I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure
the darkness for it shows me the stars.
We are in a dark time of the year. There is a reason why there has always been a light-in-the-darkness time, and not just for those needing light in recovering from depression. Historically, in an agricultural society, December was a time when the harvest was done and therefore it was a time to rest, turn inward and reflect. With the days being darker, and Winter Solstice being the shortest day of the year, bringing and celebrating light is a natural response to, well, not going mad in the darkness. We need light. Not only does the vitamin D literally stave off depression, but symbolically we need to know there is light in the dark.
One theory of the origins of December 25 as the date chosen for the birth of Jesus is that it was originally the pagan festival in Rome celebrating “the birth of the unconquered sun,” celebrating the sun-god and the solstice. Hanukkah is also known as “the Festival of Lights,” Kwanzaa ritual include lighting special candle holders called kinaras, and in the December Hindu festival Pancha Ganapati, a shrine with Ganesha (the Hindu elephant god who clears away obstacles) is lit. Shabe Yaldā or Shabe Chelle, held on the Winter solstice, isan Iranian festival celebrating the victory of light and goodness over darkness and evil, and Chahar Shanbeh Sure, the Iranian “festival of Fire” celebrates light over darkness on the last Tuesday night of the year.
“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”
-Elizabeth Kubler Ross
For recovering people, this can be particularly challenging to remember the light: the light of hope, the light of “this too, shall pass,” the light of love. It can be difficult to remember you have an inner light to which you can listen.
There is a lot to be concerned with in the world right now. So much suffering. Holding the light of hope can be hard. So many religions and cultures have this light in the darkness in their symbolism for this very reason. It is a human need; an archetypal commonality we share. Remember that you are only responsible for your light, your candle in the darkness. Light your candle. Revisit, hold onto, re-light this light. In the words of Anne Frank,
“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”
Light your candle. The world needs it. The world needs you.
Body image can be a source of distress and/or relapse trigger for recovering women. This is not a superficial issue, but a deeper question around identity transition and transformations that happen for moms-to-be. For more on body image during pregnancy and postpartum, see “Does being a mom make me look fat?”
Fertility and secondary infertility can be challenging for women with histories of disordered eating or drug/alcohol use. Many women have damaged their fertility due to the eating disorder and can be challenged at becoming or unable to become pregnant. According to one study (Sterwart et al, 1990) “a total of 16.7% of infertility patients were found to suffer from an eating disorder. Among infertile women with amenorrhea or oligomenorrhea 58% had eating disorders. Because women often fail to disclose eating disorders to their gynecologists and may appear to be of normal weight, it is recommended that a nutritional and eating disorder history be taken in infertility patients, particulary those with menstrual abnormalities. It has previously been shown that disordered eating and nutrition can affect menstruation, fertility, maternal weight gain, and fetal well-being.” (1)
Along with the choice about whether to and if so, how long and to what extent do fertility treatment is the often grueling process of trying successfully or unsuccessfully to become pregnant. Therapy can be helpful in this process in dealing with all the complicated issues and feelings this can include. One recent blog resource by Susan Allen, who is a LMFT in San Francisco, is: coping skills to center yourself through infertility
Family of origin attachment patterns can be deeply imprinted in the way we parent. This is something to be mindful of in not repeating past traumas and being conscious of what patterns we would like to keep and which we would like to change. Therapy is the most helpful resource in this regard.
Childcare Support from their families may be closer geographically or more emotionally available to women from families without eating disorders, alcoholism, or depression/anxiety. Building an “attachment village” of fellow mom friends and/or professional childcare support like nannies, babysitters, daycare, preschool can be an important part of keeping recovering moms sane and supported if the grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc aren’t available to help. One local mom resource is: Golden Gate Mother’s Group
Self care practices like getting enough sleep, the right kind of food, and not using/abusing substances such as alcohol, caffeine, and other drugs that can be difficult to maintain become excruciatingly during pregnancy and postpartum. Night doulas can be a helpful support resource for some moms. In the bay area, one such resource is bay area night doulas.
Many 12 step meetings also have phone support meetings for those people (like new moms) who are having trouble getting out of the house. Here is a link to phone meetings for Alcoholics Anonymous: aa phone meetings, and here is one to eating disorder anonymous phone meetings.
Perinatal mood disorders (ex Postpartum Depressiona and Anxiety) are common for women in recovery, as these are often what were beneath the disordered eating or alcoholism. Having a treatment team (Psychiatrist, Psychologist, support group specializing in perinatal mood disorders) ready and in place can be a crucial part of prevention and treatment for ongoing recovery. Postpartum Support International is a wonderful resource for moms and families struggling with perinatal mood disorders.
