When “Mommy needs a drink” Isn’t Funny Anymore

mom-cocktailI recently came across a piece that was published last year, yet seems as important and relevant as ever. Originally published on Salon, and written by Leslie Garrett, the piece describes the author’s experience as both the daughter of an alcoholic and a new, tired, stressed-out mother, and how those jokes about mommy’s drinking can be deeper and more serious than they appear. Although I’m no longer a new mother, I know that for many, stress and fatigue can send you straight to that lovely bottle of wine chilling in the fridge. Here’s what Garrett has to say…

“There was no social media when my mother began her descent to the bottom of the bottle. No Martini Mommy tweeting that “Two glasses of red wine turns my children from Devil-Eyed-Beasts to Tolerable-Additions-To-My-Life.” No Mommy Mixologist stressing that “sometimes Mommy REALLY needs a drink.”

Even the books – “Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay,” “The Three-Martini Playdate” and the just-released “Reasons Mommy Drinks” – arrived on bookshelves long after my own mother’s reasons to drink had grown up.

I wonder if, had my mother been born later, she might have adopted the Twitter handle @mommyhidesboozeinthewashingmachine. Might she have tweeted that “Vodka in my coffee dulls the sound of daughter’s begging me to stop drinking”? The thing is, I’ve seen the “mommy needs a drink” culture up close. It’s not that funny.

“Comedic gold,” is how Lyranda Martin-Evans described to a newspaper reporter the “daily struggle” that time-starved, sleep-deprived new moms face. Her book, “Reasons Mommy Drinks,” which she wrote with blog partner Fiona Stevenson, offers up advice paired with mocktail or cocktail recipes. The Day Care Defense, for example, is a fruity rum drink that promises to “numb your guilt, kill germs and boost your immune system.” The first 18 months of motherhood were “really hard,” Martin-Evans says, but “tragedy plus time equals comedy.” Apparently tragedy plus vodka does too.

I’ve tried to laugh along. One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons features a woman with a glass of wine in one hand, her toddler on her hip. “This?” she says. “It’s a magical potion that makes everything you say interesting.”

Funny, right? It speaks to those mind-numbingly boring days when you’ve read “Puppy’s Birthday Surprise” 87 times and your kid won’t nap and you’re on deadline and you still can’t zip your skinny jeans even though your “baby” is almost three. Sometimes a glass of wine would take the edge off.”

To read the full article, click here.

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One Step at a Time: One Year Sober

“One Step at a Time” is a series of original essays by writer and mom Patty N.  who has been chronicling her first year of sobriety.

by Patty N.

The day after tomorrow, my handy 12-Step iPhone app – the one with the sobriety calculator that I compulsively check every day – will finally read, “You’ve been sober for one year / 12 months / 365 days / 8,760 hours.”  Yes!

Needless to say, I will not be celebrating with champagne, like I did after drying out in 2008.  That was the year I set out to prove to myself that I wasn’t an alcoholic. So I quit drinking – except at my 25th high school reunion when, in my whiskey-impaired state, I got into a car driven by an inebriated classmate and, thankfully, didn’t die on the way to Denny’s.  I also drank on New Year’s Eve and blacked out after only a few glasses of champagne.  Then there were the prescription drugs – which I took not exactly as prescribed but, hey, at least they weren’t alcohol.

After my year “on the wagon,” I bought myself a big bottle of bubbly and picked up where I left off.  But it became very clear, very fast, that I shouldn’t drink and that I couldn’t stop.  Embarrassed and ashamed, I started counting days in AA.  At first, I felt like I was being punished. I’m the good kid, the hard worker, the hands-on mom, I thought to myself.  How did I end up here?  And, every time I said, “My name is Patty and I’m an alcoholic,” I would think to myself, But I quit for a year! I didn’t drink everyday! I was high-functioning! I can’t be an alcoholic!”

Slowly, though, the veil of self-criticism and harsh judgement receded and a gentle, clear-headed, self-compassion took its place.  I started wondering:  Would I hate myself for having asthma?  Would I attack myself if I had diabetes? Would I be terrified of running into someone I knew at the dentist office if I had gingivitis?  No!!  So why didn’t I view my alcoholism in the same, straightforward manner?  As Dr. Drew says (I can’t help it, I love him), alcoholism is about chemistry, not character. So why would I be ashamed about a condition over which I have no control?

Looking back, I’ve spent a lot of time this year regretting the past and, oftentimes, wishing to shut the door on it.  I realize that’s part of the process. But as I mark this significant milestone, I’d like to quit mourning my old life and start celebrating my new one.  On Sunday, I will go to my regular AA meeting and announce that I have one year of continuous sobriety.  I’ll collect my special anniversary coin and an amazing group of people, whose last names I may never know, will greet me with applause and hugs and flowers from the corner deli.  And I will call myself an alcoholic, without reservation, without judgement, without shame, and with enough strength to finally bust through that cocoon of self-hatred and fly like a beautiful liberated butterfly.


