I'm super thrilled and honored to introduce you all to Rosemary O'Connor, founder of ROC Recovery Services and author of A Sober Mom's Guide to Recovery: Taking Care of Yourself to Take Care of Your Kids. Rosemary has a clear and powerful voice, and if you don't believe me, let Ms. Anne Lamott convince you.
Rosemary O’Connor is such a warm and experienced companion for women trying to manage the difficult and exhilarating path of sober motherhood. She has such a good sense of humor, and a lot of both practical and spiritual wisdom. I wish I’d had this book when I had my child in early recovery.
CHAPTER ONE: HITTING BOTTOM
Recovery is not so bad. It’s kinda like walking backward through molasses up to your crotch with your legs tied together.
--Anne Wilson Schaef
I promised myself I was only going out for two drinks. I told the eleven-year-old babysitter I’d be home in a couple of hours—no later than nine. I walked out the door on my way to a fancy charity event, the Fireman’s Ball at the San Francisco Yacht Club. I was all dressed up in a long, sequined gown, high heels, hair and makeup to the nines (for me it was all about looking good on the outside). At the event, with drink in hand, I started chatting up a guy. I was doing straight shots of tequila and quickly spent $200 buying drinks from the bar—what every classy lady does. Mr. Not-So-Prince-Charming invited me to continue the party at his place. I remember following in my car, gripping the steering wheel, trying to steer in a straight line. The next thing I remember is waking up in Mr. Not-So- Prince-Charming’s bed at ten the next morning, thirteen hours after I’d told the babysitter I’d be back.
I drove home overcome with dread, silently promising never to drink again. The scene that met me there was Dickensian: my three children were lined up on the sofa in their pajamas, eyes wide with horror, staring at me. On either side of them were my best friend, Lori, whose daughter had been babysitting, and my estranged husband. They didn’t look too friendly, either. And no wonder—I was still wearing the sequined gown from the night before, which I’d thrown up on, and my hair and makeup were in shambles.
Lori looked me straight in the eye. “You’d better get hold of yourself,” she said, and stormed out. My husband looked at me with utter disgust. I got the message in his glare: If you don’t get your act together, I’ll take these kids away.
As he gathered the kids to go upstairs for their stuff, my five-year-old son asked me, “Mommy, are you okay?”
I was not. For the first time in the twenty-one years I’d been drinking, I acknowledged there was something really wrong with me. I said, “No, Mommy is not okay.” He grabbed me and hugged me. Then he ran upstairs crying.
My soon-to-be ex-husband left with my children and went to his house. I was alone, an empty shell, physically, spiritually, and emotionally bankrupt. What I feared most was that I would continue to do the same thing over and over and lose my children. This was not the mother I intended to be. That was my bottom. And I knew in that moment that if I didn’t get help, five o’clock would roll around and I’d be drunk once again.
Since then, I have worked with countless women and I know this scene has played itself out both in multimillion- dollar homes and in tenements. Our social standing, education, and self-knowledge don’t matter. When the alcohol or drugs get hold of us, we are taken over. We do things when we’re drinking and using that make us weep bitter tears when the high wears off.
We are basically good women and mothers, and under normal circumstances we would take good care of ourselves and fiercely protect our children. We can’t imagine how we let this happen, how we could lose control. We feel disgust, shame, and hopelessness. We vow never to let this happen again.
I had made that promise more times than I could remember. But now, for the first time, I listened to a voice in my head. Ask for help, it said. I went to the phone book, found the num- ber for Alcoholics Anonymous, and called. The woman who answered the phone asked me to join her at an AA meeting. There I found women who used to feel the same way I did. At last I knew I was not alone. I stopped drinking one day at a time as other women taught me how to face life without a drink or a drug. In my recovery—fifteen years as of this writing—I have found peace, compassion, and forgiveness for myself. I respect myself and love the woman I am today. (Most of the time!) Best of all, I am present for my children, and they love me.
Getting clean and sober is like dropping a single rock into a still pond and sending healing ripples out to our family, friends, and all the people who share our journey of recovery.
SOBER MOM’S TOOLS FOR CLIMBING UP AFTER HITTING BOTTOM
1. Take the first step: in the recovery process, the first step is admitting that we have a problem. For me, the evidence that my life was unmanageable was right in front of me that morning I came home to face my children. Using my story as an example, write about your own “hitting bottom” experience. If you’re new to recovery, it might be painful to put it in writing, but it can help you take that first step to admitting you have a problem. Even after facing my children that morning, I still had my doubts as to whether I was a full-blown alcoholic. But it was suggested that I write down my last ten drinking episodes. In doing this it became quite evident that my drinking was nowhere near normal. It was clear that when I started with a glass of wine I never knew where I’d end up or what I’d do.
2. Ask for help: this is the single most important action we can take to liberate us from isolation and loneliness. For me, and for many other women, it’s easier and more helpful to reach out to another woman. We are not meant to do life alone. If you are still trying to deal with a drinking or using problem alone, pick up the phone and call for help. You can get immediate help by calling Alcoholics Anonymous, or if your drug of choice isn’t alcohol, you may want to try Narcotics Anonymous; both groups are free and available twenty-four hours a day. You don’t have to do this by yourself. (See the Recommended Resources at the back of this book for these and other Twelve Step programs.)
If you’re reluctant to get help for yourself, do it for the sake of your children. Addiction is a progressive, fatal disease. It’s not a matter of if this disease will get worse, it’s a matter of when. Many mothers have lost custody of their children due to their addiction.
If you are still questioning “if ” you have a problem with your drinking or using, go to www.aa.org, read the pamphlet A.A. for the Woman and take the fifteen-question test.