When Mama Grabs the Bottle

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Rachael Brownell is a mother, writer, and aspiring hippie living in the Pacific Northwest. Her first book, Mommy Doesn’t Drink Here Anymore, was published in August 2009. As our guest blogger, she highlights the pressures of motherhood today—and her journey “from cocktail mama to sober mama.”

People rarely ask me why I drank, which shows either great self-control, or (hopefully) a greater understanding of the disease of alcoholism. After all, I drank because I drank, because I am an alcoholic. I would argue (given family history and upbringing) that I stood a 90% chance of becoming an alcoholic, like my mother, my grandfather, and my ancestors before me. But I did notice a steep dropping off point (jumping off is too optimistic) once I became a mother of twins.

Like any good alcoholic who hasn’t yet exhibited the heavy drinking, denial, and troubling proclivity for daily hangovers, I’d been able to drink fairly normally in my 20s. I could take it or leave it and often did, for weeks at a time. Nor did I typically binge in between (though exceptions did occur).

But after my daughters came along, there was a perfect storm that provided all the kindling my little match fire needed to rage. I was lonely, in a troubled relationship, with a partner who was laid off two weeks prior to the twins’ birth. Plus, I was plum worn out. Like most parents, I tripped into parenthood singing a melody of hope and love, but was very quickly side-lined by the grueling reality of little to no REM sleep and the babies waking me up every 90 minutes or so.

I couldn’t go anywhere—not even to the grocery store—without some major production with formula, strollers, crying babies, and total hassle. Stuck at home, the only outlet I could find, aside from bad mystery novels, was a glass of wine in the evenings. White, crisp, tasty wine in a glass, while sitting in my reading chair devouring the latest book, after the twins were in bed was my idea of sheer heaven. So heavenly, in fact, I very quickly decided two glasses would be even better, and three better still.  In about two months, I was easily drinking nearly a bottle of wine a night. And it didn’t stop there.

Fast forward three years, and I was missing my daughters’ school events, having an affair, missing work, and living miserably from one afternoon to the next. Drinking took over, and you, I’m sure, know the rest.

Are mothers today under more pressure than our mothers before us? I’d have to argue yes. We’re charged with raising healthy, happy children, bringing home a significant portion if not all of the family income, and looking 20 years younger than our actual age. Given that many of us also walk through divorce, job loss, and single parenthood, in my view, it’s amazing we’re not all alcoholics.

I found my way into recovery after I finally told my brother Mark what was really happening in my life. I guessed correctly that he’d be supportive, but I hadn’t counted on him telling me to go to an AA meeting that day. In fact, he told me he’d call me later that evening to make sure I had attended.

Because I listened to him, I am now a proud, sober mother who brings her kids to my meetings when they’re not in school. Recovery has involved getting to two or three meetings a day, finding a sponsor, and working through the steps with other alcoholics. Without that multi-pronged approach, I’m quite doubtful I’d have two years sober today.

Motherhood did not cause my alcoholism, but it did provide the circumstances for me to succumb to its grips. I now believe our recovery efforts should be directed to the place in society where women, always striving for perfection and never measuring up, are trying—often alone—to rise up and raise up our next generation.

In recovery, we can find an antidote to these pressures, and even more, we can find a sisterhood of loving support, such as we never dreamed of finding.

Rachael Brownell

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 For information about Phoenix House’s programs for mothers and children, please visit our New York or California pages.

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  • As always a perfect description of a life that I’m so glad I left behind. I regret the lost years with my daughters knowing I’ll never get them back. But I will say that regret has also made me more than positive that I don’t ever ever want to go back. Thanks for writing this.

  • Rachael,
    You described me in your story! I have been sober for 18 months, I could have died had it not been for my family getting me into a treatment program {I was there for 90 days by choice}. Mothers today have so much more to do than in previous generations and there are expectations that we put on ourselves as well. Congratulations on your sobriety and your book. Thank you for having the courage to write it!

  • Drug intervention couldn’t be more key to a long-lasting recovery. Great blog, Rachael

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