Thursday, October 24, 2013

On Motherhood and Alcohol

This week has been nothing short of miraculous.

Here's how that past five days have gone down:
  • My husband is away on his annual fishing trip
  • My son threw up all night on Sunday
  • I got a bad chest cold with a hacking cough that robbed me of what little sleep I could have gotten.
  • My daughter threw up all night on Tuesday night.
  • The Sox won the ACLS, and played the first game of the World Series.
So why is this miraculous?  It sounds like a tough go of it, doesn't it?

Because any ONE of these things would have been something I drank over, in the past.  The biggie would have been my husband going away.  When he was gone, I could drink more than one or two glasses of wine without being sneaky about it, or making up excuses.  And heck, when he was gone life felt harder ... I deserved it.

Sick kids was another reason to drink.  Long nights, exhausted days. Having a child home all day for four consecutive days on little or no sleep.  Falling behind on work.  Also reasons to reward myself with a few glasses at night.

Even being sick myself was a reason to drink.  Wine is a great cough suppressant (or, at least it made me care less that I didn't feel well). 

And I used to love it when Boston teams made playoffs, not as a sports enthusiast but because then everyone pretty much drank like me.  It normalized my drinking. 

It is nothing short of a miracle that all these things happened in the span of five days and not once did it occur to me to drink. 

I thought wine made me more patient, more loving in the face of long days and hard nights.  I thought drinking both dulled down the tough stuff while enhancing the fun stuff, like playoff games.

I was wrong.

Caring for sick kids totally sober and present is so much better. I'm not itching to duck away and take a sip of wine. I'm not cranky and short, nursing a headache the next day.  My patience is - surprisingly - infinite.  I am calm, grounded, and collected.  

Instead of feeling sorry for myself that I have to go through all this without the help of my husband, I am totally focused on them and their care.

And who knew that watching playoff games was more fun sober? 

Sometimes I forget to remember that recovery is a miracle.  I forget to shout from the rooftops that recovery HAPPENS.  We do heal, and we can handle so much more sober than we ever could drinking, and it's better.  So, so much better.  

We live in a culture that tells women, and especially mothers, that drinking is their right, dammit, for all they do, all they juggle.  Moms talk all the time about deserving their wine at the end of a long day - whether they work outside of the home or not.  You don't have to look further than Facebook to see women talking up their hard earned glass of wine.

I am not saying that everyone is an alcoholic.  Indeed, for normal drinkers who actually can have a glass or two now and then, why not?

But with all the marketing and publicity about women and their wine, it has become almost the norm for women to use alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Before you shoot off that email to me saying you enjoy your wine and don't use it to cope, or leave a flaming comment that many people drink normally and I'm generalizing, think about how often you hear women talking about alcohol as a reward.  I know, I know - men have been doing this for years, so it's unfair to pin this on women just because they are also mothers.

But here is the reality: most women still have primary care giving responsibility for kids, even if they work outside the home.  The pressures and expectations put on women are different than men.  The marketing messages are different, too: you are supposed to do it all, and do it with a smile on your face. You deserve this.  Alcohol will help.  We live in a culture where alcohol is marketed to women as a way to cope and/or enhance.

Take the wine "Mommy Juice".  Here is their label:

A woman managing all her responsibilities: work, housework, cooking and kids, with a serene smile on her face.

Here is the first paragraph on the splash page of their website:

"Being a mom is a constant juggling act. Whether it’s play dates and homework, diapers and burp cloths, or finding that perfect balance between work and home, Moms everywhere deserve a break. So tuck your kids into bed, sit down and have a glass of MommyJuice — because you deserve it!"

The bold print is not mine; it's theirs.

And there is Girls' Night Out wines:

"When women get together, curious things happen. There are unwritten rules that we all follow. It’s a club that you can only be part of as a woman. And all are welcome. We talk, we laugh, we eat and we drink, but we also support, encourage, applaud and share. It is for this inclusive club for women that we created Girls’ Night Out wines.
Whether you’re going out to meet with your book club, having a pot luck dinner, getting ready for a night out on the town, or staying in to watch a DVD, Girls' Night Out goes with anything."
Hey - at least they are being up front about a phenomenon that is everywhere.
I am not na├»ve enough to believe this is going to change, even in the face of really alarming statistics about women and drinking, and the sharp increase in binge drinking among girls.  Whether we realize it or not, the message that wine is a coping mechanism -something to help us tolerate them - is reaching our children. 
I understand why women prickle when it is implied that their drinking may impair their parenting. After all, we don't hear that said about men, do we?  

Men have been marketed to all along that they deserve their cocktail for all their hard work.  It's just that parenting isn't thrown into the mix.  And certainly no company ever marketed to Dads that alcohol actually enhanced their parenting experience.

So why is this so dangerous for women?
The scary truth is that alcohol effects women's health far more than men's. We weigh less and have more body fat, which means we metabolize alcohol differently.  Hormones also impact how alcohol effects our bodies.  Simply put, we can't drink like men without suffering dire health consequences.  Alcohol is a carcinogen.  It is linked to breast cancer and heart disease (despite the campaign that moderate drinking of red wine is good for your heart .. that is only if you drink one glass every other day). 

Saddest of all, I think, is that alcohol disappears us.  Instead of making us more present for our children, or more patient, or more loving, it is doing the opposite. You don't have to be an alcoholic to have this happen.  The message by marketers tells us that it's making us better Moms, when in fact it's doing the opposite. 

And our kids are watching.  You don't have to be an alcoholic, or even close to it, to be less present for your kids through drinking.

Mainly I just want to add my voice as a counter-balancing point to all the marketing about how alcohol makes our lives better. 

As a woman and mother in recovery, I am here to say it doesn't.  It temporarily alters our reality, which isn't inherently a bad thing.  But the message that somehow our lives are better with a glass of wine is just wrong.

Most of these thoughts are sparked by Ann Dowsett Johnston's new book, Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol..   She is an incredible writer, and her book is a terrific combination of story-telling and facts.  She writes about The MommyJuice and Girls' Night Out marketing campaigns in her book - I would never have known about these (because I don't buy wine anymore) otherwise.  I highly recommend her book - whether you are in recovery or not.  Every woman, every Mom, needs to hear what Ann has to say.  I was not compensated in any way to say this - she did send me a copy of her book to read but this is not a sponsored post.  And the prologue to this book is, quite simply, the best description of addiction I have ever read. 

I am excited and honored that Ann will be a guest on The Bubble Hour on November 10th, so please tune in!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Still Behind The Veil

Two years ago I found the lump in my neck.

As with all life changing events, it seems like yesterday and a lifetime ago.

I still struggle. I still struggle with anxiety and depression about my cancer. Sometimes in the most ordinary moments I'm hit with the gut punch of oh my God, I had cancer.  

Anniversaries like these send me into mini tailspins. I start feeling twinges and aches, obsessively feeling my throat: is that spot harder than it was before?

Very rarely am I at a loss for what to write, but these days I am.  I am not sleeping well - a lovely combination of anxiety and the over-the-top menopausal symptoms that chemo and radiation caused.   I am seeing doctors.  I am taking safe and monitored medication.  I am putting one foot in front of the other, and some days it's all I can do.

There are still many, many more good days than bad. But like it or not, anxiety has her hands wrapped around my throat again, making my world go a little grey.

So instead of writing, I will share what I read at BlogHer's Voice of the Year.  Because I have to look back, but not stare. I have to remember the hope that is all around, even when the days are feeling hard.  And I have to remember that no matter what, I'm here today and I have so, so many things to be grateful for: