‘Oh, you’re gonna need this.’ My friends left gifts for me, all alcohol-related. With those 8 bottles, they unwittingly initiated me into a club.’: Sober mom shares recovery journey

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“‘Today’s the day, babe.’ I woke my husband up with excitement. I was 41 weeks pregnant with our first child, a girl. It was time for the next chapter in our lives, parenthood. After laboring for 2 days, our sweet baby girl made her grand entrance into the world. Close family and friends came to visit, leaving eight gifts waiting for me — all of them alcohol-related.

With those eight bottles, my friends were unwittingly initiating me to a club I never knew existed. My friends were telling me, ‘Oh, you’re gonna need this. When our kids whine, we wine.’ I didn’t think much of any of it at the time. I placed the bottles into our duffle bag and thanked them for visiting.

Over time, I opened those bottles — typically because someone came over. Maternity leave left me feeling exhausted and lonely. I’ve always been a borderline workaholic, finding confidence and pride in my career. Around two months into my leave, I felt ready to venture out with my daughter. We took a mommy and me yoga class, ventured to local parks, and attended storytime at the local library. I began to feel busy and productive, something I hadn’t felt since taking a medical leave from work. I quickly began connecting with other moms, receiving invites for yoga class — with mimosas. I thought, ‘Aren’t we supposed to feel inward and be with ourselves — not numb out and disconnect?’ All moms would have Baily’s in their coffee during our 8 a.m. stroll through the park. And then it was Taco Tuesday happy hours with plenty of margaritas. Slowly, every connection was associated with alcohol.

Courtesy of Michelle Smith

Within the span of 2 years, I went from drinking occasionally to a grey area drinker. Nothing terrible occurred as a result of my increased alcohol consumption, nor did anything good. Shortly after, we were expecting on second baby, a boy. I had no problem passing on alcohol during pregnancy. It was postpartum when it became tricky. I could stay sober for my children but found it harder to stay sober for me.

I returned to work after 6 weeks postpartum. My plate was full — working two jobs, two small children, unresolved grief and loss, and my husband who had been deployed, returned from Afghanistan with an injury. It was all too much. I felt like I was failing as a partner, mom, and employee. I couldn’t do it all the way I had in the past. I also never had the same amount of responsibility. I had so many balls in the air. I didn’t think to let go of the ones that were plastic. The world wouldn’t crumble if the plastic balls fell. It was the glass ones I needed to juggle.

Courtesy of Michelle Smith

I never needed alcohol in my life, yet I found myself more connected to it than I’d ever been. I found motherhood surprisingly isolating. It filled an emotional void it never needed to fill before. Alcohol started to slip into all those little cracks, providing relief after a grueling day or as the social glue with a new community of moms.

After a couple of years of not-so-problematic drinking, things turned. Public drinking became private drinking. One day, I poured wine into my coffee mug and volunteered in my child’s classroom. Another time, I stashed mini liquor bottles in my purse on my way to work. Later, a binge-drinking episode landed me in the emergency room of the hospital where I worked, with a blood-alcohol level of .43. I had one goal when drinking: blackout.

I spent 20 years climbing the corporate ladder, getting married, having kids, building a dream home, and all I wanted was to escape it. Drinking two bottles a night became my norm. I created subconscious habits and an evening routine: ‘mommy deserves a treat.’ My anxiety was at an all-time high, depression the lowest it’s ever been. I wanted so badly to quiet the chatter in my head and escape the chaos around me. It was all too much to bear. I felt I was a bad mom because I worked and a bad employee because I was a mom. I couldn’t keep up with society’s expectations of modern-day motherhood. I felt like I was failing at life.

Courtesy of Michelle Smith

As a certified mental health and addictions counselor, I have the skills and know better than to allow my mental health to decline and my alcohol consumption to become problematic. This goes to show anyone is immune and addiction doesn’t discriminate. I began to experience negative consequences as a result of my ongoing alcohol abuse. I finally agreed to get help. This consisted of all different treatment modalities like therapy, medication, AA, and residential treatment. To spite my best efforts to cut back, I was unsuccessful. I was able to manage everything else in my life, except for my drinking.

I never gave up on the idea of an alcohol-free lifestyle. I began seeing every relapse, not as a failure — rather as a person who doesn’t give up. My mistakes became lessons. I’m either winning or learning was my new mentality. I only fail if I give up and that wasn’t going to happen. Once I began filling my head with sobriety, drinking was never the same.

Courtesy of Michelle Smith

On November 24, 2016, I called it. It was Thanksgiving Day. I was ready to stop drinking. I put to rest the idea I would ever be a person who could drink normally. What kept me stuck was my mindset. I saw sobriety as a punishment, not a proud choice. I thought of all the reasons my life would no longer be fun and exciting. I asked myself, ‘What will it cost me if I continue drinking? Is alcohol adding value to my life? What will I gain by choosing sobriety?’ It became clear. I had nothing to lose other than my ego and horrific hangovers.

