PHOTO Witthaya Phonsawat
“My life looks perfect on the outside. I have a great husband, an adorable four-year-old daughter, friends and a job that pays well. But deep inside, I’m still coming to terms with my mum’s death 16 years ago, a miscarriage I had two years before my daughter was born, and my high pressure sales job.
For five years, I’ve used alcohol to cope with my darkest feelings. I drink a lot – as many as four or five drinks, five days a week. I hide it from my family and colleagues.
Never the drinking type
In university, while my friends chugged beer, I sipped fruit juice. Throughout my 20s and early-30s, I only ever had a few beers.
But in 2008, I began drinking in earnest with my colleagues after work, while trying to accept that I’d had a miscarriage the year before. I was three months pregnant when I lost the baby and I was beside myself with grief. My husband Paul* was also devastated, but he seemed to get over our loss faster.
Every time I tried to talk to him about it, he’d say: ‘We have to accept that the baby is gone, we must be strong and soldier on.’ He’s a good husband, but I didn’t feel his support during this time. Drinking with my co-workers helped. Not to mention, the bar outings were bonding sessions where we could let our hair down and confide our work problems in one another.
Our booze-fuelled outings increased to twice or thrice a week. I started on gin tonics and light beers, and progressed to wine and strong cocktails. Drinking helped me to go home feeling on top of
the world – I always slept easily on those nights. And that was the beginning of my alcohol addiction.
I drink at work
I’ve never gone to work drunk, but I have a brandy-spiked coffee in the morning – I like the buzz I get from it. I make it a point to not drink before meetings with my clients and staff, and I always have mouthwash and mints on hand to mask the smell of alcohol on my breath.
At the office, I wait until everyone has left for the day before drinking my booze out of a coffee cup while finishing up my work. After that, I guzzle cups of strong coffee, wash my face, brush my teeth and reapply my makeup. When I get home, I’m still buzzing from the alcohol, but I look as fresh as a daisy.
Once, my boss spotted five bottles of wine under my desk and asked about them. I lied that they were gifts for a client. ‘Are you sure you’re not having some secret drinking party after we’ve all gone home?’ he joked. I laughed right back with him.
I feel like a horrible mother
Two years after my miscarriage, I got pregnant again. I had no problem stopping my drinking during the pregnancy, but not long after my daughter was born, I had strong cravings for beer – and I’m ashamed to confess that I gave in to them. I was breastfeeding at that time but I would buy cans of beer and hide them in my closet. I rationalised: A couple of beers every now and then wouldn’t hurt. If Paul had known I was endangering our baby’s health that way, he would have come down hard on me. So I only drank when he wasn’t at home.
Now, on weekends, I sometimes go to happy hour evenings alone after shopping. When I get home, I’m so high that I avoid being around my daughter as I’m afraid I’ll throw up on her, or lose my temper in front of her, because I get hypersensitive when I’ve had a bit to drink.
To be honest, I feel ashamed to be around her when I’m drunk. I feel like a horrible mother.
It’s hard to say this, but my daughter is part of the reason I drink. Being a working mum isn’t easy. I love my child, but sometimes I don’t know how to be a mother. I feel like I’m not good enough or that I should be doing more.
Once, when I was a little high while on the sofa with my daughter, my mum-in-law chided me for not paying enough attention to my kid. She said that I seemed far away, staring into space. She was right. I was hung over. All I wanted to do was crawl into bed and sleep.
Still grieving for Mum
Although it’s been 16 years since my mum passed away, drinking helps numb the sadness I feel when I think of her. She died of a heart attack when she was 49, and her sudden death turned my 22-year-old world upside-down.
A few months ago, on Mum’s death anniversary, I downed a bottle of wine at the office after everyone had left – in an hour. I cried in the taxi on the way home, and when
I got back, I threw up in the toilet.
When Paul asked me if I was drunk, I denied it. Looking at him with puffy eyes, I told him that I’d been crying because I was missing my mum. Then I showered and fell asleep, sobbing in his arms.
Afraid I’ll come undone
I’ve become an expert at hiding my alcoholism from Paul and his mum, who helps to look after our daughter. I never drink in front of them. Even when we have a night out with friends, or are at a family celebration, I don’t touch alcohol – I can’t stop once I get started.
Right now, things are still under control, as my drinking hasn’t disrupted my life. I can still work, and I haven’t reached the point where I’ve isolated myself to be alone with my alcohol.
But I’m afraid of ending up that way. Drinking is the only way I know of to temporarily numb the pain of missing my mum, and ease my work and parenting stress. I love my hubby and daughter, but sometimes I feel that even they are not enough to make me feel whole again.
I often worry that someone will walk by my office one night and catch me knocking back an entire bottle of wine. I worry, too, about the long-term effects of alcohol on my health, and I’m terrified that I’ll come home drunk one day.
I’m worried about how Paul would react if he found out. I’m worried that he’ll visit me at work one night and find me drinking at my desk. I’m worried about him finding the cans of beer I hide in my closet. Thinking about all the what-ifs drives me crazy.
I need a new start
I’ve considered seeing a counsellor to help me cope with my emotions. But what can she say to get my mum and unborn baby back or to help me get over the guilt, stress and emptiness?
I get scared when I think of giving up alcohol completely. Paul and I have been thinking about having another baby, but that would mean quitting drinking for a long time. What if I slip back into it while I’m pregnant? I’d never forgive myself if I miscarried again.
There’s no one I can share this burden with. I know it’s up to me to find a way out of it. For now, all I can say is that I will get help when I’m ready.”
*Names have been changed
This article was originally published in Simply Her May 2013.