In our holiday email, I joked that there‘s not enough spiked eggnog in the world to deal with toddler holiday tantrums.
Afterward, I received an email from a reader who took issue with this type of language.
What’s the big deal, I thought?
But she was totally right: I was complicit in maintaining the institution of the mommy wine culture. I mean, hasn’t booze become an essential part (THE essential part, perhaps) of “surviving motherhood?” — and I was only perpetuating this notion.
So I asked this reader if she would write about it. Certainly, she is not the first person to experience this — and won’t be the last. Here is her story.
After the birth of my first baby, I dealt with postpartum depression and substance abuse simultaneously… and I overcame both. Despite the overwhelming and ubiquitous “mommy wine culture” out there, no one talks about moms who might actually have a drinking problem. That’s why I want to tell my story — in hopes that it may help just one other mom who may be going through PPD and substance abuse.
The word “alcoholic” has such a negative connotation surrounding it, but the growing number of mothers who drink to cope with the stressors of parenthood NEEDS to be talked about. So here it is…
My first sip of alcohol was in my teenage years, and I remember it helping me feel so relaxed, fun, and outgoing. It was the solution I had always been looking for: this buzz gave me the confidence and social skills I felt I was always lacking. I continued to drink through my college years and beyond; and being the “cool girl” who enjoyed craft beer and who could drink shots of whiskey without a chaser became a large part of my identity.
I was always aware that alcohol helped ease my social anxiety and was also aware that it helped me relax and ease the depression I often felt. Fleeting thoughts of “I’m drinking too much” crossed my mind throughout the years, and I genuinely thought becoming a mother would stop this habit in its tracks.
This belief could not have been further from the truth.
When I became pregnant, I mentally prepared myself for the fact that postpartum depression would be a very likely reality for me due to my history of anxiety and depression — one major predictor of PPD.
And I was right.
Regardless of how much I mentally prepared for motherhood, this overwhelming life event turned out to be too much for me to handle by myself. I remember breaking down into tears at the hospital when my baby wasn’t brought back from the nursery on time. I felt so helpless, hopeless and depressed, and these tears were the first sign that something wasn’t quite right. All of the other moms in the maternity ward seemed so relaxed and happy. Why wasn’t I?
My newborn daughter was diagnosed with jaundice, and we had to constantly check her bilirubin levels. She went through light therapy and finally went home with a portable light suitcase. Our first few days, I struggled to breastfeed, to sleep, and to wrap my head around the fact that these people were going to let ME (of all people) take this helpless, fragile baby home from the hospital. Where is the instruction manual? Why do I feel like such an impostor? I’m not meant to be a mother!
Mothering got easier once I got into the rhythm of breastfeeding and we finally graduated from light therapy. My husband spent the first two weeks home with me, and the following two weeks were a flurry of grandparents and family visiting from out of town.
I finally felt relaxed after a long day at home, alone with a cranky baby. Drinking once again became a regular part of my lifestyle and I felt made me a better mom since I was able to relax and “take care of myself.” I was encouraged to drink a beer to help boost my milk supply. Cue the mommy wine culture: I saw memes all over the place about “mommy’s sippy cup” and moms needing a drink. I was just doing what all moms do to survive, right?
Check out all this merch:
The last eight weeks of my maternity leave were a very dark time in my life. While I was aware that I was probably going through postpartum depression, I did not realize how bad it truly was. My evening drink quickly became multiple drinks, always mindful and careful of how much I was drinking and whether I would need to give a bottle instead of breastfeeding. I learned information that “if you’re okay to drive, you’re okay to breastfeed.” My evening drinks started earlier and earlier in the day and started to become a daily occurrence.
The reality that I was day-drinking on maternity leave with a helpless baby became a source of such shame for me. I sought therapy for my PPD, but with my therapist having no knowledge of addiction, it was of little help.
My carefree drinking was no longer carefree and turned into something necessary to cope with motherhood. I religiously attended a new moms group in hopes that I would find a strong support system, but never felt like I could bring up the fact that I felt I was drowning in loneliness and anxiety by self medicating. What would all these other new moms think of me? They would judge me! They would think I’m a terrible mother! They would call the authorities and take my baby away!
When I went back to work, my drinking and parenting became more manageable at first. I was able to cut back my drinking to weekends only, but soon those Fridays and Saturdays bled into Sundays and Thursdays too. I could barely make it to Tuesday without agonizing over not having a drink to end my day. My thoughts were consumed with when I would be able to have my next drink. But a glass of wine is just a treat to myself, right? That’s what all the mommy blogs say; that’s what the mommy wine culture itself promises.
Once I weaned from breastfeeding when my daughter turned 1, I no longer had this excuse to keep my drinking in check. My weekend drinking became heavier and my hangovers and regret became more excruciating.
I finally came to a breaking point in September 2018 when my daughter was about 18 months old. It was a Tuesday evening, about 48 hours since my last drink. That evening, I felt so overwhelmed with anxiety and irritability, I just looked at my daughter and said “I don’t want to be a mother anymore.”
Something had to give.
It was at this time that I discovered This Naked Mind’s “The Alcohol Experiment,” a free online challenge to eliminate alcohol from your life for 30 days. The experiment included daily videos, lessons, and journaling with the intention of disrupting our thoughts and beliefs surrounding alcohol.
And with all of the alcohol completely out of my system, I realized how much better I felt.
Once this toxic substance was no longer interrupting my brain chemistry, I could manage my anxiety and depression much more easily. After about six months without much mental health support, I sought a new therapist to address both my substance abuse and postpartum depression and was placed on antidepressants. Discovering This Naked Mind was only the tip of the iceberg: numerous self help “quit lit” books, bloggers, podcasts, meetings, groups followed, all came together to offer me the support structure I so desperately needed in those first few days, weeks, months of motherhood (resources discussed at the end of the article). Finally, through these online groups and in-person meetings, I met other women who had similar experiences. It was such a relief to realize I was not alone in my experience with PPD and drinking.
In the year and a half of actively working to quit drinking, I have learned these valuable lessons: 1) alcohol is an addictive substance, and I unintentionally became addicted to alcohol, 2) I am a better individual, wife, mother, HUMAN when I choose not to drink, and 3) WE CANNOT DO THIS ALONE.
So if you are reading this and think you have a drinking problem and feel utterly alone in your experience, please know that you are not. I — and so many other moms out there — know how you feel and have walked this same path before. Reach out to someone you trust, go outside of your comfort zone to join The Alcohol Experiment; attend a female-only AA meeting.
Life on the other side of addiction isn’t perfect, but it sure is better than living in a constant state of lonely shame, regret, and anxiety.
- *Start Here —>> The Alcohol Experiment through This Naked Mind: It’s a 30 day commitment to disrupt our thoughts and behaviors surrounding alcohol.
- This Naked Mind by Annie Grace
- Quit Like a Woman by Holly Whitaker
- Rachel Hart’s Take a Break! Podcast
- Belle Robertson’s Tired of Thinking About Drinking
- The Sober Mom Tribe is an online forum for mom’s thinking about getting sober or wanting to stay sober. They also have individual groups in various major U.S. cities.
- Mother Recovering/Momming Sober Podcast
- AA offers a ton of women’s only meetings including childcare: https://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/find-aa-resources
“Parenting is a lot like recovery: it’s a beautiful, challenging, exhausting and rewarding process that provides the sweetest moments of joy. It’s a path we must walk with intention, perseverance, and a daily commitment to show up. It’s a journey in which each step we take reveals more to us about ourselves and the world around us. It’s hard… but it’s amazing.”Annika O’Melia, author of the “Mother Recovering” blog and podcast