Survivors of abuse are often triggered at many points during the labor and delivery as well as breast feeding process. Many aspects of feeling one’s body is not your own or physical experiences that mimic what happened in abuse can be confusing for mothers who have abuse in their history. When Survivors Give Birth is a book published this past year that provides survivors and their maternity caregivers with extensive information on the prevalence and short- and long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse, emphasizing its possible impact on childbearing women. For more information: Penny Simpkin’s website
Being “Advanced Maternal Age” (or over 35 years old) is becoming more common for many women during pregnancy, especially those that have chosen to solidify their own recovery and/or career path prior to having a child/children. Being an older mom brings with it potential medical challenges and choices during pregnancy as well as postpartum. The “advanced maternal age” project is a resource of information and stories: advanced maternal age project
1. Stewart, Donna, Robinsonm Erlick, Goldbloom, David, Wright, Charlene, 1990, “Infertility and Eating Disorders,” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Volume 163, Issue 4, 1196–1199.
This blog is not to be used to diagnose or treat eating disorders, alcohol use problems, or psychological illness. If you would like to schedule an assessment for treatment, including a perinatal mood disorder, you are welcome to contact Dr Linda Shanti at Linda@DrLindaShanti.com.
For immediate assistance/crisis, call 911 and for a National Suicide Prevention Hotline and Website: 1-800-273-8255 www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
The term “Mommy juice” is new to me. Perhaps I have been living in a bubble of friends, colleagues, and clients who are all “recovering” or “recovered” from something, but when I came across the term I actually had to look it up. I then found this:
“On some play dates these days, the clinking of wine glasses accompanies the laughter of children as parents relax with a drink while their kids frolic.” 1
That is a bit frightening. And yet I know the stress of parenting, I know many moms who drink moderately and responsibly, and I know how difficult “the witching hours” can be. How to know if “mommy juice” is a moderate (and safe) stress reliever or a problem? The connection between women and stress seems to be a big factor. According to the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Addiction,
“Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States- 17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence along with several million more who engage in risky, binge drinking patterns that could lead to alcohol problems. More than half of all adults have a family history of alcoholism or problem drinking, and more than 7 million children live in a household where at least one parent is dependent on or has abused alcohol.”
“…research tends to support the link between coping with stress and problem drinking. For many women, alcohol becomes a means of coping with stresses like…dealing with issues of parenting.” 2
When is drinking interfering with being a Mom and when is a glass of wine relieving stress?
Some key indicators of a woman who may be in trouble with alcohol:
- Missing work or skipping child care responsibilities
- Drinking in dangerous situations, such as before or while driving a motor vehicle, transporting kids, etc.
- Being arrested for driving under the influence (DUI/DWI)
- Hurting someone while drinking: emotional/physical abuse
- Continuing to drink even with ongoing alcohol-related tensions with family, friends, workplace, partners 2
Some symptoms of alcoholism include if you:
- Feel a strong need or compulsion to drink
- Develop tolerance to alcohol so that you need more to feel its effects
- Drink alone or hide your drinking
- Experience physical withdrawal symptoms — such as nausea, sweating and shaking — when you don’t drink
- Do Not remember conversations or commitments, sometimes referred to as a “black out”
- Make a ritual of having drinks at certain times and become annoyed when this ritual is disturbed or questioned
- Are irritable when your usual drinking time nears, especially if alcohol isn’t available
- Keep alcohol in unlikely places at home, at work or in your car
- Drink to feel “normal” 3
Other risk factors?
Just like eating disorders and perinatal mood disorders, having a history of anxiety or depression, past abuse, hormonal or brain chemistry imbalances, and alcoholism in the family system are all potential risk factors to be mindful of if you are concerned about alcohol use (abuse).
And, once again, shame and isolation (just like with eating disorders and postpartum depression) are both risk factors as well as barriers to recovery. The message of hope bears repeating. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. THERE IS HOPE. THERE IS HELP. Women like Marty Mann, founder of NCADD, paved the way back in 1944, to start a discussion within the medical and scientific community about women and alcoholism’s damaging effects. Fortunately, as a result, more women are living lives in long-term recovery than ever before! More recently, Elizabeth Vargas told her story of recovery after being a “closet alcoholic” hitting the “mommy juice” for decades. Bless both of these women for sharing their experience, strength, and hope!
Here are a few places to look if you are concerned about your own or someone else’s alcohol(ism):
Information on alcohol: http://ncadd.org/learn-about-alcohol
Support from Recovering women: http://www.thebubblehour.com/p/who-we-are.html
Alcoholics Anonymous: http://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/need-help-with-a-drinking-problem
Alanon support for family members: http://www.al-anon.org/affected-by-someones-drinking