I had one of those classic ‘couldn’t do this if I was still boozing’ parenting moments the other day. Our 9-year-old had a friend over for a sleepover and late in the evening (around 9.30pm) we were interrupted in the living room by a little boy in tears saying, "I want to go home!" Poor wee fella.
I phoned his mum and because she was in bed already offered to drive him home. "Are you sure?" she asked. "No problem," I said, "I just want him to be happy." So in the car we hopped - me in my socks! - and I drove him the two minutes back to his house.
His mum met us outside the front of their house in her dressing gown and was extremely grateful. Little did she know that the entire time I was driving over there all I could think was how GREAT it was I could actually do this! I was mentally high-fiving myself all the way! Look at clever sober me driving the car at night - in the DARK!!
This simply wouldn’t have been possible in my former boozy life. Eight and a half years ago you’d likely find me on the sofa with at least a bottle of wine in my belly. No way would I have been able to drive.
Actually it’s more than that. There is also probably no way that I would have been so sympathetic to this little boy’s emotions. How could I have been? I was so completely cut off from my own emotions I didn’t have a lot of space inside me to accommodate other people’s.
I’m still fascinated by the fact that I had absolutely no idea I was an emotion avoider while I was boozing. I thought I was simply an ageing party girl who needed to break a nasty little drinking habit. It wasn’t until I took my beloved wine away and got so goddam emotional that I realised what my life-long drinking habit had done to me as a person.
Drinking steadily and heavily from age 15 to age 39 had left me with no real emotional coping skills. To put it bluntly I just wasn’t good at dealing with shit. After I got sober my anger would come out of me in intense outbursts. My sadness would overwhelm me. Low-grade stress would feel like a full-blown panic attack. Mild disappointment would hit like unbearable grief. I was an ill-formed toddler wrapped up in the (lumpy) body of a grown woman.
Only by living sober week after week and experiencing my emotions in all their raw glory have I gotten better at dealing with shit. But it has taken quite a while and a lot of practice. I’ve had to keep not drinking and allow myself the time and space to live and grow. I’ve had to experience, recover from and forgive myself for numerous anger outbursts, down days, and knee-jerk reactions. And slowly over time I've got better at navigating my reactions to life events. I’ve got better at being a fully-fledged, fully-emotional human being. I've calmed right down.
So, nowadays when I’m faced with a tearful 9-year-old wanting to return to his own bed, I’m not thinking; “how annoying, wish he could just suck this up and go to sleep, I don’t want to move, how am I going to deal with this?”. Instead I’m thinking, “Poor fella has had a lot of change in his life recently, his mum did tell me he’s been experiencing nightmares, he’s obviously feeling a little shaky emotionally, it’s probably embarrassing for him that he’s breaking down at his friend’s house, I’ll do what I can to make him feel ok and safe again.”
Getting sober has not only calmed me down and made me much more attuned to myself (such a great feeling!), it’s also freed me up to be more empathetic and considerate of other people’s feelings. I love this. It makes me feel so good.
So here I am driving at night, mentally high-fiving myself for being so present and reliable, feeling great that I am helping a fellow human (especially a young one navigating their way through childhood), and feeling proud of myself!! Such happy emotions! A real buzz.
The buzz continued when, safely back on my sofa again, I received a text from the boy’s mum which said “Thank you, that was above and beyond. xx”
I’m telling you, if you could bottle the buzzy, happy, proud, satisfied feeling I had in that moment and sell it, you’d make far more money than anyone peddling shit booze ever could.
Mrs D xxx