Join me and my wise and hilarious friend, Jennifer, for a conversation with lots of laughing, swearing, self-deprecation, and truly life-changing concepts, as we talk about alcohol and parenting, specifically her path as an alcoholic mother. Even if you don’t personally have an issue with alcohol, nor does anyone in your inner circle, this episode has so many gems about parenting and making mistakes – basically, being a human. We talk about how our mothering instincts can and cannot thwart alcoholism, what was actually behind her addiction (hint: it wasn’t actually the alcohol), the simplest question that turned her life around, and the hard-earned gifts that alcoholism gave her and her kids (yes, you heard that right, alcoholism can bestow gifts, if you don’t let it kill you first). She also details how to know if you or your partner are over-drinking, and what to do about it. She’s maaaaaybe the most vulnerable guest I’ve had yet, and maybe the most inspirational without trying to be. If you are someone who drinks a little too much (or you’re married to someone who does) and you’re feeling like, “Yeah, I don’t know if I can listen to this,” because you’re scared of what you might learn about yourself or your partner, PLEASE JUST LISTEN. You’ll see why.
Brandy: Hello Adult Conversation Podcast listeners. I moved today’s episode directly to the front of the queue because I think it could save some lives, and I’m not waiting a couple of months with the stakes this high. I have a backlog of episodes that’s a few months long, but after I recorded this amazing interview, I knew it couldn’t wait. So join me and my wise and hilarious friend, Jennifer, for a conversation with lots of laughing, swearing, self-deprecation and truly life changing concepts as we talk about alcohol and parenthood – and specifically her path as an alcoholic mother. Even if you don’t personally have an issue with alcohol, nor does anyone in your inner circle (which is where I’m at), this episode has so many gems about parenting and making mistakes – basically, being a human being and learning to move on from, and with, your flaws (even the most embarrassing ones). We talk about how our mothering instincts can and cannot thwart alcoholism, what was actually behind Jennifer’s addiction (Hint: it wasn’t actually the alcohol), the simplest question that turned her life around, and the hard-earned gifts that alcoholism gave her and her kids (yes, you heard that right). Alcoholism can bestow gifts if you don’t let it kill you first. Of course, she also details some warning signs for alcoholism and ways to tell and test if you or someone you love is more than just a casual drinker. She’s maybe the most vulnerable guest I’ve had yet, and maybe the most inspirational without even trying to be. If you are someone who drinks a little too much or you’re married to someone who does and you’re feeling like, “Yeah, I don’t know if I can listen to this,” because you’re scared of what you might learn about yourself or your partner, PLEASE JUST LISTEN. You’ll see why.
Brandy: A quick shout out to my newest patron peep, Ronnie Bower. You are the best. Thank you! Onto the show.
Brandy: So, today on the podcast we have with us Jennifer Campos. Hello, Jennifer.
Brandy: We met at a writer’s retreat and we have been on two of them together now. The cool part is, we don’t live that far away, just about an hour, so we have become puzzle buddies. Which is probably the lamest thing I’ve ever said.
Jennifer: I’m so excited to be that much of a geek from the way that I lived the first half of my life. I’m super excited to be a puzzle nerd now.
Brandy: Yeah. You’re like owning all of the really senior citizen nerd shit now.
Jennifer: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
Brandy: I’m absolutely here for it. Like you’re wearing a dress that you’ve sewed.
Jennifer: Yes. I made this dress by myself with my own hands, with some fabric from Walmart, and I’m super excited about it. I’ve made a new garment on average once every three or four days for the past six months.
Brandy: Last time I was with you, didn’t you liken that to having a new addiction you’ve replaced?
Jennifer: Yes. I can only obsess, luckily, on one thing at a time. So I’ve had other little hobbies like this in the past, but now sewing is definitely it. So I’m very obsessive. But it results in a closet full of clothes. So-
Brandy: It’s positive. It’s only positive.
Jennifer: I’m using my powers for good instead of evil, thankfully, these days.
Brandy: Yes. I love it when you showed up you had two puzzles in your hand, because we go back and we trade. It’s brilliant. We’ve doubled our puzzle inventory just by being friends.
Jennifer: We have.
Brandy: So the writer’s retreat that we met at, it was held by Janelle Hanchett. So people might know her from the Renegade Mothering blog and also she wrote the book, I’m Just Happy to Be Here. So that book, one of the themes of it is alcoholism and motherhood, and one of the guiding themes is we don’t necessarily become better versions of ourselves when we become mothers. Janelle’s book is really this raw and weirdly hilarious take on alcoholism and motherhood and how she was an alcoholic for the beginning of her children’s lives of three or four of them.
Brandy: The reason I’m mentioning this is because as somebody who hasn’t been touched by alcoholism or addiction, really in my immediate life, reading that book and then going to the retreat really gave me such a soft spot for people in recovery – people who have basically been to hell and back. At the retreat, meeting people who’d been through recovery (because she draws a lot of people like that), I mean, I find them to be some of the most vulnerable, humble, talented and fucking hilarious people I’ve ever met.
Brandy: So that’s where you come in because you are one of these people that I met and I just love to pieces. That’s why I would love for you to talk to us today about your experience with alcoholism and motherhood. But first, what do you think the listeners need to know about you? I mean, aside from the fact that you are obsessed with dogs, obsessed with manicures that match things, and you volunteer your time at the border to help translate for children in cages. I mean, you’re so interesting. There’s like, there’s so many things.
Jennifer: I’m 47. I live in Southern California. I have two kids. I have a 19-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter from my first and second marriages, which went the way of the dinosaur. I now live with my boyfriend and my kids. By day I am a trustee civil servant for the County of San Diego for the Health and Human Services Agency. I do a lot of service work which has come as a result of my recovery from my alcoholism, so I just find different outlets for that. It’s weird too because I never did anything like that before. If you had told me 11 years ago that, “Oh, this is what you’re going to do now, and this is what your life is going to look like,” I maybe wouldn’t have signed up for it. Because, at base, I’m a very selfish person. I don’t really have any interest in helping other human beings. So it wouldn’t have sounded like, “Ooh! Sign me up for that.” But here I am today and just the person that I am and my ideas of what a successful life looks like are very different than they were. I just find that, wow, this works a lot better than my ideas of what a cool life is.
Brandy: I’m assuming here, but that your struggle with alcoholism led you to this new way of being.
Brandy: Will you walk us through a timeline on what happened and an overview of what happened in your story. Were you an alcoholic before you got pregnant?
Jennifer: Oh yeah. I never drank like a normal drinker from the very first drink I ever took. I feel like I’m in the minority in that I didn’t start drinking until late high school, early college. Most of my friends that I’m in recovery with, a lot of them started a lot younger. Twelve-ish is really where most people start. Some younger than that. So I didn’t get into it until a little bit later, but I never drank normally. From the first drink I took, I never wanted to get buzzed. I never wanted to just loosen up or relax or dance on a table. I wanted to be as obliterated as I possibly could from the very first drink I ever took.
Brandy: Do you know now what that was about? That there was a specific pain you were trying to run away from or was that just a genetic thing that your body was just wired to be like, “We’re gonna go to level 10 on this.”
Jennifer: Yeah. That is what I have found in my recovery is that I’m just bodily and mentally different from the people around me and the people who have alcoholism. What kicks in for me is that my body just craves more. I get a craving when I put alcohol in my body. You and I could be sitting together at a bar. You and I both have two arms, two legs, you have brown hair I have brown hair, we could even have similar medical background histories, whatever. When I take a drink, my body says, “You need to have more and more and more and more.” There’s no off button. For you, that’s not happening. So people who have that response when they drink, that’s a real healthy tip off that you have alcoholism. I didn’t know that. I just thought, I thought it was cool. I thought it was, “Oh wow! I have a really… I can drink people under the table. I have a great capacity for alcohol.” I thought that was a-
Brandy: Like a skill?
