That’s why God made Beer.
Whiskey is my friend.
The more I drink, the easier it is.
Yikes, I don’t want to parent without alcohol.
These are the responses I would give when asked about how I keep my sanity as a stay-at-home dad with eight kids. I thought my responses were cheeky, charming, and engaging. I thought I was just being honest and funny. And maybe I was. Maybe my jokes were completely harmless. Maybe I was just being real and relatable. I mean, there were even times when I would talk to other moms and dads and we would laugh about this unspoken connection between drinking and parenting. As if the two go hand-in-hand.
Then things changed
Now, I have a whole new perspective.
As I am writing this, I am three days away from being seven months sober. That’s seven months of parenting without alcohol and seven months of clarity to think about my actions during all those years of leaning on booze.
I want to be very clear about my intentions in writing this: I’ve been there. I see you. This is not a lecture, but a reflection. I’ll try to keep this short and sweet, but if what I am about to say resonates with you, we should talk further. If not, then this is not meant for you.
Recognizing the role alcohol was playing in my life
First, I want to go back to the title. There was a time when I absolutely could not imagine a life of parenting without alcohol. If anything, I thought I was entitled to my little “reward” at the end of the day. I could not wrap my head around being sober or not having a beer or glass of whiskey while I watched a movie by myself after the kiddos were in bed. That was the goal I was working towards every single day.
Plus, that word “sober” carried a ton of guilt and shame I was not ready to face. It meant I had a problem. In my mind, as long as I didn’t think I had a problem, I could just keep on drinking. Right? No harm, no foul?
But here’s the truth about where that internal dialog got me: I went from a couple of drinks after the kids went to bed to a drink at dinner and a couple after bedtime. Then I decided it was ok to have one after homework along with my dinner drink and a couple after bedtime. Then I figured, why not have one while cooking dinner or while the kids were playing outside? I think you see where I’m going with this.
My family was not getting the best of me
My drinking and my excuses to drink were snowballing. It got to a point where even if I wasn’t drinking, I was thinking about it. I was counting the seconds till my next drink and I wasn’t present with my kids. My head was almost always several hours into the future thinking about when I could have “my time.” I was a high functioning alcoholic going through the motions just getting by.
My family was not getting the best version of me, and not because I didn’t love them. Of course I loved and cherished my family while I was drinking. The issue was that alcohol was making it difficult for me to show them how much I loved and cherished them.
And again, I don’t know if this is you. If anything, I envy the “take it or leave it” drinkers of the world. But I got myself to a point where I just wasn’t being a good husband, father, or friend. It was time to be accountable. It was time to get out of that fog I had created.
Numb parenting is not parenting at all. Was it a scary decision? Yes. Was it hard? Oh my gosh, yes. Was it worth it? Getting sober is one of the best decisions I have ever made along with getting married and having kids. Here is what I’ve gained and learned.
I showed up and leaned into parenting
Like so many parents out there, I spent so much of my time leaning on alcohol because I thought parenting was too hard without it. But once I removed that barrier or crutch, I found that leaning into that “thing” that I thought was hard actually made that “thing” much easier.
Putting 100% of myself into my family yielded a 100% positive return. Go figure. I got out what I put into it. More importantly, I had the clarity to see what I had been numb to and missing out on for way too long.
I’ll give you an example. My oldest son, who is nine, is not the most affectionate kid to begin with. He’s sweet and kind, but also a bit reserved. When I was drinking, he rarely talked to me and hugs were few and far between. But a few weeks after I stopped drinking, he started talking to me more. He wanted to tell me about the things that excited him and his day at school. We could talk about Star Wars and Legos and his favorite fictional characters. He wanted to help me cook dinner again and help with projects around the house. Also, I started getting hugs and hi-fives!
Who was this kid and where did he come from? The truth is that he was always there. I was the one that wasn’t available. I was the one that couldn’t see how amazing this young man is. I was the one that was missing out on a good relationship.
Asking the tough questions
Folks, I was missing out on being a good dad to eight little humans, and they are absolutely 100% entitled to having a father who is present, clear headed, and committed to his vocation. And I think that’s the question we have to ask ourselves: is my drinking (or other habit/addiction) coming between me and the people who love me?
I gave up alcohol and got so much in return. I could finally see this beautiful gift that God has given me to love, take care of, and protect. I have my passion back. My family is stronger and I want nothing less for everyone else.
Choosing healthier options to cope with parenting
I don’t really care for the whole, “What does it say to your kids when you need alcohol to deal with them?” talking point. It’s somewhat valid and has some truth to it, but I don’t think that argument or thinking gets anyone anywhere. It didn’t resonate with me while I was drinking, and it doesn’t resonate with me now either.
Nine times out of 10 it comes from someone who has never had a drinking problem and it says more about how parents see other parents than it does about how your kids see you. Here’s the deal: parenting is hard. Full stop. And just because it’s hard doesn’t mean we don’t love it.
That doesn’t mean we want to walk away and abandon ship. We all need self care, right? Of course we do. We just have to consider healthier choices for how we cope or unwind. I like to exercise or watch movies. I’m involved with a men’s group where we discus male Christian virtues presented in movies and television. Sometimes I like to write, build furniture, or tap into other creative outlets. And nothing beats a hunting trip. There is something to be said about sitting alone in a deer stand with complete silence while watching the sun come up in the morning.
I chose to be present, entirely and fully, to my family
All I have done is remove alcohol from the equation because it wasn’t healthy and I wasn’t present. This is more about being self-aware, self-reflective, and completely honest and transparent. This doesn’t just apply to alcohol. More importantly, your shame doesn’t have to define you. In fact, don’t let it. Don’t let people keep you in that box.
Turn your shame into conviction and be accountable. Use it as fuel. How you respond to that shame is how people will see you. You can either wallow in self pity or grow.
This is a call to action, and I am here if you need support.