I don’t remember the exact year. Abby was young enough she still believed in the Easter Bunny, Santa, the Tooth Fairy…all of those things that make childhood magical. We had delayed dying Easter eggs until the night before for whatever reason. I was drinking that night – wine? Spiced rum? I can’t remember. It doesn’t matter. I drank entirely too much and went to bed knowing we still had to set out the Easter baskets but trying to stay awake, or probably more honestly, to not pass out. Abby still slept with me at the time (she had severe anxiety at night). I lay there for a good long while until I thought she was asleep, then texted Trever that the coast was clear and he could hide the eggs and put the baskets out, intending to get back up in a few minutes and help him. That was the last thing I remember before I woke up to Abby sobbing beside me. She wasn’t asleep and had woken up to read my text. That one drunken text shattered her childhood innocence and belief in the tradition – never mind how far fetched and ridiculous – the Easter Bunny is. It took hours to calm her down and the next day, not only was I hungover, but the guilt I felt was immeasurable.
Hi my name is Karri, and I am an alcoholic. A binge drinker more specifically. I was raised as a teetotaler, for religious reasons primarily. My Baptist family simply did not drink alcohol. Not my parents, not my grandparents, not my aunts and uncles. When we had family gatherings, reunions, picnics, Thanksgiving, Christmas, there was no drinking. Ever. As a high school and then college student, I never went to parties and my best friend and I were “goody two shoes.” I simply was never around anyone who was drinking. I married into a staunch Baptist family who did not imbibe, although the irony of the other sins they overlooked cannot be overstated (that is a story for another time). After I divorced and began dating Trever, I suppose I thought it was time for me to rebel. He drank like a “normal” teenager and young adult before we met. His parents would enjoy the tiniest glass of red wine in the evenings. It wasn’t a presence in their lives but it wasn’t forbidden. So in 1996, at the age of 23, I had my first strawberry daquiri at El Chico in the Hot Springs Mall. And that was the beginning of an addiction that lasted for over 25 years.
Trever has always been very much a “take it or leave it person” around alcohol. He liked the occasional bear, hated hard alcohol, and didn’t care for wine one way or another. I liked it all. Not necessarily the taste but I liked the way it made me feel. My usual worried control freak personality loosened up. I wasn’t overly nervous in social situations. I didn’t drink every day but it was enough that during those first few years of marriage, Trever and I had more than one argument about the issue.
I found out I was pregnant in the summer of 1999. We planned to have children, but we hadn’t been particularly trying so I had been indulging in my bad habit for at least the first few weeks before I knew. I wasn’t happy; I was hysterical. I feared I had unknowingly caused damage to the unborn baby, and researched Fetal Alcohol Syndrome for weeks leading up to my first OB appointment. And of course, I quit. I didn’t touch it from the minute I found out I was pregnant and it wasn’t a struggle in the least. It wasn’t an issue. (And of course, as we all know, Sarah is perfectly brilliant and totally fine.)
I don’t remember drinking much in the years between Sarah and Abby or even after Abby was born. I was busy being a young, new, stay at home mom. It wasn’t until Abby was a toddler that I have memories of starting to buy the occasional bottle and hide it in the cabinet, not drinking in front of them. The days were long and the evenings, those bewitching hours after naps and before dinner, were a time I could “reward” myself for my hard work.
I kept my drinking a secret from my parents especially. They would not have approved. My mom and I had discussed it when I had the weeks of worry when when I found out I was pregnant and she assumed I had quit. I remember hiding bottles of wine when we moved into the house we live in now, above, the stove in a crockpot. When she was helping us unpack, my mom found one and confronted me, telling me she thought I had quit years ago. I was defensive and angry, telling her that “normal” people drank alcohol and there was nothing wrong with it. I always drank too much when we went to my brother and sister in laws house. They were our main friends and we would get together and eat and sing karaoke. I thought I was having the fun I never had as a straight laced little Baptist girl. The kids were all busy playing with each other and I could cut loose and not be responsible.
