I was a drunk mom.
And by drunk mom, I don’t mean the fun mom who starts dancing with her kids after she’s had a margarita or two at a backyard barbecue or the mom who might need to Uber home after a three-glasses-of-wine dinner on a Saturday night to relieve the babysitter.
I’m talking about a bottle-hiding, pill-eating, Tylenol-taking, Visine-using, pregaming, airplane bottles in her purse-having kind of mom. A mom who wants to stop drinking for her kids’ sake but can’t. A mom who is spiraling down into an addiction so utterly evil that it consumes her entirely. That kind of drunk mom.
After my two sons were born back-to-back in 1998 and 1999, I immediately knew something wasn’t right. When I timidly told my OB-GYN of my symptoms: sleeplessness, anxiety and bouts of unexplained sadness, he casually suggested a glass of wine at night and gave me a prescription for Ambien.
Instead of seeking a second opinion, I started treating my symptoms as he suggested. In my mind, I drank the wine and took the pills in order to show up for my life and my family, not to escape them. Pills and booze seemed to be a fantastic solution for what I now understand was undiagnosed postpartum depression.
After talk show host Wendy Williams dropped the bombshell last week that she had been to treatment for an undisclosed addiction and was living in a sober house, news outlets rushed to cover her story.
All the major networks started playing clips from her previous shows: her 2017 Halloween fainting episode (which is really horrifying); her to-camera statement that she was dealing with Graves’ disease, a condition that affects how the thyroid is regulated; and her recent apology statement about needing to take time off because of a shoulder fracture. But the one clip that really got my attention was the one in which she said, “I never missed a day of taping in six years. I never took a sick day.”
At that moment it clicked ― and I felt a previously unknown kinship with Williams.
I feel you, sister. You held it together, you pushed through in the most superhuman way. I know what that feels like. But you know what they say, “Pay me now or pay me later, but later is always worse.”
That’s how it started for me, too: pushing through. To cope with the stress of both of my kids being diagnosed with learning differences, I drank my “prescribed” glasses of wine after they went to sleep.
Opiates, given to me later on for headaches, proved to be very helpful after a day of driving the two of them to and from fencing lessons, tutors and basketball. I was always a room parent in their classrooms ― and toward the end of my using and drinking, I usually performed my duties while either slightly buzzed or hungover from the Ambien and wine (or vodka) the night before.
I am not proud of this fact. But the addiction had snuck up on me so subtly that I didn’t even see it coming. The two Vicodin I needed before I could put on my nightly SpongeBob puppet show suddenly became three until more than once I found myself nodding out before my kids fell asleep. Waking up without taking my “medicine” soon became impossible. I had to be loaded to do anything or I found myself “white knuckling” through my day-to-day life, waiting for everyone to leave me alone so I could finally knock myself out and end the excruciating pain of withdrawal.
However, I never missed a day as the field trip chaperone or as a committee chair. And no one was surprised when I was named parent association president or when I was asked to join the school’s board of trustees. Sick or tired, I had a pill or remedy for every ailment, and I prided myself on always showing up for whatever.
Amazingly, to almost every one of my friends and acquaintances, my life still looked totally together. But the truth was that my world was a plate-spinning circus spectacular, and in July of 2008, it all came crashing down around me when my husband found my journals where I’d been foolishly writing down every detail of my out-of-control life.
One day soon after that, he came home and caught me secretly refilling all of the bottles in our well-stocked bar. (I had drained them all during the week and didn’t want him to notice how low the levels were.)
“Get help or else,” he’d said to me.
He didn’t have to say that “or else” meant that I would lose custody of our sons, who were then 7 and 9 years old. But to my surprise, I was actually kind of relieved to be caught. I was exhausted of juggling my many addictions. The jig, as they say, was up.
I had so much guilt about being found out as an addict that I flew to The Meadows, a facility in Arizona that uses a 30-day, 12-step approach to dealing with addiction and alcoholism. In treatment, I met one or two other moms, but everyone there was white, and no one else really had my story.
As a black woman, I felt like I had an extra layer of shame. I had always been told that, as a woman of color, I had to be twice as good at everything to be seen as equal to everyone else ― and now I had failed in the most crucial ways that one could fail ― as a wife and as a mother.
Wendy Williams is a fixture in black American culture. I think when she first got her talk show, it was assumed that she might be looking to give daytime talk show queen and mega-mogul Oprah Winfrey a run for her money. But the opinionated Williams was never trying to be Oprah. Known as the “shock jockette” of radio when she was a DJ and radio personality on New York’s HOT 97, Williams earned her reputation as a tough girl who happily faced her own issues and scandals publicly (her husband cheating on her while she was pregnant with her son and her previous struggles with cocaine addiction).
Seemingly Williams had never been confronted with a problem that she couldn’t face or solve in front of an audience ― until now.
Like Williams, when I went to treatment, I did not see it as a sign of strength to step forward and admit that I was powerless over something that was separating me from my family. I absolutely saw it as a sign of weakness. But perhaps I would have viewed it differently if I had witnessed someone in the public eye, especially a woman of color, openly discussing how far down the scale she’d gone.
Someone like Williams, facing the camera (with tears streaming down her face) and admitting that she’s been living in a co-ed sober house in Queens and hasn’t slept at home with her husband and son for months.
I know how dire it has to be to leave your home and go to a controlled environment to save your life and family. And while some of the celebrities that she’s spent years trashing may be happy that she’s finally getting a taste of her own medicine, I, for one, am proud of her. Not just because she faced the camera and admitted what was going on, but rather because she actually took those drastic steps, went to treatment, hired a sober coach and went to sober living. All of those moves require tremendous courage.
When I got sober 10 and a half years ago, there was no role model on television in whose footsteps I could follow. Now, maybe because of Williams, some other drunk mom might decide not to keep “pushing through” and choose to take care of herself instead.