Jennifer: Yeah. Good for me. I was very proud of it. Little did I know that… It runs in my family. There’s six of us. Six kids in my family. Half of us have issues with alcohol, half of us don’t. In my broader family, cousins, aunts, uncles, et cetera, lots of alcoholism on both sides from my mother and my father. So it didn’t really cause me a lot of problems and consequences. That was the difference. I was able to go a good… I drank for about 18 or 19 years because I was able to keep the chewing gum and duct tape together.
Brandy: Keep the facade together.
Jennifer: Right. I didn’t have things like DUIs. Well I did lose jobs. I didn’t realize at the time I was losing them because of my alcoholism. But looking back when I got sober. So-
Brandy: What did you think? Did you think these people were assholes, they didn’t appreciate you?
Jennifer: Yeah. They just don’t understand me. I’m very misunderstood and they just don’t realize what a gem they have and they’re just really going to regret it later. I blamed all kinds of stuff and what I didn’t realize at the root of it, that is my alcoholism. It really showed me when I got sober, so many of my relationship problems, the way that I was destroying relationships left and right, the way that I don’t show up for people, the way I’m unreliable. I always think, “Oh, people don’t know that I’m an alcoholic because I hide my drinking so well.” My drinking is not really where my alcoholism shows up, that’s the primary place it does, but it shows up in my selfishness, my unreliability. I’m a flake with a capital F, you cannot depend on me for anything, I’m irresponsible. It’s all of this stuff that people know about me and that’s why they’re done with dealing with me. But I think because they don’t literally sit there and watch how much alcohol I intake that I think I’m fooling everyone.
Brandy: Wow. But, so then when you got sober, your whole personality shifted. Like you were responsible, you were reliable, you had better relationships, all of that changed?
Jennifer: It didn’t happen overnight. But that is the crux of what recovery is for me. I thought it was, “Oh you just take the alcohol away from me and I’m a pretty great person without it. I just have this terrible drinking problem and once you take the vodka out, then I’m a really cool girl.” I found out that, “Oh my gosh, that is not the case.” You take alcohol away from me. I’m still an asshole. I’m still selfish to my core. I will lie. I’m so dishonest. I’m dishonest to my bones. I cannot tell the truth to myself or to anyone else around me to save my fucking life. I just have all of these terrible character defects that are ruining everything and they’re there even if the alcohol is gone. So the alcohol was not the problem. The alcohol was the solution for me to be able to run away from all that stuff. To bury it, squash it down and forget about, “Oh, what did I do? How did I screw over that friend? How did I ruin another marriage? How does another child of mine not get to grow up in the house with their dad because my shitty behavior?” So it wasn’t the alcohol, it’s the alcoholism that ruins my life. In order to not pick up a drink, that’s what I need to do is continue to live my life in such a way that I’m not actively harming people on a daily basis through that selfishness.
Brandy: God, my eyes are so wide. I’m having that moment like that meme where there’s that human body where the head is just expanding. So you’re telling me that your personality defects and wanting to cover those up or not feel those was part of the reason that you drank. So then when you’re not drinking, you’re just shitty?
Brandy: So then for you recovery and not drinking is one part of it, but then a personality overhaul is another one?
Jennifer: Yeah. It’s really the whole deal. That’s what people don’t understand about recovery a lot of the time. Well, it depends. There’s lots of different modes of recovery out there. But for me, the only one that has worked has been the one that is requiring me to just live a whole different kind of life here. I have to live by a set of principles that are very contrary to the way that I lived before. I have to actively work against my selfishness, which is why I do so much service work. It’s not like I’m just such a great girl and I’m such a humanitarian that I want to run out and save the world. I have to do this shit or I’m going to fucking die of alcoholism.
Brandy: So your selflessness is actually a selfishness?
Jennifer: Yes, absolutely. It is motivated by the fact that if I don’t actively work against my default setting, which is selfish to the core, I’m going to get into patterns of behavior that lead me back to a drink and I cannot afford that. I see what happens. I’ve worked with a lot of women since I’ve been in recovery. It’s been 10 years now and I see what happens when we stop living this way, when we stop being of service to other people, when we stop admitting to ourselves because our life gets so good so fast a lot of the time, and mine definitely did. I think, “Oh well, I don’t have to work that hard anymore and I don’t really have to make this a priority anymore. I’m good. I was really overreacting. It wasn’t that bad. I was just driving my kids around drunk a couple of days of every week of their lives. But no, it wasn’t that bad.” So that’s what my brain will tell me. So that’s why I have to stay so active in the work that I do in service and remembering every day. That’s what I do on a daily basis. The first thing I do is get on my knees and I ask God, “Please keep me sober today.” At the end of the day I say, “Thank you for keeping me sober today. Thank you for taking care of my babies.” In between I gotta do some work. It’s got to be an everyday thing. It’s real shocking how fast this brain goes back to crazy town, if I stopped doing the stuff that I do.
Brandy: That’s a whole new way of looking at it for me. That’s wow. Okay. Walk us back to driving drunk with babies. Well first of all, how long have you been sober?
Jennifer: Since March of 2009. So I just… Actually, St. Patrick’s Day is my sobriety day, so I just celebrated 10 years this past St. Patrick’s Day. I didn’t plan that. It just happened that that turned out to be my sobriety date, which is funny because I’m Irish-Mexican, so.
Brandy: Well, and the irony there too is that day has the most alcohol consumed – I think on that day. So everybody else is celebrating with alcohol. So every sober anniversary you’re like, “Oh my God, I’m going to be challenged today, but I can do it.”
Jennifer: Yeah, no. It’s so funny because my daughter, we used to go to Party City. That was our little weekly fun thing. We would go and get all the little penny candies, and her and her little best friend we would go. So they had all the decorations out for St. Patrick’s Day and she must’ve been five years old at the time. So all the employees are there, setting up the new displays and she tells her little friend, she goes really loud, “Oh my mom’s favorite holiday is St. Patrick’s Day because that’s her SO-BO-RYE-ITY day.” So all the employees are like, “Oh hey, good for you.” I love that one.
Brandy: I love kids just outing us fully.
Jennifer: She was so little. She was four and my son was nine when I got sober. So they don’t have… Lola has no memory at all of my drinking. Even my son, even though he was nine, I was a big weekend drinker. I was a binge drinker for the most part and he would go with his dad on the weekends because when he was 17 months old, I divorced his dad. So he was gone for a lot of my actual drinking. So he doesn’t have a lot of memory of me drinking either, which I’m grateful for. But, he… Yeah. My second marriage was the last six years. We were married for six years and that was the last six years of my drinking, basically. It’s a progressive disease and that was where the progression really hit an accelerator. So when I had my daughter that was the last four years. So she got the brunt of it in terms of the risk. I mean I’m strapping her into her car seat and because we’re only going four miles down the road to this friend’s house you can’t possibly crash your car and kill yourself, kill your kids, kill somebody else’s kids, because it’s just down the road. I mean this is-
Brandy: That’s the alcoholic brain-
Jennifer: The delusion of the disease of alcoholism, it’ll tell you stuff like that. Because I’m the designated drunk driver, which means I drink half of what I would normally drink. What I normally drink is three quarters of a 1.75 milliliter bottle of vodka. I’m not a scientist or anything, but I’m thinking half of that.
Brandy: Yeah. You’re fine. Right? (sarcasm)
Jennifer: Yeah. Probably the state of California would have definitely said that I was still drunk. But yeah, I’m not thinking clearly and my life seems very normal to me because I surround myself with people who drink like I drink.
Brandy: Right. Well, that was one of the things from Janelle’s book. Just by talking to people, that really gave me the soft spot because it’s so easy to look on the outside and go, “That mom, she doesn’t love her kids.” To just judge that shit so hard. And to really realize that your brain is not working right. So it’s not about love.
Jennifer: Not at all.
Brandy: It’s about a disease. That part was really helpful for me to realize that, to understand these people aren’t operating like the rest of us, and so in a sense, we can’t hold them to the same standards even though we have to legally for the welfare of themselves and their children. But that part, all the things that you’ve told me when we’ve been out to lunch and you’ve told me that just felt okay to you, that’s a whole different brain.
