I walk into a bar filled with high school friends on a weekend home for the holidays. People are loud and jovial and just warming up. A high school buddy whom I love dearly comes up to me and says, with a wicked smile on his face, “Is Frank the Tank going to show up tonight?.” At this point in my life I have graduated from college and married my high school sweetheart and gone off to earn a Masters degree in a different city. From the outside I may appear to have my shit together but on the inside I am falling apart and my friend’s innocent comment hits a nerve. The problem drinking of high school and college days has followed me into my adult life. Frank the Tank is still alive and well. I laugh off the comment and order a drink.
For those unfamiliar, “Frank the Tank” is a reference to Will Ferrell’s character in the movie Old School. Frank shows up at a house party intent on not drinking and ends up hitting a beer bong which leads to Frank streaking through quad of the local college… alone. Here is the dialogue.
College Student: Anyway, come hit this right here. You need to hit this.
Frank: No, I appreciate it, but I told my wife I wouldn’t drink tonight. Besides, I’ve got a big day tomorrow. But you guys have a great time.
College Student: A big day? Doing what?
Frank: Well, actually, pretty nice little Saturday. We’re going to Home Depot. Buying some wallpaper, maybe get some flooring. Stuff like that. Maybe Bed, Bath, & Beyond. I don’t know – I don’t know if we’ll have enough time.
You know what. Give me that thing. I’ll do one.
Students in unison: He’s gonna do one! He’s gonna do one! That’s a talented man right there.
Frank: That’s what I’m talking about. Fill it up again! God, that’s good. It’s so good! Once it hits your lips, it’s so good.
If you cannot tell from the dialogue, a middle-aged Frank is quickly swayed to change his plans and decides to have just one drink. Frank gets down on the ground to do a beer bong with a bunch of college kids. As soon as he finishes one, he stands up, claps his hands energetically and demands another. One sip of alcohol and it begins.
People who love me and desperately want me to be normal often ask, “why don’t you switch to water,” or “why not just have one or two and then stop.” Because I can’t. Believe me I have tried. I am Will Ferrell from Old School… except not as funny. Once alcohol touches my lips it is so good and everything else fades away. Everything authentically meaningful is gone and I’m in my own little world. I have no off switch. I just keep drinking until I “go to sleep” which is more accurately described as passing out. It’s hard to explain this to a non-alcoholic person.
My inability to stop drinking once I start coupled with complete emotional bankruptcy led me to stop drinking in 2006. I was sober for two years and they were two of the best years of my life. So good, in fact, that I was sure I wasn’t an alcoholic and could probably drink like normal people again. I was sure that Frank was long gone and in 2008 I tried controlled drinking. I found out very quickly that Frank was there the whole time, patiently waiting to return the minute I picked up a drink. It’s now 2011 and I am sober again.
In the three years I returned to drinking, I didn’t lose my job or house or husband or car. I didn’t try to kill myself or injure anyone else. Nothing really terrible happened externally but internally I was stuck. I was drowning in unhappiness and stagnation and becoming bitter about life and my relationships. The sick thing is that I was resigned to the fact that I would live a moderately dissatisfying life and keep alcohol as my constant companion. And then something happened.
I had a baby. Well, first I got pregnant. What a relief to not have to wrestle with drinking for 9 months. Then I had a baby and as soon as I started supplementing with formula at about 8 weeks postpartum, I was drinking with abandon. (Edit: when I wrote this in 2011, I didn’t tell the truth about how much I was drinking or that I drank while pregnant. I was so ashamed then. I’m not ashamed anymore because it is my truth and I hope other women can relate. I drank while pregnant and was drinking regularly within two weeks of delivering, sometimes breastfeeding while still intoxicated from hours before).
I was using my maternity leave to go on a bender. Waking up hungover. Waiting for her to go to sleep so I could get down to the business of drinking. Making sure my husband could carry her to bed or get up with her at night when I wanted to DRINK drink. The idea that the lubricant of alcohol makes life as a new Mom easier is a popular one. A glass of wine or beer with bath time and feeding and holding and playing and reading is nice. It takes the edge off. Five glasses of wine or ten beers… not so much.
I am so thankful that nothing happened to me or my baby when I was drinking on my maternity leave. I hit a bottom without anything really having to happen. I hit bottom when I realized I was opting for drinks instead of breastfeeding. I hit a bottom when I cringed at the sound of her crying in the morning because I was still hurting from the night before. I hit a bottom when I wanted to rush bedtime so I could pick up my drinking. After two months of somewhat heavy drinking, when I looked at her and hugged her and loved her, I felt like I couldn’t get close enough. Alcohol had created this wax paper film between us. I was doing all the things a mother does and I loved her absolutely but I was not present and I was not the mother she deserves. I am so grateful I am sober today.
I didn’t think Frank the Tank would follow me into the world of motherhood and parenting. But sure enough, there was Frank suggesting that a drink would be good at the end of a long day at home alone with an infant. That first drink was so good when it hit my lips and warmed up my body and relaxed my senses and made me playful with my baby girl. I didn’t allow myself to acknowledge that not only did alcohol numb my senses, alcohol numbed my experience of being a mother and my daughter’s experience of me. For the first months of my child’s life, Mommy was home but the lights were not on. Like I said, Frank the Tank is a terrible mother. I’m sorry Frank, but this is a final farewell.