Since I live in an area where wildfires have been devastating communities, this is some of what I’m hearing in therapy this week:
“I’m having trouble breathing.”
“Should I keep my child home from school or make them wear a face mask?”
“Three of my friends just lost their houses.”
“I can’t seem to focus.”
“I was just starting to get my head around the Las Vegas shooting and now this.”
“I don’t even know how to take care of myself right now.”
“Donating bags of supplies doesn’t seem like enough.”
“I’t’s just one disaster after another- I’m not sure I want to bring my children up in this world.”
These are from people living near the wildfires. Not the ones who directly lost their houses, schools, churches in the fire. So you can only imagine the trauma for those impacted even more directly.
A Little About Trauma:
What is trauma? According to the APA (American Psychological Association) trauma can be defined as:
“an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and… physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives. Psychologists can help these individuals find constructive ways of managing their emotions.”
Secondary trauma can be defined as “the stress resulting from helping or wanting to help a traumatized or suffering person.” (Figley, C.R., Ed., 1995).
According to Secondarytrauma.org, some of the symptoms of secondary trauma include:
- intrusive thoughts
- chronic fatigue
- poor concentration
- second guessing
- emotional exhaustion
Many caregivers, therapists, nurses, firefighters, emergency providers, and what I call “senstives” or “empaths” experience secondary trauma. Secondary trauma can result from working directly with people who experienced trauma.
But what can we do about it?
If you are feeling the effects of trauma, here are some thoughts on self-care.
- Physical self-care
A friend of mine said recently, “I feel like a baby. I don’t even know how to take care of myself during this.” Actually, thinking of baby self-care is a good clue as to what you may need. Babies need physical care and tending. If you are able to, keep regular routines of sleep, meals/snacks, hygiene (showers and baths), and stay hydrated. Obviously, physical self-care also includes staying in a safe house or shelter. In the bay area, many hotels, air b and b’s, and nearby friends/family members/colleagues are offering shelter for those who have lost their house or residence due to the fires.
2. Emotional Self-Care
When thinking about a time when you have felt grounded, ask yourself what you were doing? It may have been journalling, meditating, or spending time with a dear friend. Although tempting to NOT do these things during times of crisis, it is actually even more important to do them. This is the directive of “put your own oxygen mask on first.” You cannot be of service to others of you are unable to breathe yourself.
3. Help others
Note this comes third on the list. After you make sure you are taken care of and resourced, then you can give, whether it be through providing housing, volunteering, donating supplies, or emotionally supporting people affected by the disaster.
If you are a parent:
Here’s a beautiful acronym/summary of ways to support your child during/after a disaster or emergency from Alberta Health Services:
Remove yourself and your loved ones from danger. During an emergency or disaster, finding shelter, water, and food is the first step. Staying safe and keeping calm is important in helping you and your child in an emergency.
Eat nutritious food and drink water.
Activity. Return to your normal routine as quickly and much as possible. Try to do what your family normally did before the event (e.g., eat meals together, walk together, play games, read).
Take care of yourself! One of the gifts of both recovery and of disasters is that it forces asking questions such as: What is most important? And what do I need to take care of myself right now? Here’s to living our way into those answers.
As always, this blog is not intended to provide or replace psychological treatment.
Mentis in Napa county is one of many mental health centers in the bay area providing mental health support at low fee currently for victims of the California wildfires. 707-255-0966 ext 132 http://mentisnapa.org/our-services/#mental
The National Center for PTSD is a good resource for information on trauma recovery: https://www.ptsd.va.gov
Eleanor Roosevelt had an idea. Pondering another communication breakdown, she could have been channeling our current dilemma when she said, in 1960(!):
“We have to face the fact that either all of us are going to die together or we are going to learn to live together. And if we are to live together, we will have to talk.”*
Last night I read this book to my little one:
“What is race?”
I had a simultaneous reaction of relief (many of his friends are of races, genders, and religions other than his, so hopefully he is choosing from heart-connection-similarities, rather than dividing-by-difference) and dread (my child is white. I’m almost entirely positive that if he were not white, he would know what race is. That is the invisible privilege he was born into).
My child looks at the police as his friends.
