When Alcohol Isn't the Answer
All hardships in motherhood seem curable with a drink—unless you’re a recovering alcoholic.
In motherhood, there seem to be few hardships that can’t be cured with a nice, fat glass of wine.
There’s wine o’clock and moms’ night out. There’s boozy book club. Yoga and wine-tasting. Let’s get together over a glass of wine. How does she do it all? Wine time!
It’s often joked that moms will need a full bar to get through a toddler’s birthday party. And I’m pretty sure those aluminum containers designed to hold water are so popular because they also conveniently conceal alcohol. Drinking in motherhood is so culturally pervasive that wine mom is the source of hundreds of viral memes.
That’s all fine and good if you don’t have a drinking problem. But if you’re a mom of two young kids who also happens to be an alcoholic, identifying the problem, getting help, and feeling supported through recovery is that much harder.
It’s hard to recognize you have a drinking problem when society normalizes it.
I once remember seeing a wine bottle necklace advertised on Instagram that had a glass delicately trailing beneath it. Emojis and exclamation marks conveyed that it was available in silver, gold, or rose gold, and would make the perfect gift for a best friend. The caption read, “When you think you’re not addicted to wine, but everything you do says otherwise.”
In my active addiction days, I would probably have thought that was really funny and liked it and shared it. (And, let’s face it, probably have bought the necklace and a few extras for friends while I was online shopping after drinking a bottle of wine.) I would have loved that post when I was actively drinking, because it would have made me feel better about my alcohol use. Because when you’re an alcoholic, you’re drawn to anything and anyone who can make the way you drink seem more okay.
There is a heavy amount of marketing and media that encourages and makes light of alcohol use to ease the woes of motherhood. If you’re a normal drinker, that’s all fine. But if you happen to be a blackout drinker and an alcoholic like me, it’s not that funny anymore. It’s enabling.
Motherhood can make sobriety lonely.
My journey to sobriety started off as a solitary one. At one point, I was convinced that I was the only mom out there who actually needed to quit drinking.
Before I became completely sober, I had spent a year trying to simply moderate my drinking (which is to say I was trying very, very hard to not get drunk). I wasn’t capable of removing alcohol completely from my life, and it was the difficulty in moderating that made me realize that even a little alcohol was a problem.
For me, the problem was that there was no such thing as a small serving of alcohol. Each sip awakened an unquenchable thirst for more. Even if I didn't indulge in the craving for excessive amounts of alcohol, the distraction of the need for more was a physical sensation. Even at that point, I couldn’t admit to myself (and certainly not to anyone else) that I was an alcoholic.
So I decided to approach getting sober in the same way I used to train for marathons—sheer will and focus and avoiding a lot of tempting situations.
When I first made the decision to try and moderate my drinking, I made up rules for myself about when I was allowed to drink and when I wasn’t. Drinking at home alone? No. Work events? Yes. Children’s birthday parties? No. Date night? Definitely yes.
Drinking alone at home was the most difficult one to let go of—that glass of red wine rewarding me after putting the kids to bed, or at dinner, or maybe at lunch? The only way I could deal with it was to go to bed early every night until the cravings went away. I avoided social settings like parties, moms’-night-out events, and fundraisers. They turned out to be too difficult.
But I couldn’t avoid children’s events. And I couldn’t really avoid any of it for too long. We live in a time where it’s fairly easy to hide alcohol use, and it’s really socially acceptable to indulge. I realized that I had to quit drinking alcohol entirely if I wanted to get better.
You can’t stop drinking alone, and getting better means getting help.
I had heard about recovery programs, but I had never considered one for myself. Maybe I hadn’t been ready to admit that I actually had a serious problem; I was more comfortable keeping it to myself. There was a lot of fear tied up in this procrastination—a fear of judgement, of repercussions, of closing the door on alcohol forever. There was a part of me that knew if I told the world I was no longer drinking, there was no going back.
It took several more months before I had the courage to go to my first 12-step meeting, and introduce myself as… well, myself. “Hi,” I said. “I’m Meighan. I’m an alcoholic.”
The very moment I finally said those words, everything changed. I felt relief and support and gratitude for the great deal of help I knew I was about to receive.
So who do you surround yourself with when you no longer drink?
When I first gave up alcohol I didn’t know how to interact or engage socially. I felt out of place, uncomfortable in my own skin, insecure in my sobriety, and ashamed of my addiction. Sometimes I would pretend to drink, just to avoid a conversation about why I wasn’t drinking. It still surprises me how insistent some people can be in offering alcohol to someone who doesn’t want it.
