‘Where has your husband vanished to?’ With a newborn in one arm and champagne in the other, I took the kids to a party less than 48 hours after giving birth.’ For the sake of her children, mom overcomes an affair and alcoholism.

“I was completely smitten by a handsome guy who bought me a drink at a bar. I wasn’t surprised that our engagement was essentially a game because he always had a great sense of humour. When I reached 1,000 points, he was going to propose to me. I was 24 years old, so I decided to play. There were no regulations in the traditional sense. I earned points by cleaning the condo, cooking home-cooked meals, correcting his business emails, and providing sexual favours when he requested them. When he was pleased, I was pleased as well.

A bride and groom dance at a wedding
Courtesy of VRAI Photography

We travelled to wine country and took a private tour of Chalk Hill. We stopped for a photo while sipping wine through the vines (wine being a big part of who we were). He took my Valentine’s Day card out of the envelope early. I saw ‘T I S O’ in bubble letters and thought to myself, ‘Tiso?’

‘Tiso? ‘What exactly is Tiso?’ ‘That isn’t a T; it’s a plus sign!’ +150. I surpassed 1,000 points. He got down on one knee and proposed to me. I was overjoyed!

When I became a stay-at-home mom, wine became an issue. I gave birth to our second son 18 months after our first. Our third child arrived 17 months later. Our kid was diagnosed with a unilateral cleft lip and palate at his 20-week scan. Fear was shortly followed by shock. I was so worried about how I would care for three boys under the age of three, especially since one of them had a known special need (cleft palate) and another had unknown special needs.

A mother lies with her baby who has cleft lip
Courtesy of Robin Hansen Photography

His diagnosis shifted my perspective on me—mom guilt at its finest. I couldn’t do anything. For weeks, I cried. What caused this to happen? What went wrong with me? I should have begun taking folic acid sooner, meditated more, eaten fewer jelly beans and more avocados, and not lugged 55 pounds of excess children on my pregnant frame… Negative self-talk and endless mind games Concerned about our unborn kid, I was filled with anxiety, fear, and grief. I faded into obscurity. Lost. It’s a ship. My husband lacked sympathy, interest, or time to accompany me on this trip. My pregnancy, appointments, emotions, and issues are all on my mind.

A pregnant mother and her young son
Courtesy of Robin Hansen Photography

During our son’s first year, I only pumped and used customised cleft bottles due to his lovely God-given smile. He had lip repair surgery with arm restraints at nine weeks old, then palate repair surgery with arm restraints at 8.5 months, and he was in therapy the entire time. I was completely spent, ill-prepared, under-supported, overwhelmed, and alone. I was fortunate enough to stay at home with my children, but it was quite challenging. I was fed up with having to compensate others for their time. It’s not the same as having assistance.

There was a stale, silent trauma inside of me that nothing seemed to be able to satisfy. I wished I didn’t feel that way, that I didn’t have to be who I was, that I didn’t have to live in the circumstances I did. I wanted to get away from my motherly sentiments of inadequacy, abandonment, and failure, as well as my suspicions about my husband. Champagne would be just the thing to take the edge off.

I felt like his roommate when things between us were tolerable. I felt like a prisoner when things were not going well. Unseen. Unheard. Unwanted. I kept hoping and praying that things would somehow connect and work out. I couldn’t get his attention long enough to have a conversation with him. Or his availability for a date. Alternatively, his assistance. Alternatively, concepts. Hugs are another option. Or it could be love.

We went to Madison on a ‘haphazard’ weekend vacation. It was our son’s first night out since his major surgery. We went to a Badgers game, he gave me beautiful diamond hoop earrings, and then we went to Lucille’s for pizza and champagne. He introduced me to our new agent, asking what we were looking for in a home and when we planned to move. When she walked away from the table, I burst out laughing. He informed me that moving might be a good idea… that it would be best for our family. He vowed that we would sort it out together.

‘Stop whining!’ I argued in my brain all the time. Just straighten things out. What’s the matter with me? With all of these hormones, I’m sure I’m going insane. I’m in desperate need of a drink. So that he doesn’t become furious, I need to make sure I toss the second bottle I opened. Is it possible that I’m consuming too much alcohol? Not. All of the mothers have a glass of wine in their hands. Adulting is the term for this.’

Liquid assurance and a sigh of relief. I honestly didn’t believe it was causing any harm. Sober days grew few and far between, as did sober nights. At best, my capacity to stop was unreliable. It was OK as long as I completed all of my motherly chores, kept our home clean, paid our bills, and prepared thousands of meals that my children refused to eat. However, what I thought kept me secure as a ‘typical drinker’ were rapidly eroding.