My child sees adults as people who are there to help him.
My child goes to school not questioning whether his teacher will be able to hear or see him.
My child believes that God is “a force of love that lives in everyone’s hearts,” regardless of their religion, ethnicity, or gender, and that “when you listen to that, you can always find love, not hate.”
When my child learns to drive, I will worry about him. But I will not worry about
him being shot if he is pulled over.
I will not worry about him being checked to see if he is undocumented.
My child has the freedom (aka privilege) to choose friends based on if he feels connected with them and not based on if it is safe/unsafe to be friends with them due to their skin color, ethnicity, religion, or gender.
My child lives in a world in which he doesn’t have to learn another’s language, religion, or culture to find belonging, to live safely, to have access to education, healthcare, approval, or belonging. That is part of the privilege he was born into. I will do my best to help him understand not everyone has that privilege. And that if you have it, it is your responsibility to understand it, and to share it.
This was my favorite part of the book:
“I want to tell you a story. But I need your help. Here’s what I want you to do:
Take your fingers and press softly against your skin right below your eyes. Be careful and don’t poke yourself in the eye. Okay. Now. Press gently until you feel the hard bone right beneath the surface.
Now, if your mom, dad, brother or sister or a friend is close by, ask them if you can touch them. If they say okay, take your fingers and press softly at the same place beneath their eyes. Press gently until you feel the hard bones right beneath the skin….
Beneath everyone’s skin are the same hard bones.
That’s right. The same hard bones. And, as my little one said “We have the same fingernails…and the same pupils inside our eyes.”
The same eyes. Eyes that are capable of seeing terror, horror, and redemption. Eyes that are capable of seeing, appreciating, protecting, and celebrating difference. Eyes that are capable of seeing through the eyes of compassion. Arms that are capable of doing the work of love instead of fear. Arms and feet that are working… working toward liberty and justice for all. There is work to be done. There is work to be done.
*”Why We Need to Talk About Race,” Oprah.com, Read more here
So I haven’t been blogging here. I do have three blogs coming out soon (stay tuned!) on eating disorder recovery sites. However, in reflecting on my 12-month Butterfly Project for the year, I’m coming back to the intention of: Stay engaged with the process.
In other words, as they say in recovery, don’t quit before the miracle. Or, as Dr. Brene Brown says,
“Stay in the arena!”
I need to remind myself of again and again: in therapy with my clients, in parenting, and in the life-long process of growth.
With my clients, who often struggle with shame if they slip in their eating disorder recovery, we constantly need to re-frame slips as part of the process. Slips are not a detour. As they say in my little one’s school, Mistakes are how we learn.
In our house, when someone drops/spills something by accident or my little one (who has just started writing) makes a “d” instead of a “b,” we say “Hooray! I made a mistake!”
It sounds so easy, but it is not. Simple, but not easy. Re-engage-ing with the process, again and again. I love how Glennon Doyle Melton, mom, recovering bulimic/alcoholic, and author of two memoirs and the blog Momastery has this motto in her household:
“We can do hard things.”
And another relevent peice for recovery and parenting:
“Most of life is boring. What are you going to do/make of that?”
If you have an answer for you, please feel free to leave a comment. I welcome them. And stay tuned as I re-engage with the process!
Every morning my little one pulls up my shirt, kisses you, and says, “I came from there!” You are fleshy now, stretched. I feel warmth and softness when I touch you. Mother. You hang over my jeans a bit. My sagging muffin top. I try not to mentally airbrush you out of pictures- the little traces of shame that still linger, the empire cut shirts, even though I haven’t been pregnant for five years.
Twenty years ago disgust for you filled my world. And crushed my spirit. All the self-loathing, anger, fear and shame were stuffed into you. I’m sorry. So many apology letters written to you in those first years of eating disorder recovery. But I did grow to accept you! And fed you. And then you created an amazing child! (Ok it was my womb, but you are the flesh that stretched to accommodate). You grew and stretched beyond what I thought was possible
Belly, I’m sorry that there are so many images in the world that don’t look like you. I know those images make you feel unloved, disgusting, flabby. I’m sorry those images make you feel wrong.
