This is my story.
Recovering Alcoholic-Addict Mommy: There is so much on the blogosphere lately about moms and their wine intake. One popular mom writer published an article about how she made the decision to quit drinking wine, after spending years defending her right to drink in such memoirs as "Make Mine A Double" and "Naptime is the New Happy Hour." Another writer from Momlogic wrote a post last week about how she had dared herself to go 30 days without drinking wine, then followed up this week by writing that the experiment failed miserably and she is back on the juice.
Enough deflecting by discussing everyone but myself... I am an alcoholic. And a drug addict. I have been in recovery for 15 years, since I was 20 years old. I currently have 17 months clean and sober.
Based on the above figures, it is obvious that my sobriety path has had some forks in the road. I was sober for ten solid years, during which time I got two master's degrees, began a career as the clinical coordinator of a drug and alcohol treatment center, and got married. In my career, I helped create a nationally based drug and alcohol prevention program for Jewish teens. My entire identity was based on being sober. I had never even taken a legal drink, and my husband had no personal knowledge of my alcoholism. No matter how many stories I told him about the out of control girl running around New York City drunk and high as a kite, he had a hard time matching that image with the accomplished and seemingly well-balanced woman he had chosen to marry.
I spent my days working as a psychotherapist to low bottom alcoholics and drug addicts. People alternatively sentenced to treatment from prisons and jails. Young men and women who had lost everything and been forced by their families into rehab. Moms whose addiction had caused them to lose their children.
I remember the day I found out I was pregnant with my first child. My husband and I were elated, and I felt deeply rooted in my sobriety, career and life. As I walked through the doors at work after returning from my doctor's appointment, the director of the treatment center grabbed me in the hall. "She's back. Debbie is waiting in the lobby to talk to you. She is desperate for a bed. Can you deal with her?"
I muffled my sigh. Debbie had been in and out of our facility for the past few years. She was a petite young woman, with streaky blonde hair and hollow black eyes. She was a mother of three young children and a speed freak. The most she could ever put together was a couple of months of sobriety, before some ex-boyfriend/pimp/drug-dealer eventually lured her back into the horrors of her addiction. When she was clean, she was sweet and willing. She listened attentively during groups and was honest and vulnerable. When she was caught in the web of her addiction, she became a rebellious, angry kid-- a spoiled-brat punk-rocker who could give two f*cks about her children. I wondered which Debbie I would be getting today.
I walked in the lobby, and tried to summon up the caring, non-judgmental social worker in me. There she sat, curled up in a ball in the corner of the sofa. She looked like a drowned rat- skinny, greasy, frightened. When she saw me, she leapt up from the couch and into my arms.
"I can't do this anymore. I hate myself, I don't want to die. I can't do this to my children. Please get me a bed!" She sobbed in my arms.
She certainly knew how to say all the right things, but I had heard them all before.
I led her into my office and sat down next to her on the couch. "Debbie...why is this time different? You have been in and out of here at least 5 times over the past few years! Have you really had enough?"
Debbie looked straight at me, "I hate myself...please help me!"
I answered her truthfully, "I want to help you, but we don't have any beds. We are completely full and we have a waiting list."
Debbie begged, "I need to be a mother for my children...I can't do this anymore!"
I took a deep breath and walked over to my desk and picked up my phone, "Debbie is checking back in. Put an extra bed in women's lounge."
As Debbie walked out of my office I looked down at my flat and pregnant body and I had only one thought. That could never be me. I could never drink or use drugs after I became a mother. I really believed that I had been cured of my alcoholic problem.
At 8 months pregnant, my husband's mom died suddenly, and it took much of his time and energy to process his shock and grief over this loss. After I had my son, my mom's cancer (which had been in remission for several years) returned full force and she was given 2 years to live. I was flattened by postpartum depression and anxiety, which despite my clinical background, totally pulled the rug out from under me.
My return to alcoholism and addiction began slowly and insidiously. My anxiety was so severe that I found myself unable to eat or sleep for several days in a row. My OB prescribes a low dose of Ativan to help me. It worked beautifully.
I began to question whether I was ever really an alcoholic. After all, doesn't every one party when they are in college? Granted, not everyone goes to Harlem in the middle of the night to score drugs off the street. Nor do normal college kids have take a medical leave from school because their drinking and drugging is so out of control. But I was convinced that as an adult and a mother, I could now handle drinking responsibly. I cleverly found a therapist to tell me that she didn't think I was an alcoholic, and she even encouraged me to try drinking again. I hadn't had a drink in so many years, I didn't even know what to order. "What do you like to drink?" I asked her.
"White wine," she replied, with a small smile, "I love to have a glass of cold white wine at the end of the day." My husband and I went to Vegas and I ordered my first glass of white wine in over ten years.
I wish I could say my story ended here -- that I had somehow grown out of my alcoholism and could enjoy that ubiquitous glass of wine at the end of the day without consequence. Unfortunately, it didn't work out so well for me. I spent the next few years battling alcoholism and addiction. I stayed sober during my second pregnancy and controlled my drinking while nursing. At 7 months pregnant my mom's cancer took a major turn for the worse. She died exactly two weeks before my daughter was born. After I brought my baby girl home from the hospital, the grief, pain, sadness and anxiety I felt was indescribable.
I had all the rationalizations. I believed I was a better mom when I was under the influence of pills and alcohol. I was more relaxed, more able to deal with the stress of raising young children, more present, more in the moment, generally happier and able to function. I prided myself on the fact that I was never abusive. I never screamed at my children or put my hands on them in anger. I took them to the park and made them organic, homemade baby food. I had the perfect image of peaceful "earth mama" down pat. I somehow believed that this persona mitigated my alcoholism and addiction, which was now spiraling out of control.
I knew I needed to get sober again. When I wasn't under the influence, my anxiety was off the charts. I literally felt like I was jumping out of my skin. I kept breaking my own rules: no drinking until they were asleep was quickly replaced by holding out until 6pm, then 5pm, then 4pm. I needed more and more of those little pills to simply get me through the day. My husband was terrified, but didn't quite know what to do because he had never dealt with an addict before and I was such a brilliant liar and rationalizer (as all alcoholics and addicts must be to justify their using).
Things got really bad. Without going in to all the gratuitous details, my husband came home on a Friday afternoon and told me the jig was up. Unless I could immediately get sober, he was sending me to a detox treatment center for 28 days the following Monday Of course, I couldn't stop drinking and using. I was in the middle of a run and my body was completely physically addicted. On Monday morning, he dropped me off kicking and screaming at a treatment facility. In that moment, Debbie and I were the same person: desperate, broken mothers who had come within millimeters of losing our children because of our addictions. I knew that I had to get sober or I would lose everything.
I never thought my alcoholism would progress enough to warrant me having to go into treatment. Being separated from my children during that time was the most painful experience of my life. I was dripping in shame. I felt like the worst mother in the world. It took me a long time to realize that my addiction didn't care about my children. It didn't care about my family, my accomplishments, my master's degrees, or my career. It only cared about getting me drunk and high, isolated and alone. That is the very essence of the malady.
The guilt and shame that alcoholic and drug-addicted moms feel is overwhelming. We really believe that we are worthless as mothers if we can't even stay sober for our children. What I learned in recovery the first time (and had to relearn the second time around) is that it is not my fault that I am an alcoholic, but I am responsible for treating it. Sobriety is the foundation of my life now. I truly understand that without my sobriety, I cannot function as a wife, a mother, a friend, a therapist and a writer.
If you are reading this and finding yourself relating to parts of my story, please know that there is a way out of this destructive cycle. You are not alone.