Brenda Wilhelmson was like a lot of women in her neighborhood. She had a husband and two children, was educated, and made a good living as a writer. She had a vibrant social life with a tight circle of friends, and she could party until dawn and take her children to school the next day. From the outside, Brenda appeared to have it all together. But, in truth, alcohol was slowly taking over. Waking up to another hangover and feeling her life slipping away, Brenda made the difficult decision to get sober. She kept a diary of her first year (and beyond) in recovery, chronicling her struggles to relate to her fellow alcoholics and discovering the challenges and pleasures of living without alcohol. This is her first entry.
Friday, December 6
Shook up a vodka martini and stirred my beef bourguignon. I like my martinis like James Bond’s: straight up, dry, and with a twist, except my martini glasses — artfully etched with small decorative rectangles — are triple size. My husband, Charlie, poured himself a scotch on the rocks.
This afternoon I took our sons, Max, 10, and Van, 2, to my parents’ for the weekend because we’re partying. The O’Brians, high school friends of Charlie’s, are coming for dinner tonight, and tomorrow Charlie and I are going to the Wendts because it’s their turn to host the Bacchanal Dinner Club I started.
The doorbell rang. I stopped stirring the bourguignon, walked through the living room and waved at Mary and Pat through the leaded glass door of our 100-year-old arts and crafts bungalow. A bit of martini sloshed over the rim of my glass as I pulled the door open. A blast of cold air blew in with Mary and Pat. Their sleeping car-seat-cradled infant dangled from Pat’s arm. He set the baby down on the living room floor and Charlie went off to pour Pat a scotch and shake a martini for Mary.
“I love your artwork,” Mary cooed, taking her martini from Charlie and roaming from living room to TV room to dining room.
“Thanks,” I said, pointing out a few impressionistic cocktail party scenes. “Martha painted those.”
“Charlie’s mom was so talented,” Mary sighed.
“Yes she was.”
Charlie’s mom, Martha, died of lung cancer three months ago. Her memorial service was held at a Chicago art gallery that sold her work and Mary had attended.
“I really miss her,” I said. I lifted my martini toward one of her paintings. “To you Martha,” I said and sipped my drink. I looked at Mary. “She was a hell of a lot of fun.”
“I miss my grandmother, too,” Mary said. “She was a ballet dancer. Loved to entertain. Didn’t bother picking up before her guests arrived—which drove my mother nuts. She’d move laundry off furniture as people needed to sit down. She always opened the door with a martini in her hand. You reminded me of her.”
“Here’s to your grandmother,” I said. We clinked glasses and drank. The phone rang and I headed for the kitchen.
I picked up the phone and heard my friend Kelly, one of my regular drinking buddies, giggle. “Hey Bren,” she said.
“Hey Kel,” I said, throwing ice cubes into my martini shaker.
“Whatchya drinkin’?” she asked
“Martinis,” I said, pouring vodka over the crackling cubes.
“Don’t forget you’re partying with us tomorrow.”
“Are you checking up on me?” I laughed. I shook the shaker and watched it grow frosty in my hands.
“I want to make sure you’re not overdoing it,” Kelly said.
“You are checking on me. That’s sweet but I gotta go. See ya tomorrow.”
I returned to Mary with the shaker and freshened her martini. The phone rang again.
“God, who’s calling now?” I said and returned to the kitchen to pick it up.
“This is totally stupid,” Liv said, “but Kelly made me call you.” Liv started cackling. “Kelly wanted me to tell you not to drink too much.” Liv’s voice cut out and cut back in. “God, I can’t believe it. Call waiting. It’s Kelly making sure I’m calling you.”
Charlie walked into the kitchen and uncorked a bottle of cabernet. “I think we should serve dinner pretty soon,” he said. Charlie opened the martini shaker, dumped the ice down the sink, and gave me a fatherly you’ve-had-enough-martinis look.
“Sure,” I said.
I finished my martini and served up the beef bourguignon along with homemade blue-cheese-and-apple coleslaw, bakery baguettes, and wine. For dessert I served lemon tarts. I was pretty buzzed by the time I dished up dessert and decided to mention I had freeze-dried psychedelic mushrooms in our basement freezer. I’d purchased the mushrooms two summers ago from Ralph, a whack job who impregnated my friend, Rachel. Charlie and I had the unhappy couple over for a barbeque and while Charlie was grilling chicken, Ralph informed me that AIDS was a government conspiracy begun to get rid of Rock Hudson and Andy Warhol. He told me the white lines trailing airplanes were evidence that the government was dumping toxic waste on us. Later, Ralph casually mentioned he had mushrooms for sale. I hadn’t tripped in, like, 13 years and felt a little giddy. I told Charlie about the mushrooms but he didn’t think buying an ounce was a good idea. I purchased the mushrooms anyway.
I kept the mushrooms on a high shelf in a little-used kitchen cabinet and waited for the right occasion to eat them. After they’d been up there a few months, I took them down for an inspection and noticed they were sprouting mold. I threw them into the deep freeze and hadn’t looked at them since.
“Why don’t we go down and take a look at them?” Pat offered. I took him downstairs and pulled the ‘shrooms out from under a large frozen turkey. Pat turned the baggie over in his hands a couple of times, opened it, and popped one into his mouth. “They’re fine,” he said. I laughed and popped a mushroom, too.
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Either Pat or I suggested going for a walk to look at Christmas lights. Charlie and Mary declined so Pat and I threw on coats and left. I teetered down snowy sidewalks on four-inch stiletto-heeled boots and, on the way back, slipped and fell hard on my ass. I remember Pat helping me up and the next thing I remember is sitting on the living room couch uncorking another bottle of wine. Charlie was glaring at me. It was three o’clock in the morning.
Saturday, December 7
Strips of sunshine beamed on my face as the sun streamed through loosely closed bedroom window blinds. I opened my eyes and pressed my hands to my puffy face. My cheekbones ached. I lifted my head off the pillow and the room started spinning. I lowered my head back on the pillow. I was still drunk. Charlie kissed me and started tugging at my pajama bottoms. I started to cry.
"I can't do this anymore," I blubbered. "I'm a wreck. I've got to stop drinking." Charlie rubbed my arm sympathetically.
I really didn't want to stop drinking. I wanted to control my drinking. But I couldn't control it. I kept getting plastered...
From "Diary of an Alcoholic Housewife" by Brenda Wilhelmson. Copyright © 2011
Reprinted by permission of Hazelden.
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive