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Memoir of an Alcoholic Parent

Courtesy of Stefanie Wilder-Taylor

Los Angeles addiction expert Jennifer Ginsberg says the stress of modern motherhood certainly contributes to this trend. Many women today have their kids after they've gone to college and established themselves in careers. The rules that applied to their pre-mom lives are irrelevant now. There are no gold stars, promotions, or “attagirls” when we make it through a challenging day. It's no surprise that many moms feel the need to “take the edge off,” Ginsberg says, as they juggle the pressures of having and doing it all.

Yet we all know plenty of women who can relax with just one cocktail. “Anybody can use, or even abuse, alcohol to deal with stress or certain life situations without it crossing the line into addiction,” explains Susan K. Blank, M.D., director of medical and clinical services at Foundations Recovery Network, in Roswell, GA. Brain chemistry is what separates the average drinker from the addict, she notes. An unaddicted brain registers when it's becoming impaired, and the pleasure pathway stops releasing dopamine. Drinking no longer feels good, so they walk away from half a glass of wine. The opposite is true for those people with a tendency toward addiction. Dopamine continues to be released, which in turn continues to reinforce their drinking. They never get the message to stop, so they don't.

Of course, having the DNA for addiction doesn't mean you're doomed. Other risk factors contribute to the disease, such as struggles with depression or a family history of substance abuse. My mother and stepfather modeled moderate drinking, but my biological father had a longtime battle with prescription drugs, which may have had a part in my alcoholism.

The Awakening

My drinking remained in a gray area for a few years. I stopped completely during each of my pregnancies, but then my twins were born prematurely, at two and four pounds. Between the neonatal intensive care unit stay, the colic, and the failure to thrive, it's a wonder I wasn't shipped off to Shady Acres. My drinking reached a whole new level, as I began sucking down two to five glasses of wine a night, every single night without a break. I'd gone from drinking to unwind, to drinking to self-medicate, to just drinking—and rarely finding a reason not to.

That May morning, I found myself at a crossroads: I could apologize to Jon and promise not to drink like that anymore. Or I could admit to myself that it seemed only a matter of time before my drinking got me in real trouble. I'd tried numerous times to cut down, “only drink on weekends,” and other such deals, and I'd failed miserably. As a wife who loved her husband and three very young children, I had an awful lot to lose. And I knew it that morning as I hung my head over the toilet bowl. Right then and there, I made the scary but ultimately freeing decision to ask for help.

A few days later, I revealed to my blog followers and sisters in drinking that I'd abandoned the sauce, thinking I'd be crucified for renouncing my position as head cocktail mommy. Instead, support poured in, with comments like “You are doing great already, just by knowing you want to change” and “I battle the same demons. Good for you for taking control.” Shockingly, only one person was disappointed, writing, “No! Come on, I quote your book, I've told all my friends to read it. It is totally fine to have a few drinks as long as you are not hurting your children or driving drunk.”

But I knew that was no longer possible for me. So I joined a support group and discovered that I wasn't alone in knowing my drinking had crossed the line. One new friend I made told me her wakeup call happened when her daughter, who was 5 years old at the time, asked her a simple question: “Mommy, why do you drink so much wine all the time?” “It was lunch-time and I was drinking white wine out of a juice glass, but I kept going back to refill it because juice glasses are, what, four ounces maybe? It was such a charade. I really thought I was pulling something over on her.”

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