“Get over here right now,” I spit through gritted teeth as I chase my four-year-old into the living room.
If this was a movie from 2004, the camera would freeze right there, the voiceover would begin: “What would this moment look like if I wasn’t sober?”
I work in foster care, and maybe that’s why I can’t help but ask that question when I’ve had a long day, and I’m tired and my toddler won’t listen. And she’s now standing in the living room, holding a cookie that I expressly told her she couldn’t have with the same smirk on her face that I am sure I once wore.
“What would this moment look like if I wasn’t sober?”
I can sometimes see through to the other side of the looking glass. Every day, that life is mirrored to me on Mommy blogs and Instagram. I am currently cowriting a mommy blogger’s memoir, who got sober when all her children were well out of preschool.
“What was it like?” I ask with temptation dripping from my voice. What would it be like to pick the kids up from school, and pour a glass of wine? What would it be like to stand outside in the front yard with our neighbors, and drink a few beers, maybe even slip in the back for a puff of weed?
What it would be like if I wasn’t sober?
I don’t have any illusions about my fate. Ever since I realized that a night of controlled drinking for me looks more like someone else’s wildest night in college, I have been resigned to the fact that a casual drink would only end in Armageddon. I’m not sure I’d like it any other way.
But perhaps the biggest question of all: what it would be like for my children if I wasn’t sober? How would they respond to watching the woman they have to come to know go away, and another woman—desperate, dishonest, self-seeking—take her place?
Being sober is like walking a tight rope across a vast canyon. You look down and see the future: dark, long, filled with moments of excruciating excitement, but ultimately, ending in broken bones, if not death.
The thing is, the longer you stay sober, the tight rope widens. It becomes a bridge, and though you might hit a faulty step from time to time, you begin to trust it. But the more you receive, the higher the bridge. Looking down causes vertigo.
If you turn over everything in my life, including my children, it would all say, “Made in recovery.” I wouldn’t be here without it. Chances are I wouldn’t be anywhere. I would have left behind a devastated family, and I never would have had the chance to create a beautiful one of my own.
I knew this even before I got sober. Mere weeks before I hit bottom, one of my party buddies told me at 4:00 in the morning, “You want more than this, and you’re never going to get it if you don’t get sober.” He was right. The 4:00 a.m. lifestyle might work for some, but I wanted more than that. I wanted to write. I wanted to get married. I wanted to have children. But more than anything, I want that big, old hole in my heart to stop hurting so much. I wanted to live.
Over the last 12 years of sobriety, I found myself; I moved gracefully through my father’s death, I wrote a bestselling memoir, I healed my relationships, I fell in love, I got married, I moved to Paris, I lost my dream career, I got a day job, I had two amazing children, I returned to that dream career, I moved to Ojai. But most importantly, I became a woman who, for the better part of 12 years, has been able to wake up every day and look in the mirror, and not wonder, what have I become?
Yet, I can’t help but wonder who I might have been without sobriety. Certainly I would have been the mistress, and never the wife. I would have been the girl at the end of the bar who never became a woman. And I wouldn’t have ever had the chance to hold a teething baby in my arms at 2:00 a.m., knowing that love deepens most when you are deeply needed.
And to think of all the fun I would have missed. Sure, the sleepless nights, the same old fight with my husband, the pure and endless exhaustion all feels like a steep price for seeing my dreams come true. But then there is their tiny breath, their foot on my thigh, the way after nine years, I can still fold into my husband’s arms (even after the same old fight), and feel safe. All of that would have never been without this one little precious gift which sometimes, in the right light, still looks like a choice.
As I stand there in that angry standoff with my child, rage filling my blood (I might be sober, but I still struggle with the temper I had prior to that), I know the mother I would be without sobriety is no mother at all.
My children would no longer be able to trust me. And knowing my proclivity for cheating when drunk, my husband certainly wouldn’t be able to. I would lose so, so much. Just as I have watched other women lose in their battles against addiction.
The announcements come like clockwork now. Every six months or so, I get the call or see the post: another friend has died. Some from opiates, some from alcoholism, some are single and without kids, their parents bearing the greatest grief. But more and more, they are mothers.
They are women like me, who one day are busy in the kitchen making a Sun Basket meal, and the next are hiding in the bathroom so no one can see how f*cked up they are.
And even as I watch the mommies pouring wine, I know all it would take is one glass of chilled Chardonnay for me to go from Betty Crocker to Betty the Cokehead.
All it would take is a couple of beers in the front yard with neighbors for that standoff with my daughter to end with my hand grasped tightly around her wrist, my stomach sinking as she yelps in pain. All it would take is one Mimosa brunch for me to send the wrong text to the wrong guy and unravel everything my husband and I have spent nine hard years building.
It’s a unique vantage point standing up here on this bridge. And when you realize just how disastrous your fall would be, it can easily feel like a tightrope again. Because that drop is a fate worse than death, and it shivers me right back to the rooms that brought me this life in the first place.
It makes me desperate for the sound of a fellow addict’s voice, and it connects me to every woman in the world lifting that glass to her mouth and wanting something more. Whether that dream is to one day be a mother or just a grown-ass woman. Or whether that dream is to be the sober, healthy mother she knows she can be.
And as I stand in the living room, my blood pressure slowly decreases as I realize my daughter is only four, and it is just a cookie, I pray for those women as much as I do for me.