A woman holds a wine glass while sitting with her two sons
Courtesy of Kristi Tanner

My husband told me I needed to go to rehab after two alcohol-related hospitalizations. I was adamant that I didn’t need it, but I couldn’t say no. He refused to let me return home. I couldn’t say that I blamed him.

I spent 30 days at a nice location in California. I was confident that I would receive an A+ in addiction. ‘Dear Everyone,’ I sent in an email to my friends. Hello, my name is Kristi. I’m writing from a recovery facility, but don’t worry, I’m not an alcoholic!’ I was completely deluded and in denial. I couldn’t see myself or understand what was going on in my life. I needed to stay sober desperately, but I didn’t want to become an alcoholic.

With all of this knowledge about addiction, triggers, and neuropathways, I was confident that I’d do it right this time. As long as I followed the rules, that is. I had all of the facts and had stated the appropriate words. I went to the appropriate locations. In AA, I had a sponsor. And…I continued to drink in secret in my closet at home.

Our family relocated from Chicago to Madison three months after treatment. My husband claimed that he was relocating for work (he works remotely). It would be a new beginning for us (in the same state as his family). No one would be aware of my alcoholism. Our money would be put to better use. Children fared better in public schools. It would put us closer to our summer lake cottage. With our marriage so shaky, I was heartbroken to leave my family and all of my friends in Illinois, but I had no choice. Besides, the prospect of starting afresh without a tarnished reputation sounded appealing.

We appeared to be a joyful family together. We went through the motions of being with each other. What was unresolved, though, remained unsettled. Our ordeal hadn’t brought us any closer. We got a lot further apart as a result of it.

I found out about his affair on the morning of our seventh wedding anniversary, the day after our youngest son’s second birthday party, and while I was six months pregnant with our daughter. That night, we went out to eat. Nothing came out of my mouth. I didn’t want to make any assumptions. Surely, this man who had just promised me a new life together in a new location wasn’t having an affair with one of his coworkers. Women’s intuition is almost always correct.

I was a puffy-eyed, sleep-deprived, pregnant hormone torpedo, but I wasn’t going down without a fight. From his phone, we called her together. It will go down in history as one of the most horrifying discussions ever.

They claimed it was just harmless flirtation and emotional support. She would never do such a thing as a mother! I threw it away. I had no choice. I was expecting his fourth child! But I knew it wasn’t anything, and it wasn’t the end of the storey.

A pregnant mother sits on the couch with two of her sons
Courtesy of Kristi Tanner

Our daughter was born two days before Halloween. I was completely delighted. Less than 48 hours after she was born, I took the kids to a costume party—champagne in one hand, newborn in the other. People were perplexed. ‘Excuse me, did you just give birth to that child two days ago?’ What brings you here?! ‘How come your hubby isn’t here?!’ Rose Brut With a newborn, no family close, no strong acquaintances in my new location, postpartum depression that I was attempting to ignore, and infidelity chats… My booze consumption has skyrocketed.

I’ll spare you the gory specifics of my most heinous drinking, but the effects only got worse. I hosted a Bunco party for my new neighbours and fell asleep after an hour. Because I couldn’t drive, I had to be picked up after a Tuesday afternoon manicure. At 10 a.m., I begged my neighbour for champagne, claiming that I needed it for cooking and couldn’t go to the shop. It was a disaster.

My husband and I went on a sales trip the first week of May. The time away from the kids, the lack of obligations and his inflated ego offered me a ray of optimism. Was he attempting?! We had a great time together. The first three days of the trip, I stayed sober. I was admitted to a psychiatric ward for three nights on May 15th. He offered to take our daughter to the gym with him on Monday, the 20th, to ‘give me rest after my long weekend. He had divorce papers served on him. Without a single word exchanged. I was alone at home.

I went 37 days without drinking. After that, I didn’t. I had a drink with my estranged husband at a Bon Iver concert. Within a week, I had two DUIs, spent a night on the 5th floor of a high-security prison in Gary, Indiana, hired a full-time nanny to take over my role in our family, kissed my four children under the age of seven goodbyes, and checked myself into two months of inpatient rehab.

