How the sh**test Birthday ever made me grateful for my children


I hate to admit it, but being a single mother has never come easy to me. At times I’ve been resentful, angry and just an all round mess in a dress.

I’ve spoken before of my envy for less encumbered friends and always felt I was missing out. It sounds ungrateful, but it’s true. Maybe you need a bit of history to understand me better.

Before I had children I was your typical crazy, drunken English girl. My idea of fun was downing cheap vodka and pissing in random places. I was always the drunkest, the loudest, the most horribly insulting. I would get so drunk I would say things I didn’t even mean and never remember the next day. Cue strange looks as I sheepishly scuttled into work the next morning. “What did I say?” “What did I do?” It was always a coin toss between two impossibly ugly options. A) Find out what I said/did and quit my job and never speak to anyone again B) Continue in blissful ignorance and spend forever wondering if I made out with a wall and called everyone a cunt.
Locked inside was a quiet, fairly anxious, bookish girl that I was trying desperately to hide. No one would like her, I reasoned. People liked the “fun” drunken me who was always up for a party. I think I had felt that way ever since I was fourteen years old.

So I stumbled through life, with little purpose and direction. I found myself spending 50% of my time hungover/stoned. When I was stoned I locked myself away with an avalanche of crisps and got paranoid about the shit I did when I was drunk. I thought it was a cool, bohemian existence.

You name most things that a person can do to humiliate themselves whilst annihilated and I can bet you a fiver I’ve done it. I’ve kissed random strangers, I’ve shown off my genitals, I’ve revealed my deepest darkest secrets to women in club toilets, I’ve weed in sinks. The list goes on.

I could never just have one drink, I would just glug the place dry. Whatever was on offer. My body would punish me the next day but come 5pm I would be starting it all over again. I reasoned that not drinking was “boring”, that I was “boring” without it.

You could read this and say “Well it’s no surprise she ended up a single mother” but I can assure you I became pregnant in a live in relationship with a boyfriend thank you very much. It wasn’t long before I became pregnant actually, that I started to re-evaluate my life. The pregnancy wasn’t the catalyst for change but it happened very soon after I started reading the Dalai Llama’s works. Yes, I put down my beer and picked up a book…

I won’t pretend that during my pregnancy I didn’t feel like a kid that had been locked out of the party. Yet in that feeling I realised it was actually kind of nice to wake up without a pounding headache. To have a full memory of the night before. To enjoy a pint of mango juice instead.

So that was me. Fast forward a few years and I’m jonesing for the heyday of my former “glory”, and it just so happens I find myself an opportunity. My mother kindly takes the kids for a few days for the weekend of my Twenty fifth birthday. What better way to celebrate being a quarter of a century old than to take myself to Amsterdam. I knew someone there who I had met a few years ago and he had been badgering me to visit him ever since (platonic friendship). My student loan hits my bank account and I book my flight for the next day. My friend is more than happy to accommodate me and I’m getting excited.

I’m desperate to resurrect my former self. I had indeed become *gasp* ‘dull’ since becoming a mother. Here I am, trying to make candles at night when everyone else is on the dancefloor. Had I aged fifty years? I certainly thought so.

I find myself half awake in the queue to board my easyJet flight when I spot a familiar face. It’s my old best friend from high school, let’s call her Z. Z and her boyfriend are in the queue and I’m a little freaked out. I find all my old friendly feelings rush back and can’t help but smile. As far as I knew from Facebook she had been to America and Australia. Exactly the kind of life I was jealous of.

She’s just as surprised to see me, she looks almost the same. It’s so surreal. We arrange to meet when we land. The whole flight I can’t wait to catch up with her. It’s like some sort of fate, what an awesome birthday present!

When we land we meet and it’s almost like old times. We do our make up in the mirror together just like in high school. She invites me for a beer and I’m more than happy to go.

So we sit and catch up. The beers flow. I can feel myself getting slowly wasted, I’m not as used to drinking anymore. I don’t stop myself though.  We mull over the past and present, it’s quite muddled and at times gets a bit intense. Soon my friend shows up. He’s angry I’m drunk. But I don’t seem to care, I’m so caught up with my old friend. He eventually leaves and I don’t even know how. I wake up after being asleep on the table. I panic, not knowing what to do. But I can’t think straight at all.

Z offers me a place at her hotel. I can’t tell if she’s saying it to be polite but I’m too drunk to be able to tell. I keep saying I’m going to find a hostel. I don’t know why I didn’t. I really wish I had just gone.

I feel safe. I feel like I know this person. We drop our bags at the hotel and go out again to drink some more. Sober me now knows this is a terrible idea, but at the time it seemed like the best thing to do, of course.

Then something goes sour. Everyone’s drank way too much. Suddenly Z is being aggressive and accusing me of “ruining her holiday”. I distinctly recall saying I would get a hostel. I’m totally confused. She then calms down. Then becomes enraged again. Then she tells me to fuck off. Then she screams at me she doesn’t want to hang out with me. A few hours ago we were laughing and joking, I don’t even know what happened.

I’m starting to sober up. My bags are at Z’s hotel. That’s all I can think of, my passport and my debit card. I need to get the fuck out of here. I ask her if she can give me the key to the hotel, she refused and sulkily reads the address from her phone. I can’t help but cry. It’s the drink and the shock of it. Now I know what I looked like. I’ve looked into a horrible mirror. I used to be like that. Screaming and swearing, after being perfectly nice hours before. Now I understand all the funny looks the next day at work or uni.

I go to a bar first and I sit and cry. In a room full of people. I’m blubbing to the barman about “an old best friend”. I then make my way to the hotel. The receptionist isn’t there. Another girl is waiting outside too and there’s no way in. We sit outside for three hours until he arrives. I eventually get my bag.

Happy birthday. You are drunk and alone by a river in Amsterdam like the saddest fucking movie you can think of. I almost expected a fish to jump from the water and start playing a teeny tiny violin.

The next day it hit me. My old friend-shame. He had his knarled fingers tight around me. The shame of being drunk. The wishing I could take it back. I hadn’t missed that feeling at all.

I had craved my old life. So in some twisted way I got it back, except this time I was on the receiving end of myself. It was ugly, it hurt. I forgive her though, I know who she is, and I know saw with crystal clarity that to be that person is shit. My kids gave me a new lease of life. They saved me from that. They took away my false personality and replaced it with my real, better one. It scared me because it was like looking into an alternate reality. I could have been her. My judgment was impaired from alcohol, I fell out with my other friend, I ended up vulnerable. Luckily, the kindness of one stranger from New Zealand ensured I was safe. That I’m immensely grateful for. The old me, the girl who drank too much and made shit decisions reared her irresponsible head and luckily that was the worst of it. I’m too old to make mistakes like that. I’m too old to live like that. I’m done with it.

I wanted that, I wanted to get drunk and crazy. Fate handed it to me, old best friend to boot. I felt a swell of gratitude for the experience. Thank you for my kids. The biggest blessing I have ever been graced with. I really mean it when I say I wouldn’t change it for the world.The old me is well and truly gone and I don’t miss her.

Becoming a mother gave me the maturity and compassion I needed. It gave me sobriety and better judgment. It gave me meaning. I owe everything to my children because they changed me for the better. They reminded me of a girl I had tried so hard to bury. Now I don’t give a fuck if I miss the party. I would rather stay in and read a book.

Needless to say, my Twenty sixth birthday I spent sober.