4 P.M. The kids are having a meltdown. One is wailing because she poked herself in the eye. Not to be outdone, the other joins in with his own chorus of sobs. I soothe them. Then I soothe myself, uncorking a half-empty bottle of Pinot Grigio I pull from the fridge.

5:30 P.M. Hoping to prolong the effect of the wine's warm hug, I top off my glass before bath time as I beg and bribe the kids to get into the tub.

7 P.M. My husband and I head over to our neighbor's boozy backyard barbecue, where my girlfriends and I tip back crystal goblets of Cabernet. Before I know it, the tally is easily up to five, six—could it be seven?—drinks.

On nights like this, everything feels shaded in Technicolor—jokes are funnier, gossip sharper, affection greater. My social life has almost always included some amount of drinking: I regularly went out for happy hour with my coworkers, drowning the stress from our jobs as educational counselors in cheap Chardonnay; I threw back beers at baseball games with my husband to unwind and reconnect; I bar-hopped with my childless girlfriends on the rare nights I could swing a sitter. Drinking was, in one defining word, fun. A harmless, but necessary, escape.

About four years ago, however, drinking morphed into something that was not all that fun. I was 34, had just had my second child and decided I couldn't juggle the demands of two young children and a full-time job. As a stay-at-home mom whose husband worked 12-hour days, I was isolated and, to be honest, really bored. I didn't fit in with my new mommy friends. I had less time for my true friends, many of whom were still single. I felt unmoored. Lost. It became easy to have an afternoon drink, and then another, and then another—sometimes I'd polish off a bottle. I'd numb out at night and feel like crap in the morning. I shut out my husband and snapped at my kids.

One morning, when I was unusually short with my daughter, she responded, "I don't like when you drink wine, Mommy. I don't like the smell." The oaky aroma was still on my breath from the night before. Her comment was so innocent and yet so dead-on. I knew I was wrong—and not just for getting angry with her. Because, well, I had been her. I was the daughter who smelled alcohol on my father's breath and cleaned up the empty bottles strewn around him while he lay on the couch.

My father was a raging drunk for nearly 11 years. And I found some solace in knowing I wasn't like him. I might have been fooling myself, but on a scale of one to Dad, my drinking never seemed that serious. I wasn't physically dependent on the stuff—I never woke up needing a swig to still the tremors, never drank and drove, never hid empty bottles. I could go long stretches without any alcohol just because I wasn't in the mood to drink. Yet I knew that my drinking, especially when I did it alone, was becoming a problem. It was a preoccupation, a crutch. That said, I didn't need—or, more important, want—Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). I wasn't interested in abstinence; drinking, in moderation, was still an enjoyable thing in my life.


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