Those images tell you all kinds of crazy sh*t:
“Be smaller! Be flatter! Do this to be loved! Be big and full of yourself until age seven and then be flat and hungry. But don’t feel hungry! Just look thin! Don’t get angry! Hide your intuition. Don’t listen to it. Be attractive by not being yourself! Don’t get stretched. If you get stretched, get sucked and stitched back in.”
I just want you to know, Belly, they’re wrong, those messages. Contrary to what the images tell you, there is nothing wrong with you. Let me say it again as you have received those other brutal messages so many times.
Belly, there is nothing wrong with you.
I stole the Opposite Land game from the most time-honored parenting resource of all: another mom. Here’s how it works: When you are going somewhere or doing something that requires a certain kind of behavior, visit opposite land first. So for example, before we go to the regular grocery store, we go to the opposite land one. In opposite land grocery stores, all the kids ride on the carts flinging their legs and feet into the aisles, toppling cans and boxes off the shelves. They race around banging into people, don’t say excuse me, and throw eggs out of the carton. They fill the cart up with cookies, chocolate, rainbow sprinkle doughnuts and NO GREEN VEGETABLES. Never. Not Ever.
This technique works if you really get into it and are silly, authentic, and loving. Then your kid knows your intention is to connect and stay connected with them. Kids are right brained and have not yet left the land of implicit knowledge, of being deeply connected with their bodies and felt-sense of another person. So if you’re not authentic and silly with opposite land, they will see right through you and know you are just trying to get them to behave in the grocery store (which, of course, you are, but in a child friendly and respecting-ly, playful way).
A Random Confession related to Opposite Land and Never Eating Tomatoes:
My child is a picky eater. Even though I am a HUGE advocate for the intuitive eating, there-are-no-bad-foods, philosophy, I still relapse into encouraging, bordering on nagging, my child to eat vegetables. As you can imagine, sometimes I “win” a particular battle, but I never (Never, Not Ever 🙂 ) win the war. My little one is all over implicit knowing on that. I know you are trying to get me to do what you want, but I am not going to leave what I know to be true in my body and my preferences. So I keep returning to presenting the food, being playful with it, model-ing eating vegetables, but not forcing them.
I recently was given a book in another great chain of motherhood wisdom (also known as passing-along-stuff-please-help-me-clear-a-little-space-in-my-house). It is fabulous. In it, Lola, the younger sister of Charlie, states that she won’t eat carrots (they are for rabbits), peas (too small and green), and:
“I absolutely will never Not Ever eat a tomato.”
Her older brother, well versed in opposite land and creative, playful parenting, assures Lola that they are not eating carrots, potatoes, peas, or fish sticks. They are eating “orange twiglets from Jupiter, cloud fluff, green drops from Greenland, ocean nibbles from the supermarket under the sea…” You get the idea.
As you can imagine, by the end of the book, Lola is experimenting with trying all kinds of new foods, including the dreaded Never Not Ever (re-named moon-squirters) tomatoes.
How does this apply to You?
(Parents, Non-parents, and people recovering from Eating Disorders, Depression, Anxiety or General Self-Hatred)
Opposite Land looks different for adults. It includes such blasphemous ideas as:
“You ARE good enough.”
“All foods are possible to eat without guilt, including chocolate cake.”
“Recovery from an Eating Disorder (Depression, Anxiety, General Self-Hatred) is possible.”
“Mistakes are allowed.”
“You can be loved the way you are.”
“There is nothing wrong with you.”
“What happened in your family of origin was not your fault.”
“It is okay to feel angry, sad, ashamed, or insecure.”
“You are not bad.”
I get it- these may seem to live in a fantasy world if you are accustomed to believing the opposite. They may seem even more preposterous than eating cloud fluff or orange twig-lets from Jupiter. But considering the possibility can be the beginning of believing it. Having a trusted loved one (spouse, therapist, supportive peer) help you in this process can be the most healing. You may even, like Lola, decide that you can sometimes, Not Always but Not Never, have the experience of being Good Enough. And that can be even more phenomenal than eating a moon-squirter.
