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Moms, Alcohol and a New Book Few Will Blame Moms Who Like Alcohol for Not Reading

Women and alcohol

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I was at my older daughter’s soccer practice the other afternoon when a couple of other moms and I were chatting about which anti-anxiety medications we each take. It was just assumed that most everyone we know takes something — whether it’s via prescription, in a wine bottle or vaporizer (we live in Colorado, where marijuana is legal).

Since I started being officially medicated at the beginning of the year, I drink a lot less wine at night. Drinking during daylight hours was impractical, given that I need to get behind the wheel often — and, you know, my daughters probably wouldn’t have appreciated me passing out on the playground — so anti-anxiety medication has helped take the edge off around the clock.

As I anticipated I would, I’ve changed with this new medication, and I’m parenting differently as a result. Better, for sure. Still not perfect, but I didn’t expect that would come in a little blue pill. Now I know when I lose my temper that I must be really angry.

I still enjoy a glass or three of red wine a few nights a week, but I’m happier to do without so many calories, I’m happier to be able to drive more often, and I’m happier to only embarrass my kids because I’m a dork, not because I’m drunk. At least when they’re awake, anyway.

I can’t say I ever drank because I was punishing myself for not achieving perfecting. Flawless is not an expectation that I’ve had for myself. I have achieved my own version of “it all,” which is to say I get to work from home doing what I love, and I never had to put my daughters in daycare. But I’m always the first to admit — often — that everyone suffers as a result. My kids hardly get my undivided attention, my work is often rushed and it’s only been in the past six months that I’ve been exercising. Still, I figured out what meant most to me and carved it out in my life. I still find that wine and a daily pill helps make me feel better for having what I have and how I handle it.

The wine was there to take the edge off after my often-cranky older daughter came home from preschool (and now kindergarten) while my toddler clings to my leg because, apparently, breathing is hard for her if I’m on the other side of the room. The pill assists me in managing their emotions better, which, in turn, manages mine a bit better, too. One and sometimes both help diffuse the level of my emotional self-abuse. The anti-anxiety medication makes it less so, but it’s still there, just not so prominently.

I take comfort in talking to other moms about self-medicating. Knowing I’m not alone in any of it makes me feel less like an anomaly and more normal. It doesn’t make me feel better and it doesn’t enable me. I know the difference between a drinking problem and a life-work-balance problem. The things is, I don’t know any mom without a balance problem — even moms I know who don’t have to work. The more I read about how there is balance to be had, the more I want to drink. I don’t actually think it’s possible to balance anything while you have children living at home and the desire to have some semblance of a life outside the home.

A new book entitled “Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol” has author Ann Dowsett Johnston exploring the role that booze plays in the lives of so many women.

“In a recent poll done by Netmums in Britain, 81 percent of those who drank above the safe drinking guidelines said they did so ‘to wind down from a stressful day.” And 86 percent said they felt they should drink less. Jungian analyst Jan Bauer, author of Alcoholism and Women: The Background and the Psychology, believes women are looking for what she calls ‘oblivion drinking.’ ‘Alcohol offers a time out from doing it all—‘Take me out of my perfectionism.’ Superwoman is a cliché now, but it is extremely dangerous. I’ve seen such a perversion of feminism, where everything becomes work: raising children, reading all the books, not listening to their instincts. The main question is: what self are they trying to turn off? These women have climbed so high that when they fall, they crash—and alcohol’s a perfect way to crash.’”

Johnston theorizes that the search for perfection leads us to drink, since nearly none of us will ever achieve it. And it’s not just the moms. I went to a talk last night by a woman from an organization called the Girls Leadership Institute — and she spoke a lot about how our daughters are hurting emotionally in a drive for perfection on their own smaller but nonetheless proportionate scale. Our little ones can’t pour a stiff one at the end of a tough day at middle school, so they just sit around feeling bad about themselves or relieve their stress through eating disorders or by suffering or making others suffer in their relationships.

Clearly there’s no simple solution to any of this. Expectations would have to shift seismically in order for women and girls to stop thinking a pedestal in some form is the goal. Leaning in, opting out and other expressions about what we should be doing, what we are already doing and how we can be doing it better don’t help, either — especially coming from the rarefied few who can afford more balance than the other 99 percent of us. So what if my little helper comes in a bottle? As long as I have help, I shouldn’t really complain. Moms and alcohol isn’t new and it isn’t going anywhere, and I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.

Photo credit: iStockphoto

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Follow Meredith on Twitter and check out her regular column on the Op-Ed page of The Denver Post at MeredithCarroll.com

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