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The High School Party Scene: Then & Now

by Caren Osten Gerszberg

When I was a sophomore in high school, my brother—then a high school senior—planned a big party at our house. Not only did he have my parents’ blessing, but they even went out to dinner while he was setting things up in our basement. It must’ve been winter, because I remember my brother making a fire just before the guests began to arrive, when a spark flew and lit one of the couch pillows on fire.

I guess the quickest way to deal with the pillow was to toss it outside, presuming the flames had been put to their rest. Within a couple of hours, only when numerous firefighters and their big red engine pulled into our driveway, did any of us realize that the pillow had been smoldering outside the basement door. The neighbors evidently called 911 when the odor wafted their way.

The friendly firefighters tended to the pillow and most definitely noticed the scene—harmless high school beer-drinking revelers hanging out, listening to music, and playing pool. Once the pillow was extinguished for real, they smiled and took off.

Fast-forward 30 years and note a number of significant facts:

  1. I’m the parent of the high school senior now.
  2. The drinking age is 21, while it was 18 when I was in high school.
  3. I live down the street from the local police station.
  4. High school kids in our community routinely attempt, often successfully, to smuggle beer and booze into a house party.

Last Saturday night, it was my child’s turn to host the party. While we were glad to let our daughter invite friends and other students from her school’s performing arts program–in celebration of four days of play performances–my husband and I had no intention of going out while the festivities took place. In fact, we had a plan in place, which was to ask each and every teen who walked through our front door to leave their coat and any bag on the table by the front door. This seemed a reasonable request, especially since we know people who have hired off-duty police officers to stand outside and monitor any potential contraband being smuggled into their kid’s party.

Once the shindig began, hordes of kids began to pour through our front door. These days, it takes only seconds to text your posse and tell them where the fun is. My husband stood guard at the door, while I took to the stairs. Within 30 minutes, the police had arrived.

The two officers stood on our front lawn, amid the small groups of kids who’d most likely exited to get high or drink outside of our house. When word traveled to the basement that the police were on site, my daughter ran upstairs and asked us to stall for a few minutes–she needed to clean up the beer cans she’d already discovered in the guest bedroom downstairs. We told her we would try, but I couldn’t help but wonder: “How is possible that kids have the nerve to stick bottles and cans down their pants and in their shirts right in the face of two adults who are asking them not to?”

Well, live and learn. My husband eventually let one of the officers take a walk inside and around the house–despite my hesitation–and the officer concluded that all was well and we were “doing a great job.” We were asked to lower the music (oh, did I mention two of the kids brought their professional DJ equipment?) and the party rocked on.

Kids came and left, and though we continued to eye each one of them, more beer and a bottle of vodka made it passed our parental checkpoint. The fire alarm eventually went off–thanks to the DJ’s fog machine–but the party lasted until about 1:00 am. My daughter came up afterwards to thank us for the party, and told us she had a great time.

The following morning, while cleaning up, I found a water bottle with the words “Cousins’ Reunion” splashed across the front–with just a little water left in it. “Smell it,” my daughter said. “Oh yeah,” I instantly realized. “Pure vodka.” My husband, meanwhile, was outside busily picking up empty beer cans and bottles around our front yard and our neighbors’.

I couldn’t help but feel badly for these kids. They are growing up in an environment that has made alcohol so forbidden, so undeniably dangerous in nearly every way, that they feel the need to sneak it at every turn. While the dangers are obvious–and we’ve been clear to discuss them with our daughter in addition to what she’s learned in school–there seems to be such a focus on controlling our children that they are bursting at the seams to get their hands on the stuff.

I wish things were a bit more relaxed, like when we were in high school. If the authorities showed up, rather than ask you to search your house, they’d survey the scene, see the responsible parents on hand, and go merrily on their way.

Caren Osten Gerszberg is a co-editor of the Drinking Diaries.

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Anne Lamott’s Amazing Trilogy

rosiecoverHow many novels can you name that have a sympathetic recovering alcoholic mother at the helm? For me, nothing comes immediately to mind except Anne Lamott’s Rosie trilogy: ROSIE, CROOKED LITTLE HEART, and now, IMPERFECT BIRDS.

Elizabeth Ferguson, Rosie’s mother, is one of my favorite characters to come around in a long, long time–maybe ever. She’s flawed, yet completely lovable–a widow who mourns for her lost husband, but finds a great guy to love, a bookworm who can’t seem to figure out what she’d like to do with herself in the real world, other than read and hang out with her family, a doting mother who has a hard time with the discipline part of parenting. And–a woman who struggles to stay sober.

