Below is an excerpt from Jowita Bydlowska’s memoir, DRUNK MOM. While at first, I found the book unsettling for its close-up perspective of a woman as she hits rock bottom, as I continued to read, I began to appreciate and admire her raw honesty. Don’t let the book’s title fool you. In The New York Times, Bunmi Laditan writes: While the title suggests a simple autobiographical autopsy of motherhood marred by alcoholism, Bydlowska’s memoir delivers far more—a human portrait of the disease.”
Bydlowska, who was born in Warsaw, Poland, moved to Canada as a teenager, and now lives in Toronto with her family.
Oh, in case you’re wondering: I’m not a cocaine addict. I prefer to drink.
You found me in the middle of my story and I happened to have just found a baggie of cocaine in that bathroom.
But honestly, I prefer drinking.
I prefer drinking to anything in the world: sex, food, sleep. My child, my lover, anything.
I love to drink. Sometimes I think: No, I am drink.
It’s like my blood. Even before I get it, I can feel it in my veins. I’m not being poetic—
I can actually feel it in my veins.
It’s gold. It’s like little zaps of gold going through me, charging me, starting me up.
When I drink, I fill with real gold and become god-like.
So I’m not a cocaine addict. I’m a drunk.
I had been a drunk for a long time. I stopped drinking for a time, and then I started again.
I believe that you’re never cured of alcoholism. I use the word cure but it is not strictly a disease. Go to any AA meeting, watch or read anything about addiction, and sooner or later you will hear the word “disease.” But it is not a disease. Disease implies you can maybe cure it. In my opinion it’s closer to a condition or, perhaps, a habit you can’t unlearn completely once you stop it. Even if dormant, it is ingrained in you.
For example, my first language is Polish. I don’t use it often yet I will never unlearn it. When needed, I can speak it fluently, just like that.
I’m always going to be a speaker of the language of alcoholism too—if I relapse, picking up right where I left off, catching up to my last number of drinks with an extra drink to top it off, my vocabulary expanding.
People also tend to mistake alcoholism for drinking: “I’m going to slow down. Cut down on my drinking.” Okay. You do that. But if you’re an alcoholic, you can’t do just that. Alcoholism is not drinking, just like hemophilia is not bleeding. You can’t slow down, cut down on your alcoholism. You can’t unlearn its language. You can stop using it and forget some of the words, but you still know it. With drinking too, you can stop drinking and hope it’ll stay stopped. Alcoholism is a habit, a permanent condition of having the habit— like this wanting is, at least in my case. Sometimes the wanting gets too strong and I run. I run with it, run so fast I’m out
of breath, and then run even faster.
I relapsed when the wanting got particularly strong. To relapse means to “suffer deterioration after a period of improvement.”
There was a period of improvement when I became sober for the first time, at the age of twenty- seven. But before that, I was the kind of drunk girl who ran so fast with it, drinking, she could never catch her breath.
I was the girl who danced barefoot on tables or sometimes fell asleep with her shoes on, or sometimes lost a job or a relationship. I was the type of tragic girl that boys would try to fix, or try to drink with although only until they’d had enough, and there I would be, moving apartments yet again only to move in with another boyfriend who claimed he’d be better at fixing me.
I always had three drinks to your one, I always prepared for a night out with a bottle of wine, always opened another beer at 4 a.m., after coming home after a night of partying.
But it’s easy to hide your drinking in your twenties, when many of your peers seem to be bent on oblivion too, when comparing hangovers is par for the course. Except that I kept quiet when people discussed having blacked out as if it was something unusual. It happened
to me all the time. And I too shook my head in disbelief when a friend would do something silly while intoxicated— steal a garden gnome, climb on a roof, make out with not-his-girlfriend.
Look at that guy! Guy, you really need to cut down on your drinking!
Me? You couldn’t catch me. I juggled friends and environments. Except for those poor boyfriends, there weren’t that many people who witnessed my demise. It’s easy to flit from party to party, from event to event when you’re full of life in your twenties. It’s easy to drink in your room before you go out to flit—the people you keep around you in your twenties are new to it all. They are new to friends drinking in their rooms or friends in Emergency because of alcohol poisoning. And they are flitters as well; we all flit, trying to catch up with each other and outflit each other too.
The ones who drink a little harder can even make fun of themselves with typical youthful bravado. I remember sitting with a heavy-drinking friend and joking that once we reached twenty-five, we’d definitely have to go to Alcoholics Anonymous because this was just ridiculous, how drunk we were getting all the time.
She stumbled home, and I opened a third bottle of wine and wrote about that in my journal, or tried to write. Mostly I just scribbled. Go to AA when you 25 stupid bitch.
I went to AA when I was twenty-seven. At that point, I had lost another relationship and a job that I’d gotten freshly out of grad school. My roommates were planning to kick me out. As they say in AA, “AA was the last house on the street.” There were no other options.
I stayed in AA for three and a half years. I stayed sober.
But now I’m not.
I don’t know why. Or I know why and I don’t have the time to go over it right now. Or there are too many whys to consider. Or who really cares why?
The point is, I really, really need a drink.
From Drunk Mom: A Memoir by Jowita Bydlowska. Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Jowita Bydlowska, 2014.