An Excerpt From “Drunk Mom: A Memoir” by Jowita Bydlowska


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’ve relapsed.

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.




Do We Need to Talk?

drinking talkby Meg Akabas

Did I have the “drinking” talk with my kids?  No, I did not.

You may find that shocking since I am a mother of four and a parenting consultant. Let me explain.

If we had sat down and talked to our kids when they were age 14 (or 13, or 16) about drinking responsibly, I’m convinced that it wouldn’t have done a bit of good.

As with any other topic, if you wait to talk to your kids about something until they are grown, it’s really too late.

Teaching our children about restraint has been a cornerstone of our parenting philosophy since day one. Research shows that fostering self-discipline in age-appropriate ways early and often is the best way to end up with kids (and ultimately grown-ups) who can control their impulses. And, studies show that teaching children self-discipline generally produces better-behaved and more successful kids.

Babies are not born with self-control; cognitive scientists say that practicing restraint from a young age can significantly improve a person’s ability to curb impulses later in life. My husband and I guided this process, giving our children opportunities to develop self-control by having them experience waiting, sharing, and not always getting everything they wanted (yes, disappointment is OK!).

For example, you could foster restraint using our method of resisting demands for toys and other things by creating a gift list for each of your kids.  When your children see something they want, tell them that you will put it on the list of potential gifts for his or her next birthday or for holiday (whichever is coming up sooner).  When you return home, in fact, write the item on his/her gift list.  The list will satisfy their immediate craving. Then, when birthdays and holidays roll around, they will know what to request from grandparents and other relatives when asked what they want.

However, we found with our kids that often, well before the gift-giving occasion did roll around, even on occasion by the next time we looked at the list to add a suggestion, more than half of the items on the list were already out of favor!  The kids could actually see on their own how much their wants were mere whims that changed even before the item could be acquired. This delayed gift plan was one of many strategies we used to foster self-control in our children.

We also tried our best to be models of restraint and moderation ourselves by keeping an appropriate voice volume, choosing our words carefully, conserving materials, exercising, eating well, and being frugal. (I know – it sounds demanding…it is.)  Even though my husband and I are far from perfect, it seems to have made an impression on our kids, who all appear to be quite self-disciplined as teenagers and young adults.

So, instead of the “drinking talk,” we’ve had discussions (not lectures) about restraint in general on an ongoing basis. We’ve helped our kids to develop self-control in all aspects of life, and made our best effort to model moderation ourselves.  All this superseded the need for a discussion about drinking.

Don’t get me wrong; I distinctly remember telling my kids somewhere along the way about the health benefits and risks of drinking, the absolute, hands-down, non-negotiable rule of never getting into a car with someone behind the wheel who has been drinking, and the dangers of excessive drinking (sometimes fatal) associated with hazing. But, these were discussions that came up at various critical times and special situations (before prom night, before leaving for college) as a reminder of what we had already taught them.

“Everything in moderation” is what we have instilled in our children. And, that goes for alcohol as well. It has worked for us for two reasons: the fact that my children have grown up in New York City and don’t drive is a salient factor. The other factor is that there is no history of alcoholism or any sort of addictive behavior in either my family or my husband’s.  So, for us, moderation has been a strong enough warning. Other parents would need to alter their message to suit their particular situation.

Nevertheless, as a parenting skills educator, my advice to other parents is that your attitude and approach to teaching your kids about drinking should be the same as all other things you teach your children. In short, you must start young and it should be a part of overall values you instill in your children. My point is that a “talk” just isn’t going to cut it as they head off to their first party.

What is my own relationship to drinking?  I have a glass of wine at the very end of most days for enjoyment and as a health measure (though the jury is still out on this one). I admit — wine and cheese are actually my two favorite food indulgences (even over chocolate)! Sure, there are times when I have to resist a second or third glass of wine (or piece of cheese); at those times, a little voice thankfully reminds me what I’ve hammered into my kids — you know — restraint….

Meg Akabas is the founder of New York City-based Parenting Solutions, a consultancy designed to help parents discover the joy in parenting, and the author of 52 Weeks of Parenting Wisdom: Effective Strategies for Raising Happy, Responsible Kids.   She regularly provides one-on-one consultations and leads workshops for parents and teachers on infancy through pre-adolescence.   

