‘If my only option is AA, I guess I’ll drink forever.’ I was just doing what I saw other moms do. I was stuck in a vicious cycle.’: Mom celebrates 3 years sober, ‘You are not alone’

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“‘Mommy needs wine,’ the Facebook meme read, with an image of a frazzled mother downing a glass while her children wreaked havoc in the background. I clicked ‘like’ but there was a sinking feeling in my stomach. I knew my relationship with alcohol, specifically cheap sauv blanc, didn’t feel right. I also knew I was just doing what I saw other women, other mothers do: celebrate making it through another day of parenting with a glass, or several, of wine. It seemed like alcohol was everywhere in motherhood—the baby showers I attended had mimosa bars, the playdates had cheese boards and wine, and I even attended a mommy-and-me yoga class with juice boxes for the kids and ‘juice boxes’ for the moms.

As a social worker trained in mental health and substance use disorders, I should have understood what was happening. I should have seen the signs, should have been able to intellectualize what I thought was normal was actually not normal. But I didn’t, as I think so many people in active addiction can relate to. You’re blinded when you’re ‘in it.’ You simply cannot see that the drug has started to drive the bus. Alcohol is so ubiquitous in our culture I just thought I was doing the same thing everyone else was doing. I was, in many ways, but that’s another topic for another day.

Courtesy of Beth Bowen

When my son was 2, I vividly remember sitting on my couch at 10 p.m., a glass of wine in hand, thinking about how much I hated myself. How I have such a lucid memory of this self-loathing after several glasses of wine is still a mystery. I was stuck in a vicious cycle of undiagnosed postpartum depression, sleep deprivation, and alcohol use. I didn’t understand the booze was wrecking the little sleep I did get with a young child, and I didn’t understand what I called ‘feeling fried’ was a nasty mix of depression, anxiety, and a brain-altering chemical substance.

It started with one glass of wine in the evening, then two, then sometimes a bottle, then always a bottle. Each day, I counted down until 5 p.m. hit, when it was socially acceptable to crack open a bottle of wine while I cooked dinner. Make dinner, get the baby to bed, watch some Netflix, crash at an unreasonably late hour, wake up with the baby several times, wake up for the day with him at 5 a.m., then grit my teeth until it was time to unwind from another day of parenting. Rinse and repeat. But I wasn’t drinking in the morning. I was able to maintain my business. I was ‘following the rules.’

Courtesy of Beth Bowen

One night, already half a bottle in, I started Googling ‘yoga to quit drinking.’ I didn’t do yoga yet, but it seemed to me ‘those people’ who did yoga had their stuff together. Maybe it could fix me in some way, help me build practices into my life I could use to cope with instead of alcohol. In hindsight, though I didn’t fully know I didn’t have a single healthy coping mechanism in my toolbox, something in my deeper conscious did recognize that. I’m eternally grateful for my intuition leading me down the internet rabbit hole.

When I was in graduate school for social work, my substance use disorder classes all centralized on utilizing the traditional 12-step modalities to treat ‘addicts.’ The textbooks stereotyped those with ‘drinking problems.’ The Disease Model of Addiction, where someone will forever deal with alcohol addiction, was all we learned about. I think that’s part of why I never realized I was dealing with addiction in my own life. I was running a successful business on my own, by day I was a good mother, wife, and friend, and I lived in a nice, upper-middle-class neighborhood. I didn’t look like any of the people I learned about in school. I wasn’t one drink away from ruining my life or losing my home. I knew Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) didn’t feel like home for me. In fact, it felt like a life-sentence, one  I wasn’t willing to commit to. I thought to myself, ‘If my only options are AA or drinking forever, I guess I’ll drink forever.’

Courtesy of Beth Bowen

But when I found an online community of women pursuing an alcohol-free life who looked like me, everything changed. My ‘yoga to quit drinking’ Google search led me to Holly Whitaker, who taught about a holistic approach to removing alcohol from her life, a mind, body, spirit approach focusing on creating a life she didn’t need to escape from rather than white-knuckling through simply not drinking. She looked like me, too. Young, successful, high achieving. It was revolutionary for me.

I didn’t officially quit drinking for several months after my late-night internet search. But on September 29, 2017, I removed alcohol from my life for good. I took it off the table, stopped playing mental gymnastics trying to ‘moderate’ my drinking, stopped wrecking my life with a glass, or four, of wine each night. I stopped picking stupid fights with my partner I didn’t remember the next day, stopped rocking my son in the morning while battling the spins, and I stopped betraying myself by numbing life with alcohol.

Courtesy of Beth Bowen

When I quit drinking, I went through Holly’s 8-week Tempest program that taught me the neuroscience of addiction, how to build a self-care toolbox, and how to heal my body from the effects of alcohol. She taught from the Learning Model of Addiction: just as we’ve taught our brains to rely on the use of alcohol, we can unlearn, too. I could heal my body and mind and no longer battle with addiction. I didn’t have to identify as an ‘addict’ or an ‘alcoholic’ I could call it whatever I’d like. (I identify as a ‘teetotaler’ or ‘non-drinker’ now.)

3 years later, my life is wild. It’s vibrant and full of excitement. I don’t drink alcohol, and I don’t want to drink alcohol. I can’t unknow what I know now: alcohol made my depression and anxiety worse, it increased my risk for breast cancer, it kills tens of thousands of Americans yearly. In alcohol’s place, I have a beautiful list of self-care practices and hobbies. I run, I write, I meditate, I have a beautiful morning routine, and I even do cross-stitch. And yes, I do a lot of yoga now.

Courtesy of Beth Bowen

But most importantly, I show up for my people. I spent so long numbing my spirit with spirits, and I physically could not step up for the people I love the most. I was a C+ mother, wife, daughter, sister, and friend when I drank alcohol. Now I like to think I’m like an A- mother, wife, daughter, sister, and friend. Life isn’t magically easier without alcohol, but it’s not harder, and I feel like I can be the dependable, loving person I always wanted to be.

When I started sharing my story in public, I thought I’d die when I hit ‘publish.’ But almost immediately, I received dozens of messages from friends, family, and acquaintances saying, ‘Oh my God, me too. I thought I was the only one.’

Every person who shared their own story with me has affirmed the central truth our stories matter. Shame lives in silence, in the shadows. Shame lives in late-night empty bottles of wine, in the quiet hours of a morning hangover, in the sunny photos on social media that hide the inner heartbreak. When I started speaking my shame aloud, the cloud lifted. I felt lighter, freer, brighter than I had in years. And now my life’s mission is to help just one more person realize they are not alone. Their ‘thing’ is my ‘thing’ too, and we’re not broken, damaged people because of it. We are worthy of a big, beautiful, gorgeous life. We do recover, and we can help others do the same.”

Courtesy of Beth Bowen

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Beth Bowen. You can follow her journey on Instagram and on her blog. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more powerful stories like this:

‘She put her drink in my face. ‘Have a sip!’ I was risking my life.’: Woman recounts alcohol recovery journey, ‘It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done’

‘My children BEGGED me to quit. I clung to my right to drink the trauma away. I woke to my pills missing.’: Mom of 2 overcomes alcoholism, ‘My kids celebrate my sobriety with me’

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