She had gray frizzy hair pulled into pigtails on either side of her head and a slightly twitchy demeanor, and she glommed onto me the minute I walked through the doors. The room had a sad little shelf of beat-up books—mostly romances and self help tomes—on one wall, a few pieces of exercise equipment on the other, a buzzing Coke machine in the corner. No windows. A TV boomed from a rickety-looking metal mount on the ceiling, and the floor was dominated by a large ping pong table.

Picking up a worn wooden paddle, the nubbly plastic peeling away in sections, she pointed it at me. “Want to play?”

“I haven’t played in years,” I said, feeling awkward. The other women in the room were mostly clustered together chatting, one plugging change into a vending machine, another lying on the floor doing quick, grunting pushups.

She shrugged, and tossed me another paddle. I assumed the position at the other side of the table and we played for a bit, before I knocked one too many balls into the corner of the room and waved my hands, laughing. “Thanks,” I told her, “that was fun.”

I rifled through the books for a while, then gave up and sat in a hard plastic chair and waited. The gray-haired woman came over and sat nearby, putting both of her hands on her knees and leaning towards me. She talked and talked and soon I realized something was more than a little wrong with her, evidenced not only by the “there are people in Cuba listening to everything I say because they put some metal wires in my head” topic of her conversation but also the tall stony-faced woman standing behind her catching my gaze and twirling her index finger against her temple, shaking her head slowly and meaningfully.

A blonde-haired woman learned she was going to be moved to a facility in Spokane, and she began weeping in great hitching sobs. The lady on the floor completed her pushups and began curling hand weights. The woman across from me kept talking but stopped making sense altogether and soon she appeared to forget I was there and trailed off into silence, staring blankly.

The TV blared on and on.

Eventually the door opened and we were ushered out, the women to their shared quarters and me to a tiny gray-green cement room with a metal door and a stainless steel toilet. They put me on my own because, as one of the cops said, “I don’t want to stick you with those dirty women”. I would have given anything to be with other people, and no one seemed dirty to me, but I had surrendered all choices when they admitted me and dressed me in the tattered cotton scrubs.

There was a cubby-like area on one side of the room that served as a bed, with a thin itchy blanket and a flattened pillow. I lay down but the cement hurt my hips, thanks in part to my swollen pregnant belly, so I alternated: on my back, on one side, on the other, sitting up. The fluorescent overhead lights never went off. There was, at one point, a tray of food that included a small paper carton of milk that so reminded me of childhood it was the only time I cried.

It may not have been the absolute worst night of my life—so many moments of regret in my past—but it was surely the longest. I didn’t sleep. Once I pressed the buzzer to ask what time it was, and the answer was so discouraging I never asked again.

The next day, I went home. The sentence was only for 24 hours, after all. I sat for a brief time in a waiting room with another girl who was going in for the same amount of time. “Was it bad?” she asked nervously, her foot jittering up and down. “Was it bad?”

I considered my answer. Had I been hurt? Treated poorly? No. Was it bad? “Yes,” I said.

I have written about drinking before and the fallout I caused myself and others. The DUI and its long-reaching effects—the months of legal fees, court appearances, the night in jail, the classes, the community service—was probably my rock bottom, and the fact that I become pregnant so soon after that selfish, shitty night was surely the catalyst for the changes I had to make, once and for all.

I have no new perspective on those old scabs, except this: lately, I have been so grateful my parenthood experience does not include alcohol. For all the reasons you might expect, of course, for my kids and my health and my marriage and our future, but also because if I had spent any time self-medicating the myriad stresses of parenting with drinking, it would have been even harder to stop. It would have been a no-brakes car hurtling down a hill with no end in sight, and the collateral damage would have been unspeakable.

If you’ve ever had a glass of wine after a grueling day of kid-wrangling and felt your body unwind and your mind finally start to be at rest, imagine multiplying that feeling into an all-consuming need. Imagine not being able to stop at one glass. Imagine coming to rely on it, craving it more than oxygen, while bit by bit, everything else falls by the wayside.

I know that’s what it would have been like for me. It would have been a thousand times worse than one night in jail. A million. If every mistake I made led me to here, I am glad for it. I am ashamed and sorry for the things that happened, but I am so grateful to be where I am now: glancing at the smoking ruins of what might have been, while still standing in the light.


