Clean slate: A mommy blogger uses her platform to shed light on addiction and recovery
My husband and I bought a Costco membership shortly after its grand opening in Baton Rouge. He loved to browse the electronics department while eating samples of peppermint bark, chicken salad, and pimiento cheese.
I loved buying red wine in bulk.
I used to think that the ability to hold my liquor was one of my best qualities, ranking high on the list of things that made me, Harmony Hobbs, exceptionally fun to be around. I could drink everyone under the table, including most men. I prided myself on the fact that no one seemed to be able to tell when I was blackout drunk. I got up the next morning and functioned; I was never one of those people who lay in bed all day with a hangover. Give me a double espresso and I was good to go—or at least I told myself I was. It was easy to fool people, myself included, into thinking I was fine.
I wasn’t fine. I am a high-functioning alcoholic.
I’m a native of south Louisiana, but I did not grow up with alcohol in the house. My parents don’t drink, nor did their parents. Now that I am in recovery for alcoholism, I understand why.
But wait! Don’t stop reading yet. There are a lot of people in this world who are able to drink alcohol in moderation, and maybe you are one of them. In recovery, we refer to those people as “normies,” short for “normal,” an adjective that alcoholics often use when describing what they wish they could be like.
Alcoholics want more than anything to be normal, and for almost half my life, drinking was what made me feel like I was. Wine, whiskey, beer and vodka took away my fears and insecurities. Cocktails were a salve for my social anxiety, a mask for my feeling of differentness, a way to help my insides match my outsides. When I drank, I felt calmer almost instantly. The tension melted away, the worries in my mind quieted. I could sleep. I could relax. I felt like a better, more interesting version of myself.
That was the first half of my drinking career. In the second half, I drank to avoid feeling anything.
Sometimes I reflect on the past decade and wonder how I could allow myself get so deep into alcoholism without anyone noticing. The answer to that, I think, is motherhood.
Motherhood did not make me an alcoholic. I was born that way, my DNA pre-wired and primed for addiction to something—anything—that would take the edge off. What motherhood did do, however, was keep me busy and full of excuses. I mean, most moms I know have a glass of wine at night after their kids go to bed. Motherhood is stressful, and the stress gave me a very good reason to drink. I love being a parent, but let’s be real: it’s difficult, messy and anxiety-inducing. After our first child was born, I developed severe postpartum anxiety on top of my already-anxious personality, which went undiagnosed for several months.
I began drinking to cope with the stress of my demanding job, and later, I drank to cope with the stress of being a stay-at-home mom. My kids are challenging. One had colic, and at least one of them is on the autism spectrum. I drank to cope with financial stress. I drank to celebrate happy occasions. I drank alone and I drank with people. I drank when I got mad at my husband or my kids. I drank until I felt like I was floating on air, but stopped before I got the spins. Over the years, the quantity that I needed in order to attain that ideal state increased, and the nirvana I was striving for became more and more difficult to reach. No one noticed that I had a problem, or if they did, they kept quiet about it.
That’s the thing that’s difficult for the people around an addict or an alcoholic. Who should speak up? What if she won’t listen? What if he gets mad or, worse, stops talking to me altogether? What if I’m wrong? What if I’m not?
Alcoholism is a progressive disease. For me, it started out being the most fun thing ever, but eventually, as addiction always does, it took me to a very dark place that I couldn’t find my way out of alone. I felt unhappy with my life, irritated with my husband and children almost all the time, and my naturally sunny personality became coated down with black tar. My joy was gone. I don’t know when it left, but I am still working today to get it back.
They say you’re ready for sobriety when alcohol doesn’t work anymore. My life was quickly slipping out of my control, and I scrambled to stay on top of it. I had a very detailed system that was getting harder and harder to maintain. Everything revolved around alcohol. For example, during the Great Flood last August, we had to leave our home to go stay with my parents. That was a grand total of 4 adults, 3 children, and 1 cat all in a house together without any liquor, and I thought I was going to crawl out of my skin.
When we finally returned to our house, the first thing I did was open a bottle of wine. I knew then that I had a problem, but I didn’t do anything about it. How could I? Alcohol was the thing that was tethering what was left of my sanity, and I was not about to give that up.
I began to mention to my friend Audrey that I needed to cut back on drinking. Audrey is one of the few people in this world that I can be completely honest with, without fear of judgment: she’s the kind of friend I’d call if I had to bury a body. We talk on the phone every day, have traveled multiple times together, we work together on various projects, and are basically all up in each other’s business. This is a person who knows me very well, and she had no idea that I was an alcoholic.
Audrey took notice of the fact that I seemed to be spiraling downward and began asking me really irritating, intense personal questions like “How much are you drinking?” “When you say ‘two glasses,’ what size glasses are you drinking out of?” “How often are you doing this?”
Basically, she really pissed me off.
The thing about courageous and true friends, though, is that they don’t let you off the hook when your life is on the line, no matter how pissed off you get. When I cut Audrey’s Great Inquisition off mid-sentence and said I had to hang up the phone, she said “Okay!” and called me right back. She kept pushing, because she cared enough about me to do so, and I’m grateful to her every single day.
I took an online quiz to see if I was an alcoholic, mostly to prove to Audrey and her husband, who happens to be a doctor, that I didn’t have a problem.
Do you drink heavily when you are disappointed, under pressure or have had a quarrel with someone?
Do you sometimes feel a little guilty about your drinking?
Do you usually have a reason for the occasions when you drink heavily?
Have you been having more memory blackouts recently?
Question after question, I silently selected “yes.”
My mother suggested I find a 12-step meeting to attend, and I recoiled at her suggestion with my entire being.
“I do not want to sit in a room full of people who have problems,” I told her. I knew as soon as I said it out loud that I probably belonged in a room full of people who have problems.
I’ve learned since that day that there are a lot of people out there like me who prefer to avoid feeling feelings. We stuff them down. We don’t ask for help. We pride ourselves on our ability to take life by the horns and own it. Except the truth is, our addiction actually owns us. An addiction can be drugs or alcohol, but it can also be shopping, gossiping, gambling or eating. None of us can judge an addict without looking closely at ourselves first.
I’m still early into sobriety (86 days at the time of this writing) and I am happy and calm for the first time in a really long time; longer than I can remember. In a surprising twist to me, my entire household is happier and calmer, which means that the chaos I was drinking to cope with was largely my own fault. It’s really sad, shocking and embarrassing how big an effect my addictions had on the people around me.
I may not have gotten arrested, lost my marriage, or had my children taken away from me, but my actions still changed the tone of my home and affected everything I said and did. I am still very capable of all of those things if I take sobriety for granted. I told myself that what I was doing wasn’t hurting anyone else, but that was a lie.
It was. It was hurting the people I love the most.
Out of all my attempts at getting parenting right, getting sober is the most important thing I’ve done. After all, I have to put my oxygen mask on before I can help anyone else learn to breathe. As a writer who made a living on making jokes about my dependence on alcohol to get me through a hard day of parenting, I feel it’s my responsibility to be just as open about my recovery. People are struggling all around us. It’s my hope that someone who reads this will find the strength and courage they need to ask for help—or maybe just the humility to accept the help that others have offered to them—before it’s too late.
Harmony Hobbs is a freelance writer whose blog Modern Mommy Madness has garnered more than 57,000 followers on Facebook. She has contributed to the books Scary Mommy’s Guide to Surviving the Holidays, I Just Want to Be Perfect and I STILL Just Want to Pee Alone. Follow her online at modernmommymadness.com.