arm that I need to keep plugging away. Thank you so much.

    -Ellie

    ReplyDelete
  14. Oh Ellie,

    I can't even tell you how badly I needed this at this very moment.

    It was so powerful and raw and full of truth and that's what we need. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Wow, what a punch in the gut. That's some fantastic writing.

    You, Ellie, have a gift for this craft. And the world has a gift in you. Thank you for sharing what you do. You're brave and an inspiration.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Wow. That was what it was like for me when I was drinking everyday. I couldn't go even one day without - so frightening and so isolating to be trapped in that hole. You've expressed my snapshot (minus the little ones) better than I could have expressed it myself.
    ShivaaDivaa

    ReplyDelete
  17. This is so right on.
    A powerful reminder that the only thing harder than quitting is not quitting...

    ReplyDelete
  18. Wow. Amazing that you could carry on without others seeing the real story. You were good at covering, and no one wanted to believe anything else.

    Very powerfully written. Go for the book.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I tried commenting on this earlier from my phone but it wouldn't go through. I didn't know what to say anyway... I just... this is so powerful.

    xo

    ReplyDelete
  20. Thank you so much. I mean it. Working on my own tomorrows too.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I swear I could feel the weight that pressed down on you just by reading these words. Beautiful and terrifying. I'm so glad you're coming out from under all that weight...and I'm so glad for your honesty in sharing this with us.

    ReplyDelete
  22. This is amazing. Entirely gut-wrenchingly amazing. Thank you for your courage.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Good for you about the book El. Go for it!

    ReplyDelete
  24. Dear Ellie,

    You are right to be writing a book. You are right to believe it will be published and do well. You are correct in believing that by telling your story you will stay well and sane. You are a fantastic mother. You are an inspiration.

    I believe you will help millions to heal, I know you've already helped so many. And I feel lucky to have you met you on this crazy plane of existence called the internet. I can't wait to read the book.

    ReplyDelete
  25. We don't know each other, Maggie Dammit retweeted this link and I clicked it. WOW. You have amazing courage to write this. If this is just the introduction to the book, it's going to be a heck of a book.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Wow, Ellie. Thank you for putting this link on the BFB. Really, thank you. On a day like today, I needed these words, these reminders of why. Big sigh.

    With gratitude.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Wow doesn't do this justice...but, wow. I am so pleased the book is forthcoming. I have thought for a while that you simply must write the book. Can't wait to see you up there on Oprah sharing it...

    Love,

    Fiona (fellow BFBer)

    ReplyDelete
  28. Wow. Such an incredible entry. I hope you do well on the Blogher competition. You deserve it.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Tracy- recovering mamaAugust 16, 2010 at 12:10 AM

    My name is Tracy and I'm an alcoholic. A grateful, recovering alcoholic mother of 2 boys. I've been sober for 8 weeks and one day- but who's counting? I can't believe the magic and serenity that has entered my life in the last 2 months since I surrendered and accepted that I am powerless over alcohol. I have a long row to hoe but I've got both feet on the ground. I'm thrilled beyond belief that I found your blog, Ellie. Thanks for sharing. It is inspiring.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Tracy- recovering mamaNovember 24, 2010 at 3:27 PM

    My name is Tracy and I'm an alcoholic. A grateful, recovering alcoholic mother of 2 boys. I've been sober for 8 weeks and one day- but who's counting? I can't believe the magic and serenity that has entered my life in the last 2 months since I surrendered and accepted that I am powerless over alcohol. I have a long row to hoe but I've got both feet on the ground. I'm thrilled beyond belief that I found your blog, Ellie. Thanks for sharing. It is inspiring.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Ellie you are amazing! Thank you for inspiring me to work for my own sobriety. I would go from sober and together to DRUNK in a split second, never remembering any time in between. I love you and your blog and your jewelry!

    <3 Lauren aka StarBabyPI

    ReplyDelete
  32. That entire post was me. I'm scared and alone. Three boys here, bad hangover, bad mother.

    ReplyDelete