As I began to recover out-loud, I noticed I was far from alone in my struggles with Postpartum Depression and alcohol abuse. There was a large underserved population of women, needing services, and supports. I shifted my clinical practice from forensic psychology to virtually working with moms who are sober-curious or interested in alcohol-free living. This is when Recovery is the New Black was founded. It became clear to me it’s time to change the narrative around motherhood and alcohol. Alcohol is NOT an accessory to motherhood. Alcohol is the only drug we need to justify not taking, which is ridiculous! Wine has practically become the must-have accessory for modern-day motherhood. It’s right up there with yoga pants, messy bun, coffee, and minivans, right?

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We’ve all read and probably laughed at memes flooding our social media that moms need wine to cope with motherhood. Most people who share this type of stuff don’t have a problem with alcohol. They think it’s funny and relatable. I’m guilty of being on board with the mommy needs wine culture until I stopped drinking. I saw it for what it is.

It’s problematic for those genuinely struggling with their relationship with alcohol and get the help they need. The alcohol industry is making a ton of money marketing alcohol to moms, offering alcohol as a solution to life’s problems. There is an unwritten rule: being a mother is hard, alcohol makes it better. Many mothers aren’t given permission to admit they’re struggling with all the expectations of motherhood. They struggle in silence with no support. There’s so much glamour to the wine culture. The truth is wine isn’t so classy when you can’t stop drinking it.

Courtesy of Michelle Smith

Now the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting every family across the country and will likely have a long-lasting impact on public health and well-being. I see first hand how alcohol misuse is already a public health concern in the United States, with dramatic increases in emergency department visits and alcohol-related deaths observed in recent years.

The pandemic has hit women harder, a lot harder. All of a sudden, working moms had a lot more on their plates: working, cleaning up after a household of people who never leave, cooking every meal, and homeschooling. If being the default parent was an overwhelming everyday reality before spring 2020, women have become the default pandemic parent.

I can’t scroll on social media without a ‘quarantini’ zoom gathering invite or a ‘funny’ meme, condoning day drinking acceptable to get through virtual learning. Moms already in recovery began feeling unsteady due to the pandemic, throwing a wrench into their self-care and recovery practices. Recovery meetings, church, gyms, and therapy appointments were no longer an available outlet. That’s when the idea of the Sober Mom Squad was born. Being a mom is hard enough, add in a pandemic and a lot more have turned to the bottle. We wanted to be of services so we launched a virtual weekly meeting and within the first week, we had 600 moms sign up.

Courtesy of Michelle Smith

The Sober Mom Squad is just as it sounds: A squad of moms who are already sober, those who are just dipping their toes in exploring an alcohol-free lifestyle, and everything in between. The Sober Mom Squad has grown to multiple meetings daily, expert webinars, recovery coaching, and a membership program. We share. We connect. We talk about the hard parts of motherhood. We create a community in the lonely pockets of motherhood. We don’t shy away from the hard topics, and we nod our heads in solidarity.

While our society glamorizes and normalizes drinking, moms every day are learning the truth about alcohol. It will always over promise and under deliver. I’m not anti-drinking — I’m pro-sobriety. As a society, we need to do a better job of normalizing sobriety. This starts with having open conversations, ending the stigma, and spreading awareness of the danger of ingesting a carcinogen. No amount of alcohol is good for us. Alcohol is an addictive substance. We need to find other ways to connect, reward ourselves, celebrate, and sit in our own discomfort without the consumption of alcohol.

The Light Room

For years, alcohol was such a staple in my life, along with everyone I associated with. I normalized my drinking by telling myself I deserve it. I never realized how much I relied on alcohol in my everyday life. Today, I have coping tools, confidence, and supports to weather through any season of life, sober.

Because I finally stopped resisting, fighting, and trying to control my toxic relationship with alcohol, I’m free. I hope the same for you. If you’re questioning your relationship with alcohol, I’m proud of you.

Motherhood is freaking HARD. But so is the idea of drinking you’re way through the hard part of motherhood. Our children are our greatest imitators — let’s give them something to imitate. Let’s show them sobriety. I will continue to recover out-loud and heal loudly so others know ending the pain is possible.”

The Light Room

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Michelle Smith from Portland, Oregon. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more stories about recovery here:

‘Remember why you’re getting sober.’ I took the onesie with me to rehab. I had to get better.’: Woman sobriety journey leads to twins, ‘We made this possible’

‘I could’ve killed myself, or my precious son. I’m riddled with guilt. I’m so ashamed of things I’ve done in front of my child.’: Mother in the throes of addiction, ‘I don’t want to do it anymore. I want my son to have a sober mom’

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