Special thanks to Lauren Child and Candlewick Press for permission to reprint the beautiful images from:
I WILL NEVER NOT EVER EAT A TOMATO. Copyright © 2000 by Lauren Child. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
Summer vacation is ending. People are coming back from traveling; kids are starting school. What makes summer vacation special? My childhood memories include: painting on the back porch, watermelon and roasted corn on the cob, laying on the beach (back in the day when SPF meant Super Powerful Fantastic tan). Coming back from vacation is like the “Monday” of the Dieting world: I’ll start again on Monday. I’ll get back on track on Monday. I have to go back to work on Monday, Mondays suck.
We just got back from vacation. It is interesting being a parent navigating food treat-land with a kid on vacation (and in life). In my private practice, I see many adult clients struggling with disordered eating and body image distress. But their childhood food experiences differ. Some only got food-treats on vacation, some were never allowed food-treats, some only ever ate sugar cereal, whether at home or on vacation. However, in eating disorder recovery, as in life, It’s not about the food. Let me re-phrase: it’s partially about the food. It’s more about the context of the food than the content. In other words, if you were always forced to clean your plate, were never allowed to eat treats, were never served a vegetable, or were forced to eat all your vegetables even if you had to choke to get them down, that is obviously going to influence your experience regarding food and eating as an adult! However, even more important than the content (whether it be Vegetables or Cap’n Crunch), is the message about food and listening to your body. What were you told about the context of food, eating and your body? Were you allowed to listen to and trust your body and your hunger cues? Were you able to have some choice about what, when and how much you ate? Were you listened to? Were you therefore able to learn to listen to yourself?
Intuitive vs. Controlled Eating
As someone who struggled to re-learn intuitive eating in my adulthood and is a bit anxious as a parent that my child get the right nutrition, it is a serious spiritual practice to keep my “eat your vegetables” and “do NOT give him any more sugar, Papa” tendencies in check. However, I know in my very Being, in the-Part-of-Me-That-Knows, that intuitive eating works. And I know that the more I can foster as well as not inhibit that innate knowing in my child, the more of a protective factor I create around future disordered eating (depression, anxiety, body and self loathing…)
Birch et al. (2001) outlined particular “controlling feeding practices” that parents tend to do with children:
*Pressure to eat, as a means to increase the amount of foods a child consumes.
*Restricting access to certain foods, as a means to decrease the amount of “unhealthy” foods a child consumes.
*Monitoring food intake, as a means to track the amount of “unhealthy” foods a child consumes.
Controlling feeding practices, though often done with the best of intentions by parents, often lead to interrupting a child’s food selection by either increasing or decreasing the desire for the “controlled” food item and disrupting the internal compass for hunger and satiety. (Batsell, Brown, Ansfield, & Paschall, 2002; Birch & Fisher 1998; Fisher & Birch 1999: Galloway, Farrow, & Martz, 2009: Joyce & Zimmer-Gembeck, 2009 )
So. Back to Summer vacation. We were at a lodge with a coffeeshop this past week that had every possible kind of croissant you could imagine: spinach and cheese, sausage and bacon, apple, marmalade, chocolate, nutella. My little one heard chocolate (even though I offered it as last choice hoping another would stand out and sound appealing…spinach? There’s always hope) and pounced: Chocolate! So the second day we were there, still Chocolate! On the third day, he chose something else. Direct quote:
“I’m done with that Mama.”
He chose a banana, ate it, and moved on. He listened to his body, his cues and preferences, and he had enough of the chocolate. My husband ate the croissant. I don’t know why, but I continue to be astounded at how just not interfering with the process of trusting one’s body is so profound. Bless Evelyn Tribole, Elyses Resch (Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works,1995), and Rosanna Franklin (You are what your mother eats: maternal intuitive eating and perceptions of child’s eating, Dissertation Defense, Alliant University, 2016) for articulating what the body, psyche, and emotions know as well as providing the research to prove it.