Jennifer: Absolutely. It’s so powerful and people don’t understand the power of that disease and why it’s never going to work for me to just get some helpful little slogans and write some inspirational meme quotes on a fucking sticky note and stick it on my fridge because this disease is powerful enough that I’m subverting my instinct of a mother to protect her child. I don’t know of anything more powerful than that in the world. So if my alcoholism is stronger than that, I really don’t think there’s any kind of self-knowledge, or self-help, or therapy, or anything like that, any manmade thing is never going to be enough to have enough power to subvert that thing that I’m endangering my baby’s lives on a regular basis.
Brandy: Right. If somebody is doing that, it seems like you’re living with a murderer. That’s just always there like, “Is it today? You going to let it be today?” How do you fight that?
Jennifer: Yeah, absolutely. There’s no fighting it and people just don’t get that. To me, it’s almost God. It’s almost God because there’s nothing more powerful in my life. The only thing that I’ve been able to find is actual God that’s going to be able to step in between me and that next drink. When I say God, I don’t go to church, I don’t have a religion. I mean I just have a power greater than myself that I call God by a shorthand type of thing just because it’s easy to know what I’m talking about. I don’t have a particular religious faith or anything. I’ll go, people invite me to their church. Cool. I’ll check it out. It’s nice. It’s fun. It’s lovely. I have yet to find one that doesn’t have some kind of deal breaker rules for me that it can’t get down with. But really, at the end of the day, I know that I’m not the one who’s keeping myself sober. I have a God who gets between me and that next drink. All I do is the foot work to keep that channel open because I can’t do it by myself. I’ve never once said, “I’m so proud of my sobriety. I’m so proud to be sober,” because that implies that I’m the one who’s doing it and I’m not.
Jennifer: All I do is some foot work to clear this channel. Left to my own devices this channel is blocked. It’s blocked with shame, guilt and every memory of every horrible thing I’ve done. Being a shitty wife, a shitty mother and a shitty daughter to my parents and just never there for anybody. All the shame and guilt and it’s always going to stay clogging any chance that I have for some kind of a power greater than myself to get there and say, “Hey, you’re not going to take this drink.” Left to my own devices, I’m always going to take that drink. Always. So it’s not me. It’s not me that’s doing it. All I do is the footwork. I keep myself active in my recovery activities. I stay in service to other women, other people in recovery. I do this because that’s what keeps the channel open. Because if I don’t, man, I’ve seen what happens and it’s not fucking pretty.
Brandy: Oh wow. Yeah. You need a program that you’re the head of, you need a YouTube channel. You need… I’m just, my mind is going you need to be telling more people all of this stuff. This is really groundbreaking.
Jennifer: That’s the cool thing about it though, is that it’s super common. It’s available to anyone. If you just want to go towards the beginning section of the Yellow Pages, you can find this too, and it’s free. I’ve never been to treatment, I’ve never gone to a detox or anything like that.
Brandy: You didn’t go to a rehab center or?
Jennifer: No. This is available to anyone who struggles with alcoholism, and I have other outside issues in my story. I did a lot of drugs also, but my alcoholism is the main thing. When I treat my alcoholism, that other stuff kind of gets a free ride, because I can’t use meth responsibly either.
Brandy: Darn it. Are there people that can? Can anybody dabble in that?
Jennifer: You would be surprised at what people think that they can kind of get away with?
Brandy: Okay. So tell me about when you got pregnant with your son. So Janelle talks about in her book how pregnancy for her, she stopped drinking. It was like this magical thing that happened where that instinct to protect her child kicked in. Did the same thing happen for you or no?
Jennifer: Yes. Yeah. The two times that I was pregnant were the only times in my adult life, well since I started drinking, I started drinking around 18 years old. The only times that I ever had any extended period of not drinking were during my pregnancies. I didn’t find out I was pregnant until eight, 10 weeks. So I always worried about how much damage I did in that first period. But my kids came out healthy. So I did not drink for my first pregnancy. My second pregnancy, I was married to an Englishman. The English, Irish, Europeans, have a little bit more of a freewheeling attitude towards it. Like, you’re supposed to drink Guinness, it’s good for the baby. So I probably ran with that a little bit, but not to any great extent. So those pregnancies are the only time that I didn’t drink, but it was a countdown and I was waiting. My daughter, I mean when she was born, literally we did not go home from the hospital. We went to the pub and the first place that my baby’s car seat ever rested, besides the car, was the bar of the pub. This seems totally normal to me because it’s a cultural thing. It’s not a bar. It’s a pub.
Brandy: Right. It’s a fun version of alcoholism. It’s the English version.
Jennifer: It’s a good wholesome family setting. Which it is, but for someone who like me, who doesn’t drink right. I can’t drink right so.
Brandy: So, I wondered this about Janelle too. What is that, that was in protective mode that made it so that you were sober during that, that then isn’t in effect after you have the baby? Do you think there are pregnancy hormones that are almost godlike, that are as strong as that urge that come in in pregnancy, but then bail on you hour one that the baby’s out?
Jennifer: I don’t think it’s anything. It’s not about the physical or the hormones or anything. It’s the mental and spiritual aspect of it. I feel like I’ve done my time here, I’ve let this baby gestate and grow and she’s out now, so I deserve a little bit. But I also had terrible postpartum depression. I did not realize that with my first child. So for my daughter I knew. I was already taking antidepressants.
Brandy: So there’s some duty that seems to happen when you’re pregnant where you just know physiologically somehow that what I put in my body goes to my baby and helps them grow and it’s like that almost switches you out of the alcoholic mindset, like that is more important. Then once the baby’s born, even though it would seem, well my baby’s seeing everything. So, I’m just, it’s so interesting that somebody who was not able to be sober for lots of years, maybe even a decade or something like that, all of a sudden can be for pregnancy. But it sounds like that’s a common thing because Janelle talked about it too.
Jennifer: Right. It was for me, that’s what I experienced, that’s what Janelle experienced, but I know a lot of women who were not able to stop drinking throughout their pregnancy. So it just, it’s different for everyone. But I know a lot of people, they could not stop no matter what.
Brandy: I imagine on the other side of that, that’s got to be one of the hardest things to get over or make, I don’t even know that you could make peace with it, but just accept it.
Jennifer: It’s hard. But like everything else, I don’t have any choice. No matter what I’ve done, no matter how low I’ve gone in my alcoholism, I don’t have any choice. If I’m still above ground, I got to keep going, I got to do the work and I got to stay sober regardless of what I’ve done and how far down the scale I’ve gone. So it doesn’t really matter what your story is, you still gotta do the same work in order for those things to not happen again. Because, people have this concept of a rock bottom and they think that it’s some objective destination. Like, “Oh, if this happened, then I’d definitely have to quit.” I had a million of those and I just kept redrawing the line in the sand. If I did that, and then I DID that thing. “Oh well, no, I didn’t mean THAT. I meant this other thing.” I keep redrawing the line, redrawing the line. I’m doing all the shitty behaviors that I thought, “Wow, somebody would really have to take a look at themselves if they did that.” Finally, what do I get to? At the end I was just like, “Well my CPS hasn’t taken my children away and I haven’t killed anyone. So I guess I’m okay.” Really? That’s my standards. I’ve worked with women who they did kill someone and they’re still drinking. Until I am literally underneath the ground, I can always go lower. This disease will always take me lower until I’m just literally not breathing anymore. That’s really the only bottom that’s going to be enough for this disease.
Brandy: When your kids were little, where you doing mom shit? Were you doing Mommy and Me classes? Were you meal planning? Where you doing PTA shit? What does that look like?
Jennifer: No, and also no.
Brandy: I would love to be on a PTA with you by the way. It would be the funnest thing ever.
Jennifer: Yeah. No. I was never real domestic in general. I was raised by a mother who never taught me to cook or clean because she told me those things are stupid. “You don’t want to be a little Susie homemaker when you can be the president of the United States.” So I already have a bad relationship with domesticity. So I wasn’t-
Brandy: That’s so interesting. Your mom was so ahead of her time. I want to be like, “Fuck yeah, she’s right.” But also like, wait, it’s the extremes. Every episode of this, it’s always about how when we go so extreme one way or the other, we miss this healthy middle ground.
