Hazy, blurry confusion enveloped me like a wool sweater on a sweltering summer night. I felt a jarring impact on the right side of the 6,000-pound suburban mom-mobile, but muscle memory kept me driving, hands gripped tightly to the steering wheel. My pulse raced. My head throbbed. My mouth was dry, my eyes glassy. I remember thinking, ‘You’re okay, you just need to get home.” Trees and bushes whizzed by in a bouquet of various shades of green. From the back seat I heard the small voices of my four kids, though I couldn’t make out what they were saying.
“Shut up!” I barked. “I need to concentrate!”
Disoriented, I realized I was stopped at an intersection. A woman in a blue sedan in front of me was looking in her rearview mirror. She parked, exited her vehicle and began walking toward me. I gulped and thought, “I think I’m supposed to put my window down.” I groped around on the armrest clumsily and lowered the window. The driver didn’t actually approach me, she simply inspected her bumper quickly, looked at me and waved me on, as if whatever had just happened wasn’t worth doing anything about. I exhaled and wondered how long I had been holding my breath.
Proceeding forward, I used every ounce of concentration I could muster. Using their middle fingers, a few other motorists communicated their disapproval of my inebriated driving. Several horns blared as they sped past me, but I tried not to let the distractions break my fixation on arriving home safely. After all, I was a responsible mom who had her kids’ best interests at heart, clearly.
Fumbling around, my open hand engaged the coffee cup sitting in the console cup holder on a bed of receipts and gum wrappers. I raised the cup and shook it to gauge its contents. Nothing. I considered trying to reach behind me in an attempt to grab the plastic jug of cheap Popov vodka rolling around on the floorboards beneath my children’s tiny feet.
A stream of perspiration paraded down my spine like a string of pearls and pooled into my bra strap. My hands slid across the wheel in their own mess of sweat-challenged epidermis.
Through a foggy head, I began to get my bearings. I was on Gilcrest Avenue, the main artery through town. Minivans and SUVs were inching by me. I could just make out the profiles of shadowed drivers, some violently waving their hands, some holding their phones up.
Why were they staring at me? I wondered. How rude!
“I hate people,” I said out loud. In the background of my thoughts, I could hear my kids anxiously talking in raised tones from the back seat, my youngest daughter choking out a muted cry.
My rearview mirror displayed a Fourth of July-worthy display of red and blue lights flashing. Muddled as it was, my brain told my right foot to depress the brake pedal, which I did, with more force than I intended. Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe. I needed air. Shakily, I pressed the button to lower the driver’s window. My efforts to piece together what was occurring in real time were met with little success. Just then, a gust of wind rushed at me from the side, blowing my hair back. Discombobulated, it took a few seconds to discover I was staring at the silhouette of a backlit police officer.
Getting sober is messy. Life gets messy, we get it cleaned up and we eventually !nd dealing with the mess bit by bit is ultimately so much easier than half-assing it and stuffng it under the bed like I used to do.
We go through these siftings in life, and sometimes we are divinely given opportunities to remove the chunks—the undesirable, unwanted parts. When each sifting process is complete, we can take away what is beneficial and discard the rest. Ultimately, we can see that what remains had actually been there all along.
In the spring of 2020, I heard God the night I celebrated nine years of sobriety. The entire family was on quarantine lockdown at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was one of those magical nights that don’t come around very often, like Halley’s Comet of 1986, or some other genuinely rare occurrence. We looked like a flipping Hallmark movie at Christmas‐ time and I loved it. We made dinner together, smiling and laughing at inside jokes. Afterward, my husband and our four teenagers sat around the fire. They individually went around in the circle and told me how proud that I’ve been living as a sober mom and wife for all this time.
I couldn’t believe they were celebrating me. As if! No effing way. It is me who should have celebrated them. They are the ones who have proven over and over to possess unprecedented resilience and the ability to forgive. They’ve been more than an inspiration.
More than a goalpost for my sobriety, they have been the very heartbeat of new life. These are the same kids who were taken home by different friends whom they barely knew when I got too drunk at parties or gatherings to care for them. These are the kids who would be at Costco or a church event and take a big swig out of one of my water bottles expecting water, only to gag on a mouthful of vodka. These are the same kids I drove drunk, not just the one time I got that DUI, but routinely. The DUI is just when I got caught. The same kids whose pictures were on the cover of that D-ring binder containing the police report that my lawyer brought to every meeting and every courthouse appearance. Looking at it gave me chills. This same husband and kids flew down every single weekend to Orange County to visit me at rehab. Both times. These are the same kids who would send me letters and drawings to cheer me on and encourage me in those early days of sobriety when I was so uncomfortable in my own skin.
My eldest daughter told me, “Mom, I get my strength and my grit from you.” She explained how she wanted to get a tattoo of my sobriety date, to serve as a reminder that she can do anything without escaping and get through any challenge.
A month later, we went together and got that tattoo, and it looks more beautiful on her than I ever could have imagined.