Sarah had never had a problem with alcohol or drugs before having a child. She was a casual drinker and never cared for the feeling of drunkenness, as she abhorred being out of control in front of other people. Nor had she ever felt the need to have a glass of wine simply to relax. She had other ways of relaxing, which included reading a good book, drinking a cup of tea, and having a fun night out with her husband. Then when she had a baby, everything changed.
Sarah felt herself growing more and more anxious in the passing weeks after her son’s birth. She struggled to breastfeed him and had to go to formula, which made her feel guilty and inadequate as a mother. Her son woke up every two hours and Sarah struggled to get enough sleep every night. When she finally did get the chance to rest, her mind would race and her heart would pound. She couldn’t seem to relax.
After her son started to sleep through the night, Sarah thought her anxiety issues were resolved and began looking forward to gaining a semblance of her old life back. But she noticed that as the day dragged on with a young 8 month old, her feelings of loneliness and anxiety increased. She felt terribly guilty for not being a happy mother, and struggled to leave the house. By the end of the day when it was time to put her son to bed, she started looking forward to a glass of wine to wind down. It became a ritual of sorts, something to look forward to. After a while, a glass became two, and then became a bottle, and one day, her husband found her passed out on the kitchen floor.
Sarah’s story is all too common. Sarah was not an alcoholic before she had a child, though she may have had tendencies towards that direction. She began drinking for a specific, emotional reason, and found that once she started, it became impossible to stop. Alcohol became the only way that Sarah knew how to relax and fight the loneliness and depression that had grasped on to her after the birth of her son. If Sarah had only known how common her feelings were, and had talked to a counselor or addiction specialist, she may have avoided the route she took. Unfortunately, like so many other moms, Sarah was clueless about the validity of her own feelings and understanding that they needed to be treated before she turned to alcohol.
According to an article by Salon, mothers drink for several reasons. A recovering alcoholic mother who drank to relieve stress explained in her memoir that, “I deserved it, I could reward myself.” Other blogging moms who drink explain, “the reason mommy drinks is because you cry.” Although it sounds innocent enough, there is real truth to this statement. All day long, mothers are expected to sacrifice their own emotional needs for the cries of a newborn. It’s exhausting, and in Western culture, we are expected to do it all alone.
Another reason that mothers drink is because they feel like they “lose” who they are in motherhood. Their entire identity, at least for the first few years of the baby’s life, becomes about the baby. They may have had a successful career, a spontaneous relationship with their husband, an adventurous lifestyle prior to giving birth. Now all of that is put on pause to care for the neediest of all humans: a baby. While mothers usually rejoice in their new role, it is anything but easy to accept this new identity shift. The Huffington Post explains, “all mothers face this crossroad in parenting. We come up for air and realize that we can’t answer even the most basic questions like: When is the last time you read a book and finished it? What is your favorite place to shop for clothing?”
Many mothers who struggle with addiction to alcohol after giving birth are ashamed to talk to someone about it. It’s a taboo subject, and they are fearful of having their children taken away. However, it is critical that the mother gets help sooner than later with her addiction. The chances of the child being taken away if the mother goes to rehab and gets clean are very slim, but if the mother continues to drink and engages in reckless behavior, then there could be dire consequences.
So what can be done if you are a drinking mom and realize you need to stop? First of all, you need to understand that you are not alone in your feelings. Motherhood is difficult. The easiest babies in the world are still hard for the best mothers. You are not a failure. You are struggling to cope with an enormous change in your life.
Secondly, you need to talk to someone immediately. Talk to your doctor, tell your husband the truth, and call an addiction counselor. The sooner you resolve this problem the better. Once you come up with a treatment plan, you will learn coping skills to deal with your stress level. Taking breaks, getting extra help, learning to relax in other ways besides drinking are all part of this process. But you can’t learn these skills if you don’t get the help you need.
Thirdly, you must acknowledge that this too shall pass. The newborn stage, the needy stage, the feeling like you are going to jump out of a window if you hear a crying baby one more time. Eventually, you will get 8 hours of sleep again, and will have trouble getting your teenage child out of bed. This stage is a very temporary time that is challenging for everyone involved. The first year is the hardest, which is why many mothers turn to alcohol. But it DOES get better. Your emotional responses to motherhood are not invalid, but your perspective on it is. This is all a small blip in the journey that is motherhood. And it’s not worth drinking over.
Are you a mother that drinks too much, or someone who is just struggling with an alcohol or drug addiction? Don’t hesitate to get the help you need from a certified treatment counselor at Footprints Behavioral Health. Call Linda Rose at (949)-558-4723 today and start your road map towards recovery.