A mother stands with her four children
Courtesy of Kristi Tanner

I needed to come to a halt. While loathing myself, I couldn’t heal. I chose a close enough rehab for the kids to visit once a week with our babysitter. Having those 90 minutes of snuggles was a lifeline. My husband also attended couples therapy on a few occasions. We didn’t make a lot of headway. They asked him about his affair in counselling, and he replied, ‘I know I should feel bad…’ ‘I just don’t get it.’

I was crying because I was afraid of losing my family and my future due to my alcoholism. I was the one who bore the brunt of the blame. I felt emotionally depleted. Spiritually devoid of soul. Anxiety plagued me. I didn’t have faith in myself. I didn’t like who I was. I didn’t like myself at all.

The treatment on the inside was extensive. Emotional, emotional, physical, and spiritual health are all important. Witnesses, teachers, fellow survivors, and mirrors are examples of peers. It’s just you and me. It’s not the knowledge that heals but the connections that do. In the openness. The issue of vulnerability. The emotional turbulence. The ‘true’ genuine genuine genuine genuine genuine genuine genuine genuine genuine genuine genuine genuine genuine genuine genuine

I was afraid of my own shadow. I had a fear of booze. I was terrified of learning the truth. What it all meant terrified me. What does it all mean? That I would always be the person, I had become.

A woman stands holding a planner and a coffee cup
Courtesy of Kristi Tanner

Over our ten years together, TISO was our ‘I love you’ word. Surely I had also won his affection with those points? I wore it on a necklace with my children’s names etched on it. It didn’t always mean ‘I love you.’ It indicated ‘I have control over you,’ to him. It said ‘I serve you,’ to me. Our marriage’s foundation was shattered from the outset. I auditioned for his approval, attention, time, and love for nearly a decade. I became an isolated, unstable puppet under this twisted web of half-truths, infidelity, love bombing, and gaslighting.

Because of my alcoholism, I people-pleased my way into a relationship that was not suited for me and remained much too long. I could stay in settings where I could gradually abandon myself and drown my instincts thanks to alcohol. The longer I stayed, the more I felt suffocated, perplexed, and speechless. This is why I’m telling you about my storey. I couldn’t do it before since I wasn’t authorised.

My new life in recovery cost me all I had before. This enormous lifestyle and thinking transition did not save all my connections with my family, friends, or previous versions of myself. I attempted to keep hold of certain aspects of myself, to retain a semblance of control. This isn’t how it works, though. I white-knuckled sobriety through intense emotions, sleepless nights, and wobbly mornings.

A woman and her four children
Courtesy of Erin Moore Photography

It’s an understatement to say it’s been humbling. I attended meetings for months, listened, and sobbed. I didn’t want to confess I had any power, but I did. I didn’t want to relinquish power, but I had no choice. I didn’t want to accept responsibility, but I did. I didn’t want to hear my storey, but I had to. I didn’t want to feel sorry for myself, but I had to. I didn’t want to reveal the truth or face reality, but I had no choice.

I rebuilt myself during a global pandemic while dissolving my marriage and single-parenting four children. It’s an understatement to say it’s been empowering. In recovery, I learned to trust myself, speak up, recognise my worth, look for commonalities, lead with kindness, love what truly matters, only to accept partnerships I deserve, set safe boundaries, and emerge from the ashes of self-destruction.

Everything is simpler now that booze isn’t dictating my life without lying, ignoring feelings, and storing trauma. I slowed to a crawl. I said no to other people to say yes to myself.

The hurdles I’ve faced in recovery (emotional, spiritual, physical, financial, and legal) have allowed me to grow into a self-sufficient, confident, happy, and healthy woman. I am proud of this version of myself.

I’m not going to speed through this one beautiful life I have with my children. We don’t maintain secrets in our house, but we respect privacy. We discuss enormous feelings, the current state of the globe, and the need to be kind. The blessings are simple yet powerful. During these seemingly ordinary summer days, I sense the growth of love. T-shirt days, no makeup, and no routine. I’m really glad I made an effort to show up. I’m in such a good mood.

Adulting, reading, talking to my therapist, organising weekly meetings through Sober Mom Squad, doing DIY utterly incorrectly, having honest conversations, connecting with other women, and writing about sober motherhood keep me busy. This is the best of it. This is the worst of it. It’s the work—the value of it.

I’ve let go of the parts of myself that were holding me back. I had to overcome addiction, a toxic relationship, and false expectations (of myself, others, and life) to find my authenticity. “I’m a sober parent who enjoys her days when they’re simple, untidy, and full of freedom.”

A woman and her four kids at Target
Courtesy of Kristi Tanner

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