Mom Shame

By RecoveryGirl 07/27/18

There's nothing worse you can call me than a bad mom. Traditionally, women are the nurturers of the family and expected to put our children above all else, whether the expectation is self-imposed or imposed on us by society, other mothers. When we have problems with alcohol or substance use, we tend to hide it like the Dark Crystal for fear of what others will think about our fitness to be a mother and the possibility of losing our children as a result of discovery. 

When I think about the reasons I drank, I can't really "blame" motherhood, but I will say that the pressure to be the perfect mother at all costs was something I didn't know how to deal with any other way. I was the PTA President, bake sale contributor, and planner of parties which included full size bounce houses in my backyard. I never got falling-down drunk until my kids went to bed. The "mommy needs wine" culture that was emerging when my children were growing up made it very easy to disguise problem drinking as something cute and socially acceptable. Most people who knew me didn't realize that I had usually pre-gamed prior to that wine-drenched playdate or that once I started, I would find it difficult to stop. Most people who knew me, including my husband, didn't know that I went to lengths to hide my problem drinking at home like drinking an entire bottle of wine and a little bit out of a second one (my spare) so that it looked like I had only had one glass out of the spare. The empty before that went into the trash outside so that it wasn't seen in the kitchen trash can. The woman who threw me a life raft when I felt like I was destined to die from substance use and alcoholism in my thirties was another mom I had heard a couple of years prior had crashed and burned, had gone to a treatment program and was living a life of recovery. As terrified as I was to reveal my struggle to her, I knew that if I had any chance of coming up out of the deep, dark hole that was my life at that point, I had to reach out and trust someone. I knew that no one would understand my fear and isolation better than another mom. 

Yes, men hide their drinking if they have a problem, too. In my experience during my "drinking years" and in the five-and-a-half years I've been sober since then, women express a sense of shame that I don't hear in men when they share about their experiences. It's not lady-like to drink straight out of the bottle while it's seen as "badass" when men do it. Mothers are meant to be there for the children and sober in case of an emergency which requires a trip to the ER for stitches when their little one falls and busts their lip open.

While working with clients in the detox setting, I heard over and over the stories of women who have lost their children to child protective agencies due to their inability to stop drinking or using drugs. They often shared about how they never imagined on the day their child was born from their body that they would ever have risked their sweet baby's safety or wellbeing. As a mother, I didn't have children thinking "wow, I can't wait to screw them up". I don't believe that any mother does. 

Women that I've sponsored in recovery don't believe me when I tell them that as they go forward in doing the work through the recovery process, the "mommy guilt" they have, the feeling of deeply having failed their children will start to subside. After the initial amends are made, we have the opportunity to make what are often referred to as living amends. We cannot go back in time and change or take back the years that we may not have been fully present through a boozy haze, but one of the gifts of recovery is that we can be truly present for our children going forward. 

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