UPDATED JAN. 6
The venue has been changed to , 135 W. Church St., Libertyville.
On Monday, Jan. 9, local writer Brenda Wilhelmson will speak and sign copies of her book, Diary of an Alcoholic Housewife at .
The memoir, released in early 2011, narrates Wilhelmson's life as an alcoholic mother of two in suburban Libertyville, her journey toward recovery, and why she decided to share her story.
“I was very high-functioning,” Wilhelmson said. “Nobody knew that I was an alcoholic. My life looked really good from the outside. I was holding it all together, doing all the things that a suburban Libertyville mom is expected to do: volunteering in the school, keeping a nice house, lots of friends, hosting parties, play dates, the whole deal.”
Wilhelmson says that she never drank during the day, but by 5 p.m. every day, she was drinking.
“I’d drink myself to bed. I’d wake up hung over almost every morning, and spend a lot of the day recovering and trying to get a good face on, and looking like everything was fine,” she said. “And then I’d do it all over. It was this bad, bad cycle.”
Death in the Family
The critical moment for her came when she lost her mother-in-law and grandmother within a week of each other. As someone who always considered herself a health nut, she says she was immediately hit with the idea of her own mortality.
“We all know that none of us get out of this one alive,” she said. “But we live in somewhat of a state of denial and don’t really acknowledge it that much. I felt acutely that I was going to die, so I came to the realization that I was wasting my life. I didn’t want to live my life like a zombie anymore.”
At the time, her children were 10 and 2 years old. She realized that her oldest son, who was receiving information at school about drugs and alcohol, soon would become aware of her drinking. After trying several times on her own to stop drinking, she decided to attend recovery meetings.
“They helped me stay sober, but I was listening to a lot of horror stories,” she said. “Most people had gone further down with their addiction than I had. So I kept telling myself, ‘I’m not that bad. I don’t know if I belong here.’ ”
Writes Book She Was Searching For
She knew she could not stay sober without the meetings, but she found herself unable to relate to the other people at the recovery meetings.
“I went looking for a book from somebody that told my story and could validate that I’m in the right place doing the right thing, and life is going to get better,” she said. “And there wasn’t anything.”
Wilhelmson, a 20-year journalist, decided after searching bookstores and the Internet that she would write the book for which she had been looking.
“I knew there are millions of people just like me who are struggling and nobody knows, and they’re holding it all together,” Wilhelmson said. “I wanted to give them something to connect with, to see themselves, and give them an insider view of what it’s like to get sober, what to expect, and supply evidence that life is a lot better when you’re not getting drunk all the time.”
Story Opens Up Opportunities For Discussions
After Wilhelmson learned Diary of an Alcoholic Housewife would be published, she sent an email to everyone on her email list, informing them about the book and the story it tells. Most of them had no idea she was struggling with an addiction. Immediately, Wilhelmson began receiving responses.
“It was amazing the emails that I got with people revealing private things about themselves, their own concerns about drinking too much, loved ones that they knew had drinking problems,” she said. “It really opened up the floodgates.”
Her book received nationwide attention, with Wilhelmson appearing on the Today show, several radio shows, and national newspapers.
“Hundreds of people have contacted me letting me know how much my book has helped them. It’s doing exactly what I wanted it to do,” she said. “I knew there were people out there like me, and they’re getting help or thinking about getting help, and it’s been really great to be a part of it, and know I’ve done something good.”
Wilhelmson, now sober for nine years, also acknowledges that her experiences have helped start conversations with her children about the dangers of addictive substances. Her oldest son, Max, now 19, has never experimented with drugs or alcohol.