Mother and son


I Relapsed After My Son Was Born But I’ll Never Stop Fighting For Sobriety

Mar 2, 2020

“When I grow up, I’ll never drink,” my son says to me on one of our walks. “I swear.”

“That’s OK, don’t worry about it now,” I say, but he shakes his head: “I want to worry about it.”

I leave it alone. He’s 10 and 10-year-olds are all-or-nothing — their convictions are unbreakable.

"I relapsed after [my son] was born and stayed intoxicated for almost 11 months."

My son knows about my addiction (substance use disorder) and he knows that I’m different from his friends’ moms. He’s been to the children’s program for parents with addiction issues, and he may even remember the time when I had to go away for three weeks (to rehab, for the second time).

What he doesn’t remember is what it was like when he was a baby. I relapsed after he was born and stayed intoxicated for almost 11 months.

What My Son Knows

My son knows more about life than most kids his age. He knows how dark it can get.

At his age he also feels easily embarrassed. And I don’t blame him, because people with addiction are viewed by some as an ugly societal problem, a taboo and something that should be kept in secret.

Same goes for recovery — as a recovering parent with addiction, I still never quite feel relaxed or at peace.

Looking for an Alcoholics Anonymous group near you? Find out how you can attend a meeting here.

I’m exhausted by how I see me and how you see me

Maybe it’s paranoia, but there are times when I believe I’m less-than other parents waiting for their kids at pickup time. I’m convinced they all know my dirty secrets and I’ve been shocked — and felt incredibly thankful — when they’d allow their children to have play dates or sleepovers at my house.

I feel thankful because before recovery, I was half-conscious and kept drinking because I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t take care of my child and I failed him many times. I felt shame and I drank to cover it. I loved my son more than anything, but addiction is a selfish, demanding monster. It lingers in your house even long after you’ve stopped drinking or using. And there’s always a threat that you will relapse and disappoint everybody all over again.

And the feelings of guilt and shame that used to prevent me from getting sober became even more present in recovery.

What Support Looked Like

I declared myself an alcoholic at 27 and I’ve had some support. But most of it was in the form of threats, tough love and ultimatums. Friends and family would say things like “If you really loved [your son], you would get sober.” I don’t blame anyone because that’s how popular culture has recommended people with addiction be treated — have you seen Intervention?

I’ve had people comment that I was an unfit mother (true, some of the time) and that I should get my tubes tied. I was being cast as a danger.

The People We Meet

I have met countless mothers, and many parents have written to me since my book came out. People still write to me six years later. And many of those people talk about desperately wanting to get sober — for their kids.

"... many people believe parenting and addiction shouldn’t coexist, and that mindset has created this fear of recovery among addicts."

But there are mental roadblocks.

I know of mothers who have had their kids taken away and think death is a better option than, say, trying to fight their addiction. Because while they’re fighting their addiction, they are also mindful they will simultaneously be fighting the courts, Children’s Aid and stigma. 

I’ve heard from moms who still had their kids and would drive drunk, but felt too much shame and isolation to seek recovery; moms who live in small towns who would rather die than be seen at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting; and one mother who feared her husband — a doctor — would suffer repercussions at work if she were to come out as an addict.

I don’t know if he would, but what I do know for certain is this: many people believe parenting and addiction shouldn’t coexist, and that mindset has created this fear of recovery among addicts.

Even for those without addiction, it can be so hard to be a mom who doesn't drink. Read about one woman's experience here.

Where is the Love?

There isn’t a lot of sympathy for a drunk mom or dad.

Years after publicly coming out as a “drunk mom” and speaking about my relapse and recovery, I feel disillusioned. I want to start a dialogue, because nobody gets better in isolation. But shame and stigma is preventing people — especially parents — from getting help.

I know, because I feel it.

I often feel ashamed of being an inadequate parent, and I feel embarrassed about having to go to anonymous meetings or groups held in basements of hospitals.

And after years of trying to be open about my addiction, I can’t help but feel that I should’ve been quiet about it. I’ve reached a point in the process where I don’t believe we will eradicate the stigma of addiction in my lifetime, despite my best efforts.

But that doesn’t mean I’ll stop talking about it or stop fighting.

Because it doesn’t just impact me. My son is also feeling the stigma, so it’s no wonder why he feels so embarrassed.

Living with Addiction

Living with addiction means constant diligence and, like so many other parents, I too want to take the edge off at the end of the day. But I can’t.

In recovery, I’m angry about feeling alone with this problem. We call it Alcoholics Anonymous for a reason. It can feel like you’re being tucked away. In a way that makes me feel like I should stay quiet and remain thankful that society will welcome me back someday. But there’s no guarantee of that, because there isn’t always a warm welcome. And those in recovery are always fighting.

At the end of the day, my son is right. He should never pick up a drink.

Maybe he can train himself to ignore a world that is happy to shove booze in your face.

As I have.

Article Author Jowita Bydlowska
Jowita Bydlowska

Jowita Bydlowska is a writer and journalist based in Toronto. Her memoir, Drunk Mom, recounts her relapse into alcoholism after having her first child. The book was a national bestseller and optioned for television and film by LD Entertainment. Her latest book is the novel Guy, which follows an intensely narcissistic talent agent. Bydlowska has written columns on popular culture and mental health for the National Post, the Globe and Mail and CBC.

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