Motherhood. We all have a vision in mind of what it’s supposed to look like: warm, nurturing, saccharine, even beatific. Even the messier versions we allow — frazzled new parent anxiety, daylight zombies — still position the mother as with-it and in control. But what about the mothers who are anything but in control? What about the mothers who have an addiction in control of them?
Jowita Bydlowska is the author of a searing memoir, Drunk Mom, about her 11-month relapse into alcoholism after her son’s birth. A sober alcoholic, Bydlowska toasted her son’s birth with a glass of champagne. Then she began drinking regularly in the overwhelming new days of parenthood. At first her relapse was easy to hide, especially home alone on maternity leave with a newborn. But soon, the addiction metastasized into full-blown alcoholism once again, causing her to make dangerous decisions about her own and her baby’s safety and shrouding her relationship with her baby’s father in lies. When she finally makes it to rehab, the reader is relieved everyone is still alive.
Drunk Mom, which will be published in America on May 27th, is a discomforting read. It’s bare-naked honesty about addiction and families will make a lot of people uncomfortable, especially those with idealized versions of what motherhood and womanhood “should” mean. It’s by far one of the best memoirs that I’ve ever read (and yes, I’m including Wild in that) both for it’s candor and bravery and for her narration. I understand addiction all the better with once-again-sober Jowita Bydlowska as the Charon to this Hades, our guide to the underworld.
I called Bydlowska in Canada where she lives with her now-five-year-old son.
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In high school, I fell for a guy named Opie. That was not his given name but a nickname he had acquired along the way. I would have asked from where it had come, but I never found the necessary strength to even talk to him, let alone inquire about the particulars of his life. I was a 16-year-old magenta-haired dork who hung around the art studios both before and after school. I was in no position to start conversations with Kurt Cobain look-a-likes who rocked the same greasy locks and dresses that only the ’90s permitted without too many batted eyelashes.
Opie embodied that “fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me” mentality that I craved in a partner. I longed for a tortured soul, someone who was messed up enough that only drugs and alcohol seemed like the cure for the ailments in their world. In my naïve brain, I was the one who could save them, me and only me. From what I heard, after he left school, Opie got a girl pregnant and had his fair share of struggles with substance abuse. As for where he is now, I have no idea. Like I said, it was the ’90s, heroin chic was in the air and in the pages of Vogue, drug use was glamorized, and in all my sheltered cluelessness about the world, a death that resulted from substance abuse was a badge of a life lived to the extreme. I roll my eyes now at how both ridiculous and insulting that thought is to those who know the very dark side of drug and alcohol addiction, both personally and as an outsider looking in at a loved one. Keep reading »
I’m not exactly surprised that rag like The New York Post would send a reporter to loiter outside of a 12-step meeting like Narcotics or Alcoholics Anonymous, in hopes of scoring some exclusive “scoop” on the passing of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. But I am repulsed by it. In an article in yesterday’s paper — which I am not linking to — reporter Reuven Fenton wrote about how, prior to his overdose from heroin on Sunday, Hoffman was known to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings at a location in the West Village in an effort to get and stay clean. But the Post also rather extensively quoted a man who met Hoffman in one of those meetings, who provided details about the actor’s participation in what is supposed to be an anonymous support group. Keep reading »
A quick note on anonymity. Support group meetings like these are anonymous. The stories told by others and their names are not to leave the room and therefore all references will be very vague and general, with only a specific focus on my takeaway as it pertains to my situation. I’m also not attempting to evangelize for the 12 Steps and, in fact, don’t even discuss the actual 12 steps in this essay. I’m simply sharing my thoughts on my experience with the group, which may or may not reflect others’ experiences with it.
I think the first 12 step meeting is probably a little awkward for everybody. It’s already some level of uncomfortable to talk in front of a group of strangers, but to do so about such personal issues? Really weird. But even if you’re used to talking about your problems and showing your emotions to others, be it friends or family or a therapist, a 12 step meeting is different, in that nobody responds. Nobody interrupts, nobody asks questions, nobody gives advice. They just sit and listen. Usually in life, when we share things about ourselves, we look for some kind of reaction or feedback, those remarks or gestures from others that ease the story along. During a 12 step meeting, one person shares at a time and everyone else just listens; when the share is over, its someone else’s turn and so on. The conversation happens through the interaction of those individual stories as they are heard, received and understood by everyone else in the room. Pause, and it’s quiet. Stays quiet, until you’re ready to continue or conclude. I’ve found those moments to be the most transformational.
I am not personally an addict. But other people’s addictions have been a constant presence in my life, in some way, since I was born. Yet, it wasn’t until a few months ago that I decided to attend my first 12 step meeting for family members and friends of addicts. Keep reading »