Thursday, March 31, 2011

Best Kept Secret

In 1997 I still had ten years of drinking left in me, but I didn't know it then.    Drinking hadn't taken over my life, not yet.  It wouldn't develop into a drinking problem until around 2002, after my daughter was born.   It wouldn't develop into a full blown alcoholism until closer to 2006, when my daughter was four and my son was a year old.  

But even in 1997 I knew, somewhere in the depths of me, that I felt differently about alcohol than other people.    I was single (two years from getting married), had a demanding but rewarding job, and lived in a beautiful apartment in a leafy suburb of Boston.    Life was good.  It was really good.   

There were distant alarm bells, though, somewhere in the deeper recesses of my consciousness.   The signs were there: a night here and there where I'd go too far and have to be driven home by a friend or colleague.   A slight quickening of my pulse when the clock neared 5pm, an urge to rally friends to go to a bar after work.   A panicky feeling in my chest when a waitress put only one bottle of wine on the table for three people to share.   

I wondered, sometimes, if how I felt about alcohol was normal.   Not enough to try to cut back, or stop, but sometimes a night of drinking followed by a contrite morning after, the truth would fleetingly peek through.

I was curious enough to read Caroline Knapp's book, Drinking, A Love Story, in 1997.    Knapp's memoir of her drinking and recovery produced the first flash of fear, of understanding, that I was heading into dangerous waters.   After reading it, I wrote this in my journal:   I feel like I'm standing on the edge of something dark and deep, peering into an abyss.  If I'm not careful it will swallow me whole.    I connected with her words, I saw myself in her story.    I resolved not to go as far down the path as she had with my own drinking.   My logic was that I had to be careful, because if I turned into an alcoholic, I'd have to stop drinking.   The mere thought of that made me quake with fear.   

Of course that should have been a sign, and of course it wasn't.   I was much further down the road than I realized.   Social drinkers don't obsess about their drinking.   Period.   I already had a problem.   Knapp's book didn't get me to stop, because I was still in denial.  But nine years later, when I was in the depths of despair, addicted and alone, the first resource I reached for was her book.   I had kept it hidden in my underwear drawer all those years, as if I knew someday I would need it again.    I read it over and over, taking solace in the fact that I wasn't alone, that another successful, smart, funny woman who had it together in her outside world had succumbed to alcoholism.   If she got better, maybe I can better too, I thought.

One piece of my story didn't run parallel to Caroline's, though.   I was a mother.   A mother and a drunk, and the shame of that kept me sick and alone for a long time.   Even as I took comfort from her words, I thought:  but she never had children, so the world was more ready to accept her alcoholism.   How can I reach out for help and admit I drink around my kids?   That my body and mind's need for alcohol has eclipsed everything, even the ability to mother my children?   

The shame of it made me reach for the one thing that was ripping me apart:  alcohol.  Again and again I turned to its numbing comfort to push down the shame, to help prop up the well adjusted veneer I struggled to maintain.   Even when I wanted to stop - and I tried over and over on my own with no success - the thought of asking for help was terrifying to me because of the shame of being an alcoholic mother.   I believed, with my whole heart, that I was simply a terrible mother and a morally corrupt, weak-willed person.

When I finally made it to a recovery meeting and heard my story, my feelings, flow from another woman's lips, I cried tears of relief:   I'm not the only one.    That's when my journey to recovery really began.

I started this blog, and Crying Out Now, because I feel so passionately about helping other women - and other mothers - understand that they are far from alone, and that shame and guilt (something that mothers feel too much of even under the best of circumstances) will keep them sick and alone.   It was the spark of hope I found in Caroline Knapp's book that made me understand the power of words, of truth, of voice.   

And now?   Now there is a new book coming out on June 7th, and it will do for mothers what Caroline Knapp's book did for women back in the 1990s.   A brave, beautiful voice cutting through the darkness and isolation that alcoholic mothers feel, offering comfort and hope.   If this book had been available to me as I was descending into alcoholism, I may have saved myself, and my family, years of pain.  

