It is now July, a month after my son was born. I'm having drinks with a new friend who wants to help me out with my artistic project. Nice guy.
I used to be an alcoholic, I tell him as I order another round, but I'm not now. This is my day off, that's all. I never get days off now. The baby. It's a lot of work, as they say.
It is, he agrees.
But I don't really drink, I say. Not any more – much. Not much at all. I drink just like anybody else. Not much at all.
He nods. Sure.
Because it's not that much. It's not that big a deal, really. Can I even call this a relapse? A problem with drinking? Please. Do I sit behind a rubbish skip with a paper bag? No. I do not sit with a paper bag behind a skip. Do I fall down, break legs? No, I do not fall down. I don't fall asleep on park benches, don't leave the stroller in stores with Frankie in it. I don't yell and shout and throw purses at my boyfriend in a drunken rage. I'm nice.
I wash. I wash Frankie. I don't forget about his formula if I have a little too much. But I almost never do have a little too much.
But if I have a little too much, I'm responsible. I drink after he goes to sleep. I don't forget to check on him before I do. I manage. Everything is manageable. And it's not really a relapse; it's nothing. It's just like anybody else.
When Frankie was born I was completely sober. I drank alcohol twice when I was pregnant but it was nothing, nothing that took a hold of me; I was responsible. And anyway, I felt too sick to drink. Frankie was born to a sober mother.
And after Frankie was born some friends came over. There was champagne. We celebrated. Just like anybody else would. Then there was another big party, to welcome Frankie into the world.
So many nice, friendly people showed up. They brought presents, stiff paper bags filled with bottles. We took the bottles out of the bags, naturally. As they appreciated the newborn, we read the labels on the bottles while holding them by their necks, tilting them in another kind of appreciation.
They drank. I drank, they drank, we drank, Frankie slept in his bassinet. And after that, there were still people coming by with presents, a procession of people. Scotch for my boyfriend, wooden ecological toys for Frankie; this was after all the parties.
Sometimes it was just one person, one bottle. It was nothing. It was celebrating. So I've been drinking a little since my friend's wedding. God no, not that much, technically, practically nothing, a sip here and there in the stream of celebratory sips.
And now, not much at all. Every other day, if that. Mostly wine, it's civilised. I drink it with meals. I try to learn about wine. You can pair one wine with fish, another with red meat.
I don't say any of this to my friend. But just in case I say, Yeah, I've got it under control.
I know you do, he says, like I'm not even there.
I say, Another one?
My friend matches me drink for drink. He is at least twice my size. We talk about babies. Or I talk. The C-section scar is still raised and red and crazy-looking. Really something. He doesn't want to see it. That is fine with me.
Things are starting to spin slightly. I tell an anecdote about baby's projectile poop and my friend laughs. There are a few more rounds of drinks. He asks me about the art project. We'll get to it, I promise.
I talk more about babies but he cuts me off and says he has to pick up his own kid from soccer practice. He asks me if I'm going to be okay going home in this state. I'm fine.
I get back on my bike. I make one stop on my way home. This liquor store is close to home and I try not to come here too often. The behind-the-skip types are shockingly observant. You'd think they would be out of it, but no. Some of them have started saying hello when they see me. But today I risk it and stop by to pick up something extra for later on.
I didn't have a drink, you're pissing me off with these accusations, I say to my boyfriend when I get home. He sniffs me again. Please.
How was your meeting, he wants to know.
It was fine. We talked about art.
You sure you're going to be okay if I leave?
I'll be fine. You're being really weird.
I'm sorry, he says.
When he gets back, I'm unconscious on the floor. He relates the whole story to me later, through clenched teeth. The baby is in his wicker basket. The baby is screaming, possibly trying to outdo the bombastic sounds coming out of the speakers. All the lights are on. The boyfriend notices I've changed my dress while he's been out. I notice this, too, on waking the next day.
The story continues. First, he turns off the music. He talks to me. Tries to talk to me. My ear against the carpet. He suggests I get up. I do nothing. He orders me to get up. Nothing.
