By Desire Washington
“She wasn’t going to make it. Sally was running late again and she hated seeing the look on her daughter Olivia’s eyes, as her daughter was forced to wait. Where had Sally’s day gone? An early morning PTA meeting? Done. Chores? Done. She’d revised the budget. Perhaps, it was the afternoon nap?
Sally was not going to make it. She cautiously figured that she’d make the light. She was going fast enough. She couldn’t disappoint Olivia. . .again. Flash. Sally clearly heard the screech of brakes followed by the grinding of metal. She felt the jolt of impact. Then, she passed out. Unconscious and unaware of time she felt something peculiar, something very odd. Sally felt handcuffs on her wrists as she faintly heard something about drunk driving and a fatality…
Sally wasn’t going to make it.”
In August 2011, Good Morning America aired a short segment posing the question, “Can motherhood and alcohol mix?” Set in sunny Boca Raton, Florida, the segment showed several mothers raising their glasses as their children ran happily to and fro.
As you can imagine, the tension (whether real or man-made drama created for the viewing audience) danced around like a bright red bouncing ball on the screen. What mom would engage in such behavior? Or what is wrong with a group of mothers drinking together? An even more major question (or perhaps judgment) swirled about. . . who’s watching the children?
More than once the argument was made, “mommies need to have fun too.” Underneath the cocktails and the raised glasses something deeper struck me: these women were looking for a way to connect to other mothers and take care of their children at the same time. These mothers were looking for a way to cope. Now this introduces a concern underlying having just one glass of wine with dinner or friends while the kids play. What if mom drinks more or a lot more? Could mommy be an alcoholic?
The National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA) estimates that 5.3 million women in the United States drink in a manner that negatively impacts their health and lifestyle. You can safely assume that a significant percentage of those women are mothers. A drunk woman is one thing; a drunk mom is another. And if mom is drunk, then everyone wants to know who is raising the kids.
Alcoholism is a disease that has four distinguishable characteristics:
1. A need or impulse to drink
2. Once you start drinking, there is an inability to stop
3. Physical dependence – withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to cut back on the amount
4. Increased tolerance – more alcohol is needed to get the same “high” feeling
The alcoholic mom may drink with others and/or alone. An alcoholic mom may conceal how much she is actually drinking – she’ll have a couple of drinks before the play date and after. The truly alcoholic mom plans her day around her alcohol consumption. An alcoholic mother can still be high functioning. AND an alcoholic mom loves her children.
Let me be clear, one glass of wine with dinner does not make a woman an alcoholic. A margarita after the soccer game does not make for an alcoholic mom. But if you are drinking to escape, get away from or cope with “mommyhood” on a regular and consistent basis, then you may want to explore HOW you are using alcohol.
While I could spend endless time speaking on the risks of alcoholism and the specific perils of an alcoholic mom, I want to focus on solutions. And while I could write endless hypotheses on why someone is an alcoholic, the fact of the matter is that that information alone won’t stop the alcoholic from alcoholic drinking. If you feel you have an issue with alcohol or perhaps someone else has raised concerns about your drinking, here are some tips to get you on the road to recovery and reclaim your life from the bottle or the glass.
1. You are not alone. You are not the only mother who is struggling with alcoholism. Alcoholism is a disease AND there is help.
2. There is hope. Where you are does not determine where you will stay.
3. Seek help. Help comes in many different forms: Alcoholics Anonymous, Inpatient and Outpatient Alcoholic Treatment programs (30 days, 90-days, etc.), therapists, clergy, and spiritual advisers who are knowledgeable and sensitive to alcoholism treatment and recovery.
4. Follow through with the recommended treatment plan for continued treatment of the disease. Just as if you were given your medical treatment plan to address diabetes, follow-through is needed to stay in recovery from alcoholism.
5. Remember, the drinking was your coping mechanism. In actuality, alcohol was not the problem until it became the problem. Trust me, excessive consumption of alcohol will progress to become a problem. You are trying to deal with day-to-day stress. You’ll have to discover other coping skills as you uncover new ways to handle stress.
With further thought, I become less judgmental of the mommy cocktail play dates. (And if it’s any consolation – and it is not, the next segment on the program, after the play-date-wine-drinking-mothers, discussed parents who actually let their teens have sex at home . . .)
I become more concerned for the mother who is using alcohol to cope and get through her day. I become more concerned for the mother who wants to be a good mother but finds herself trapped in the cycle of alcoholism. Chances are she is not the mother drinking openly; she’s the mommy with the sippy cup of vodka and vacant eyes. Her children might be toddlers or teenagers. She might be a young woman or seasoned. She might be president of the PTA.
“She” might be you.