My 15-year-old son said he wanted to get a breathalyzer to test me when I’ve been drinking. I never get behind the wheel after having consumed alcohol, not even after a simple glass of wine at a family gathering or a cocktail with friends. I plan my drinking carefully and mostly partake while at home making dinner, doing dishes and laundry, helping with homework, and winding down with a Netflix series I lost interest in, yet want to get to the end of for some reason.
My well-behaved teenager who has, thankfully, not yet entered into the experimentation of all things dangerous and illegal, though perfectly normal for his age, says he wants to check my blood-alcohol levels at night to see if what I’m drinking is causing me to act strangely or dumb, as he so confidently stated. He is only 15 years old, so this comment was not felt to me as disturbing or disrespectfully delivered- just normal kid shit. Though, I did feel surprised by his gumption and courage to speak his thoughts and make this out-of-the-blue, painfully bold and wise statement to his beloved mother... me.
I’d never felt the combination of horror and pride to the degree in which his words made me feel because I had always wanted to be the perfect parent for him, because the other parent he’d been born to had failed him miserably.
My sons’ father is a long-time alcoholic. I left him before our baby turned two-years-old to ensure my household would be free of addiction and the inevitable, inescapable toxic environment, which had already showed signs of emerging with great momentum.
I fought with everything I had, and little-to-no money, to gain full custody, and won. I sacrificed child support as a part of our deal so I could keep my ex as far away as possible. I lied to my baby about his father’s disease, telling him his daddy loved him, but had to work in other towns most of the time.
I felt shame when looking into the eyes of my family and friends for having fucked up so badly, and for not receiving any support whatsoever from my sons’ father, which would have helped to lessen the visible burden of my daily life.
I struggled to make ends meet while taking on odd jobs and weird gigs so I could take care of my son, mostly alone. Rarely, could I afford a babysitter, and never did my baby like to be with one.
When I finally found a suitable full-time preschool, my hours opened up a bit enabling me to work more and make better money. The families we met there soon became our village and I discovered the great and life changing ‘playdate’, which quickly became a big part of our weekly routine.
“Mommy juice”, “day wine”, “little helper”, and all of the other clever names for drinking wine, and sometimes cocktails, to manage the stress of parenting (and god forbid, single parenting!), had been introduced to me as a completely socially acceptable way of coping- especially for those of us who wanted to stay away from the stress-relieving drugs of choice popular with many of our parents while growing up in the sixties and seventies.
And, so it began. I hit my parenting stride; working to fully support myself, taking care of my only child, volunteering at his elementary school, occasionally dating and keeping it all together, while keeping my substance-addicted ex far, far away.
My son is my great success story, though my pre-child career has been heavily damaged and is still crawling uphill most of the time. I’m tired, even though I’m healthy, look good, do yoga, blah, blah, blah. But, I have no energy for a social life and have talked myself into being completely satisfied hanging out in my bedroom with a view of the hills in my three-story condo with a glass of wine and Amazon Prime (when I’m burnt out on Netflix).
One drink becomes two. Two drinks become three. Three becomes a bottle, emptied with the ease of a pro. I’m not an alcoholic, but sometimes I drink too much. I’m alone, but not willing to fill my life with empty, mindless ‘fillers’, who, or which, amount to nothing, because my child is the most important and fulfilling part of my life. So, I’m good.
Thankfully, I do not possess the disease of addiction. As a long-time Al-Anon member, I am fully aware a the games we play and the lies we tell ourselves about our unhealthy behaviors, which can easily develop without realization of them if we get distracted, lazy, or in my case, entitled to a little well-deserved help and comfort in the form of alcohol.
I stopped drinking without incident. My newest burden is shaking the shame of having allowed myself to get into a bad habit; the worst possible habit for my son to have to witness. And, for my teenager having to be the wise one to point this out to me.
Perhaps I should not feel shame, but pride in raising a healthy kid who calls it like it is.