Last night, I was invited to the Rady Jewish Community Campus to share my experience as a mother with a history of alcohol abuse as part of their women’s wellness expo, Beyond Manischewitz. I was humbled to share part of my personal story along with three other women. There was also a panel of professional presenters with backgrounds in medecine, counselling and academia discussing women and alcohol in our culture. The following is my presentation from last night. I thought I would share it here, too, for anyone interested or maybe struggling themselves. You never have to go it alone. As Glennon Doyle says, “we belong to each other.”
When I was in my 20s, I used to worry about how I would get through an imagined future wedding without getting completely smashed at the reception and making a fool of myself. Similarly, I would also worry about how I would manage to stop drinking for nine months when I would hopefully one day be pregnant. I thought that somehow my biology would magically turn me off booze while I carried a baby and that I’d be able to give it up for that seemingly impossible length of time. Never in these imagined scenarios did I think about the marriage that came after a wedding and what my drinking would do to the union. Nor did I think of how I would raise children if my drinking carried on as it was.
I started drinking as a young teenager and my whole adult life foundation was built on drinking, drugging and parties. If it wasn’t “fun,” I wasn’t interested. However, the fun fades pretty fast when your drinking changes from good times and parties to a necessary requirement for living.
Gratefully, I never had to figure out whether some sort of biological magic would kick in during pregnancy. Nor did I have to worry about getting too drunk at my wedding. I also haven’t had to navigate being a wife and mother while also juggling drinking and hangovers.
I got sober at the age of 27 with the help of a twelve step recovery program. I was married at 32 and my first child was born shortly thereafter, when I was 33. I had my son three and a half years after that. Today, my kids are ages 8 and almost 5 and they’ve never seen their mother take a drink.
My motherhood story and drinking story don’t overlap. However, my disease of alcoholism informs my whole life and always will. I like to refer to myself as a grateful alcoholic, a term you’ll hear a lot in 12-step circles, because in the depths of my disease I have experienced in the darkest of despair and loneliness. Alcoholism had its grip on me so tightly that, near the end, I wanted to step out in front of a bus. Or I wished for a different “problem” – one that would elicit sympathy. Truthfully, and this is an embarassing admission, I wished I had cancer instead of a drinking problem because then everyone would feel so sad for me and would work tirelessly to save me. I so badly wanted to be saved. Today, as a sober and healthy mother of two, I can’t imagine thinking those thoughts or feeling those feelings ever.
I’m so grateful that I found a solution to my alcoholism and a community to attach myself to long before my kids entered the picture.
I see the whole “mom wine”culture online – you know the “Is it wine o’clock yet?” and that makes me think a couple of things. Firstly, I’m so grateful that I’m not waiting for “wine o’clock” to numb out my feelings and detach from my family. However, as an alcoholic with addictive tendencies, “numbing out” shows up for me in other ways today (ummmm…online shopping anyone?) Gratefully, my numbing habits today aren’t as damaging as booze, but I still need to be alert and aware of when I am using something outside myself to try to change the way I am feeling inside.
It is my number one goal in life to try to guide my kids to be healthy humans, in mind, body and spirit. That means equipping them to feel ALL their feelings. Even the most uncomfortable and painful ones — because that is where growth comes from. Even though the mama bear in me wants to protect them from all the pain they will face out in the world, I know that going though it is the only way they will learn how strong and resilient they really are.
I would not be able to parent in any capacity had I not found a place to get help long before my children showed up in my life. But I recognize that that is not everyone’s story and I’ve met a lot of moms in recovery whose kids did grow up with an active alcoholic parent. That carries a lot of shame with it and carrying that shame day in and out is what keeps us sick.
As alcoholics, we are not bad, immoral people. We are sick people. We have an obsession of the mind and an allergy of the body that creates a vicious circle of drinking and shame and drinking and shame. Once I learned that my alcoholism was a disease over which I had no control, and I wasn’t a terrible, weak and useless person, I felt such an immense load lifted off my shoulders. I was able to set down that shame and start working on getting well.
My eight year old daughter knows that I go to meetings, and she knows I’m an alcoholic. I explain it to her kind of like this. “Mommy doesn’t drink because it makes me sick. Once I start drinking, I have a really hard time stopping. My body will just crave more and my mind isn’t strong enough to stop my body. So I just don’t drink at all and the meetings help me do that.”
If I could stress two points for anyone suffering out there or for family members, it is this: the alcoholic in your life is not weak or immoral. They are a sick person in a lot of pain. And it is the first drink that gets an alcoholic in trouble. It’s not the fourth or fifth or tenth, once an alcoholic takes one drink, it is almost impossible to control what will come next. So, as alcoholics, we just need to stay away from that first drink. There are resources available that really work to help us do that. This is not a solo mission.
Today, my recovery informs my parenting. I use the tools that I have learned on how to cope with life, relationships and powerlessness, and apply it to how I raise my kids. As they grow older, I will share more of my story with them. It’s my hope that they won’t have to walk the same path as I did and they won’t be alcoholics, but if that is the case, they will know where to go for help.