The Enormous Backlash I Endured for Going Public About Being a Relapsing Alcoholic Mother of a Newborn
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“I’d imagine that people would hiss at you on the street,” the journalist said on the phone. She was calling to talk to me about the memoir I had just published, Drunk Mom, about relapsing on alcohol a month after giving birth to my son—after three years of sobriety. Her statement made me imagine people like snakes on the street, their snarly-snake faces, hissing, hissing. I wanted to laugh, but that would’ve been a mistake: “Bydlowska laughs at the suggestion that people would be upset over her memoir.” Instead, I said, “It sounds as if you have this story written already,” which is what ended up in the first paragraph of the story when it came out three days later.
And perhaps she was right that there were, indeed, many reasons to be found in Drunk Mom for me to get hissed at:
"The formula is pricey. I think of how pricey it is when I buy it. I don’t think about my checking account being near zero when I’m in the liquor store. I don’t think how pricey vodka is when I buy it. Priorities. There are empties everywhere. Empties in plastic bags. On the bottom of the stroller. Breeding in my closet. I can’t keep away from bottles. I obsess over them. I am the Howard Hughes of bottles. I am the Howard Hughes of secrets."
It was my mistake to get defensive. I’m not an idiot, so it’s not like I didn’t expect to get some negative responses. I knew that writing my story was admitting publicly to not only being a hopeless addict but also to being a crappy parent. But the pitch of hysteria was a surprise.
Since the memoir came out in April, I’ve been frequently reprimanded (and worse) for “oversharing,” for writing about what should be private publicly, and for exposing and victimizing my family. “There’s self-harm in choosing to publish this memoir. It’s just like alcoholism: the recklessness of it; the abandonment of responsibility to her partner, to their relationship, to her child, now almost four years old, and also, most painfully, to herself,” read the first article on Drunk Mom in Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail. My diagnosis of bipolar disorder (not mentioned in the book itself) was dragged out more than once.
At the same time, some of the media came to my defense: I was on a national TV show to talk about the negative reaction (and I’m writing this piece, too), so I can’t complain about being “oppressed,” but the severity of the attacks is indicative of the widely held negative attitudes about addiction. Stigma is alive and thriving.
We don’t have a lot of addiction memoirs in Canada. We are polite over here. I didn’t intend to be impolite, although, I admit, I’m happy to have caused a reaction because it has forced people at least to raise the issue of addiction. I wrote the memoir because I wanted to tell a true—or as close to true as possible—story of an addict. One reason we tell stories is to give insight into what might be foreign to many but is familiar to us. Addiction is such a thing—a terrifying thing that addicts are often as baffled by just as much as nonaddicts are. My addiction was an obsessive, demanding overlord fueled by secrets. Shame and guilt made me hide it, and it was my belief that it needed to stay hidden. In this way, I was exactly like my critics—pretending that ugliness wasn’t there.
As a drunken mom of an infant, I was digging under the pantheon that is Motherhood and shaking its foundation with my troubling admissions.