I Drank to Dull the Pain of Mommy Shame

The Best Kept SecretYou've heard the jokes. Maybe you've even made them. "These kids are going to drive me to drink!" It's said because, well, sometimes it's true. Sometimes you'd give anything to just settle down in a quiet corner with a glass of wine and not think about where the missing bunny slipper is or why there's green crayon smeared on the dining room wall.

Enter Amy Hatvany. She knows what it's like to drink to escape, to "quiet the wildly firing synapses in my brain and the intense stress of having two very high demand toddlers."


And now she's written Best Kept Secret, a novel that's both intense to read and intensely personal. It's a book about a mom who drinks, written to any mom who finds herself counting the hours until the socially acceptable 5 o'clock to grab the corkscrew. It's written by a mom who wants to save other moms from the feelings of inadequacy that invade.

It was painful for me to read because I've felt some days like I couldn't do anything right for my child, that as much as I wanted to be a parent, I just wasn't making out as well as I'd hoped. So I tracked Hatvany down to ask her how she could write a story as if she'd walked right into my house and plopped down on the couch to watch me. 

She agreed to share some of her story with The Stir to help other moms who are struggling. This is her story, in her own words:

Amy Hatvany

I began having a glass of wine after going through a painful, messy divorce. [My kids] were 2 and 3 years old at the time and what is kindly referred to as “spirited.” I had written a book that didn’t sell, so I ended up having to work full-time as a receptionist for $10 an hour to try and support them.

My drinking increased very, very gradually. At first, it was one glass a night – when that didn’t quite “relax” me, I’d pour a splash more. It snuck up on me so insidiously; I didn’t realize I was spiraling out of control. After about a year, when I couldn’t go a day without drinking, I knew I had a problem -- that I "needed" the wine instead of just wanting it.

I kept trying to think my way out of the problem -- if I only drink after the kids go to bed, then I’m not doing anything wrong. If I only drink three nights a week instead of five, then I’m managing it. But I wasn’t managing it. Despite all my “rules” around drinking, I found myself finishing off at least a bottle a night -- sometimes two, and sometimes I needed a drink in the morning to settle the shakes so I could function. If I stopped, if I tried to go a couple of days without it, I ached like I’d been beaten with a bag of stones. I was nauseous, my head pounded -- I was in dangerous physical withdrawal and didn’t know it. I just thought I was weak-willed and completely amoral for needing to drink.

Then came the night in November 2005 after a three-day drinking binge when I teetered on a precipice, unsure if my children wouldn’t just be better off without me. I was filled with such self-loathing, such disgust at what I’d become. I had a stare down with a bottle of pills and a glass of Spanish Merlot, and came terrifyingly close to leaping off that edge. As I counted those pills, it was a moment of grace that saved me -- a friend who called and asked what I was doing. For whatever reason, I told her the truth.

I got help, and I’ve been sober almost 6 years now. My life has truly transformed. I work at my recovery not just for me, but for my children, who don't remember much of my drinking, thank God. But if memories are etched somewhere on their beautiful souls, I’m certain that seeing me get and stay sober -- physically and emotionally -- will have a longer lasting, more permanent effect.

I think as women in our culture -- whether or not we are mothers -- we are certainly driven by perfectionism. We are told we can do it all, be it all, have it all. Of course, we can’t -- at least, not “perfectly” -- so I wanted to portray how as a result, many women experience profound levels of shame and self-loathing, even as we smile brightly and tell ourselves that we can’t expect to always be perfect at everything in our lives.

But deep down, perhaps subconsciously, I think we still believe that we “should” be. So we reach for behaviors that drown our shame out, at least temporarily. And then we become ashamed of the behavior, and a vicious cycle emerges. I’m not just talking about alcohol, here. Eating disorders, shopping, gambling, sex -- even our careers can serve as an “escape” from the pressure.

I wanted to pose the question in the reader’s mind -- is the addiction the problem, or is it the root cause? Meaning, of course, the social expectations for women to do everything and do it well. We’re told we can find balance with a great career and amazing family, but I don’t know one of my girlfriends who doesn't struggle on a daily basis with feelings of inadequacy.

Do you struggle with feeling inadequate as a parent? Did Amy's story reach out and touch you?

Images via Amy Hatvany

Disclosure: I received an advanced readers copy of Best Kept Secret to facilitate this interview. All opinions expressed are my own.

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