It has taken a lot of work through my recovery program to get to a point where I am confident in who I am as a sober person. I have expanded my group of friends to include people I have met in recovery, and those are some of the most incredible connections and relationships that I have formed on this journey.
There is powerful healing and connection that happens in recovery. I’m getting comfortable in my sobriety, and it now brings me a lot of joy. It’s exciting to get to know myself as a sober person and learn how to interact as myself, instead of a drunk version of myself.
There are lots of programs (and people) to help you get the support you need.
Recovery takes many forms, and for me a 12-step program and a practice of gratitude is what works. Even if you’re not ready to take the step into recovery, there are ways to connect with the sober community through sober meetups, online communities like Alcoholics Anonymous and The Fix, and podcasts such as Radio Rehab and Mother Recovering. Having a community of support is so important to getting and being sober, and it has allowed my life to change in positive ways that I never imagined would be possible.
As a mother, one idea that I’ve really had to get comfortable with is the idea of putting my sobriety first. I struggled with this in the beginning. I’m a mom—how can I put anything ahead of my children? Speaking with other moms in recovery has really helped me to understand that my sobriety does have to come first. I have to consistently work on healing myself and showing up for myself in order to be the person and the mom that I want to be.
To be sober, to get sober, to live sober. It’s a full time commitment. It means really dealing with things that are going on, have gone on, will continue to go on. It’s getting honest with yourself about so many things—why you drank or used in the first place, the special place you were trying to get to when the alcohol worked its magic on your mind, the feelings or memories that were kept at a distance through alcohol. How many times has a group of moms joked about needing a drink—is it too early for a drink, why don’t we go get a drink?
I now have a sober community that I belong to, and I am confident in my sobriety. However I don’t take for granted that I am sober, because I know that if I don’t concentrate carefully on it, I’m one drink away from losing it.
I have new resources that I turn to when I can’t make it to a meeting. I have people I can call or text when things seem really dark. And I’m working through many realities about the way I have handled life through alcohol that I never confronted before. Would it be easier to take a drink? Yes and no. In that moment, it might be a solution, but as you may have heard, alcoholism is a progressive disease. One drink, and there is no telling how far I would fall. Likely, I would fall all the way to the bottom.
For mothers, let’s make not drinking be just as acceptable as wine o’clock.
Becoming a mother didn’t make me an alcoholic. It was becoming a mother that actually made me realize that I am an alcoholic—I now look at my pregnancies as my first attempts at sobriety. But being a mother in this culture of motherhood and drinking also has made it really hard to feel accepted as sober.
Moms need support. We all know how isolating and confusing motherhood can be, what a shock it is to our identity, our careers, our relationships. Sober moms need even more support because of how much they have on the line and because there is no buffer between what they are experiencing and the emotional hits. There is no glass of wine to take the edge off. There is no camaraderie over a glass of wine or a wine-tasting.
If you know someone who says no to a drink, be okay with that. Instead of trying to talk them into it, let’s accept that no means no if someone doesn’t want to or can’t drink, whatever the reason. (Does there even need to be a reason?) They can still be fun, and be a good friend, and might actually be connected spiritually in a way you might not have thought. Include them, make them feel welcome. Sober moms need all the help they can get—and they need understanding friends most of all.
I don’t judge the drinking habits of others—trust me, I understand the appeal of a cocktail or a glass of wine. It just so happens that for me, and for many moms, there is no such thing as one. The first is the beginning of many, and for some of us, it’s dangerous. There is a lot riding on us staying sober. Let’s make it okay for someone to not have a drink and yet still be part of the fun, the group, the tribe. Let’s stop making fun of addiction and start thinking about the people out there who are trying to mother sober. It’s not easy to do, and support and acceptance goes a long way.
If you’re a mom who is afraid of the hold alcohol has over you, here’s what I want you to know: you’re not alone. If you’re a mom who has made the decision to get sober, or to try getting sober, you’re not alone. I’m right here with you. There are so many incredible women out there walking the road of recovery, and there is a way to connect with them. If you’re not someone who is sober—be patient with those around you who might need to be. If you have a mom in your circle who isn’t drinking, let that be okay. Don’t look for an explanation unless she offers one. Be her friend.
My name is Meighan. I’m an alcoholic. I’m also a mom. I’m not drinking, and for me that’s a good thing.
Meighan Merono is a solo mom and career gal raising two children in San Francisco. She is a contributing writer for Woman Born and has been featured on the podcast Big Little Choices.