My mother was that mother. She was beautiful, wildly fun, and about as inappropriate as a mother could be. I grew up back in the day of 3.2 beer and plenty of cigarettes, that at sixteen years old she didn’t care that I smoked, my sisters’ smoked, and the crowd of girlfriends packed around our kitchen table smoked. She was the mother who bought the beer, and who rationalized and minimized her actions because it was more important that we all liked her and that everyone had fun.
Times were different, attitudes were different, but some actions never change. I think she was more concerned about being our friend and making sure we were “happy” than she was being a parent—and I believe she had little awareness of her motives and that much of her behavior had to do with her own low self-esteem; she wanted to be liked. At that point in her life, she wasn’t insightful like she was once she stopped drinking and taking all that Valium.
Alcoholism sneaked up on my mother; it crept up on me, and has impacted my siblings. As I think about the past and what happened to my mother and then our family, I realize over and over that it was never Mom’s intention to lose control of the booze. She was a registered nurse, married, with four young children. She rarely drank, but the pills were always there. As we grew into middle years, she started to drink a bit more, but she was never in your face with it because that’s not what women did back then. Mom came from a lovely family and had a normal childhood. What made her become alcoholic and an addict—I believe genetics play a role, environment can play a role, and for some, childhood trauma contributes to future addiction.
My mother’s addiction started like so many addictions do: a doctor prescribed a highly addictive benzodiazepine, Valium, to help her deal with her four children and a husband who still acted like a child himself, (back then Valium was THE mommy’s helper) and all joking aside, that little blue pill turned into a monster habit that segued into a twenty-five year addiction that nearly killed her and destroyed the family. Fast forward forty or fifty years later, and here we are again. Nothing has changed. Doctors still prescribe benzos: Xanax, Klonopin, and Ativan, even when there’s mounds of evidence that tells us that they are only effective for about two weeks. What happens though is no one stops taking them after two weeks, and before you know it, you’re addicted. If a person does decide they don’t want to walk through life, medicated, and tries to wean off the benzo, it can be hell. It’s a known fact that the rebound anxiety can be worse than the original anxiety, and oddly enough, once Mom got her act together, sobered up, and learned to feel and deal, she never took or needed anymore medication.
We’ve normalized alcoholism in an unprecedented way!
What we don’t talk about enough is this: no one sets out to be an alcoholic, but there’s a whole lot of practicing going on! In addition, society encourages drinking—couple that with help from big alcohol companies and their savvy targeted advertising, more and more women now have an open invitation to imbibe as much and as often as they want, and most times, women will find their friends support and even encourage each other to drink.
Wine Time—All the Time
Everyone is all about the drinking. Here’s a small sampling of just some of the sayings I’ve seen on T-shirts, bags and beach towel, to name a few:
“I drink wine because punching people is frowned upon.”
“My book club only reads wine labels.”
“I’m not addicted to wine, we’re just in a very committed relationship.”
“Wine, a hug in a glass.”
“Keep calm and drink wine.”
“Time to wine down.”
Do We Know What We’re Doing? Do We Care?
When women sport these sorts of messages on their clothes and bags; children are bombarded with these sorts of messages everywhere they look, coupled with mothers who drink and joke about drinking to their friend’s—can anyone be surprised when kids start drinking in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grade? What else do they know? Why wouldn’t they drink?
Wine is completely mainstream. Women are emboldened to drink at every bend, whether it’s on play-dates with their kids, girls’ night out, after work, on the weekends, when reading the paper, bridal showers, baby showers, beauty salons, boutiques, yoga, at brunch…even though it’s ten a.m. and you’re still slightly hungover from last night, why not? Everyone drinks so it must be fine, and necessary, in order to have fun. Some women drink four to five day/nights a week and no one blinks because everyone they know does too.