Jennifer: Oh yeah. I really could have done with knowing how to cook. She was a great cook and she cooked for us all the time, but she just never let me forget that this is drudgery, this is terrible, and you’ve got bigger things to do with your life.
Brandy: Okay. So then when you were a mom, you were just like, “I don’t do any of this stuff?”
Jennifer: Oh yeah, no.
Brandy: But playing with your kids, do you remember, or were you three sheets to the wind at a park? What do you remember from that?
Jennifer: I definitely had my water bottle full of vodka everywhere we went. I always thought we were such great parents because we always took the kids with us. We basically spend the weekend at somebody’s house. There’s all these families, we’re all drinking together and we’ve all got our kids with us. I got one eye on the kids. They got a pool, we’re swimming, we’re having fun. Yeah. I look back on it now and of course I’m filled with dread, but-
Brandy: Oh my God, the pool with… The pool sober is terrifying enough.
Jennifer: Yeah it is. Yeah. But at the time you couldn’t tell me nothing.
Brandy: Sure. Yeah. So you mentioned this rock-bottom thing, so I don’t know if that’s the right word to explain, but what was the thing that turned you different, that you finally woke up? What made you finally wake up?
Jennifer: It’s so strange because I always thought it was going to be something very dramatic and I was waiting to, I don’t know, get a DUI or something really big like that to happen. My last drink, I took in a strip club in Canada. I was visiting one of my best friends from high school and college. She had moved to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. I went up there to visit her for a week and the last night of my trip she had a small child so she couldn’t take me out on the town. So I remember she enlisted one of her friends to take me out and I wanted to go to the peelers, they call it the peelers in Canada – the strip club, because you peel your clothes off. Yeah. They have such great things up there. So, funnily enough, this guy had not had a drink for about eight years. He was sober and he gets saddled with this drunk girl to take me out on the town and take me to the strip club. So I spend my last night of my drinking – I can’t get drunk anymore – I’m drinking a ton of vodka and I’m getting mad at the bartender. He must be just really making some weak drinks for me, man. I’m like, “This guy doesn’t know me from Adam. Why would he do that?”
Brandy: But your body was just like, it was just desensitized?
Jennifer: Yeah, it was just towards the end I couldn’t get that good feeling, I couldn’t get buzzed. But I’m trying to beat the band. In Canada they don’t have paper money for $1 and $2, they have coins, they have loonies and toonies. So I spent the last night of my drinking-
Brandy: Wait, that’s actually what their money is called?
Jennifer: Yes. Loonies and toonies. Loonie’s $1, toonie is $2.
Brandy: I never knew Canada was so fun.
Jennifer: It’s super fun. Especially at the peelers because the girl is on stage, normally you’d go slip the dollar in her garter. No, you get to throw projectiles at this girl on the stage and they make a fun carnival game out of it. She’s got posters that she’s made, and key chains and all kinds of carnival prizes with her picture on it. So she funnels the little poster between her cleavage and you get to throw the coin and see if you can hit into the funnel.
Brandy: That’s like the carnival.
Jennifer: It is.
Brandy: Family friendly.
Jennifer: It’s fun for the whole family. So that’s how I spent the last night of my drinking is throwing metal objects at a naked woman on the stage. I think that’s a really fitting ending for a really sans dignity drinking career. Because the dignity had gone out the window a long time ago. Then I was flying home the next day, I bought a journal because I had… Oh, fun fact. I had been in a recovery program for people who deal with other alcoholics in their lives. I’m really good at dealing with the alcoholism in my family and in my partners, but never with my own. So I was going to do some journaling.
Brandy: About them.
Jennifer: About them. Because the root of my heartache is other people.
Brandy: By the way, I think that man that took you out was not a real human being, but was some sort of angel. I think if you were to go back to your friend and be like, “Hey, so remember that guy that took me out?” She would go like, “What guy?” Because the fact that he was sober and then he took you there and then you had your last drink, that-
Jennifer: Yeah, I would think so too. Except I’ve seen him on Facebook since then.
Brandy: It’s not real. It’s a ghost. Shit. Okay. So anyway, okay, so you get this journal.
Jennifer: Yeah, I got this journal. It’s a lovely yellow flower journal. And what does it have on the cover? It’s the serenity prayer. I’m like, “Hello.” So I’m writing my sad, sad missive about how my husband had just left me. Oh did I mention that? Two weeks before my second husband had left.
Brandy: Wait, was he an alcoholic too?
Jennifer: I’m never one to say if someone else’s alcoholic. He definitely drank a lot and that was part of the attraction for me. He was super fun. We had a great time together until I turned out to be a really shitty wife and he had to bounce. So two weeks after he left is when I got sober actually because I was sitting in that airport and I’m writing my sad, sad story about the terrible tragedy of my life. The last thing that I wrote as I’m sitting there in the airport is, what is keeping me from getting sober today? That’s the last thing I wrote. A week later I found myself meeting all these people who were going to give me the tools of recovery that were going to change my life. So I haven’t taken a drink since then, over 10 years ago.
Brandy: So you asked yourself that question and just from that question, you didn’t have another drink?
Jennifer: Yeah. I think who I was asking the question to, I think I was asking God to help me and he pointed me in the right direction. Thankfully in my life I have my next youngest brother, he was alcoholic and I saw him get sober and he had about 17 years of sobriety at that point when I finally quit drinking. So I knew that he had done it and I knew that there was help out there. So I knew where to go. So I did and I got to work right away. I’ve been real, real active in my recovery and working with other women. I take recovery into the women’s jail by where I live.
Jennifer: So yeah, I just, I got to have a completely different life and the gifts that has given me, I thought I was just going to quit drinking. I thought I was just going to remove the alcohol. I had no idea that this entire new world was going to open up to me because all I ever wanted to do from the time I was 17 years old, all I ever wanted to do was drink.
Brandy: You had no other focus.
Jennifer: I had no other interests. I didn’t have, if I go on vacation I’m only thinking about, “Oh we have to do the all-inclusive because all we’re going to do is stay in the hotel and drink.” I mean, literally, I could have stayed home and done that shit. I mean I don’t even know why we bothered spending money. The world I wanted, the life I wanted for myself was this tiny little corner of a room and I didn’t really care about going outside or doing anything besides just drinking the way I wanted to drink.
Brandy: So when you became sober, it’s almost like in a way, when we watch our kids go through the world and they see all these things that we’ve forgotten about because we’re adults, that are on their level and interesting to them – is that a little bit how it felt to you that you were like, that moment of Dorothy in Wizard of Oz coming into Technicolor and just like, “It can be like this?”
Jennifer: Oh my God, I felt like I wanted to get a baby book for myself. Everything that I did, like baby’s first ______. The first time I went to a movie sober, the first time I went to a concert sober, I’m a huge music fan and I thought, “Oh my God, am I really or was I just drunk?” I had all these tattoos. Do I really even like tattoos or was I just drunk? I had no idea.
Brandy: What was the answer to that?
Jennifer: Thankfully, I really do like tattoos and I’ve gotten a lot more tattooed since I’ve gotten sober. I love music. I cried, the first show that I went to. There’s a local band called Dirty Sweet in San Diego. They’re one of my favorite bands. I remember going to that show petrified. Like, is this just going to be some stale, static nothing thing for me because all I was reacting to was the alcohol? I had that experience – the music was able to take me where – and I just cried. I stood there crying and everything was like that. The first… We went to a kids’ movie with some 3D crap. I don’t even remember what it was. I’m crying, I’m sobbing in the movie theater because I’m like, “I can’t believe how… Is this… Movies have come so far.” (laughing) I’m thinking it’s some technological advancement, but I just never opened my fucking eyes for the last 18 years.
Brandy: Oh my God, you’d been like in someone’s basement for 18 years and they let you out.
Jennifer: Yes. I’m like the freaking Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. They let me out of the dungeon and I’m amazed by everything. That’s what it is. I’ve done amazing things like going to Greece to work with Syrian refugee babies. I spent my seven year sobriety anniversary standing on the Port of Piraeus waiting for these refugees’ babies to come so we could hold them, help them, give them clothes and baby carriers and all this stuff. It’s been things like that, but really it’s just that everyday I’ll be driving up the road to go to my house, I’ve thankfully gotten to keep hold of my home, my job and my children. Just seeing the trees that are lining the street of where I live, I’m like, “I can’t believe I get to live here. I can’t believe this is my home. This is my life. I get to go to a nice office every day and type on the computer and they give me a paycheck every two weeks.”
Brandy: That must be the humility that I feel. Is that the right word. Like, humbleness?
Brandy: That must be the humility that I see in people in recovery, because that’s probably what’s behind it.
Jennifer: It’s the gratitude and the humility because I should be dead. I should be dead many times over. The situations I put myself in, the places that I’ve gotten, the people that I chose to spend my time with, they could have killed me and cut me up in a little pieces and all up so many times I can’t even count. All the times I drove drunk, I was drunk driver from the word go. The fact that I’m not dead or underneath the jail – if I got what I deserved in this life, I wouldn’t be here in many ways. The fact that I just get to wake up every morning, everything else is fucking gravy. I should be dead. The greatest gift is to be able to see that. To be able to recognize. The thing that’s terrible about alcoholism is it gives you this myopia and you cannot see the blessings in your life. One day I was dropping my daughter off at school, regular day, whatever, she gets out of the car and I’m looking in the rear view mirror and I’m seeing her, to make sure she gets inside the gate. I see her, she’s walking, she has her little lunchbox and she’s swinging her lunchbox. She’s walking and she’s swinging her lunchbox. I just burst into tears, because she’s just like a little happy, regular little girl. She doesn’t have a drunk mom anymore. She gets to just be a kid, go to school and she doesn’t have the weight of the world on her shoulders like I did when I was her age, and I get to be there for her. I get to be her mother today. My son struggled so much with school and that’s part of one of the reasons I really resonated with Janelle. I got to take him out of the school he was in and find a place that he would thrive in and to get him to be able to finish high school because that was a tooth and nail struggle.
Jennifer: If I was drinking, I would have just left him where he was and let him figure it out. I have no idea where he would be today if it wasn’t for that. The fact that my kids have a mother today is because of my sobriety and the things that I have learned in recovery and the design for living that I have gotten from these tools. Just the fact that I can see it and I know that I didn’t do it and it gives me such gratitude and that is what propels me every day.
Brandy: Oh my goodness. I can just picture that moment. I can just like… Just the, all of the things that encapsulates, just the purity of that moment.
Jennifer: I think about that all the time because it doesn’t have to be the big wow European humanitarian trips and the big moments just every day. I can’t believe this is my life. I can’t believe that I get to have all of this, have people and just the writing retreat, I never would have done that. I don’t do things like that. Fucking making my own clothes because I want to dress Little House on the fucking Prairie. I get to be who I am today and I’m not just walking around looking at the ground because I’m so ashamed of all the shitty stuff I do. I don’t have any fear of walking down any street in any city on God’s green earth because I’m afraid of who I’m going to run into and, “Oops, what’d I do with your husband?” “Oh, did I ruin your beautiful carpet last night at your party?” “Did I steal from you?” I was just such an asshole and I don’t have to be an asshole anymore. Yay. It is such a gift to be released from the assholery.
Brandy: Oh my God. God just, I’m speechless. Just, it’s like… I don’t want to say that it’s better that you went through all of that-
Jennifer: Oh, it is though.
Brandy: But if you’re a person who’s just put on this earth and everything works out for you, that’s fine and whatever, but this is such a rich experience at the expense of some awfulness, risk and all of that. But the gain on the other side of it is hopefully inspiring for people.
Jennifer: I don’t regret one second of the horror that I went through and that I put other people through because I had to go through all of that. I had to go through all of it in order to get to this point. I’m so grateful to be an alcoholic and I used to hear people say that and I’d be like, “Oh God, what a stupid thing to be grateful for. This sucks.” Then today I know what they mean because if I was just somebody put on this earth with none of the stuff that I had to deal with, I just be a fucking paper bag floating on the breeze, no idea. I don’t ever have to struggle with big concepts of like, why are we here? Why were we put on this earth? I have all that because of that. It’s a whole new ball game and I’m fucking stoked on, I’m stoked to be a drunk. Because if I wasn’t, I don’t know. I don’t think I would’ve, on my own steam, would have tried to become the person that I am today.
Brandy: Right. Without that, would your life be as meaningful? I’m sure there are a bunch of people out there who feel so ashamed, like, “I’ve wasted my life. This is pointless,” whatever. But to think that, no actually what’s ahead of you is part of that, or what was behind you is part of that meaning. Meaning doesn’t have to come from doing it all fucking right. Or even at all.
Jennifer: Yeah. That’s the thing is the shittiest things I’ve done in my life, the things I have the most shame and the most guilt about, those are the things that turn to gold because that’s the thing that allows me to help another woman when she is telling me the things that she was going to go to her grave with, that she was never going to share with another human being because it makes her feel the worst piece of shit on earth. I get to look at her, just nod and say, “Yeah, you know what? I did something like that. Here’s a thing that I did.” She sees she’s not the worst piece of shit on earth. She’s just a garden variety drunk like me. I’m a garden variety drunk. I did garden variety drunk things. I can’t do anything about changing it. So all I can do is forgive myself, ask for forgiveness from the people who I’ve harmed and move on. That stuff becomes the most valuable asset that I have. What? I mean, that’s crazy. That is crazy to me that the stuff that we would- intrusive thoughts, would come to me and I would walk down the street and I would start just shudder, shaking my head to get this horrible vision out of my head of some terrible thing that I did. That’s the thing that allows me to help another woman who thought she was the worst piece of crap on earth. To me it’s the best game in town. I can’t believe that I get to be helpful to other people and the women who have come back to me and said, “Thank you for helping me.” I get to see their lives, their families, their children, and the way that they’ve turned their lives around. It’s a pretty sweet fucking deal. That’s why I relate so much with Janelle. Why her book set my hair on fire and why I had to go to the writing retreat.
Brandy: Totally. I feel like I’m in a little bit of a bubble because I don’t have a lot of people around me that I would think would, well you just never know. I guess you just never know who is struggling with alcoholism, and you’re saying people can mask it pretty well and then there seems to be a point in which it’s like everybody maybe sort of knows, but I’m wondering how does one tell the difference between, I’m a casual drinker, I like to have a couple of drinks every weekend or whatever, I like to drink, and alcoholism?
Jennifer: Well, it’s different for anyone and they can kind of, what they told me is that I can diagnose myself pretty quickly. I can step to the nearest bar room and try some controlled drinking. Me, I’ve never been able to. I can’t say when I’m going to stop. I can’t say, “Oh, I’m just going to have two drinks.” First of all, that seems fucking stupid. Why would you not drinking at least half a bottle of vodka, what is the point really? That’s just dumb.
Brandy: Either sack up or don’t it at all?
Jennifer: Yeah. I never had any interest in a few drinks. But, if I can’t say and be correct about how much I’m going to drink and if I am having things happen that I told myself I wasn’t going to let happen, it’s different for everyone, but the cool thing about it is I can choose what my rock bottom is going to be. I can choose because this train of alcoholism, it’s all going to the same place. It’s all going to jails, institutions, and death. So I can choose to get off of that train at any one of those stops. I could have gotten off on the stop back when I first recognized, oh wow, I just got home with my kids in the car, and I don’t really remember everything about the drive home. I could’ve gotten off the first time that my friends had to crawl under some gross grimy public restroom and pull me out because I had locked the door and passed out on the toilet and 15 of my friends saw me having to be pulled out. It’s humiliating, it’s disgusting. I could’ve gotten off the train on any one of those stops.
Jennifer: So I don’t have to wait. I don’t have to wait until I kill somebody. I don’t have to wait for some imagined future horror. I can get off of that train any time and say I’m making a decision that I am going to go and get this help that’s available to anyone. If I do, the things that we do to stay sober, it works for everyone. No matter how far low I’ve gone or if I haven’t even really gone that low yet. So it’s really just a matter of how much suffering do you want to continue with or do you want to just nip it in the bud.
Brandy: And have this awesome, amazing, magical life that you’re living.
Jennifer: Yeah. People have to get pretty fucked up to be willing to do it because it’s a lot of ego puncturing. The work is simple, but it’s not easy. I have to do some real hardcore looking at myself, and a lot of people don’t want to do it.
Brandy: I think there are listeners out there who are maybe hovering in this spot of like, I think maybe I’m drinking too much, but I don’t know, is this something I should just try to pull back on? Or is this something like, do I need to seek bigger help? I think our motherhood culture is problematic for that because we all do the thing where it’s like, “Well, have a glass of wine.” You’re saying for people who can drink right that can be fine.
Jennifer: Yeah, knock yourself out.
Brandy: But for people who can’t drink right, that’s the train to all the horrible things. So obviously it’s different for everybody, but how does somebody know when they’re tipping into the, I don’t drink right territory? Maybe even if you gave an answer that was like, here’s the one way you know that person is an alcoholic, so they will still not be able to see it. Aside from the controlled drinking, could you go into a bar and say, “I’m not going to have anything,” and then that actually come true? Are there any other little symptomatic things that are pretty obvious that maybe people would go, “Oh wow. I’m all three of those things.” Do you have any ideas?
Jennifer: Right. Yeah. The separation between problem drinkers and alcoholics is: a problem drinker, if they’re given sufficient reason, can cool out a little bit. They can stop or moderate just like, “Hey, your doctor says you really need to cut your drinking down.” Or if they meet some wonderful partner and they’re like, “Hey, you know what? I don’t think we can get married.” If you’re able to get your shit together based on one of those things that means you were just a problem drinker. You go on your merry way and you never have any more problems with alcohol. Good for you.
Jennifer: If you can’t stop, even when you know… I’ve worked with so many women who they got DUI and they would say things like, “Well, I’m never going to do that again. I learned my lesson there.” But I don’t ever have the luxury of being able to say anything that I won’t do because if I drink again, what? Did you plan to get the first DUI? That wasn’t, I wasn’t planning for that one. So it’s really whatever it is for you. Your idea of, “Oh wow, I’m…” That person would have a problem if they did this. But they have those little things on line. 20 questions. I lied about those questions a lot back in the day.
Brandy: The first question should be, do you feel like you want to lie about these questions? Then you’re like, “Shit.”
Jennifer: Yeah, it’s terrible. I was working with a girl this morning and I’m like, “Virulent stage four cancer is a nicer disease than alcoholism because cancer never tells you, ‘Oh, you don’t have cancer. You don’t need to go to that chemo session. You’re good. Do some yoga. You’ll be fine. Here’s some really inspirational memes on Facebook. Just remember that and your cancer will go. You don’t have cancer. You’re good.’” Alcohol is so evil because it tells you, you don’t have a disease.
Brandy: It’s sinister.
Jennifer: it says, “You’re fine. You just were overreacting, honey. Don’t worry about it.”
Brandy: It like gaslights you. The disease that gas lights you, Alcoholism.
Jennifer: It’s horrific. I don’t know of any other disease that does that to you. So, to me it’s the worst.
Brandy: Yeah. So what’s your take on noticing symptoms of other people? So I’m thinking about, I know in our 20s well, and this is probably different for everybody, but in the people that I know, in our 20s, it was still okay to get drunk every weekend if you wanted to. It was like, “Oh, you’re in your 20s.” That’s what you do. Then you go get brunch and you’re kind of sophisticated, I don’t know. But then in your 30s and when you start having kids that dwindles down. Then now that I’m in my 40s, it’s the stage…Well, it’s funny. It’s the stage where I think it’s no longer healthy or necessarily appropriate to get drunk every weekend, but yet I see people doing this. I would imagine that there are listeners out there who are thinking, “Oh, I wonder if my husband has a problem.” Do you have any insight for them on how they might be able to tell anything, kind of what we’ve talked about, or anything new that has to do with having a partner with it?
Jennifer: Yeah. It’s hard and I definitely, I’m very grateful for the fact that they have recovery programs for families and loved ones of alcoholics because that stuff really helped me in the years before I was able to admit my own alcoholism because it’s pretty hardcore to live with that disease as well. Especially for people like me who grew up as children of an alcoholic family. Again, it’s like you can’t really do anything. The three Cs. I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it and I can’t cure it. So within that framework I can say, “Hey, I’m concerned about this.” If the concern doesn’t produce any change, you might be dealing with things. I’m so grateful that… because there’s so many people that I know that are my age, my cohort, drank like I drank, but just enough to keep it one notch below alcoholism. So they’re just really hard drinkers and they’d been able to stay at this baseline for a really fucking long time. And maybe the chickens are coming home to roost in like, their cholesterol is sky high? I have some people that are bordering on fatty liver disease, but nothing was bad enough for them to say, “Oh God, I got to fucking quit this.” I’m so grateful not to be that. I see it in lives and it’s still nothing that I would want to have. They’re all kind of low-grade depressed. It’s like stalled out life. It’s just, it sucks. I’m glad I’m not that.
Brandy: So it’s almost more sad to not be a raging alcoholic, right? Because then you have to stay with that forever because it never shows up as a huge problem. You can get away with it.
Jennifer: Yes. That is the worst. I see those people every day on Facebook. I’m just like, “Dude, I wish you would fucking crash your car. Or lose your job.”
Brandy: Yeah. Just to wake up to something different.
Jennifer: Yeah, to something that would wake your ass up and say, “Hey, you know there’s a lot more to life here.”
Brandy: Yeah. So do you think that maybe one step for people who are married to somebody, or have somebody in their life that they’re like, I don’t know if this is heavy drinking, alcoholism, if this is healthy or not, do you think a good first step is for them to go to one of those support groups or recovery meetings for people who have alcoholics in their life and see if any of it resonates?
Jennifer: Yeah, I think identifying is one of the primary ways that we get to see if recovery is right for us. If I go to a room full of people who have ostensibly the same kind of issues that I have and everything they’re saying is like, “Oh man.” “Oh yeah.” “Oh I did that.” Or, “I felt that.” Identification is a really strong tool to say, “Oh, well if I identify with so many of the things that these people are saying they experience, maybe that thing they’re doing to help themselves will help me too.”
Jennifer: But some people who really just don’t have any clue that their drinking is affecting someone else, it might be enough for their partner to just say, “Hey, I’m really worried about this.” Someone who just… Because nobody sees their own shit. So if somebody’s just bringing it up to them, sometimes that’s all it takes. But it’s like anything else in life. How do I know that I have depression? It’s like how much is it impacting my ability to live my life on a daily basis?
Brandy: I think the normal reaction though, when somebody says, “Hey, it feels like you’re drinking a little bit too much. Maybe we don’t do five cocktails. Maybe we just do one or two tonight.” I feel like the usual reaction is defensiveness. “You’re going to control me? That’s not cool.” So in marriage, that’s a tough thing, right? Because you don’t wanna… and all the stuff about not wanting to be a bitchy wife. I know there are listeners out there that are stuck in that spot and I wonder what’s the next move for them?
Jennifer: Especially if you’ve already had that conversation and it didn’t result in any kind of a change, I would definitely say like the only thing – I can’t control other people even if they’re living in my house with me. So the only thing I can change is myself, and the great thing about programs like Al-Anon, is that the people in my life, nothing changes about them. Nothing. They continue to do the same behaviors if they’re drinking, whatever, they don’t have to change anything, but I can have a completely different perspective on it when I see, “Oh, I have a part in this. I actively chose this person.”
Jennifer: For me, every partner I’ve ever had, they showed me who they were right off the bat. So I get to see why, what’s my deal here? What’s my part in this? What am I bringing to the table here? So that I can change my perspective on it and I kind of don’t really have to worry that much about what other people are doing because I’m going to be okay regardless. Once you’ve tried to intervene with someone and they’re not changing, my only choice at that point is to put the spotlight back on me and see what can I do for my… Because there is recovery from other people’s alcoholism.
Brandy: For real?
