Drunk Mom by Jowita Bydlowska

15799161 (1)I want something.

This is no ordinary wanting.

This is the wanting that has no end…

And there’s fear behind the wanting – the fear that if the wanting gets denied there will only be pain and the fear itself left.


So, why did I want to read a book about an alcoholic mother?

Several reasons: It’s a place I have never been, and I wanted to read about what it would be like. I had heard her being interviewed about it when it came out, and I wanted to decide for myself what I thought about it. I read this wonderful article not long ago, which was the clincher for me. (Go read it now, if you haven’t already – I’ll wait.)

Drunk Mom is so well written, it makes for compulsive reading, and I can’t imagine another book doing a better job of making you feel like you might ‘get it’, for those of us who haven’t been there. For anyone who has had these same or similar experiences, it’s the perfect book to make you feel like you’re not alone.

I prefer drinking to anything in the world: sex, food, sleep. My child, my lover, anything… It’s like my blood. Even before I get it, I can feel it in my veins… When I drink, I fill with real gold and become god-like.

18131097While reading Drunk Mom, I could feel the thirst, the want, the need, and the desperation. I could feel her shame, guilt, remorse, and fear. Fear of losing everything, but especially fear for her son. But even that did not stop her. I could feel how debilitating mental illness can be, and how it can cause you to do things that go against everything you believe in.

I’m mortified by the fact that I drank without anyone around to take care of the baby in case I drank myself to death, fell on my head, or choked on vomit. I’m so mortified, my immediate thought is to drink this shame out of me…

Can’t get sober until I’m ready to face the guilt and worry; can’t face the guilt and worry when I’m sober.

The wish for oblivion, the denial, the secrets.

Living is difficult. Dying is difficult. Being dead is not difficult. And what else is a blackout if not death?

… there is a part of me that tells myself this: I’m not drinking. And I believe myself most of the time, truly.

Secret extras of Good Start in the fridge behind vegetables.     Secret singles of Good Start in my son’s diaper drawer.    Empties in plastic bags. On the bottom of the stroller. Breeding in my closet.     I can’t keep away from bottles. I obsess over them. I am the Howard Hughes of bottles.     I am the Howard Hughes of secrets.

This is our game:He can tell and I can tell that he can tell but I’ll say no, and he’ll say, No? Are you sure? And I’ll say, No, I am sure, even though I know that he knows that I know that he knows.

18171343There has been controversy over this book. This article talks about whether it is a good idea to air your personal struggles publicly when you have children who will someday be aware of it all. Reading the comments, it is pretty obvious what most people think of it (not so good). But, as I was reading, all I could think about was how brave she was to write about it. She does not glorify anything, she speaks candidly and gruesomely about what it is like to be an alcoholic. She talks about her book being an apology to her son. Will he appreciate it, or will he have wished for a more private apology? It’s hard to know. But, for now, her book is a good way to start these kinds of conversations. This is her story, but so many others will be able to relate; maybe it will give others some solidarity and strength. Memoirs are often about personal struggles; why is hers considered more shameful than others?

I don’t ask for help because I am scared.

I also like that it challenges our idea of what an alcoholic is like. Often, the images that pop into our head are of homeless people drinking out of paper bags. Drunk Mom reminds us that people with mental illness and addictions can also be beautiful, smart, and talented like the author of this book. And brave. Despite all the criticism she has experienced since her book came out, Jowita Bydlowska continues to write about alcoholism and mental illness. This is a memoir worth reading.


19 thoughts on “Drunk Mom by Jowita Bydlowska

  1. TJ @ MyBookStrings says:

    It is brave to write a book like this, and after reading the articles you link to, I admire her even more for doing it. My first impulse is to say I don’t want to read it, but maybe I should. I’ll have to think about it. Thanks for bringing the book to my attention.

    • Naomi says:

      The good thing about the book is that it is not all dark and heavy. She does a good job of making it readable, and even makes light of it when she can (because, what else can you do?).