The truth is, everyone doesn’t drink like that. I never realized that there are social drinkers in the world—those people who have a few drinks here and there, and for some, only on special occasions. Honestly, I didn’t know people like that existed. I thought everyone drank like me. Even though I was never a daily drinker, alcohol was a huge part of my life. It was all about the drinks. In my twenties, my life looked similar to the above mentioned description. I worked in marketing and then as a flight attendant. I didn’t have kids at the time, so why not party hardy? Drinks after work, brunch, lunch and dinner. Who cares? Drinking was as normal a part of the weekend as it was during the week. As long as I got up and went to work, I never dreamed I could be headed toward alcoholism, that’s what I thought, anyway?
Somewhere along the way though, I noticed a shift. I started to think about alcohol earlier in the day, say lunch time, and just like alcohol has a way of doing—alcoholism sneaked up and grabbed me by the throat when I least expected it to. I became restless with my life, even though I was only married a few years to a great guy; I felt irritable and unhappy. I started to lose my emotional equilibrium. I could be laughing one minute and dissolved into a fit of rage the next. All my friends partied and drank like I did. I didn’t have one friend in my circle who didn’t drink like me. We tend to find each other, and when I’d survey the crowd, like alcoholics like to do, and asked them if they thought I drank too much, of course the unanimous answer was a resounding, no!
My mother found sobriety when her alcoholism hurled her down a flight of steps, and resulted in a broken neck. It was only after that disastrous mishap, did she finally cross paths, after decades of doctors and psychiatrists, with a physician in recovery who knew what my mom was—an alcoholic. My mother went to rehab; got out, and clung onto recovery like only the dying can. She remained sober for the rest of her life. All that happened seven years before I thought to do the same. I credit her for my early recovery, because had I not known how bad it could get—and how quickly the disease could progress, I’m convinced I would’ve kept drinking for another ten, fifteen or maybe even twenty years, no doubt leaving gobs of misery and a trail of broken relationships in my wake.
Because I lived my mother’s horror story with alcohol, I decided early in my drinking career that I didn’t have to go there. I diagnosed myself an alcoholic and quit drinking in my late twenties, even though I was not a daily drinker. I had zero consequences. I had nothing bad happen other than I was sick and tired of feeling, as the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous describes us: “Restless, irritable, and discontent.” When I heard those words, and later read them, I was stunned by how much I could relate, and thought if that’s how an alcoholic feels, than I must be one.
There’s so much knowledge out there in the world that tells us that without a doubt, alcohol is a class 1 carcinogenic. We know it’s addictive. We know young women die from liver disease related to alcoholism, and we know it destroys families, yet I believe as humans we tend to select facts that line up with what we want to hear, and ignore the rest.
No woman needs to wait until she’s tore up from the floor up. For every person suffering from alcoholism, they in turn affect four to five other lives. You can isolate the alcoholic, but you can’t isolate the disease.
For the mom’s reading this, I urge you to reconsider the wine time and wine o’clock jokes. I urge to be honest about your drinking, and if you have more than a few drinks a week, ask yourself this, “What do I lack within that I have to keep filling myself up?” They say we stop growing emotionally when we pick up a drink. Many women started drinking in high school. Many still have the emotional maturity of a fifteen or sixteen year old, yet, these women are raising kids. It explains why there’s so much mom drama in every school and in too many friend groups—but the good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way.
The journey to sobriety is a gift. We are allowed to finally learn who we are, what makes us tick, and we don’t have to make excuses or apologize to anyone for not drinking. Life is full of wonderful things, and looking back, even though my drinking years were relatively short, I still regret the time I wasted cruising the clubs and bars. It never did anything great for me, and truthfully, it wasn’t all that gratifying. I don’t miss the bloated face, the empty feeling, the drama, the shallow relationships that I had with people who I thought were friends, but really, we were just drinking buddies.
Compared to the many women I’ve worked with over the years, my regrets are few. I got sober before I had my twins, and every mother that I’ve talked to and worked with who had kids, their biggest and most lasting regrets all had to do with their children. For some, the guilt and shame never left. I’d like to save you the agony. We can learn from others’ mistakes and save ourselves from years of self-manufactured hell.
If you drink too much, own clothes with wine messages all over them, laugh and joke constantly about drinking, drink more than a few glasses of wine a few times a week, or the thought of not having wine sends you into a panic attack, perhaps it’s time to consider the maybe.