Brandy: So if you’re married to somebody who you’ve said, “Hey, I would like you to drink less.” And they’re like, “No.” Then divorce isn’t the only answer?
Jennifer: No, absolutely not. Especially if that’s not… Well, I grew up with a woman whose motto was, “I’ve divorced three sons of beaches and I’ll divorce another one.”
Brandy: Your mom was a bad ass.
Jennifer: My mom was such a bad ass. She was the greatest. I fucking miss her so much. But not everybody feels that way. Some people do actually want to preserve their marriage and if that is the case… Yeah. I mean there’s all kinds of stuff you can do. There’s all kinds of recovery for the family and the loved ones of alcoholics and they don’t have to change anything.
Brandy: I mean, I understand that that’s really great, but then also, the person who is the problem is not going to change their problem, but all the people around them are going to go to support groups to deal with it? That’s an amount of love or denial (one or the other) that’s pretty huge.
Jennifer: Yeah. But I’ve seen plenty of people do it without the recovery part. So if you’re going to stick around anyway, you might as well get some relief.
Brandy: Yes. Okay. I had no idea that one could do that.
Jennifer: Yeah. It’s life changing for people who are in that situation. Because there’s a lot of people who are not like me. I really needed to be across the hall in the other meeting.
Brandy: Do they teach you to just accept it? Did they teach you ways to cope with it to not let it get you down? Do they teach you to accept it?
Jennifer: Yeah. It’s acceptance that I can’t do anything about… I have no control over other people, places, and things.
Brandy: Wow. That’s got to be a relief. I just immediately can imagine a wife who every time they’re out every weekend and it’s like, “Oh is he having… is that his fifth or sixth cocktail?” That it would give you a way to let go of that but also feel okay about it, not just I’m an enabler.
Jennifer: Absolutely. Because once I realized and I learned that this is a disease and the person, they can’t stop themselves either. So it just gives me completely different perspective. And I learn about myself – why do I have such a need to control that? I’m literally keeping checkmarks as to how many cocktails you’ve had this evening. I got my own stuff from growing up in my alcoholic family. So I get to look at myself and worry about my own side of the street and then I don’t have to obsess so much about the other side of the street because I can’t do shit about that person.
Jennifer: But just going and sitting in a room with people that were telling the same story I was telling, it’s so helpful for people if you’re not going to die of alcoholism. Even just the identifying and the solace of having other people who are dealing with the same stuff you are, it’s very helpful. So I would totally… I mean, what do you got to lose just by checking it out and who knows, you might find some real help there?
Brandy: I had never thought about that in terms of keeping the person in your life and doing that, accepting their awful behavior that’s affecting you, but then making a way to make it livable. That’s beautiful in a certain way.
Jennifer: Yeah. We learn how to know the difference between unacceptable behavior because we don’t accept unacceptable behavior. But to know where the line is, what can I control, what can I not, what is my side of the street, and what is that person’s side of the street and to act accordingly?
Brandy: Does that program line up what’s acceptable and what isn’t? Or is that a subjective thing for each person?
Jennifer: Well, I mean to a certain extent. But you’re not going to accept somebody hitting you. There are clear danger issues. A lot of people who go to these programs, they finally get the perspective or the strength or whatever it was that they need, if they really do need to make a shift away from this person. Maybe I do need to divorce this person, maybe I do need to move on.
Brandy: I feel like that fear makes people not want to go though.
Jennifer: True. Absolutely.
Brandy: Because, I think that people who live with that and maybe even know a little bit this is not cool, they’re scared that if they go somewhere and hear other people talk about it, that it will be 100% for sure that they’ll go, “Fuck.”
Jennifer: Yeah. The anticipation is always worse. That’s with everything in life. But it’s definitely worth checking out if you have any kind of an issue like that because sometimes it’s just cool to hear one other person say that thing like, “Oh my God, I thought I was the only one,” and you hear somebody tell your exact story. One of the first meetings I went to, the speaker meeting, this woman talked for 45 minutes and I’m just crying. Everything that she said is like, “Oh my God, I’ve done that. I’ve felt that. I’ve experienced that.” It’s pretty amazing. We’re not alone at all. So many people think that they are.
Brandy: Well and especially, I would think mom’s, that’s the other thing about this shame factor, embarrassment factor, on why moms might not want to reach out, is because the embarrassment of being the mom who put her drinking before her kids – which we understand that’s not really how it’s working. It’s the body. It’s like the murderer inside of you that you can’t keep down. So in your experience where there are lots of moms there who felt that way?
Jennifer: Absolutely. Most of the work that I’ve done with other alcoholic women, women gravitate towards me when we have similar experiences. So most of the women I work with are also moms and we’ve done all the garden variety drunk mom shit. The biggest thing that, it’s kind of one of the biggest obstacles to staying sober ironically, is that they’re too focused on – if their kids have been removed from them or if they may be living with the dad or something, they’re so like, “I got to get my kid back, I got to get my kid back. I got to get them back from either CPS or their dad or my family who has them now.” They’re so hyper-focused, but if you don’t build that real strong foundation under you before you go back to that kid, they’ve got temporary mom. When somebody’s like, “Oh I don’t want to go to a recovery home because I’ll be away from my kid for 60 or 90 days or something.” Like, “Dude, you want to be away for 60 days, 90 days, or do you want to be away for the rest of your fucking life?” Because you’re not able to be a mother to this child. The ones that are hot to trot to get back to the kids right away, it’s just, it’s always a bad sign. You have to be able to set that time to focus 100% on your own alcoholism and your own recovery to be of any use to that kid in the long-term. It’s the number one thing that I struggle with and why people just drop out because they’re too obsessed with getting back to the daily making the fucking sandwiches-
Brandy: And they’re not looking at the bigger picture.
Jennifer: You need to be forever mom. Not just right now mom.
Brandy: Right. Do your kids know your story? I know that your youngest at four said… How did she call it? The so-
Jennifer: My SO-BO-RYE-ITY.
Brandy: Yes. But do they know, I mean they obviously don’t know all the details, but do they know, yeah, my mom’s an alcoholic in recovery, she’s been sober for 10 years?
Jennifer: Absolutely. Yeah. They came with me to all of my recovery stuff when they were young. They know pretty much all of my friends are in recovery, the vast majority of my circle, the “family you choose.” My whole life is built on my sobriety. So yeah, my kids absolutely know about that. Another one of my big cry my eyes out moments was my son. He has ADHD, he’s always hated school. He hates writing, he hates everything around that. So he got a little planner for his, I want to say like seventh grade. So I had maybe been sober for a few years and he got one of, the school gives you a planner to write your homework and all that stuff. So the only things that he had in his planner for the entire year, he wrote down his dad’s birthday and he wrote, “Mom three years sobor.” S-O-B-O-R. So they’re really, both of them are into the SO-BO-RYE-ITY, but he wrote that and I just, I couldn’t believe it. This kid can’t remember our freaking last name to save his life.
Brandy: Oh my gosh. But that was important to him.
Jennifer: Yeah. So yeah, my kids are both really proud. My daughter, she wrote me the most amazing card for my 10 years back in March. Oh my God. She just, she made me cry my eyes out too, just saying how proud she is of me. She sees me working with other women, she sees me doing service. It’s just amazing to come from where I was and I couldn’t be bothered. If I was there in body, I was not there in mind, I was not there in spirit to be with my kids. I was constantly checking my watch. “When do I get to go and do what I really want to do?” I was never present. To go from that, to be able to have these real relationships with my kids and to do actual work and action to give them the best in terms of their schooling and their lives, their social lives, it’s just, I can’t believe it. I can’t believe that I get to have all of these gifts when I was so on the verge of losing everything. When I started making amends to people, I started seeing how many people were like, “Oh yeah, we were about to call CPS on you. We were starting to get really worried about the kids.” So I was dangling by my fingernails for that time when I finally got help and I didn’t have to fall off the edge. I’m really grateful for that.