Best Kept Secret. by Amy Hatvany, is a novel about a mother's struggle with alcoholism and recovery.  Amy is a mother in recovery from alcoholism herself; I have had the pleasure of getting to know her over the past few weeks.  We connected instantly, and I am in awe of her brutal, yet compassionate, honesty and her shared passion of helping other women find their way out of the dark.

The novel is fiction, but it draws from Amy's own experiences and her characters are so full of depth and humanity that I feel as though I know them.   Indeed, the main character's feelings were so familiar to me that there were several times when I had to put the book down for a moment and have a good cry.   The story will touch the heart of any woman struggling with drinking, or addiction, or even with the pitfalls of perfectionism surrounding motherhood.   

You don't need to have first hand experience with drinking or recovery to enjoy this book; any mother who struggles with the inner critic in her head, with juggling work, life, kids, marriage and not losing herself in the process, will see herself in Amy's richly developed main character, Cadence.

Or if you have a friend or loved one who is drinking, or struggling with addiction, you must read this book.   It is so hard to express to people who aren't in recovery, or who have never struggled with alcoholism, what it feels like to be caught in the web of addiction.   How we end up there, what goes on in our heads.    Amy describes this so well that it literally took my breath away.   

Best Kept Secret will be released on June 7th, but I encourage you to secure an advance copy by clicking here.   If you having been reading this blog and feeling any kind of kinship with my words or the stories on Crying Out Now, if you are wondering about your drinking, or feeling desperate and alone, this book is a must read for you.  It could save your life.    I know it will give you hope.

I am not being paid to endorse Amy's book, and she did not ask me to write a review.   I read her post on Stefanie Wilder-Taylor's Don't Get Drunk Fridays, and then asked her to post at Crying Out Now.  When she offered to send me an advanced copy of her book. I jumped at the chance to read it.     I read it in two days, glued to the pages, and saw so much of my own story (and the story of so many other women) in Amy's novel that I couldn't wait to spread the word.

There isn't enough out there about addiction and recovery amongst women - and mothers - and this book will change lives.      Every time I see the chance to spread the word, offer hope and give voice to our struggles, I will shout from the hilltops.    Every time.  

Again, here is the link to preorder your copy: 


  1. wow...i'm so happy to have found your blog, how powerful your words are and close to home. i look forward to reading more.

  2. Your story and mine are alike, at least in the emotion and the Motherhood ;)
    I appreciate the heads up on Amy's book...I'll be getting one and will share the link with my family.
    I began my blog actually to share with friends/family what my life was like when they weren't around behind closed doors and now it's a hope to reach out to that woman who is just I was and needs to know life can change.

  3. I was lucky enough to get a copy of Best Kept Secret, too, and it's amazing. I felt like I was along for the ride the entire time, sharing the protagonist's journey. Sad, real, and good.

  4. Thanks for the recommendation, just preordered.

    I related to a lot of what you wrote today. Have a long family history of alcoholism and should have known better than to ever start drinking. I also used to wonder about my relationship with alcohol-especially when other people didn't seem to care if there was alcohol around or not, and I was always interested.

    Am also a mom of two small kids, and finally just went to my doctor today to discuss my depression and drinking. That was a hard step, but I'm ready to be honest about my problems and get help now. Thanks for your blog- it's been an encouragement to me for a while now. I appreciate your honesty so much.

  5. This is great I had read Caroline Knapp's book a while back and it is an amazing glimpse, I look forward to reading Amy's book.
    Thank you for your as always honest posts!

  6. Just pre-ordered it for my Kindle! Am reang Knapp's book right now.

  7. Your story is so familiar. I'm glad you got help when your kids were still young. Mine are 19 and 22 and I'm off to my first meeting in a long time. Relapsed and starting over.

  8. I'm also glad that I found your blog, and thank you so much for sharing.

  9. I love how I first relate so FULLY to your words in this post, YOUR story--the way it was before and after I had kids, and then I also get the added grace of looking forward to a book I know I'll love. Thank you, Ellie. (and Amy)

  10. You're truly inspirational, you know that?

  11. Thanks for the headsup. I am fascinated by stories of addiction and recovery. A family member recently told us they are going to AA and no longer drinking. I'm so grateful they were able to recognize their addiction and seek help before it got destructive for their family. Reading your blog has definitely given me new perspective as they start this journey.