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!


  1. Amen Ellie...amen.

    This new phenomenon of moms and wine that's "sweeping the nation" or world for that matter is astounding to me. I remember in the '60's when Valium was labled "mommy's little helper" (I had some once before a surgical procedure - I have to admit that was some good stuff.) and what a backlash that received in the '70's, '80's and '90's when it seemed we were becoming more aware of parenting techniques and the impact it was having on our children.

    Then...boom...we're back off the wagon and not only tolerating mom's drinking during the day in their mommy and me groups (hello drunk driving) but we're promoting it and making jokes about it and advertising it!


    Great post Ellie.


  2. Thank you Ellie for this post. the "I deserve it" motto has been in my head for the past few years. I am now looking for a new healthier and better motto for me and my children. I will def. check out this book. B.

  3. So true, and our kids watch us drink the Mommy Juice and then when they are at that teenage party think... I DESERVE a drink, I need Teenage Juice... They think... "that test was hard this week, I had too much homework, coach was tough." I need my ESCAPE JUICE too, just like my mom.... And I know many moms who drink wine want to think it is the Oxy or ADHD drugs that can get kids hooked on harder drugs. It may be, but hard drug use, like heroin, also can start with alcohol use.! Teenage kids are going to model their drinking and subsequent drug use on how their mom drinks at home, so be careful. Don't think your drinking isn't noticed by your kids....

  4. I love this post. I was visiting a friend yesterday who has her first baby, a 2 week old. She is, naturally, scared shitless, sore, tired, hungry, etc. I brought her baby clothes and chicken parm. She almost cried. She said "People keep bringing me Mommy's Time Out wine. I can't even drink right now."
    Really, that's what you bring a new mom? Wine? Why not bring her some Virginia Slims cigarettes.
    Anyway, thank you for this post. And the comment above - yes! If we use our "mommy juice" after a stressful day, what is to stop kids from thinking stress= excuse to find mind altering substance.

  5. So well written, Ellie. The entire phenomenon of the glittery allure of me as a mother and my own Mommy Juice (before there was even a brand with that name) just about killed me an other innocents since I am an alcoholic. So grateful today that I'm okay with being a sober woman and that during happy, stressful, or even BORING times, I don't have to drink anymore. Recovery gives me more than any substance ever did and for that, I am profoundly grateful. My daughter will always have memories of me and my wine. But my boys don't have to.

    Can't wait to read this book. Thank you for letting us know about it. xoxo

  6. An interesting reflection, but does alcohol constitute a greater danger than other substances or habits that damage human health? In all cases, once you become aware of the problem, it takes substantial effort to change course and adopt better habits. Even reducing the amount of sugar in your diet can be quite a challenge. You are definitely on the right way.

  7. Loved this post, linked to it on my blog. I am really glad I found your blog, which is well written and really emotionally honest. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  8. Thank you so much Ellie. I have been struggling with alcohol addiction for years. I am currently seeing a therapist for a number of issues and learning so much about myself. I just finished a marathon read of Ann Dowsett Johnston's book Drink - I have never been so emotionally engaged and overwhelmed by a book. Yesterday I spent online and discovered this blog and Crying Out Now. It the strangest sensation to realize I am so not alone. Others too have hidden booze in the baking cupboard. I am not the only one to get wasted at a family function. I'm not proud but just discovering these communities has been such a blessing. Yesterday was my first booze-free day in years. I had a nice bath and immersed myself in mindless chick-lit during my usual drinking hours. Albeit since I have been medicating myself to sleep/passing out for years I did not sleep well.....yet while I am tired today, I am oddly refreshed.

  9. Thinking of you. I miss your posts.

  10. Love the one for me also realized today out of 365 days I have drank 360 of them away with mommy juice. Today is a decision for me no one else , to realize my brain expects me to participate in what I now will re name in-happy hour

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