I’m reading IMPERFECT BIRDS right now, and you can see the legacy of addictive behaviors from mother to daughter, and how Elizabeth is ripped apart with worry for her beautiful daughter Rosie, who is getting deeper and deeper into alcohol and drug use.IMPERFECT BIRDS

Throughout, there are priceless quotes about AA, mothering, alcoholism and life in general. Here’s one, from the point of view of teenage Rosie: “He told her stuff about the meetings….such as that people there said that AA was for problem drinkers, and Al-Anon for problem thinkers, spouses and parents of alcoholics, who hid out in their rooms, secretly thinking alone, having good ideas on how to rescue and fix the drinker. She pretended to listen.”



Laphroaig-QuarterCask-lgby Ann Hood

The first time I drank single malt whiskey, I was soaking wet and shivering on the isle of Skye. My then husband and I had been touring Scotland for a few weeks. We’d gone on a midnight Ghost Tour in Edinburgh, looked for the Loch Ness monster, and hiked the highest peak in the Highlands. But somehow we had not even tasted one wee dram of single malt.

Years earlier, I’d had a sip of a boyfriend’s Johnnie Walker and decided that would be my last drink of scotch. Turpentine came to mind when it burned its way down my throat. But for the past three days, Bob and I had been walking around Skye in a steady drizzle. The space heater in our B and B didn’t dry our clothes or warm our bones. By the afternoon that we walked into the local pub, it seemed that I might never be warm again. The bartender asked what we wanted. “Anything to take the chill away,” I said. He placed before me a glass of amber liquid. It smelled like smoke and curled its way around my tongue, instantly warming me.

That whiskey was Talisker, and although I became a fan, the price tag kept me from buying it very often back in the States. A dozen years later, I had a different husband, two children, and a better bank account. A bottle of Talisker or Laphroaig was almost always on my shelf.

In April, 2002, my five year old daughter Grace died suddenly from a virulent form of strep. One day she was twirling in her ballet class and the next day she lay dying in the ICU at our children’s hospital. In the days after she died, friends brought us food: lasagnas and stews, cookies and fruit, loaves of fresh bread. They brought bottles of wine too, the big ones. Sitting around our kitchen table, stunned, those bottles emptied every evening.

Sleep was impossible for me in those first weeks. The wine I drank each night managed to make me drowsy, but also had me waking up at three in the morning. The world always looks bleaker at 3 a.m., but when you are grieving, that bleakness takes on even deeper dimensions. I prowled the rooms of our house, as if I might find Grace there somewhere. The emptiness that greeted me in each room sent me into fresh waves of misery. Grief begs for anesthesia of some kind, anything to dull the pain and quiet the screams that threaten to emerge at any moment. Despite my desperate need to be numb, I realized that gulping too many glasses of Australian shiraz was actually making things worse.

The first night I stayed away from the wine, I didn’t sleep at all. Instead, I lay in bed, awake and alert, haunted by the time in the ICU and by images of my little girl dead. The wine had at least given me a few hours respite. The next night I took a few Benadryl. That knocked me out, but made it hard for me to wake up, and kept me fuzzy headed and cotton mouthed the entire next day.

When everyone gathered again at our kitchen table that night, I remembered our bottle of single malt and poured myself a good-sized amount. The thing about good whiskey is that it wants to be sipped, not gulped. My husband had some too, and soon all of us gathered there were sipping whiskey instead of wine. That night, I slept uninterrupted. Not the deep sleep that comes when your children are safe and alive in their beds; that particular sleep will perhaps always elude me now. But for many hours I slept fitfully, and woke to another day without Grace, clear headed and broken hearted.

I cannot say how long this ritual continued. Sometimes it seems that bottle of single malt was passed around our table for many long nights. Like other aspects of grief, one day I looked up and I was once again enjoying a glass of wine with my dinner. The single malt took up its residence on our shelf again, opened on chilly winter nights or special occasions.

My father kept a bottle of Jack Daniels in the liquor cabinet, beside dusty bottles of Drambuie and Crème de Menthe. That bottle came down on the Christmas night his brother died, on the cold January day when my grandmother died, and during the grief filled summer of 1982 when my brother Skip died. The sight of that square bottle with the black label used to make me tremble. It meant something terrible and irrevocable had happened. It meant my father, the person I relied on for strength and support, needed some himself. And now I have my own bottle, saved for those times when the force of grief returns. Grief, it chills me to the bone.

Ann Hood is the author of 8 novels, including the bestsellers The Knitting Circle and Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine; two memoirs and a collection of short stories. Her most recent memoir, Comfort: A Journey Through Grief, was a NY Times Editor’s Choice and one of the top 10 non-fiction books of 2009 by Entertainment Weekly. Her new novel, The Red Thread, was just published on May 1st.

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