119 Responses to “What was, what isn’t”

  1. molly on June 9th, 2009 11:01 am

    Linda – Let us know when your book can be pre-ordered on Amazon so we can be first in line. The fact that you one post can make me ROFLMAO and the next can make me cry is testament to that. From another mother of a preschooler and toddler, keep it up!!

  2. Julie @ The Mom Slant on June 9th, 2009 11:08 am

    Thank you for writing this. So courageous.

  3. harmzie on June 9th, 2009 11:29 am

    As one who regularly has a glass of wine at dinner (which happens to be the segue between crazy work day and crazy home evening), I am constantly questioning whether when the going gets tough, I could just stop at one. Or would I even notice and not care until it’s too late?

    So far, I am going with that the very fact the question is asked – albeit silently – keeps me aware of what it is that I’m doing. And why.

    Thanks for writing this.

  4. Melinda Handy on June 9th, 2009 12:28 pm

    If you ever have one of those days where you’re doubting yourself as a writer, I hope you’ll re-read this post and the comments. You’ve got it, Linda. Your honesty reaches so many people. You make a difference.

  5. Katie on June 9th, 2009 12:40 pm

    What an amazing depiction of your story. You really should consider incorportating this into your book. I was captivated. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Anonymous on June 9th, 2009 12:57 pm

    Amazing Linda. Thank you for being brave to share your story.

    I didn’t stop drinking till my sons were 12 and 14. I’m grateful that I’m a sober mom for them today but I can’t undo the years of pain I inflicted on them and my husband. You are correct when you state that you could only imagine self medicating every painful parenting situation with alcohol…and becoming completely obsessed. I’m grateful for you that you did not have to experience that.

    You are a beautiful power of example.


  7. Stefanie on June 9th, 2009 4:46 pm

    I have 16 days. And for me I did take the alcohol into my parenting experience so I can tell you first hand that you are one lucky woman to have avoided that trap. Someone who read my blog sent me here and I’m so glad they did. I’ll “keep coming back” HAHAHAHA. Just a little AA humor for you.

  8. Melissa on June 9th, 2009 5:05 pm

    As a child of an alcoholic I completely applaud you for knowing that you had to stop–for yourself just as much as for your family. Your life is better for it–your children don’t know how lucky they are.

  9. vickey on June 10th, 2009 5:12 am

    I am crying.
    I have a friend who didn’t drink for the first 10 years I knew her. She said she stopped when she became pregnant with her son, & I didn’t think a whole lot about it.
    Then she turned 40 & started drinking socially. Within 6 months her life was almost completely destroyed, & it was just pure luck that she didn’t leave her son motherless. It was like watching a train wreck in slow-motion.

    I never thought it could, but the story has a happy ending. She has been sober again for 2 years, with the help of DAILY AA meetings. I was stunned that she had the strength to save herself. It is an epic struggle, & I am so happy that you, too, have found the strength in you.

  10. Erica on June 10th, 2009 8:16 am

    You are a bad ass.

  11. Karen Sugarpants on June 10th, 2009 9:05 am

    I’m the child of an alcoholic mother. You just made me understand her a little more. Thank you.

  12. megan on June 10th, 2009 9:38 am

    simply amazing.

  13. Jenny on June 10th, 2009 10:32 am

    Linda, thank you for your honesty, and your beautiful, raw writing.

  14. Tammy on June 10th, 2009 7:59 pm

    I needed this tonight. Thank you.

  15. Annie on June 10th, 2009 8:52 pm

    with narration like this, you can do anything with that book you mentioned. openness like this makes the world a better place; thank you.

  16. Tina on June 11th, 2009 7:50 am

    THIS is why you need a book. Wonderfully honest and well-written.

  17. Writer Mom at Home » Weekly Round-up: The Weekend Reading Edition on June 13th, 2009 5:28 am

    […] What Was, What Isn’t- The path of a mom, taking her away from alcoholism and into her new life. Very moving. From All & Sundry. […]

  18. Jem on June 14th, 2009 6:54 am

    I’m so glad you managed to deal with your addiction *hugs*

  19. Dad Gone Mad on July 27th, 2009 4:38 pm

    Six weeks after this was first posted, I came back to read it again.

    The superior quality of your prose notwithstanding, Linda, you have tremendous balls and a heart of gold. I really value what you write, but not as much as I respect who you are.

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