Eventually, he lifts my head and slaps me, hard, across the face. Nothing. He pulls me up to my feet and lets me drop. He drags me to the bathroom and splashes my face with cold water. He shouts. Nothing.
I am eventually dragged to bed, upstairs, deposited there with my clothes on.
Downstairs, in the wicker basket, the baby is soaked in piss and milk and not calming down. After my boyfriend rocks him for a while, the baby finally falls asleep.
His face remains too pink hours later, irritated by all the accumulated snot and tears. He is barely five kilos and his arms and legs remain curled up – they are still formed to fit in a womb. His eyes can't focus yet; there are still soft spots on his skull.
My boyfriend sits with the sleeping baby in his arms, watching him breathe, all night. He didn't care if I was okay, he tells me. He was just watching the baby. Breathe.
There is no reason to hate me or to panic, I say when I get up the next morning in my different dress. This isn't going to happen again. I'm so stressed about the art project. I drank to calm my nerves. It backfired. But I'm not going to do that crazy thing again. Drink so much. I'm not going to drink at all, actually. I shouldn't anyway.
My boyfriend is silent.
I love you guys, I say, and kiss the baby's head over and over. The smell of his head is milk, honey and sweet almonds, tears and spit. The combination - it's intoxicating. I would never do anything to hurt you.
Okay, my boyfriend says.
I really do love you. So much. This is the last time, I promise. Okay. Believe me?
What choice do I have? he says.
My boyfriend and I go on holiday by the ocean. We are staying at a cottage rental that we've found online. The baby is coming with us, of course. I sing to the baby as we take off. I'm a little shaky on the plane. I don't like flying. Plus, I haven't had a drink in almost 24 hours.
I bring a couple of sneaky little bottles, hidden at the bottom of the suitcase, behind the lining. Suitcases were designed for liars.
I have to drink straight out of the bottle because our cottage is just one room, kitchen and dining room together, so there's a chance of getting caught if I mix. That's fine by me. More efficient this way.
If my boyfriend is inside the cottage, I have to sneak quick, brutally large gulps of pure vodka in the bathroom. I brush my teeth after and put on extra deodorant so that the smells will block each other. When the boyfriend is outside or napping, I drink with my head in the suitcase, right there behind our bed.
Each day we drive out to different beaches with the wicker basket, with the baby inside it. Here, the beaches are wild, huge, with people barely scattered on them. Sometimes we miss having people around. But most of the time we don't crave company. The baby naps and I nap a lot, mostly sleeping off my mini-hangovers. They're not real hangovers.
A few times during the holiday I manage to buy some booze when we go grocery shopping. I tell my boyfriend I'll meet him inside the grocery store but instead I follow him to the liquor store first. I tiptoe through the sliding door into the liquor store entrance. My boyfriend never looks behind him. The baby never makes a noise. I don't get caught.
I never breastfeed when I drink. I make up some lie about nipples chafing. The baby is fed formula every other night. I drink every other night.
When I don't drink, I think about it. I go through the day in a half-daze, thinking about it. Because I don't drink as much as I would at home and I generally don't get too hungover after drinking, only once do I wake up sick enough to vomit into the toilet. My boyfriend and the baby are still asleep in the bedroom when this happens. Just in case, I puke over my fist to mask the sound.
The boyfriend and I rarely fight during those two weeks, and I maintain the balance between tipsy and not-there perfectly well.
The baby smiles for the first time ever near the end of our two-week holiday. I'm hovering above him when it happens. My hair is long and sun-kissed, with wispy ends. I move my head left to right, letting the wispy ends brush oh-so gently over his beautiful, serious face. Back and forth. Back and forth.
He smiles. Time stops. A baby just smiled for the first time ever. This is why we are all here on this planet, I think to myself. We take hundreds of photos of him smiling.
Edited extract from Drunk Mum by Jowita Bydlowska (HarperCollins, $25).