IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Left My Kids Over Christmas To Go To Rehab At The Betty Ford Center

What kind of mother abandons her kids at freaking Christmas? One who needs help, that's what kind.
Publish date:
December 1, 2014
alcoholism, family, Christmas, drinking, children, rehab, Betty Ford Center

The first time I drank alcohol, I got super-drunk and threw up. Over a movie theater balcony. Onto the heads of the unsuspecting Chevy Chase fans seated below.

That should've been a clear sign that booze and I were not a match made in heaven, but hey, I was only 14, and it would take another 30 years before I realized I had a capital-p Problem.

I grew up in New York City in the early '80s, and partying is what we did. And we did it well. Hanging at Studio 54 doing lines with the Rolling Stones is normal 15 year-old behavior, right? Being way more proficient at "Quarters" than at algebra is something every ninth-grader should aspire to, no?

Because "FUN" is what I wanted more than anything else, instead of going on to college like the rest of my prep-school class, I went to work for Club Med. As I saw it, getting drunk and meeting new people was the whole point of going to college anyway, and, hell, Club Med would pay me to do that and let me live on lush Caribbean islands while I was it.

See? My algebra may have been sorely lacking, but my logic was flawless. The party was on.

I hit the aptly named Paradise Island as an 18-year-old whose job, when she wasn't teaching tennis, was to fraternize with vacationers, to help ensure that they had the trip of a lifetime. So, like a good little worker bee, fraternize I did. At the bar. In various bathroom stalls (this was the Bahamas in the late '80s, after all; cocaine was copious, cheap and hella pure). And elsewhere.

It was all fun and games for nearly 10 years. I traveled the world, drinking, drugging and having "fun" all in the name of "work." Then it all came to a screeching halt when, one day, I met a guy -- a good old straight-laced Catholic boy from Quebec City -- and married him.

Au revoir Club Med, how's it going Los Angeles? And a house, and a "real" job and, hey, let's add a couple of kids to the mix.

I completely stopped drinking the second I peed positive on that stick and didn't look back for nearly 10 years. Partygirl me had been replaced by Supermommy me. It was easy; I didn't want to be that drunken mom. I'd shudder at the mere notion of driving my babies around while under the influence. Nope, I now got high on life; on seeing things anew through the eyes of my little ones, on living new experiences through them, on being PTA president and class mom and baking cutesy cupcakes and all that other pink-cloud, new-mom bullshit you read about ad nauseam in women's mags.

Things were great. Until they weren't. Quebec and I divorced, money got tight, and basically, life just sort of happened, so, somehow, I started to drink again.

Just some wine with dinner. Just a few cocktails at parties. "Normal" drinking like everyone does. Because, of course, I had my shit together. I was Supermommy, remember? Only not so much.

Keeping your shit together when all you really want to do is be drunk all day, every day, is a tall order. Keeping all your commitments tended to when your alcoholism is fighting to get the upper hand is a full-time job. Getting your real job done becomes a monumental pain in the ass. Then there's the rub that planning your drinking is an exhausting pastime; how many glasses of wine can I have and still be sober enough to drive home? Can we see "Despicable Me" at the theater that has a bar? Why don't liquor stores in California deliver? Dammit!

Then there were the pesky hangovers from hell. The only way I knew to quell them would be to start drinking again, so I did. That's when things got bad. Really, really bad.

My kids had never seen me "drunk." They'd seen me drink wine, they'd seen me and their friends' parents get loud and laugh-y and all that, but they'd never seen me stumbling, out-of-control shitfaced.

That all changed last Thanksgiving when, saddled with the stress of having to host my family (I love them, but God, I require copious amounts of vodka to deal), the pressure of having to get my house ship-shape, and feeling that I had to out-Martha Stewart freaking Martha Stewart with the week-long food prep, I lost myself in a bottle of Kim Crawford. Or 20. OVER THE COURSE OF FOUR DAYS. When you're 5' 5" and weigh about 102 pounds soaking wet, this is not a good thing.

With my entire family having taken up temporary residence at my house, I spent the day before Thanksgiving "sick" in bed with an increasing stash of empty green glass bottles of Sauvignon Blanc hidden under my bathroom sink and, lo and behold, by the time that giant inflated Snoopy was winding his way down 34th street, I was in the E.R. with a doc telling me that I was malnourished, dehydrated and should strongly consider going to rehab. He also, thank GOD, told me NOT to stop drinking on my own -- that I could have a seizure and die. I made him put that in writing so I could survive the family meal.

The next day, while I sat sipping fermented grapes in an effort to stave off both a horrific hangover and that theoretical life-endangering seizure, I watched my siblings and parents transform my living room into command central as they vetted myriad treatment centers.

Ultimately, the onus of rehabbing my wayward ways fell on the capable shoulders of the nearby Betty Ford Center. I was willing to go, but frantic at the prospect of missing my kids' parent-teacher conferences, their holiday vacation and, oh yeah, CHRISTMAS. I mean, sure, getting my shit together was of paramount importance and, maybe I'd get lucky and end up with a celebrity roomie, but at what price? What kind of mother abandons her kids at freaking Christmas?

One who needs help, that's what kind.

As I kept telling myself again and again while undergoing the check-in process (pretty pedestrian), the detox (pretty gnarly) and the soul-searching (overwhelmingly OUCH-Y), the "best gift I could give my kids for Christmas was a healthy, back-to-normal, me." So that's what I set my sights on and committed to doing.

I worked my ass off at that place; admitting that I had a disease, that I was "powerless over alcohol" but that I didn't have to drink again if I used the tools I was learning to deal with life's stresses (family gatherings, anyone?) instead of the bottle.

Was my month in the desert chock-full o' sunshine and lollipops? Hell no. But it was great in a different kind of way. I got my life back. I got my priorities back. I got a second chance. And guess what? Those terrific kids of mine didn't whine or complain or guilt-trip or any of the things I'd feared. They were supportive and loving because, hey, whaddaya know? I'd done an OK job raising empathetic humans.

And, this year, with 387 days of sobriety (touch wood) under my belt, we can celebrate the holiday together and I'll even be able to remember it the next day. Talk about a Christmas bonus.