  2. whatmeread says:

    Hmm, I’m not so sure I would like to read this, although we have a fair amount of alcoholism in my family (not me and my husband, thank god), so maybe I should.

    • Naomi says:

      It gave me a good understanding of what it was like for her (how she was thinking/feeling), which I think can help with mending relationships, etc. in a family affected by alcoholism. I would definitely recommend it to anyone, really.

  3. lauratfrey says:

    I’m so scared of this book. Alcoholism is in my family and I’m scared it’ll be too close to home. The question of when a story is “my” story and when it’s my children’s story is very interesting. I think about that a lot when it comes to parenting blogs. I’ve thought about writing certain things about my kids, and stopped myself because it’s not “mine” to tell.

    • Naomi says:

      That article gave me something to think about, too. I don’t really know what the answer is, but if writing about her own experiences helps to keep her going, then in the long run, it benefits everyone.

      I think it’s a great book to read for anyone who might be close to it. It’s very readable, and understanding a little more about what alcoholism feels like can only help, right? (But, I also get why it would be scary.)

  4. buriedinprint says:

    Oh, yes: compulsive reading indeed! I could hardly put this book down. An aspect of it which really appealed to me comes through in some of the quotes you’ve shared here: the detail she shared about daily life and near-functioning. Specific routes and activities and acts of concealment and deception. It all made it that much more real, didn’t it?

    • Naomi says:

      That’s also what I found so compelling about it. The lengths she went to to hide everything – the empties, the formula, the many different liquor stores, the different drop-off places, the hidden pockets in her bags. And, to be trying to hide it all the time from your partner – how exhausted she must have always been! It’s those details that make you ‘get’ how strong the pull must be.

  5. Leah says:

    I don’t know if I’ll read this, but the author is so brave for publishing it! Honestly, I don’t see how this book would hurt her child; he was four when she published it. It’s not like, 10 years down the line, his classmates are going to know the book exists and pick on him for it. And even if their mothers read it when it came out, they probably won’t remember it/who the author is a few years later.

    • Naomi says:

      I like to think the therapeutic act of writing her story will only help her and her family in the long run. Not to mention the help it might give others.

  6. The Paperback Princess says:

    I actually really want to read this now. I didn’t realize you were talking about a memoir until the end of the post and that kind of makes me want to read it more.
    As for not telling your story because your children might read it one day…this is her story. She can tell it if she wants to. I assume that her children are aware that she’s not ok and maybe reading this will help them understand better. Mental illness is a devil and if no one talks about it, it will get worse.

    • Naomi says:

      I agree with you. Like I said in a couple of the other comments, I think having it out in the open can only help in the long run. And, I hope it will also help others.
      I think you would like it. It really was hard to out down!
      Now, I’m looking forward to reading The Biology of Desire!

  7. Karen @ One More Page... says:

    I think it’s so brave that Bydlowska decided to write about this, and I disagree that she shouldn’t have written it because her children might read it. Wouldn’t it be healthier to be open and honest about our experiences and help each other learn from it? This sounds like the perfect book to start a conversation and help us understand each other more.

  8. ebookclassics says:

    There’s a book called Blackout by Sarah Hepola getting a lot of press that touches on this topic, but I imagine Drunk Mom would hit so much harder because this is a mother with children. My family also has a history of alcoholism and I’m uncertain if it’s a book for me, but again I’m intrigued by the fact it’s a woman coping with this problem.

    • Naomi says:

      The fact that she was a new Mom definitely caught my interest when I heard about this book. Being a mom is hard enough…
      I was reading about Blackout a few days ago. I would be interested to know how it compares, but I feel like it’s too soon after reading Drunk Mom.

  9. Shaina says:

    Your point about why this memoir of personal struggle is different than any other is so spot-on and speaks to the shame and stigmatization of mental illness and even more so of substance abuse. It’s true that we don’t know how her son will take it, but I also admire her for not hiding in a society that treats addicts like trash. Great review.

    • Naomi says:

      Thanks, Shaina!
      It would have been so easy for her to keep hiding away, and I’m so glad for her and for everyone who gets to read her book that she didn’t.

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