Sober Parenting

For many moms, getting sober makes them better parents.

I Had To Quit Drinking To Become The Mom I Always Wanted To Be

Alcohol as a “reward” for parenting meant I was always trading one bad day for two.

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The witching hour is a popular parenting phrase. It usually refers to when your kids are just absolutely done for the day, but for me, that magic hour of 5 p.m. was my own witching hour. It was when I was officially done and I could drink wine — my “mom juice” — to help me deal with being the parent of an extroverted spirited toddler. I’d be at the zoo with my son and he'd be having some sort of meltdown, and I’d look at my watch and think, I can get through this. In an hour, I’ll be drinking wine. I’ll be numb. I won’t have to think about how I’m a shitty mom and I’m doing a terrible job of raising my son. I won’t care. I’ll be oblivious. I’ll give myself a break.

But after my son would go to bed, I’d drink more than just that one glass meant to be a “break.” I was up to about two bottles of wine a night — my tolerance was so high I was no longer feeling the buzz, and I kept drinking more to satisfy that tipsy fuzzy feeling I was craving. I used alcohol to cope and numb the nagging feeling that I wasn’t good enough. I was a bad mom, there was something wrong with my kid, and I shouldn't have tried so hard and for so long to be a parent because it was all just terrible.

The author with her son at the zoo, in active addiction and probably hungover.Courtesy of Abi Berwager Schreier

I know I’m not alone. A lot of moms I know and don’t know use alcohol to cope thanks to “mommy wine culture” invading our scrolling — in both pretty, stemless wine glasses with “Mommy’s Juice” written on them and cardboard boxes of hard seltzers — through memes, Instagram posts, and Facebook ads. Women, in general, are drinking more than they have in the past, according to studies, but let’s face it: the last two years have been full of jokes about moms needing Instacart to deliver wine during the height of the pandemic quarantine, moms needing to get drunk to deal with digital learning, and moms needing alcohol as a social crutch when life got “back to normal” with play dates and social functions. It’s no wonder so many moms look forward to that 5:00 drink and beyond, and I was right alongside them.

I spent the majority of our vacation — the one I had been so excited for, the one I got to spend totally focused on having fun with my kid — in a haze.

But on September 13, 2021, I decided to take my life back.

It was the last night of our yearly beach trip to Jekyll Island. I had been extremely emotional, crying a lot, and I thought it was because I was depressed that the vacation I had been looking forward to all year was coming to an end. I came to realize it was because I spent the majority of that vacation — the one I had been so excited for, the one I got to spend totally focused on having fun with my kid — in a haze. I was ashamed at how many bottles of wine I had calculated that I “needed” on our week-long vacation. (I tried to hide it from my husband.) And I was crying because I knew, deep down, that my drinking was not OK. That it wasn’t helping me be a better mom, it wasn’t helping me have a better time, it wasn’t helping me be happier.

At midnight, I walked into the kitchen of the beach house we were renting, stared at a massive sea shell, and poured what was left of my huge glass of red wine down the sink. I told my husband that this was it. I’m sure he didn’t believe me. I had said this a thousand times before. But this was different. I was tired of not feeling my best in general, but especially around my son. I felt like I couldn’t function without it.

It was different. But I was absolutely terrified.

On the way back home, as I watched the palm trees slowly disappear and be replaced with strip malls, I listened to a “quit lit” audiobook and realized I was absolutely addicted to alcohol. I needed to fix it — for my husband, my son, my friends, my family, and most importantly, myself — and this was going to be the end this time.

As soon as we arrived home from the trip, the post-vacation chaos descended. Our dogs were fighting and running around in excitement, my 3-year-old started chasing them and trying to hug them, everyone was knocking things to the ground. I just remember thinking, “How the f*ck am I going to deal with life without drinking?” I cried and cried and cried.

Up until this point, I had only successfully abstained from alcohol during my pregnancy. I kept the sobriety going for a little while postpartum. But I was stressed — that my son not latching to breastfeed, that he never ever slept, and that I was anxious, tired, exhausted and scared every day that I was screwing up this tiny human I loved to death. So I took that first sip of wine again to “relax.”

I was constantly trading one bad day for two.

I gave in, and I wish I hadn’t.

Because drinking doesn’t fix anything. I was constantly trading one bad day for two. If you drink when you’re having a bad day, you’ll have a bad day the next day, as well, courtesy of your hangover. I did this all week every week. I tried to cut back to only drinking on the weekends, but that only worked for a few weeks until I’d fall off the wagon, convincing myself, I deserve this. I need to drink to have fun and relax.

The author back with her son at the beach a year later, sober.Courtesy of Abi Berwager Schreier

After that last night on vacation, I realized that even when I wasn’t drinking, I was hungover and in active withdrawal until the next fix of alcohol, unconsciously waiting for the next time I could drink. That first couple of weeks after quitting, the physical and mental withdrawal felt like the worst PMS I had ever experienced. I felt despair, I had suicidal ideation, I went through denial. I had headaches and body aches. My body physically craved the poison. And when I’d tell myself I wasn’t going to have it that night, or ever again, I’d cry like I’d lost my best friend. It was absolutely a grieving process.

The confidence I gained from my sobriety is palpable and it shines through in everything I do — including parenting.
The author at Jekyll Island again, one year sober.Courtesy of Abi Berwager Schreier

I was using alcohol to numb and block all the bad and uncomfortable experiences life threw my way instead of actually living and experiencing — and learning. Humans expect to not feel or experience pain or ever be uncomfortable, but that’s just life. Now when my son has a meltdown at the zoo, I try to breathe my way through it and guide him to navigate his own big feelings. It’s still incredibly hard to be a parent, even on my best days, but now I focus on ways to get through it with my son and be present instead of looking forward to erasing everything away by getting drunk. I try to get on my son’s level and talk him through a situation, help him breathe, and tell me in words why he’s upset instead of immediately feeling frustrated and embarrassed at his outbursts.

Another thing getting sober has taught me? To not care what other people think. The confidence I gained from my sobriety is palpable and it shines through in everything I do — including parenting. Now, instead of looking forward to drinking alcohol at the end of the day, I get my high knowing I did my best that I could with my son and I am teaching him how to really feel his emotions, to feel safe in those feelings, and to not feel like he needs to numb them as I did. And I enjoy doing family activities that no longer include sneaking alcohol in a tumbler on the weekends.

One year and one month sober, the author carving pumpkins with her family instead of drinking.Courtesy of Abi Berwager Schreier

I am so much more active with my son than I ever dreamed now that I’m sober. I no longer have headaches or struggle to get out of bed, hungover and depressed. I get up and make breakfast and play with my son. We build forts before school, play board games, and have so many Monster Jam monster truck races that we should have our own YouTube channel.

I remember and soak up every single moment I have with him because I’m alert, aware, clear. I am here. I am myself at my best, 100%. And those days that I’m not at 100%? That’s OK. It’s still better than hungover me or drunk me. I’ll never be who I was before I got sober. But that’s a good thing. Because my son deserves this version of me.

I deserve this version of me.

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