What If...? A Recovering Alcoholic Mother’s Lifelong Trial

by Kathleen Gemmell October 04, 2016

He was about an hour old when the ugly thought hit me: "I’m a mom! I have no idea how to do this! What if…”

Oh, I filled in those "what-ifs." What if I couldn’t feed him enough? What if I dropped him? What if I picked up a drink again?

They were horrible, nasty, frightening thoughts, oh yes. Maybe I had no right to be his mom? My Jordon was here, though and he was healthy. “Oh, Dear Lord, thank you for that.”

This day was blessed, I consoled myself. My little guy was fine and I had been sober 422 days. My husband was a wonderful man, and I watched as he swiped at a never-ending stream of tear drops. “He’s amazing," Keith choked out. “So truly incredible.”

Our pregnancy was planned and we had experienced the many joys of readying for Jordon’s physical comforts. More importantly, we were quasi-emotionally prepared for this biggest of challenges. I had read piles of books on parenting. It had gotten to the point where Keith had said, “You’ve got to be an expert by now!”

And Keith and I had long talks. We would never hit our child or demean his character. Time-outs seemed to be the most logical method for guidance and loads of kisses and cuddles would fill Jordon’s days. I even read chapters on how to introduce our little one to our Jack Russell Terrier, Devon. Of course, a healthy diet, an eminent pediatrician, and a sound education were also paramount.

I knew that I wouldn’t be – couldn’t be – a perfect mom, and I was okay with that. But, “What if…?”

Alcoholism had reared its ugly, grotesque head when I was a teen. Overweight with acne and a slight lazy eye, I found that awful liquid to be a soothing way to treat my self-loathing. I made a few friends when I started drinking – the kind of kids who thought that passing out in a puddle was hysterically funny.

My parents either didn’t see the negative changes in me, or didn’t want to see them. Arriving home late one evening, I stood on the porch rehearsing, “Hi, I’m going to bed,’ until I had convinced myself that I wouldn’t slur my drunken words when I went into my home and faced my mom and dad.

Keith was just one of my saviors. He was researching this alcoholic phenomenon for his Master’s degree by attending the meetings that were to become my solace. We introduced ourselves and over time felt that we were a match.

Diane and two other women had taken my soul by the hand and gently guided me to an understanding of the ins and, mostly outs, of this disease and the steps needed to survive. I will always treasure my Diane. I visit the site where she was laid to rest after the slip that brought her to drink and drive.

I understand, now, why I let this monster of an addiction in. I have a pretty good handle on its consequences. I can say with confidence that I never want to revisit that deep, dark hole. But, a child is now my responsibility and I agonized on that day as to whether or not I would be, could be, a decent mother to this wee one.

Jordon became my all-encompassing, happy and hectic life. I adored him and felt a love that I still cannot put into words. I read him, "Charlotte’s Web" while I breast fed, followed by several Dr. Seuss classics and my personal favorite, ‘The Wind in the Willows."

We strolled each day and I talked, a lot. I described the nature around us and told him about my childhood. (The carefree stories, only, of course.) I tickled his toes and sang Peter, Paul and Mary songs to him. Keith was absolutely the best Dad. I could never fault him in any way as he lived out the role of a father.

“But, what if…?” The thought haunted me. From time to time I would dream of being drunk while caring for my precious one. I reached out, often, to sober friends. I told them of the angst that I felt when that horrific thought arose. Keith was confident that I wouldn’t pick up. He felt confident that I had a handle on my addiction and also that motherhood suited me.

Jordon became an incredible toddler. He walked and spoke sentences ahead of time and could politely interrupt a conversation with, “Scuse me, please.” I told him that he was "a-door-bell" and he would giggle with delight after he understood the play on words. “Devon," his first word, was his snuggle partner, crumb picker-upper, and his parade buddy.

As time passed, I found my Big, Bad, Awful fear was lessening. Keith had a heart attack and we all survived. My parents passed away, as did Devon, while Jordon faced adolescence with humor and courage and a bit of a smart mouth thrown in for good measure.

When the time was right, I told Jordon about my struggles. He spent two days hugging the proverbial porcelain bowl after a binge during his high school years. I suppose there are just some lessons that only personal experience can teach. My heart ached for two months as I faced the Empty Nest Syndrome, and after an anxious start, my guy thrived at university.

Jordon is married now and on his last leg of a Master’s degree. His wife is a darling – bright, attractive and enamored with her beau. They live several states away which I can hardly tolerate, and my unhealthy fantasy of having a momma’s boy has blessedly not come to fruition. Jordon has successfully cut the umbilical cord.

I am so proud of that young man. And, come to think of it, I may just give myself a pat on the back.

Kathleen Gemmell


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