I quit drinking alcohol at 26 when I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which is essentially like having mono for the rest of your life. Nary a drop touched my lips for years, not even for a toast. I’m sure I was a real drag at parties. My friends would kind of cock their heads to one side and say, “You sure you won’t have a drink. A small one won’t kill you.” They were probably thinking, “Gee, you used to be so fun when you drank…”
I started drinking again six years into being a single mother, roughly fifteen years after abstaining. Now mind you, I was never an alcoholic, nor am I one now. But the need to escape every once in a while is there, raging like an eighteen-year-old boy’s hormones. Thankfully I am able to temper it. If I weren’t able to I probably would be a full-fledged alcoholic, periodically falling into the pool in my complex, or an emaciated meth head (one of the many in San Bernardino County where I live), or a pill-popper, riffling through my friends’ cabinets for their children’s ADHD medication. Why? Because being a single mother often sucks and there are days when that reality is too painful.
Eight years ago, my ex left me. Suddenly, I had to care for a one-year-old all by myself. It was like realizing you’re having fifty people over for Thanksgiving and there’s no one to do the cooking but you. My married friends would say to me in awe, “I don’t know how you do it. My husband goes away for two days and I feel like I’m going to have a nervous breakdown.”
“It’s the meds,” I’d tell them only partly joking. Then I’d say more seriously, “I have no choice. You do what you have to do.”
I mean, what were my options? Leave my son in a basket on a stranger’s porch? Abandon him in the woods to be raised by wolves? Or worse, let him be brought up by my Type A, career-obsessed, only money will make you happy, and you’d better not show any weakness or else you’re a weenie father?
So I made the best life I could for my now nine-year-old son. My ex is on an “extended vacation” and essentially out of the picture. My mother lives 3000 miles away, and my father, who lives a mere 4 miles away no longer speaks to me.
We are, my son and I, essentially alone. In the suburbs, single parents are about as rare as in-shape, affluent women in their 40’s with real breasts.
Sometimes life feels really, really hard. And there’s no one to talk to about it, because I don’t know anyone in my boat. Most of my friends are married or attached. They all have some support system close by — parents, in-laws, siblings. My “village” consists of one temperamental Chihuahua, seven cats and two squawking parakeets.
To feel like a single mother while your husband is traveling is not the same as actually being a single mother. While one may take care of the entire household, as well as the kids and the husband, I’m betting the husband probably helps with some of the bills, or the cars, the plumbing, or the yard. As a single mother, you take care of all of these things and more. On one income.
The times I resent my ex for not being around are when I’ve already changed the sheets 3 times in the middle of the night because my son has thrown up pizza, and every time I think he’s done, I’m wrong. Or when I need to make the excruciating decision over whether to put my son on medication because he can’t focus in school and he’s flunking all his classes. Or when he scores a goal in soccer and I’m the only family member cheering for him.
I’m told every so often by people who know me—some friends, our counselor—that I’m doing a great job as a mother. But they don’t know that there are times when I feel so frustrated and exhausted and alone that more often than not I cry in the shower so my son can’t hear me.
So every now and then I have a few glasses of wine, or a pint or two of beer when things get tougher than usual. It dulls a bit of the pain, the loneliness, the realization that the poor decisions I made got me into this situation in the first place. And things don’t seem so bad. At least for one night…