Brenda Wilhelmson: I was knocking back a couple of bottles of wine each night
Author: Friends were clueless; my husband wasn't bothered about my drinking
She took care of kids and house, kept everyone fed and slept with her husband
After two family deaths, writer got sober with help of AA meetings
Editor’s Note: Brenda Wilhelmson is a journalist who has written for the Chicago tribune, Chicago Reader, Creativity, and The Huffington Post. Her first book is “Diary of an Alcoholic Housewife.”
If you’re taking good care of your children, sleeping with your husband, feeding everyone well and keeping your house clean, your friends and spouse will not consider you an alcoholic.
As long as I was holding up my end at home, my friends were clueless and my husband wasn’t bothered that I was knocking back a couple of bottles of wine each night to kill the fear that my life was going nowhere and I was nothing.
I’d had big plans. I’d gone to journalism school envisioning myself reporting news stories from war-torn regions. Instead, I was folding mounds of laundry, wiping dirty butts and writing about television commercials. I hadn’t even tried to achieve what I wanted to do.
Out of college, I took a job as a feature writer at a suburban arts and entertainment paper, became an advertising scribe, got married, got knocked up. I was crazy in love with my children, but I felt like I’d given them my right arm. And that was a lie. I hadn’t given them my right arm. My children were my underachievement scapegoat. My fears of inadequacy sacked my dreams.
I drank away the cloud of mediocrity. I drank away my plans to write a book because it probably wouldn’t get published. I drank away my scowling husband stomping around the house spewing toxic vibes. I drank away the guy on the highway who cut me off and gave me the finger. The best part about drinking was how it allowed me to feel like I didn’t give a damn.
One summer, I watched two women die – my grandmother of old age and my mother-in-law from lung cancer. They withered down to helpless skeletons and died a week and a half apart from each other. I got wasted. I missed them, and the certainty of my own death slapped me hard.
Shortly after, sometime between my nightly first martini at 5 and last glass of wine at 11, it hit me that I was plastered or hung over all the time and I was figuratively and literally urinating my life away.
I’d made attempts to quit drinking before because, on a physical level, I knew it was unhealthy. This time, disgusted with my zombie life and hurting from a weekend of heavier than usual partying, I walked into a recovery meeting.
I didn’t spend time in the loony bin, pimp myself out for mind-altering substances or get HIV from drunkenly screwing someone other than my spouse like other people at the meeting. I didn’t drink around the clock or hide my bottles in toilet tanks either. I didn’t believe I would ever become like those people and I wanted nothing to do with them. But I couldn’t stop drinking on my own so I kept going to meetings.
Day after day I convinced myself and re-convinced myself that going to meetings and staying sober was the right thing to do. Feeling unconnected to my alcoholic peers, I went to a bookstore to buy a memoir I could relate to but didn’t find one. I figured there had to be thousands of people struggling like me, so I started keeping a journal and began blogging it. People began writing to me, and Diary of an Alcoholic Housewife became a book.
One of my readers wrote, “I couldn’t believe my HUSBAND watched me pile the kids in the car and drive them to hockey practice night after night. … I still don’t understand how he watched me do that, but that sounds like he is to blame for letting me be an idiot, and how I loved blaming him as I lurched down the road.”
Another wrote, “I want to quit. I want to feel normal. … At the same time, I am afraid. I am scared of not being able to sleep, wanting a drink and not getting it, what I might FEEL if I don’t drink, and I am afraid of what my family and my husband’s family might think if they find out.”
“I worked full-time and (am) the mother of two daughters,” another wrote. “I would only drink on the weekends because I worked during the week. So if I didn’t drink every day, I didn’t have a problem, right? Wrong! I guess I was trying to escape my life and my weekends became blackouts.”
“What a relief to finally find someone to relate to!” someone else said.
It’s a relief for me, too. During the eight years I’ve been sober, it’s gotten easier to relate to other alcoholics regardless of how they bottomed out. I have a large and diverse circle of friends, I’m my authentic self, and life is a cool, interesting ride. I’m living!