Drunk Mom: From party girl to potty girl

One mom talks about the struggle to stay sober after her son was born.

Photo: Random House

Before Jowita Bydlowska released her new bookDrunk Mom: A Memoir, she wrote a first-person account for Today’s Parent about her battle to stay sober as young mom. Read her story below:

The view was definitely exotic: A giant, rust-bitten ship, tinted with the yellow and purple light of a sunrise, its deck filling up with workers, visible from where my boyfriend and I were sitting, enjoying the view of the docks.

It was 2005. I was wearing a shiny, backless top and a pink handkerchief for a skirt. We had just tumbled out of a club still high on a pill with a dolphin stamped out in it. Our heads buzzed from hours of violent techno and dancing. It was 8 a.m., an hour foreign to me unless I stayed up so late that I got to see it from this end. Eventually, we walked along the water, and as the sky turned from purple to blue, we started seeing the overeager morning folk: joggers, a lone student on bicycle and moms pushing strollers. How adorable!

That glorious, intoxicated morning is the perfect summary of my twenties, especially on days when I try to figure out why now, at 34, I’m such a wimp about being up early. Maybe because, like most parents, I’ve been on that side of 8 a.m. too many times to count.

Last summer I saw a “me” from 2005 — a long-haired 20-something girl in a ridiculously short pink skirt and heels, walking home through Dufferin Grove Park in Toronto. Dufferin Grove is usually full of dead-tired parents and their not-so-tired young children who get up as early as the sun. A girl in a short pink skirt stands out. She stood out. I wondered if she was still drunk from the night before, and if she looked at us with our silly strollers and thought: How adorable!

“I’m not like them!” I wanted to shout at her. I looked down at my stroller. My then two-year-old son, Hugo — whose father is the same guy I used to tumble out of the clubs with — blinked at me. “I wanna go swings,” he said. I hadn’t even realized he already knew that word — “swings” — and that made me so happy I forgot all about the girl. We walked toward the swings. I pushed him and he screamed: “More!”

It’s not that glamorous, pushing a kid on swings. Still, when I saw the girl that morning, I was relieved that I was no longer her and didn’t have to maybe break into my own apartment (because I had lost my keys again), and then wake up at 4 p.m. and live the rest of the week making plans for the next Friday night. Now on Fridays, I usually do what I do on Thursdays and Wednesdays. And on Tuesdays. Supper. Playtime. Cartoons. Bath. Reading. Bed. On weekends, it’s extra-early outings to the park if the weather allows it. Seems tedious but it’s not: My kid surprises me with something new every day — whether it’s a new word or a skill, like standing on one foot. It’s fascinating to watch him become a boy. The other day he said, with perfect intonation, “Mommy, I’m so opinionated.”

But I almost set myself up for losing him. When he was born I had turned 31. That’s a pretty average baby-making age for most of Canada, but youngish in the big, grown-up playground that’s Toronto. It made me crazy thinking that I was missing something by staying home with a demanding and boring — yes, boring — infant. There was a new breed of cool people my age who seemed to have gotten an extended lease on their twenties, taking it well into their thirties. They were all over my neighbourhood, drinking beers, dancing in the dives, staying up all night, being awesome. I still had lots of friends with no kids — friends who partied.

“It was a lot of work being a secret drunk.”

Even my partner was still going out a lot. So I started sneaking out myself. I went to bars on babysitter nights. I drank, trying to re-live the old glory of carefree days. It didn’t work. I was no party girl anymore — I got annoyed by the hipsters in bars and, besides, I didn’t really drink like “normal” people. I drank without being able to stop once I started. So I mostly ended up drinking alone at home. I pumped my breastmilk to try to avoid feeding Hugo while under the influence, and looked up charts online about how long alcohol stays in milk. It was a lot of work to be a secret drunk. I hid it from my boyfriend — who eventually stopped going out so much — and my family, but they caught on. I was sent to in-patient rehab for three weeks when Hugo was 10 months old. Afterwards, I didn’t stop drinking right away, but something snapped right after he turned one.

There were two events that occurred around that time: One, I had a minor bike accident while riding drunk and two, my partner threatened to leave me. I remember thinking that I could probably plead and lie my way out (“I wasn’t riding drunk, a car hit me and I had a concussion leading to a temporary memory loss!”), but I had had enough. I realized that by lying and drinking I was isolating myself more than I ever did when I thought I lost my so-called freedom after becoming a mom. Keeping secrets was as exhausting as drinking — both were taking over my entire life and now I was missing out on my son’s life. I finally got it that there was no going back in time. My son was growing and needed a parent, not a good-time girl.

Today, I’m a full-blown mom. I’m sober. Witnessing my son’s life is way more exciting than most Friday nights when I was in my twenties. Sure, I get tired of reading the same five bedtime stories. And 8 a.m. never happens because I’ve been partying all night long — the reasons are usually much more prosaic: the kid is sick and stays up all night, or the kid gets up too early. I admit that I still have moments when I get caught up in the illusions of a kidfree party life — especially on those under-slept days. At the same time, I don’t ever want to trade another moment with my son for a fantasy — it just makes me crazy that I may miss something in his life: figuring out the potty, being opinionated, celebrating the day of his birth. Even being woken up at dawn with demands to immediately go on swings.

Jowita Bydlowska’s memoir Drunk Mom (Doubleday Canada) comes out in 2013.

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