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Interview with Chloe Caldwell, Author of The Essay Collection, “Legs Get Led Astray”

Each week, we post short interviews with interesting people about their thoughts and feelings on women and drinking. There is such a wide array of perspectives about this topic, and we are excited to gain insight into as many as possible and to share them with you. 

Chloe Caldwell is the author of the essay collection, Legs Get Led AstrayHer non-fiction has appeared in The Rumpus, Nylon Magazine, The Nervous Breakdown, Chronogram, The Frisky, The Sun Magazine, SMITH Magazine, Jewcy, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, Vol 1. Brooklyn, Freerange Nonfiction and The Faster Times.She is the founder and curator of the Hudson River Loft Reading Series and has taught Creative Writing workshops at Omega Teen Camp, The Hudson Opera House, and Crow Arts Manor. Chloe splits her time living in upstate New York and Portland, Oregon.

 Drinking Diaries: How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it?

Chloe Caldwell: I tried sips of my dad’s beer as a kid, I’m pretty sure. Maybe around age nine. When I was twelve-ish, I had a bunch of girlfriends sleep over and we snuck into the pantry and drank some disgusting expired spirits. Or maybe we were just drinking balsamic vinegar.

How did/does your family treat drinking?

My parents both drink, but we never had an alcoholism problem in our family. Sometimes my dad will drink a beer with dinner, sometimes he won’t. My mom likes her red wine and nothing else. There’s always a decent amount of alcohol at family gatherings.

How do you approach alcohol in your every day life?

I try to be smart. I’ll ask myself if I really feel like drinking. This is new for me. I used to just drink more than I should. My eyes were bigger than my stomach. I’m trying to be more mindful in everything I do–drinking and eating, especially.

Have you ever had a phase in your life when you drank more or less?

I drank the most when I was twenty-one through twenty-three. It’s when I was living in New York City, and I was drinking something of a disgusting amount of mixed drinks most days and nights.

What’s your drink of choice? Why?

Red wine. It relaxes me. Holy shit, I sound exactly like my mom.

Can you tell us about the best time you ever had drinking?

I’ve had lots of good times drinking. But in truth, I think the best time drinking I’ve ever had was in high school. My senior class was really tight and on Friday and Saturday nights we’d always go to a  boy named Lars’s barn, to hang out. The barn was empty except for a large mirror covering one wall. We danced for hours to Kanye West and Eminem and R.Kelly and drank Budweiser and Coors Lite.

What about the worst time?

Any time I cry in public or act like an aggressive douche-bag.

Do you have a favorite book, song, or movie about drinking?

I would like to read Are You There Vodka? It’s me Chelsea. I like when Elliott Smith sings, “With an open container from Seven Eleven…” and when Connor Oberst sings, “Cause there’s this switch that gets hit and it all stops making sense and in the middle of drinks maybe the fifth or sixth, I’m completely alone at a table of friends…I feel nothing for them, I feel nothing, nothing.” And Hush Arbors have a song where they sing, “There’s whiskey in that bottle and blood on the floor..”

What do you like most about drinking?

That it changes me.

Why do, or don’t you, choose to drink?

I think any time we use a substance, be it coffee, alcohol, or drugs, it’s to escape ourselves a little bit. Like in The Lemonheads song “Drug Buddy” he sings, “I’m too much with myself, I wanna be someone else.”


Latest Study Reports Some Drinking During Pregnancy May Be Okay

When I was pregnant with each of my three children, I did not drink any alcohol during my first trimester. The first twelve weeks of the baby’s development were the most crucial I learned, and I wasn’t going to jeopardize that. But my doctor told me it was okay to drink a small amount of wine thereafter, so I gingerly sipped an occasional glass of wine without worry. I know that many people refuse to take even a sip of alcohol during those nine long months. But that wasn’t me. And it wasn’t one of the essayists in our forthcoming anthology, Drinking Diaries: Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up (Seal Press, Sept 2012), who wrote how her British obstetrician recognized the all-or-nothing American attitude and was quite comfortable with her patients drinking every once in a while.

