Oh sweet mother of all that is holy – my teenager sure does know how to push my buttons! My normally very charming boy sometimes shows flashes of Teenage Attitude Extraordinaire and I find it almost impossible not to rise to it. Annoyingly I don’t drive a Mustang so when I wanted to rev to underline my frustration as I took him to school this morning after the orthodontist’s appointment, all I achieved was making my beaten up old Mini cough a little and nearly broke down. Seems it’s not the kind of car you put the pedal to the floor in for effect. Oh, and much to my sulky teenager’s great delight of course. When Bambino glanced at me sideways with eyes that glittered and a gleeful smile across his face, I couldn’t help but smile too. But OH LORDY does he know how to wind me up.
It’s a tricky one to talk about with Bambino himself, because any time I have tried to bring it up he has shut me down – I’d really love to get his perspective on how he perceives his new sober mother compared with the old, messy drunken one. The time I tried to express that I’m trying my best with this sober thing and that I’m sorry for hurting him, he quickly told me “you weren’t that bad” and hugged me, immediately adding “can you close the door please” as a signal that enough of that and please leave the room so he could go back to his PS4. My alkie brain loooooves this and wants to believe it wasn’t that bad, not only so I can avoid feeling bad but probably also to lay the foundations for convincing me to drink again. Well, guys and dolls, I’m not having THAT. Whatever Bambino says by way of my drinking, he says to reassure me. Children are loyal creatures who will avoid hurting us even when we’ve been complete shit bags. I mean, you hear stories of kids who testify in court and DEFEND their parents even when they’ve suffered all sorts of abuse at the hands of the people who should protect, love and care for them. So there is no doubt in my mind that when Bambino tells me I wasn’t “that bad”, it’s something he says because he doesn’t want me to feel bad. Did how HE felt ever stop me from filling up that wine glass? Makes you sick to the stomach, doesn’t it? Hey, that’s addiction.
I’m not trying to beat myself up here, I’m really not. Nor am I looking for anyone to reassure me that I’m not completely awful. I know my drinking was bad and I know it’s great that I’m now sober. To my mind it’s pretty clear: my drinking hurt my child, end of story. What the lasting scars are I simply don’t know. I also know that he can now see his mother make changes and be sober and I hope this shows him that I’m more than a drunken wreck. I hope this shows him his mother is also a strong woman who dared stare down her demons, even if it took her a long time to build up the strength and courage. So what’s clear to my mind is that on the one hand I fucked up massively by drinking but that I’m trying to put things right. There is so much to say and so much to atone for, but it struck me just as I was biting my tongue to stop me from effing and blinding so hard that I thought I was going to mutilate myself this morning how this particular scenario would have played out had I still been drinking.
The scenario? Bambino needs braces. He has been cursed with his mother’s teeth, meaning it looks like God was in a rush, grabbed a handful of teeth and just threw them in there because Bambino was his last appointment that day and he just wanted to get home. Too many of them so some need to be pulled and the ones staying put need to be adjusted. On the NHS (the UK’s National Health Service) this is free as Bambino is under 18 and in full time education, but it also means going on the waiting list and the braces won’t go on until May-ish next year. They have to stay on for about 18 months and this means they’ll come off around the time Bambino turns 16. Privately (and self funded) it’d mean a swift appointment with his dentist to agree the gnashers to be pulled and then be fitted with a mouthful of metal in time for Christmas and have a perfect Hollywood smile in time for Beach 2020. Avoiding a 6-month delay also means shelling out £3,000.
We’re not on the bread line but even if I were a millionaire I wouldn’t agree to this – it’s ridiculous. £3,000 to jump the queue? No chance in hell. If it was a case of this being the cost for something Bambino needs and there was no NHS free treatment option, I’d find a way even if it was a payment plan to pay it in instalments, but to pay for no other reason than to cut the process by a few months? As if. However, to Bambino, having to wait means the end of the world and a catastrophe akin to losing Instagram. Life just wouldn’t be worth living. So when I didn’t agree to private dental care and preferential treatment, Bambino turned into the Antichrist and was so rude, cheeky and horrible it took all I had to stop myself from putting him over my lap. Bambino is nearly as tall as I am and much stronger, but I was angry enough to have given it a good shot to put my teenage son across my lap and whacked him on the bottom.
Bottom line is I calmly asked him to work out where money comes from. When he asked for money for his gym pass I told him I’d give this to him as soon as he dropped the attitude. The attitude did not change so the only thing that got dropped was thunder cloud Bambino at school without money for the gym. I didn’t raise my voice and I didn’t lose my shit. Nor did I back down or pander to Bambino out of guilt. This is the beauty of being Sober Me – guilt is no longer my constant companion and I can tell my child no without feeling rotten.
And so what if I’d still been drinking? Well, well, well…. As with everything else, this would have meant stress I’d need to eliminate QUICKLY. When you’re spending your days in a hell consisting of heart palpitations, extreme anxiety and feeling unsteady, the smallest mishap can cause enormous amounts of stress. For me it meant that I’d pay or bribe my way out of any sort of friction. It would simply be too difficult for me to deal with, the stress would be unbearable so if I hadn’t had £3,000 knocking around at the bottom of my handbag I probably would have tried to bribe him in some way to just shut the hell up. Or rather, lose my rag completely over his stinking attitude, blurt out a bunch of stuff I’d immediately regret and THEN try to over indulge his every whim to make up for my bad temper. My whole parenting approach was a never ending cycle of blow-ups and the subsequent smoothing over. Because obviously I was mostly in one of two states: drunk or hungover. The non-drunk and non-hungover mum was a rare phenomenon unfortunately. So hungover mum would blow up over nothing, be bad tempered and fiery. Drunk mum would just agree to everything to make it go away so she could get on with drinking. In amongst all of that, both drunk mum and hungover mum would always feel guilty and over compensate either way. Imagine the confusion for the child. Eek.
So it’s probably a bit of an adjustment for Bambino to be faced with Sober Me. Especially now that I’m Sober Me all the time. This is a change for a child who probably learned to stay out of hungover mum’s way and then manipulate and fool drunk mum as much as possible. I can bet you my bottom dollar though, that no matter how many more NOs he’s now getting, he much prefers a mother who is present, rational, calm and MOST OF ALL SOBER, even if she’s a pain in the ass.
And do I feel stressed still? Nope. I felt irritated and angry when I drove to work after dropping Bambino at school. Then I texted him to reiterate I find his attitude unacceptable and I’ll see him this evening along with what time I want him home if he heads out for a while with friends. A cup of coffee later I’m calm as anything, will stand my ground if Bambino throws another strop at having to be on a waiting list and that’s that. No big deal and certainly nothing I can’t handle. Sober Me is pretty awesome like that – she can handle stuff, even big stuff!
Drunk Me would have got into the wine as soon as I get home from work. Then a couple of glasses in, the guilt at my morning outburst would set in and Bambino would get a bunch of YESs out of me. And round and round we go.
What’s your experience? I don’t think we need to ponder whether we’re better parents when we’re sober, but what do you look back on now? What are the biggest changes?
Today I’m not going to drink.