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Keeping Count: My Battle With the Bottle

My mother and sister both succumbed to alcoholism. I try to be careful, but sometimes I slip up.

Photo Credit: Christian Draghici/


I am sitting on my living room floor, my legs splayed out in front of me on the hardwood. I fell while bending over to pick up the keys I had just dropped, and the boom I made on impact seems, to me, to have rocked the house. I hope it hasn’t woken the kids.

I fell so hard my breath was knocked out of me. But I just think, “It’s OK. It’s OK. I’m OK.”  And it’s hard to scramble and get myself upright when I’m this drunk and my heels are this high.

I almost make it to standing, but I fall again, this time crashing onto my knees. It hurts, bad, despite the booze. I remain on my knees, eyes tearing from the pain, and I hear my oldest call from upstairs, “Mom? Are you OK?” She sounds frantic, and I know her fear right now is complicated — she is, of course, hoping it’s me because otherwise it’s an intruder, but if it’s me, if it’s her mother, why all the falling and crashing about? I try to speak clearly. I call out, “I hate these shoes!” And I laugh, in the hopes she will laugh with me. She doesn’t say anything.  I stay quiet; I stay on my knees.

The Pen and Pencil Club in Philadelphia has ordered me a bottle of Absolut Peppar, so that when I am there — at a monthly event — I can have hot and dirty martinis. I like that they have done this for me, but it also gives me pause to be identified with a cocktail. On this night I had three, I think. I broke my own “rule of two.” I also had wine with dinner that I forgot to count.

Sometimes, on days I know I will be having drinks that evening, I think about it throughout the day. I’ll imagine what I’ll order or mix or open. I might have these visions of later as early as 10 a.m.

Sometimes, when I know I will be having drinks later in the week, I’ll imagine what I’ll order or mix or open, three, four days in advance. I think of it as planning ahead, staying in charge, modeling responsible behavior for my children.

One of my very best friends, Marion, lives in New York. We “save” certain things to discuss for in-person time. I will anticipate talking about something with her, and always, always when I think about her reaction, when I think about sitting across from her, there are wine glasses in front of us, a prop. Grown-ups have conversations over wine.

I am thinking about all of this, about my relationship with alcohol, because I always do. My mother was a functional alcoholic. My sister is a nonfunctional one, though she is now recovering.


Alcohol flowed in my parents’ house, along with the spirit of celebration. We had mimosas at holiday brunches and blended strawberries and rum at summer cookouts and beer and mixed drinks for Sunday afternoon football games and there was always a reason to have a party. Finding the next reason to celebrate is inured in me. That’s a good thing.

My mother raised five kids, kept an immaculate home, made elaborate dinners. But she had Manhattans every night, a “before dinner” drink, my parents would say, sitting together in a room adjacent to where we five kids had our meal, “putting a head” on their drinks for a few hours each night.

Every Saturday night, for as long as I have memory, they went out to dinner. Sometimes alone, but frequently with the trucking companies who were trying to “court” my dad, a transport director for US Steel. Mom consistently came home blotto on these nights, often fighting with my father, and years later she told me that she took Xanax on the nights they were being entertained by trucking companies, as she had anxiety over how she’d fare in conversation with another couple.

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