Now, the pregnant women of the world who’d like to have a guilt-free, occasional glass of wine can perhaps do so (emphasis on perhaps). The results of a series of research studies from Denmark, published in the BJOG Journal, suggest that “low to moderate weekly drinking in early pregnancy  had no significant effect on neurodevelopment of children up to five years, nor did binge drinking.”

The study focused on children’s intelligence and found no differences in test performance between the children whose mothers consumed up to 8 drinks a week during pregnancy, compared to children whose mothers did not drink any alcohol. There was, however, one result that surfaced associating a lower attention span in five year old children whose mother drank more than 9 drinks per week. These children were also found to be at a risk nearly five times higher of having a low IQ compared to children of nondrinkers.

The research was drawn from 1,628 Danish women and their children–almost a third of all Danish women who were pregnant during the span of years from 1997 to 2003. The average age of the women was 31; fifty percent were first-time mothers; 12 percent were single; and 31 percent said they smoked during their pregnancy. In all of the studies, the researchers controlled for a variety of factors that may potentially affect a child’s brain development, such as maternal intelligence and smoking.

An important point to note–and highlighted in the journal article–is that a drink in these studies is defined by the the Danish National Board of Health and is equal to 12 grams of pure alcohol. The amount of alcohol in a drink can vary greatly from country to country, however, and in the United States there are 14 grams of pure alcohol in a standard drink. This is the equivalent of a 12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or a 1.5 ounce shot of hard liquor, according to Rethinking Drinking, a website covering alcohol and health.

In a statement, the study’s authors said, “Our findings show that low to moderate drinking is not associated with adverse effects on the children aged 5. However, despite these findings, additional large scale studies should be undertaken to further investigate the possible effects.”

Though some women may feel relieved to learn about the latest study results, it is unlikely the new information will quell the controversy surrounding drinking during pregnancy, as many doctors continue to warn against potential disorders that the study may not have considered. “I would still caution women about drinking during their pregnancies,” Dr. Jennifer Wu, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told HealthDay. “There may be subtle neurobehavioral changes that were not picked up in the study.”

“Although it’s still best for pregnant women to avoid alcohol, these results suggest that small amounts may not be a serious concern,” said HealthDay. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still urge women not to drink at any time while pregnant, says Dr. Jacquelyn Betrand, who represents the CDC and served as co-author of three of the studies: “This study doesn’t change our recommendation.”

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Will My Kid Be an Underage Drinker because of Ads on TV?

My 11-year-old son watches a ton of sports on television. Weekday evenings (after his homework is done, of course) and weekend afternoons are often spent surfing from basketball to baseball and back again. If there’s a tennis match or horse racing on, he may watch that too. With all the game and tournament coverage, however, come a constant stream of commercials—a great number of which are for the likes of an ice cold Bud, Michelob, or Coors Light.

So do watching, singing along with and remembering these frequent beer and booze advertisements mean he is more likely to drink alcohol as an adolescent? Apparently, yes, that’s a distinct possibility, according to a new study reported in Science Daily.

In the study, conducted at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, researchers questioned more than 2,500 young people ranging from 15 to 20 years old about their exposure to alcohol, if they had a favorite alcohol ad, and if they owned alcohol-branded merchandise, among other behaviors.

After being shown 20 images from the most popular TV ads for alcohol, with the brand names removed, the participants were then asked if they remembered the ads, liked the ads and knew about the products being advertised.

The results showed that 59 percent of underage kids drank alcohol. Of those who drank, 49 percent had engaged in binge drinking (had more than six drinks in a row) at least once the previous year. Familiarity with TV alcohol advertising was much higher among the drinkers than nondrinkers, and having alcohol-branded merchandise or having a favorite alcohol ad was linked to more hazardous drinking.

“Underage drinking remains an important health risk in the U.S.,” said lead author Susanne E. Tanski, MD, MPH, FAAP, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. “In this study, we have shown a link between recognition of nationally televised alcohol advertisements and underage drinking initiation and heavier use patterns.”

I have to admit, I’ve never paid much attention to the product when my son calls me over to watch his favorite commercial of-the-moment. It’s usually the witty tune or humor that he’s urging me to notice. But after learning about this study and its results, I may encourage him to take a bathroom break or go grab a snack when the game on the screen is interrupted for a commercial break.

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