A Minivan Mom Gets Sober
Aug 17, 2022
The day I quit drinking at the ripe old age of 42, I acknowledged I needed to quit drinking but wasn’t convinced I was an “alcoholic.”
I didn’t grow up around alcohol misuse, so my concept of problem drinking, especially for women, was based mainly on Lifetime movies: People with actual alcohol issues splash vodka in their morning OJ to combat the shakes; when they run out of alcohol, they desperately swig Listerine; they have DUIs and probation officers. I, on the other hand, had three kids and a minivan.
Even toward the end of my drinking, I had convinced myself there was a big difference between someone with alcohol use disorder and a person like me: a stressed out mom who just couldn’t seem to go a day without drinking.
I’d always had an uneasy relationship with alcohol. The first time I drank, I was 14 or 15 years old and on a double date with a guy I had a huge crush on. I was nervous and unsure about myself, but alcohol’s buzzy effect cut through my anxiety like a butter knife; I felt brave, relaxed, at home in my adolescent skin for possibly the first time. I even worked up the nerve to have my first kiss.
The whole experience was pure magic and I couldn’t wait to do it again.
The second time I drank, I violently threw up on a stranger’s front porch and woke up with a scorching headache and only a fuzzy recollection of the events the night before. I chalked that up to drinking grain alcohol punch on an empty stomach and vowed to be more careful next time.
But the “next times” were littered with bad outcomes.
About a year later, after drinking vodka from a thermos at a lake with friends, I attempted to swim out to a dock and almost drowned. I ended up with alcohol poisoning and a blistering sunburn. That was the first time I told myself I’d never drink again. But I did.
Throughout the years, unpredictability became my pattern. Sometimes I could manage to have a beer or two and avoid any consequences — naturally I’d be super proud of myself — but then seemingly out of nowhere I’d drink way more than I meant to and do something awful.
In my 20s I regularly drove drunk, often having to close one eye to help me navigate the road better. One night I accidentally got drunk before I performed stand-up comedy at a bar. I couldn’t remember my act, insulted the crowd, and got booed off the stage. I woke up the next day with my brain feeling like it was in a vise, full of shame and self-loathing at having risked my career and promising myself I’d never drink like that again. But, sooner or later, I did.
Of course I was worried about my drinking. I googled “do I have a drinking problem” once Google became a thing. I wrote long entries in my journal about my drinking and also short entries like, “too drunk to write.” Occasionally I would challenge myself to stop drinking completely for small stretches of time, and I’d get a week or two under my belt, feel better, and then drink again.
When I got pregnant with my first baby, I was able to stop drinking for the whole nine months with no issue, possibly due to an increase in feel-good hormones. I practically threw myself a parade! I figured this proved once and for all I was fine.
But after I had my daughter, as my pre-baby body made its slow but triumphant return, so did my drinking, and it was becoming more and more of a crutch. By the time I got pregnant again a little over two years later, I had been actively trying and failing to quit drinking. Yet I surprised myself by, once again, having no trouble abstaining completely for the entirety of my pregnancy.
Being able to stop when I was pregnant made it easy to rationalize that I must not have a problem.
Once I got home from the hospital, I convinced myself that a few beers would help my breast milk flow better… and then I drank for 18 more months to self-medicate postpartum depression, sleep deprivation, stress, and fatigue.
I told myself the story that I was just part of a cultural shift where moms didn’t have to pretend to be perfect. Drinking at the end of the day was a necessity, but a fun necessity that brought us all together in shared misery cheered on by Facebook memes like, “The most expensive part of having kids is all the wine you have to drink.” The wine was solidarity in a bottle.
The truth was quite a bit darker than that: I couldn’t stop drinking that wine no matter how hard I tried. So I stopped trying.
And then one night after hanging out at a friend’s house having a few martinis, despite the weak protests of the other moms, I strapped two of my kids in the minivan and drove the 10 minutes home.
I was fine, I reasoned to myself. Hadn’t I only had a couple of drinks spaced out over a few hours? Hadn’t I had plenty of water? I’d only had two drinks. Or was it three? Or possibly four?
This was my problem: I had no off switch. After one drink, “more” became the operative word. I never thought I was drunk. I always felt fine.
But when I woke up the next morning, my excruciating hangover and only vague memory of my husband’s angry face from the night before told me I had been miles from fine. A repeat of the same behavior stemming back to being a teenager. What the hell was wrong with me?
I was at a crossroads. I could promise my husband that my drinking and driving from the night before was a fluke, just an accident, a lapse in judgment and would never happen again, but somehow I had the clarity that I wouldn’t keep that promise, couldn’t keep that promise.
So I did the scarier thing and asked a sober friend for help.
She took me to a recovery meeting the next day and the day after that and the day after that. At first I didn’t think I had much in common with these people, the “real” alcoholics. But I wanted to not drink just slightly more than I wanted to drink, so I held on to that and did what I was asked to do.
It took almost a year of listening to people’s stories and getting honest with my own story before I realized the only difference between me and those Lifetime movie alcoholics was sheer luck. I wasn’t a special case, somehow different because I hadn’t gotten a DUI or been arrested; I was simply fortunate.
Now, almost 13 years later, I’m still sober, I still go to meetings regularly, and I feel immensely grateful that I stopped in time.
About The Author
Stefanie Wilder-Taylor is an author, TV personality, and co-host of the popular podcasts For Crying Out Loud, Rose Pricks, and Bored AF. She has authored five books, starting with the irreverent best-seller Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay: And Other Things I Had to Learn as a New Mom. She’s talked sobriety on Good Morning America, The Today Show, 20/20, Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil, CNN, and more. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three children.