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.

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samantha jo campen
12 years ago

I’m crying. And that was beautiful.

I’m so proud of how far you’ve come. You’re an inspiration.

Alison @ cluck and tweet

Thank you so much for sharing this and doing it so beautifully. I’m impressed by your honestly and humbled by your writing.

JuJuBee
12 years ago

This was amazing, Linda. Thank you.

Eric's Mommy
Eric's Mommy
12 years ago

Wonderfully written.

justmouse
justmouse
12 years ago

ilu

Jess
Jess
12 years ago

Ah. May. ZING!
That’s all I can say…
You rock…Thank you once again for your honesty…

Jessamyn
Jessamyn
12 years ago

People often told me, back in the days when I used to actually post in my blog, that they were impressed by my honesty, when mostly, to me, I didn’t see how to be any other way (I mean, I didn’t see any other way to write about myself, about the topics I was writing about, and to write WELL). I feel like that is true for you – that I would thank you for being so honest (because I’m glad you are), but that doesn’t feel quite right. I do want to thank you for not only writing, but for writing in a way that lets us know you – that lets us in.

Amy M.
Amy M.
12 years ago

Powerful! Thank you for sharing!

Leah
Leah
12 years ago

Your children will never know how lucky they are to have you as their mother.

Amanda
12 years ago

Wow.

I’m so glad that that experience led you to where you are today!

Pocklock
12 years ago

Amazing post.

I was sharing your experiences with my husband and I told him how you’re so lucky to have found your way. So many do not. So many do not allow parenthood to propel them into a world that’s better for them and their children. To have figured it out and taken action to make it work is extremely commendable.

You ARE an inspiration. A true class-act. And a fantastic mother, wife, and writer.

Katie
Katie
12 years ago

You are such an amazing woman! Thanks!

Kristen
Kristen
12 years ago

That was incredible. Truly.

aimee
12 years ago

That was really beautiful, Linda. A bus rider, indeed. :)

Violet
12 years ago

Sometimes, when I read about your struggles with alcohol and contrast them to your love for your kids, I am filled with the most unbelievably sadness.

I’m a mom to 3 boys – adopted (by me and my husband) at the ages of 10, 7 and 4 years – whose biological mother lost them (2 years prior) in part due to her alcoholism.

Although I’ve never met her, she – their biological mother – was (and is) by all descriptions a loving, kind, funny, smart woman. She is educated, has a large family who love her, is physically beautiful and loves her kids more than anything in the world – but cannot stop drinking.

My boys miss her desperately at times, are still struggling to understand why they are legally prohibited to contact her (and vice versa) and why all of the good memories they have of her are overshadowed by this huge, enormous, unspeakable tragedy.

Your kids are so lucky – so lucky I can’t describe it in any coherent way – that your life aligned the way it did, when it did. Despite my joy at being my boys’ adoptive mom, I would give anything for them to have never gone through what they have in the short years they’ve lived.

I won’t call *you* lucky, though. You did the work you had to do – and there is no way it was easy at any point. And while your kids will likely never know how different it could have been, I (yes, a complete stranger) have to thank you on their behalf.

Heather
Heather
12 years ago

Truly beautiful. I love reading your work. Just beautiful.

Gina
12 years ago

I think it’s awesome that you share these experiences. There are a lot of people out there struggling with addiction, and of you help even one of them feel less alone, then it’s worth it. In fact, I have sent links to someone I know.

Lindsay
Lindsay
12 years ago

Wow, Linda. Amazing.

Jill
Jill
12 years ago

Ditto on the “wow.”

SJ
SJ
12 years ago

At first I thought maybe this was a preview of the first chapter of your book, and then I realized it was you. Talking about you.

Absolutely powerful Linda. Your honesty speaks volumes. You are truly an inspiration.

Anonymous
Anonymous
12 years ago

Definitely a writer. Amazing story. I really wanted to read on and find out what happened after her night stay.

You’ll do amazing.

Cookie
12 years ago

That was beautiful and you are a fantastic writer. I’m sure it must be difficult to look back on those times, but it is wonderful that you were able to overcome your drinking,

rather than your drinking overcoming you. From every post I’ve read, I am touched not only by your honesty, but also by your fantastic talent with words. Your love for your children is apparent with every picture, every joke, every frustration, and every praise. Thank you for sharing your journey. Your boys are very lucky to have you.

Nicki
12 years ago

I love when you write about drinking. It’s always honest, raw, gripping, and if even for just the moments when I’m reading, it gives me empathy for my alcoholic parent.

Jamie
12 years ago

I wish my biological grandfather had been able to learn this lesson – you know, before things got out of control. It would have saved my dad and his siblings from unspeakable, unimaginable fear, trauma, and grief.

You haven’t just done the best for yourself in winning the battle with your addiction – you’ve done it for Riley and Dylan’s children, and for all the people that love you and want the best for you. I hope you can remember that whenever you revisit a scary time, and are feeling ashamed. You have done more than you will ever know.

beach
beach
12 years ago

Absolutely powerful post. Thanks for sharing.

Margo
12 years ago

Wonderfully written.

