by Rachel Sarah
Seven months after giving birth to my daughter, her father walked out the door. Now that my daughter is nine, she has asked me a bit about her dad (although not as much as I’d anticipated). I’ve said: “He was so excited to be your father, but he wasn’t ready.” That’s not the whole truth now, is it?
When I met my daughter’s father, on an airplane, one of the first things I noticed about him was the smell of alcohol on his breath. To most women, that would have been a red flag. But I had this rescue complex (some call it “co-dependency”!) and thought I could handle people, even help them, especially men. Yes, your typical wounded-bird syndrome.
I haven’t written much about alcoholism and how it has affected my life, but over three years ago, for a guest blog in the Washington Post, I wrote about having a baby with an alcoholic.
In four hundred words for a guest post, you can’t get too deep. So I tried to keep it honest and concise: A year before I had my daughter, I knew that her father was bipolar – and an alcoholic. I also knew that I was co-dependent.
Readers came out in droves to respond. One guy said I was “irresponsible” for “getting pregnant by [your] bipolar, alcoholic boyfriend…” Another reader–”Been there”–added, “Here’s some advice that will benefit all readers. Don’t have sex with bipolar alcoholics. And if you do, and you end up pregnant, put the baby up for adoption.”
They didn’t stop there, and I probably should have gotten some support. What I did instead was this: I closed up. I stopped writing about alcoholism. I haven’t written more than a few lines about being with an alcoholic. Until now.
Why? Because as the years pass – and my daughter gets older — I get concerned. You see, I grew up in a family that kept secrets. Alcoholism runs deeply on my mother’s side. We laughed at the men in her family, and got embarrassed. But we didn’t really talk about it.
And now, as I said, my daughter is starting to ask.
So, tell me: how honest and open should I be with her about her father’s alcoholism? She’s going into fourth grade now. She’s smart, spunky, and sensitive. At a recent pediatrician appointment, her doctor talked to me about the fact that depression and alcoholism run in her genes.
So, if I don’t tell the truth, will I just be keeping secrets too? I take responsibility for my own addictions. I was obsessed with curing her father, and thinking that I could save him. But I’ve grown up, and moved on.
If I don’t come clean with my child, who will?
Rachel Sarah is the author of Single Mom Seeking: Play Dates, Blind Dates, and Other Dispatches from the Dating World (Seal Press) (www.singlemomseeking.com). She’s also the founder of one of the top blogs for single parents, Single Mom Seeking (www.singlemomseeking.com/blog).