Once I was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, I quit again. I still don’t believe that alcohol had much to do with my breast cancer (even though it certainly can be a contributing factor). But many of my cancer friends said they were told it was ok to have a glass of wine or so, or drink in moderation, and after I was done with chemo, I began again. We have lived in a dry county since 1999. Meaning you have to drive to the next county over to buy alcohol. So once every few weeks, I would make an excuse to go down to the “fancy Kroger” in Maumelle to buy groceries. They sold wine and beer and there was a liquor store on the way. Some of my worst episodes happened in the years post cancer treatment. I had had cancer, dammit, I could cut back and have some drinks if I wanted to!
If I had only been harming myself and my own health, it would have been bad enough. But when I was drunk, I said horrible horrible things to the people I love most. My husband and precious daughters were on the receiving ends of rants and ravings about everything from the disappointments of my life to what an awful wife and mother I thought I was and how they would be better off without me. There was a Thanksgiving where I made an absolute fool out of myself at my in-laws and we left with Sarah in tears because she was embarrassed plus I had been nasty to her. One year while on vacation, I was an ass in Walmart when we gone to the store before going out to dinner, after I had “pregamed” at the condo. On one occasion when Trever and the girls drove me home from a friends house in Conway where we had had a going away part., I barely made it in the door before I threw up red wine all over our bathroom. I have been drunk over at my brother’s house in front of my nieces and nephew more times than I can count.
After the particularly bad occasions, I would promise to cut back. To not drink hard liquor. I would say I was only going to buy one bottle of wine a week. I would quit for months at a time. I would make a game out of pacing myself with water and keeping mental tally of the drinks I had had. Only one time I drank enough to black out (before I had kids) but I would often be so out of it that I would go to bed and basically pass out, walking up with regret and loathing a few hours later.
My parents “loosened’ up over the years as far as their opinions and views on alcohol and my brother and I “came out” about drinking so to speak around them a bit. I still didn’t drink overly much in front of them. It was a respect thing with me, especially with my dad. He was used to being around people who drank, especially at some of the motorcycle functions he went to, but I still felt he was slightly disapproving. Yet I felt it was my mission to educate them. It was ok to drink alcohol! Look, it’s fun!
I knew I had a problem. I would quit periodically, after reading a magazine article about “how do you know if you drink too much” or worrying that it would negatively impact my health, or after a particularly nasty episode or fight with the family. Going to AA or something similar was NOT an option. No matter how anonymous such things were, I feared people finding out. I was still working in the school system, substitute teaching, and I could NOT have people thinking I was an alcoholic. I felt guilt and shame constantly although some of my religious anxiety was lifted once I started attending the Episcopal church. They had real wine at communion and even drank socially at small group. Hallelujah. I had found my people! And I had found an excuse to drink.
On Memorial Day of 2021, we had a family get together. It turned into a drunken sob fest on my part about the death of my father, about my life choices, and I don’t even remember the horrible things I said. The girls were crying and upset, and left with Trever, with my mom driving me home later. That was my rock bottom. That was it. I have not had a drink since.
There are too many tales to begin to tell of the things I have done and the things I have said while drinking. I probably should go to meetings or get some therapy. My mother will tell you I have always been a confessor. I feel the need to come clean. Maybe I think too highly of myself but I feel like I projected an image of a “supermom” who stayed at home when her children were young and sacrificed for her family. Who was a bit snide and sarcastic but had a good heart and would never intentionally do anything to harm others. Who put everyone else before herself. When in reality, I have made awful, terrible, and selfish choices over the years. I cannot get those years back. But I can be honest now. To shatter the illusion of perfection portrayed on social media and even strip down the glamorization of alcohol in our society. To be a cautionary tale to others who may not realize that a binge drinking mom is as much of an alcoholic as the homeless man on the corner with his booze in a paper bag. To publicly acknowledge how I have been, what I have done, and who I have hurt. That is why on this Holy Saturday before this Easter Sunday, I am sharing my story. My family is full of grace and forgiveness but for myself, I seek an absolution that I fear I may never find.
This afternoon, the kids (and my bonus kid) who are 18, 19. and 22, dyed Easter eggs. I baked cupcakes, drank water and diet Coke and listened as they compared their various creations. It’s a far cry from that awful Easter eve so many years ago, but I pray that I will always remember, even though I so often would like to forget. I remember, I regret, but I also rejoice at the love that continues to surround us all. Thank you for reading.
Karri Temple Brackett
April 16, 2022