My husband is a recovering alcoholic. He stopped drinking about 6 months before I met him, but he has talked about the difficulties he faced in doing so. His father still is an alcoholic, and so are his two sisters.

I am so grateful that you were able to share this. My husband is a wonderful father, and I know his experiences have influenced that, as I’m sure yours have influenced the way you parent. Having been through those darker places, it is easier to really appreciate everything else that life has to offer.

Jillian
12 years ago

I needed time to process this before I could comment and I still can’t say what I need to, so I just want to say, thank you for sharing this with me.

Liz
Liz
12 years ago

You are a very strong woman. Thank you for that post, your words will sit with me for quite a while.

Artemisia
12 years ago

This is wonderfully written, and brilliantly shared.

Thank you.

Kim
Kim
12 years ago

You were one of the people whose strength I conjured when it came time for me to quit abusing opiates. I’ve thanked you before for sharing your story, and I’m doing it again – I’m not sure you’ll ever know all the good you’ve done by writing about this.

Anna A
Anna A
12 years ago

This is amazing. And you are an inspiration.

Sarah
Sarah
12 years ago

That gave me chills it was so well written.

bessie.viola
12 years ago

This was beautifully & bravely written. You have such a talent for this – for sharing.

What lucky, lucky boys. What a blessed life, that you caught yourself in time. You are one strong woman.

Audubon Ron
12 years ago

In a very deep southern accent.

“I like the way you talk.”

Carrot Cake
Carrot Cake
12 years ago

I think of my child as a catalyst, too. My addiction is not alcohol, but self-pity and misery. If it had not been for my child, or rather the fact that I am now a parent and want to create a better life, I don’t know if I would have had the courage to seek my own happiness.

Amy
Amy
12 years ago

Very, very, very good for you. Good.

Melissa
12 years ago

Wow…just wow.

Courtney
12 years ago

What an incredibly terrific, brave, introspective, so many other adjectives, post. Your openness with that incident and period in your life has given me new insight into alcoholism.

I’ve pondered this while reading your previous posts on this subject(dear god, please don’t be offended!):
Do you think that you’ve replaced, distracted yourself from or somehow fought (bad wording, can’t find the right word) your alcohol addiction with the recent (last 3 years or so) focus on health?

As someone who has been lucky enough to not battle an addiction (but alcoholism does run in the family), I wonder if a former addict gets a similar “high” from exercise that they used to get from alcohol? Or is a totally different “release”?

You’re a wonderful writer Linda. Keep it up.

Anonymous
Anonymous
12 years ago

Beautiful, simply beautiful!

Laura
Laura
12 years ago

My husband also drank too much before we had children. He was never officially diagnosed as an alcoholic, but in my opinion he could have been. He hasn’t had a drink since one fucked up night when my oldest (now 8) was 6 months old, and I am grateful every day. Thanks for sharing.

sooboo
sooboo
12 years ago

You were lucky to get a second chance and so, so brave to take it. I have known many people who couldn’t. Great piece. Thank you for sharing your story.

iidly
12 years ago

Being also a person in recovery (25 years now) — one thing I have learned Linda is shame has no purpose in my life or yours. What’s done is done — you have come so far. I am really proud of you.

I mean really really proud of you.

heather
12 years ago

this was amazing.

bj
bj
12 years ago

I’m so glad you found your way out of the abyss. And, talking about it is important, to those of us would otherwise be prone to write off everyone who ever had a problem with drugs or alcohol forever.

I’m fortunate that those compulsions haven’t touched my life. But, the fortune can lead to a lack of compassion. You remind me that anyone can find their way past mistakes, and forward to better choices.

Emily
Emily
12 years ago

I love that you wrote this. I love that you write like this. I don’t “really” know you but I know that I love the person you present to us here. You inspire me. And why, yes, you just might “complete me”.

Lesley
Lesley
12 years ago

You said “probably hit rock bottom” but given where you’re at, and how disciplined you are in so many aspects of your life, not the least of which is your commitment physical fitness (not easy!), you can easily take that “probably” out.

Amy
Amy
12 years ago

You are a gifted writer. I come from a family of alcoholics and I hear you so loudly about not being able to stop at that one glass of wine. One glass becomes one bottle and on and on. I chose not to do that to my kids. No memories of a drunken parent sitting on their bed telling them a bunch of shit that no child needs to hear. I hope you keep writing. Powerful.

GingerB
12 years ago

I agree with your commenter who says you didn’t just help you but your kids, and their kids and so on. Every family has scars from the actions of generations past. Whether you beat yourself up to do “everything” right or you just do your best, all of us can probably look back through our families and see the damage done by the drinker or drug abuser or the racist or whatever and we can see what that did to everyone who they cared for or who cared for them, and we know, if we could stop that intergenerational harm we would. And you did! You rock for making that choice.

Angella
12 years ago

As a child of an alcoholic Mother, I can attest that you have made the best decision for your family.

While I do enjoy the occasional cocktail, I refuse to become my Mother’s daughter.

Thank you for sharing all of this, Linda. If only one person sees themselves in you and makes a change, then it is a true gift that you have given them.

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