When I first began my recovery journey, I was the mother of two young children. At six and two-years-old, my kids were my number one priority. I was so grateful that they seemed to be spared from most of my bad drinking behaviors (though they were definitely affected) and that I quit while they were still young. I knew in order to be the mother that they deserved, I had to take alcohol off the table for good. But there was one problem … my children were some of my biggest triggers.
We’re Living in An Age of Supermoms
The epidemic of alcoholism among mothers is on a steep rise, and the reasons seem to be varied, but common. We are raising children in the time of “supermoms!” Just take a look around Facebook or Pinterest and you’ll see what I mean. The expectation for mothers to do it all is prevalent, and the amount of stress put on women to not only parent their children, but provide them with the best of EVERYTHING is overwhelming.
Studies show that even though more parents are sharing home and child-rearing duties, men on average still do much less of the work when it comes to parenting. For working moms, the divide is even more shocking!
According to the Harvard Business Review, 86% of Generation X and Baby Boomer-aged men said their working wives are in charge of the care of the children, while 65% of Generation X and 72% of Baby Boomer women say the same. 71% of mothers in the United States work outside the home, which means the majority of moms who are handling all the parenting duties are also challenged with balancing their work obligations. When you add in the pressure to make the perfect DIY birthday cake, lead the PTA, and coach the soccer team … it’s not surprising that women are turning to stress relievers like alcohol, prescription drugs, and other substances more than ever before.
Alcohol Brands are Now Targeting Women
— Skinnygirl Cocktails (@Skinnygirl) March 4, 2016
The marketing companies for alcohol brands have done their research and have led the charge in selling new products aimed directly at women, and more specifically, mothers. With names like “Mommy Juice” and “Skinnygirl,” along with brightly colored, feminine packaging, alcohol brands are shifting their focus from men to women. In fact, 53% of all wine drinkers in the United States are women, so these companies are understandably focusing on their target demographic … but at what cost? This year, for the first time in history, the life expectancy for caucasian women has dropped. The cause for this drop? Raised rates of suicide, accidental poisoning (from alcohol or drugs), and liver disease.
How Mothers Can Survive Early Recovery
So what can we do, as mothers, to survive early recovery? It’s definitely not an easy task, with temptations at every playdate or birthday party, where it’s become common to serve alcohol to the adults in attendance. Add on the stress of daily parenting and the main triggers for many, which include exhaustion, lack of private time, and lack of self-care … all of which can be almost impossible to battle as a mother.
The first thing I had to do to get through my early months in recovery was to let go of expectations and become what I like to call a “B+ Mom.” I spent many, many years doing everything I could to show I was the top of the class when it came to mothering. But the stress of doing it all led me straight back to a drink. I’d justify that I deserved a release after everything I did for everyone else and my resentments toward my kids, my husband, and pretty much everyone else. Becoming a B+ Mom wasn’t easy. It meant letting go of the little things and sometimes even the big ones! I stopped fussing over how everything looked, and literally did the bare minimum for a while.
For example, cooking dinner was always a big trigger for me. I’m not a natural cook, and the whole idea of putting together a meal for my picky family stressed me out big time! So I’d self-medicate, using the excuse that EVERYONE drank a glass of wine while cooking dinner. That was fine … except a glass was always just the beginning.
When I entered early recovery, I found making dinner every night to be especially stressful and hard to navigate. But I knew that not drinking was more important than making the perfect meal! For a while, dinners looked very different. Meals consisted of PB&J sandwiches, cereal, take-out, and frozen pizza. I kept reminding myself “this won’t last forever.” I knew from many people in long-term recovery that one day I’d be more solid and possibly be able to cook dinner again. But for a while, I needed to protect myself, and that was more important than homemade organic kale chips. My kids survived, I didn’t drink, and life got better.
Another big issue for me was finding time for self-care. As a mom, my natural inclination is to put everyone else first. I rarely put myself at the top of the list, and I found that was a skill I had to practice daily. I learned attending recovery meetings, exercising and getting enough sleep were very important self-care practices for me. There were plenty of times when I had to say no to my kids, my husband, a work client or another parent because I couldn’t add anything more to my plate, and that was hard. I was a total perfectionist and people-pleaser, and it was very difficult for me to learn how to set boundaries. But I knew that if I took on too much, the stress might cause me to relapse, so I stood firm. Even today, I find myself saying no to a lot of opportunities, both good and not so great! I know what type of self-care time I need in order to stay happy and healthy, and that is more important than anything else.
Finding the Balance Between Your Children and Yourself
One of the most difficult parts of early recovery was learning how to balance my kids’ social life with my new-found need for rest and quiet time. I am an introvert, but my children are both loud and proud extroverts! They love spending time with friends and in big groups, while that sort of activity is quite difficult for me. I didn’t want them to suffer and miss out on activities and opportunities because of me! But I also knew I had to keep those healthy boundaries in order to stay sane and sober. This has been a balancing act that I’m constantly working on, even several years later.
In early sobriety, I reminded myself that asking for help is okay. If I can’t handle another playdate, I can ask another mother if she’d mind hosting. If I can’t stomach heading down to the school carnival, but my kid is dying to go, I can ask someone if she could tag along with their family. I can say yes to a movie night, but no to a sleepover party. In early sobriety, I realized that the best way to get through this was to reach out and build a community around myself. This was the BEST gift. Today I can say I have a wonderful group of mothers who I can turn to when I need a break or need some help. And now that I have a few years of sobriety under my belt, I have the energy to repay the favor!
The Most Important Thing for Mothers in Recovery
For me, the most important thing to remember if you’re a mother in early recovery, is that everything is temporary. For the first six months of my recovery, I suffered from debilitating fatigue and PAWS (Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome). I said no to a lot of activities and my kids ate a lot of cereal for dinner. But I survived, and so did they. I took that time to really listen to my body and give it everything it needed to heal. And now, because I took that time and set those boundaries, I am living a full and happy life! Early recovery doesn’t last forever, and in the end, my kids are much happier with a healthy, B+ Mom!
Megan Peters is a blogger and photographer based in Kansas City, where she lives with her two kids, husband and recovery puppy. Megan is passionate about breaking the stigma of people with addiction, and writes about her experience as a young mom in long term recovery. You can read more about Megan on her website, www.crazybananas.com or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.