Brandy: Yeah. It sounds like with your kids too, there were obviously things that weren’t ideal, but I think that there could be moms out there who are so embarrassed and couldn’t, don’t want to get help because then I have to admit it and what if my kids – “I can’t be this mom that these kids have this story about.” Which is a denial because it’s happening anyway. But, with what I’m thinking about, your kids, the gifts they get from it too. It’s not all or nothing. It’s not just all bad. There are these gifts for them too to see their parent as a human, a flawed human, somebody who has to fight for something. I don’t know if that is incentive or inspiring to moms to actually take that next step to get help thinking, “You know what, my kids are going to benefit from this, I mean, hugely just in terms of having the forever mom versus not having that.” But even in terms of all this beautiful stuff you’re talking about that can come out of this, that you don’t even know is there. It’s almost like people in that situation, if you could pound it into their head, you gotta trust it’s there. It’s there. But that embarrassment factor, and the fear keeps people away from getting help. So to hear your story and think, wow, if there’s a mom out there right now who is struggling and in this situation, to think if you choose to get help and you do this work and you follow these ways that are already set out that are giving people this brand new freedom, your daughter might write you a letter at age 12 that you just could have never even imagined, that there is this possibility. The only way that there’s possibility for something is NOT in what you’re still doing. It’s in the other thing.
Jennifer: Yeah. It’s funny because I hear people say, “Well, oh, I don’t want to be an alcoholic.” Maybe they mean they don’t want to be an alcoholic in recovery. You’re an alcoholic anyway, so you can reap the horrors of active alcoholism or you can reap the benefits. I didn’t know what was out there for me. I didn’t know like the fact that you said, I’m obsessed with my dogs.I hated animals when I was drinking. Before I got sober, I didn’t like any animals at all. I was like, “Get away from me.” If I went to somebody’s house, I was like, “Ugh.” Dude, now I have three cats, I have a 75-pound pitbull rescue dog and now I’m fostering a little 12-year-old Chihuahua. My heart just keeps growing and expanding into things. Like, I didn’t know that I cared about people to be doing all this service work. I didn’t know that I cared about people halfway around the world that I would get on a plane when I’m terrified of flying to go and help them. All of a sudden, oh my gosh, I love this one cat. Then I love this second cat and a third cat. I hated – I didn’t hate dogs – but I was terrified of dogs my whole life. Now I’m a crazy dog lady too. It just, I don’t know where this thing is going to take me.
Brandy: So, it’s like, it’s so sad that it’s exciting, but if you’re out there and you’re an alcoholic and you haven’t gotten help, who knows what’s waiting for you. I mean, it sounds so cheesy, but it’s like, who might you be? You might be fucking bonkers, but at least it’s real and it’s not dampened by alcohol. Who are you? Go figure out who you are and then fucking own it and enjoy it.
Jennifer: Yeah. That’s why I never question it when I get into some weird shit like plasti-dipping furniture, like, “Okay, let’s do this now. This is what we’re doing now.” I’ll get obsessed with that. It’s fucking great. There’s so much stuff out there. I had no idea. I just wanted to sit there with whatever vodka was on sale and the CVS leaflets. That was the extent of my life. So, there’s all kinds of cool shit out there.
Brandy: Yeah. Sky’s the limit.
Jennifer: My idea when I quit drinking was well, I’m never going to have fun again. I guess I’ve really used up my rights to all the fun that I could have had in 36 years because I was 36 when I got sober. I had no idea that I don’t have to sacrifice one ounce of the fun, the enjoyment, the ridiculousness of just the craziness of… I mean if you think you’re going to be bored, man, just get into service. You get to live vicariously through the drama and nutballishness of everybody that you end up working with and helping with. It’s just, trust me, you won’t be bored. I think that’s a lot of the attraction for people in staying in the life that they know. But that’s the cool thing about it, is you can just go try it. Fuck it, give it 90 days, three months of your life. As they say, your misery will be refunded to you. Give it a shot.
Brandy: It’s always waiting for you.
Jennifer: You’ve got nothing to lose man. It’s like, “Oh, you’re going to go to the gym for whatever trial period. Why don’t you try this, which you will get so much more out of if you have any kind of-” People who have to ask themselves, “Am I an alcoholic?” Usually people who are not alcoholic don’t ever have to pose that question to themselves. If you have to ask…
Brandy: So that is, I think, the answer to my question, how do you know if you’re an alcoholic? It’s if you have to ask yourself if you’re an alcoholic.
Jennifer: The thing that cracks me up is, I didn’t even know it was a thing, “Sober October” and I see people doing it on Facebook all the time and that’s it, you just don’t drink for the month of October. Most of the people I know, they can’t fucking do it. You can’t go 30 days without drinking and you’re still doing this every year. Trying it. Oh my God, bro.
Brandy: Yeah. I don’t know how to thank you for coming here, for being so vulnerable and candid about all of this. Thank you so much. This blew my mind. I have my little notes, and we’ve talked before, but your take on all of this, and your humility and the wisdom that you’ve gained have blown my mind.
Jennifer: Thank you.
Brandy: Yeah. Thank you for being here.
Jennifer: Absolutely. None of it is original. It’s available for anybody who wants it and you too can make your own little House on the Prairie clothes and become a rescue dog enthusiast.
Brandy: Or whatever else weird shit, right?!
Jennifer: Or whatever. You literally have no idea what’s waiting for you.
Brandy: Go find it. Go find it.
Brandy: You guys, are you feeling as inspired and moved as I was here? I’m not trying to sound like Tony Robbins and shit, but if you realize that you potentially have a drinking problem and want to get help but are too embarrassed, or you feel moms (or dads) shouldn’t be alcoholics because it means something about your love for your kids (which Jennifer and Janelle proved it doesn’t), just know that there are lots of other people in recovery just like you, embarrassed for just the same reason, but who are getting their lives back. Some, like Jennifer, are turning that embarrassment into actual connection with others who are struggling. That could be YOU doing that work. So I ask you, what is keeping you from getting sober today?
Brandy: As you may or may not know, I have a podcast website with a transcript of the show (which is perfect for when you’re stuck under a sleeping baby and have to be silent), but if you go to adultconversationpodcast.com, you will find links to the resources talked about in this episode (and of course all the other episodes).
Brandy: I didn’t know this, but the treatment program Jennifer talks about takes its anonymity seriously. So that’s why people who are a part of it speak about it kind of vaguely, but I will link it for you on the podcast website.
Brandy: On a different note, I wanted to make sure that I talked about something here: Men, dads. I made a post recently on my Adult Conversation Facebook page about how my podcast was not made for dads. Nor is this podcast made to hate on dads. It’s not anti-men, it’s pro-mom. To be pro-mom, I have to talk about systems and relationships that are unsupportive to us, including, but not limited to, frameworks that keep us depressed, overworked and undervalued. And since men rule the world, that’s going to include them. All men. Even the awesome woke ones (like my husband) because they still benefit from a setup that we don’t, and are conditioned to keep it that way. This doesn’t mean that men can’t listen or aren’t welcome here. Dads, men, you are absolutely welcome here. You are welcome to listen, learn, laugh. (Did I just say live, love, laugh?!) I have massive respect for any men who listen here and gather this Intel to help support the women and moms in their lives. But if you’re listening and feeling like, “But where’s the dad’s point of view?” that is problematic, and proving the point about why my podcast needs to exist. Simply put, this podcast wasn’t made for you, it was made for the women and the moms in your life. I know it can be hard for you men to just be listeners without trying to insert your opinion or experience, but that is your work here. I would never listen to a podcast by a person of color and think, “They really aren’t representing the white experience here,” so don’t be that guy here! Even if you’re an exception, even if you’re the stay-at-home-dad, even if you know which sippy cups leaks and which don’t, don’t be that guy. Even though you may be a stellar dad, your inclusion is not the priority here, and it’s your job to be okay with that so the women and moms who are benefiting from this podcast can continue to do so. Okay then.
Brandy: If you are enjoying the podcast, please consider leaving a rating, or even better yet, a review in your podcast app. These help me tremendously. If you’re an overachiever, why not flex your extraness by supporting a mom (me, hi) by heading over to patreon.com/adultconversation and becoming a patron of mine for as little as $4 per month. That’s less than what you’d spend on a Scholastic book order. Anyway, thanks for listening.