I am in a season of extreme emotions right now.
My oldest daughter is graduating high school in just a few weeks. She will be moving 6 hours away to go to school (MIZ-ZOU!) in early August. I feel like we are still connected via umbilical cord, so as much as I want her to spread her wings and fly…I also want to swaddle her in a blanket and hold her in my arms from now until the end of time.
Saturday was her last prom. I watched her in her gorgeous gown donning fancy hair and flawless make up. I was absolutely stunned by her beauty, maturity, and confidence. I am so proud of the woman she has become. She is better than my wildest dreams. We all know I have too high expectations for everything. Lily is everything and then some.
Since birth she has flipped me upside down and shook me around until I was dizzy. Somehow, in between cleaning up after her, and keeping her safe and fed, she grew into her own being. She is so much more than even I could have imagined. I love her with my whole heart.
The hardest part of being a mom, for me, has been my own perfectionism. Never feeling like I was giving her enough, even when I was giving her my all. Never feeling good enough for her, when I was always doing the very best I could be. The crippling guilt of making mistakes, as a first time mom, was a real challenge to overcome. I am not sure I have overcome it, even though she is 18, healthy, happy, and mostly independent.
Alcohol was my mother's little helper, until it wasn’t. Somehow Lily and I not only survived ourselves, we bonded tightly. We grew up together. She was the one who called out my drinking the loudest. She was just a little girl, but she was not having it and found the courage to tell me.
I specifically remember one time she begged, “Why can’t you stop, Mom?”
“I don’t know, Lily! It’s complicated. You don’t understand! I’m trying.” ’I cried back.
I can’t type this without crying even now. She was right. She was always right. My drinking hurt her more than anyone and my recovery has benefited her the most too.
One night last year she asked me to pick her up late at night from a friend's house. She was so apologetic for waking me up in the night.
I had a moment where I got to say “Lily, I’ve been training for this phone call for 5 years! You have no idea how happy I am to pick you up right now.” That, of course, made us both cry too.
There is so much celebration this graduation season. She has been honored with awards, scholarships, and more. I can’t take all the credit for her, because she has earned this all on her own. She has also paved the way for her younger sister. She has decided for herself to be brilliant, kind, and inclusive. A special bonus is that she is also the absolute funniest person I know.
This is also a season of profound grief. Shifting friendships. Endings at every corner. The last this and the last that. It’s a challenge to say an extended goodbye for months. I hate goodbyes anyway.
I rarely say this but it’s also a time where it’s hard to be sober.
Last weekend at Prom the parents were celebrating with libations, as the kids were getting their pictures taken. Some parents crowded into the small pub, some walked around with their drinks in hand, some spilled out into the bar patio and onto the sidewalks and streets.
I could not join in. I just couldn’t. I couldn’t model being around a rowdy drinking crowd and then telling the kids to be safe and not drink or whatever.
The problem with this is that I really like the rowdy drinking crowd. I have a need for belonging, connection, and community. Without joining in on drinking, I was left with just my husband for support during both a time of celebration and last chance connections before graduation.
The other problem is that I used to be the kind of person who would love to join in on drinks. I would love to be in a dive bar in the afternoon. I would love to get loud and rowdy. I would love to wash down all my insecurities and conflicting emotions about this milestone event.
Now I don’t do that because it doesn’t align with values. Living a sober life is a top value of mine. I can’t join in. Not because I am afraid I am going to drink alcohol. I am not afraid of that. Not because I can’t drink a soda or a crappy NA beer and still enjoy the community. I could.
It’s because I can’t model alcohol as a way to celebrate. I can’t be around people who are over drinking around teenagers and pretend not to notice. I can’t unknow that alcohol is the cause of 1 in 5 deaths for people aged 20-49. I can’t ignore the fear that if the kids are unsupervised and drinking, any number of terrible, irreversible things can happen. My top priority is to be a parent on Prom. An emergency contact. Not a party girl. Not a popular townsperson.
Is there judgment here? Maybe there is, I recognize that too. It’s best for me to stay away. I do not want to ruin anyone’s good time and maybe my judgy sobriety would. I don’t know. Putting myself in that place would not feel good to me. Avoiding it and remaining a good model for my child matters most to me.
My actions go against the grain and against the norm. It IS boring. It is not fun. Fun is also a top value of mine so this kinda sucks. Most of the time it is wonderful to be sober and sometimes it is really hard. Last Saturday it was really hard.
Sunday, however, I woke up knowing that my girl safely survived Prom. I had a clear head and full heart. I put on my cute dress and got picked up by a sober friend for a date in the city. We met up with our other (sober) friends for brunch at the cutest place. We were giddy with excitement at our reunion. Everyone looked so cute. The place has the best alcohol free mimosas and we got an extra plate of lemon ricotta pancakes for the table. I ordered an alcohol free peach bellini then excused myself to use the restroom. Norah Jones “Sunrise” was blaring through the speakers. I looked in the mirror and felt so happy. So content. So at peace. So happy with my beautiful Sunday, after my opposite Saturday night. We enjoyed our brunch before getting lost in the dark at a fairy tale Broadway show in the most ornate theater. I felt the vibes of the strings in the orchestra lulling my body into rest and ease. The joy of my sober connections and belonging. Feeling totally understood. Sharing some tears. Letting myself be really seen. Taking up space in a non obnoxious way. Proud of my ability to ask for what I need, instead of acting needy. Sharing my authentic heart. Although my sober friendships are new, they have been immediately genuine and deep. I wish the same for my daughter when she goes off to school to find her new sisterhood.
Even after you get through early sobriety, which is excruciating and gets much easier with time, being sober is still hard sometimes. It’s pretty rare that I feel this way since most of the time I am just so darn grateful. I know that even when it’s hard, it is right. It was definitely hard to be a drinker too. Covering up and living with the anxiety pumping through my veins. Being at a constant war within.
Staying sober even on hard days brings me peace and solace. Drinking never did.