I live in Wisconsin-the state known for milk, brats, and, of course, beer. We are the home of Miller Lite, folks. You can buy an alcoholic beverage practically anywhere. Heck, we throw out bloody-mary mixes at parades and have festivals devoted to wine and beer.
I guess you could say that we have a distinct “drinking culture” here. You can rent a school bus to take you and your guests bar-hopping, you can get on a trolley to take you to taste different wines all day long, and you can even bicycle your way down the street on an actual moving bar. I’ve never really been a drinker. I wouldn’t say that I made a decision somewhere along the way to not, but I just always knew I didn’t like it. The taste, that feeling of losing control. It’s just not for me.
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Arriving home from the hospital without my twins, the pain was like nothing I could have ever imagined. It was primal, really-it was all I could do to keep breathing. My anxiety skyrocketed; I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t want to see my friends, and I certainly wasn’t going to any parties or social events.
I felt ashamed of my mental health-I told myself my anxiety was situational, and that eventually I would be fine. I began to research and read stories about people who lost children. How they had affairs to mask the hurt, or became reckless and lost their jobs, or became addicted to substances.
I was WAY more judgmental before my loss than I am now, because I had no idea. I just had NO idea how cruel life could be. I really had no clue about how much pain you can feel, even physically, when a tragedy takes place. And I had never really thought about why people drink (besides, of course, to get really drunk and laugh about it). Now, I completely understand why people do. I don’t blame them at all. I would never, ever, judge someone who wanted to take away their pain or grief.
But, alcohol is marketed to women everywhere. You deserve this glass of wine. Had a long week? Well, my goodness, what are you waiting for? Relax with a drink. I did have a long week! I needed to relax! My heart was broken, begging to be fixed! I am certainly not implying that it’s NOT ok to have a glass of wine to relax, or drink with your friends. I, however, was suddenly contemplating drinking on purpose to ease my pain. It would have been so easy.
Something inside of me, a nagging, stopped me. It was like a whisper, “Psssttt…remember, Christy, you are so vulnerable right now. Do you really think it’s a good idea to choose now to start drinking alcohol? What if you can’t stop?” I was, believe it or not, afraid to feel good because I was so miserable I knew I would want to search out that feeling.
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When someone asks me why I don’t drink, I feel like I have to lie. I’m so afraid of sounding judgmental and having people think I’m stuck-up or rude. So I say things like, “Oh, I just don’t like the taste,” or “Just trying to cut back,” with a giggle. The truth though is always this: My not drinking has nothing to do with anyone else but me. I don’t judge you at all for drinking (though I will admit I wish the drinking culture was not so prevalent). My choice to not drink is because I am vulnerable, and I think I probably always will be.
As time has passed, however, sometimes-and I know this sounds ridiculous-sometimes I miss the pain. It has dulled over the past almost 9 years. And in some ways, I have realized that the pain was the only tangible way i could still feel them.
Be careful with the pain, my sweet friends. Remember that you have to do what is right for you–but be careful. In these days of loss and grief, you have to protect yourself. You are so vulnerable right now. Although it’s hard to see the future laid out ahead of you, there is one, and it is bright. Treat yourself the very best you can. Know yourself, and figure out how to best care for you. I promise, it will not always hurt like this.
Christy Wopat is a 4th grade teacher and writer. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband and who hilarious, energetic children, and without her boy/girl twins, Sophie and Aiden, who lived for a very short time in 2009. She is honored to share her words in hopes of breaking the stigma surrounding infant loss and grief.