Rachael Brownell

(WOMENSENEWS)–I nod and aim a fake smile at the group of parents streaming into the kindergarten classroom. I sit in an impossibly small wobbly chair and pray for the familiar combination of nausea, self-loathing and lightheadedness to subside.

As the teacher welcomes us and begins walking through a typical day, I lean in to hear more and immediately jump up and run out of the room in search of a restroom, a bucket or a garbage can.

I stop to consider that drinking that bottle and a half of wine the night prior, despite plans to have much less, might not have been very wise. Here I am the next day paying the piper, like someone in a B movie playing the role of Irresponsible Mother. I’m sitting on the hard floor of what looks like the Seven Dwarfs’ bathroom, shaking and heaving, praying no one walks in.

I sit unmoving, resting my head on my arms for nearly an hour. I end up missing the whole open house and for the first time I begin to wonder if I’m an alcoholic.

The Anti-June Cleaver

Since becoming a mother five years before, I’ve longed to hang on to a part of myself that isn’t smeared in Mommy goo. The part that laughs at parties, looks good in heels and earns a living while spending quality time with loved ones. I want to be the anti-June Cleaver, the un-wife, the un-mother, loving and present, but not invisible or brainless.

And while it is gravely oversimplifying to say this is why I drink, drinking does begin as a bulwark against the onslaught of mama drones, an enjoyable evening ritual, a life raft–cheaper and easier to do with young children than yoga or running. Only later does it become the best part of every day.

As my marriage starts having more bad days than good, I feel like a 36-year-old woman with a true gift for picking the wrong men. When you are raising young children, it is utterly frightening how quickly your relationship can devolve; how swiftly you stop talking about anything but dinners and laundry and school outings and grocery shopping.

If there are dark ominous clouds hanging over our house, I don’t see them clearly. All I know is that I’m exhausted and lonely and can barely see straight. And of course, I’m drinking more now than ever.

Wake-Up Call

Mommy Doesn't Drink Here Anymore

One afternoon, I start drinking at 1 p.m. This early afternoon drinking is starting to seem like a very good idea and it happens with greater regularity. When I take that first sip, I feel decadent and rebellious. My stomach is warm and ticklish and my spirits immediately lift.

This afternoon, the kids are playing outside and I sit on the back porch and watch them perform their headstands and kicks and floats with calls of “Look Mama!” and “Watch this!” echoing in my ears. I’m slowly fading away from them, but they don’t seem to mind or notice, as long as I nod and agree that this or that trick is fabulous.

I’m so checked out that I don’t notice until several seconds later that my youngest is struggling in the pool. My little golden-haired angel.

I throw down the glass and leap up to grab her out. She’s sputtering and scared, but fine. I’m not. I’m gripped by the sure knowledge that any number of terrible catastrophes could befall my kids if I drink like this. I’m completely flattened, floored and humbled. I pledge right at that moment to lay off.

When my husband comes home that evening, I tell him that I want to “cut back” my drinking, but without telling him of the afternoon’s catastrophe. He heartily agrees that this is a good idea and asks what he can do to help. “Nothing. I can do it,” I say.

I decide that what I need to do is try much harder.

Rachael Brownell is the mother of three and a recovering alcoholic and perfectionist. She lives and breathes books and language in the Seattle area. You can find her online at www.rachaelbrownell.com.

Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at