But my habit seemed relatively harmless. Common, even. A glass or two seemed innocent enough.
And truth was, believe it or not, I got a lot done when I was drinking. In my alpha dog years—when I was holding down a senior job at a magazine, raising an artistic, athletic young man, giving speeches on the circuit—life was more than full. Alcohol smoothed the switch from one role to the other. It seemed to make life purr. I could juggle a lot. Until, of course, I couldn't.
That’s the thing about a drinking problem: It’s progressive. But for a long, long time, alcohol can step in as your able partner, providing welcome support—before you want to boot it out.
Read: When women could drink at 18, and men at 21
On a recent November evening, I took a stroll through the elegant streets of London’s Chelsea district around that witching hour—an hour when many had yet to pull the shades for the evening. Heading up from the Thames River, north on Tite Street, I passed more than one window with a woman standing at her kitchen counter, a half-drunk glass at her side while she worked on the evening meal. I passed a dad unloading children from a shiny BMW, children lugging heavy knapsacks, calling out to younger siblings waving in an upper window.
It was a cozy scene, and I found myself thinking wistfully of those rituals of younger years, when my son was under my roof—not far away in California, doing a master’s degree in fine art. Time was he would saunter into the kitchen, hungry and tall, and dance me around the room while dinner cooked—a boisterous little tango that left me flushed and laughing. More often he would serenade me with his guitar.
Those years were loud and rambunctious and incredibly busy, crammed with duties and chores. Once dinner was over, he’d do homework and I’d make lunches and then noodle with a little more work before bed. He was a rower and morning came early: I’d rise in the dark and ferry him down to the waterfront, standing with the other parents as the boys headed out on the water.
Those years were full of stress and laughter, in equal doses. Often, Nicholas and I would find ourselves up at night, talking in the kitchen: I would make popcorn and we would stand side by side, filling in the blanks for each other. We were a pack of two: our conversations were deep and rewarding, and we read each other easily. And when those precious years were over, when he went off to university, the house became very quiet. Too quiet: like a stage set after the actors exited. That’s when I wrote a column in the magazine, called “Mother Interrupted.” And that’s when I began to think that a third drink might make sense. And once it was three, I was in trouble.
Flying over to Britain, to do research for my writing, I splurged with my airline points and booked myself a first-class ticket. Flight attendant to me, after dinner: “Would you care for some port with your cheese, madam?” “No, thank you, I have to work.” She frowns. “Lots of people drink port while they work.” And indeed, she pours some for the neighboring woman, who is laboring over a spreadsheet with a glass of wine. All I can think is: “That used to be me.” Six years ago, that would have been me, and my exit from the plane would have been a little fuzzy.