Here are some guidelines for intuitive eating:
- Relying on internal cues for hunger and satiety
- Eat for physiological rather than emotional reasons
- Have no dietary restrictions/unconditional permission to eat
- Practice body size acceptance
(I’m Guest blogging for a San Francisco therapist’s site! Here is the beginning of the article, then click on the link below to continue reading)
Last weekend I went to the movies with my preschooler. It was a special theater adventure into which we snuck in a large purse full of popcorn. As the lights dimmed and the light-up crocks flashed, we heard lots of excited children exclaiming “It’s starting!!!” and some not-so-happy babies sharing in their preverbal-but-very-easily-interpreted sounds.
I have to say I think I enjoyed the movie much more than my child. The Psychologist part of me was impressed with the ways they imaged memory consolidation in the brain and characterized feelings. Here are a couple of things that stood out as ways to practice emotional understanding either as a parent to your inner child, your external child/ren, or both.
1. Externalizing and characterizing parts of the self makes them less scary
The other night I lost it with my preschooler after 9,003 (ok it cold have been 9,002) attempts to get teeth brushed before bed and yelled “BRUSH YOUR TEETH RIGHT NOW!” (I do not recommend this). After taking a deep breath, I was able to soften my own guilt for yelling and make it less scary/ more able to be released for my child by stating,
We then talked about “the angry flame-guy” and how sometimes t is helpful to shoot out flames (like when you are trying to get the window open for your friends joy and sadness) and sometimes it is not helpful to shoot out flames (like when you are trying to get your child to brush their teeth) but it’s just the angry flame-guy, and we all have an angry flame-guy part of our self. We also all have a sad, crumpled-on-the-floor-have-to-drag-me-around part, a green, disdainful-condescending-mean-girl part, a pixie fly-around-in-joy-reframing-everything-as-a-growth-opportunity part, etc. They are just parts of the self, not ALL of the self. When we remember that, we can stay an integrated whole Self. And when we forget, that, we become dis-integrated, overwhelmed self.
I recently was assisting at my child’s pre-school and two of the children invented a game called “sugar hoarding.” It entailed filling a dump truck with sand (sugar) and bringing it to the “red castle made of all lollipops with no sticks.” (The sticks were deemed useless as they didn’t have sugar).
Why are kids (and many adults) obsessed with sugar?
Sugar tastes good and sugar affects the brain.
Dr. Nicole Avena, neuroscientist researcher, author of Why Diets Fail, as well as many other neuroscientists, have discovered sugar causes levels of dopamine to surge in our brains. Dopamine is considered the “reward center” in our brain, and is associated with feelings of pleasure.
Knowing this, as a person who likes sweets, as a Mom of a child who loves sweets, and as a Psychologist who assists clients recover from disordered eating, helps me bring objective awareness to where and why we get “hooked” on sugar. There is nothing morally weak about liking sugar or eating sugar- our brains are wired to enjoy it, crave it, and, according to some, become addicted to it.
Having this awareness does not mean I have joined the “No Sugar” brigade. Nor will I join any other Diet camp that promotes a certain way of eating other than moderation, three meals a day, snacks as needed, and variety. It’s just too crazy-making. For people who like sweets and anxious (Super) Moms, this is unsustainable and a recipe for failure. For people who are already prone to black-and-white thinking in order to manage the complexity of life, going extreme with no sugar often becomes a disaster, an eating disorder, or an unending roller coaster of obsession, perfectionism, and unsustainable attempts to feel okay with one’s self by imposing an external solution on an internal problem.
However, that does not mean I give my child ice-cream for breakfast or marshmallows on demand!
There was a classic study in the late 1960s and early 1970s led by Walter Mischel, a professor at Stanford University in which young children were offered one marshmallow right away or two marshmallows if they waited 15 minutes. You can watch a painful and endearing video of children participating in this study here:
In follow-up studies, researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the rewards tended to have better life outcomes, according to test scores, educational attainment, and other life measures. This ability to wait, although it may seem an easy task, is quite the challenge for children who do not yet have the executive function (the front part of the brain that regulates the ability to see cause and effect) developed.
I just finished reading The Whole Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, PhD in which this executive function and other parts of the brain are likened to the “unfinished upstairs” part. They state “Just imagine the downstairs of a house that is complete and fully furnished, but when you look up at the second floor, you see that it is unfinished and littered with construction tools. You can even see patches of the sky where the roof hasn’t been completed yet. That’s your child’s upstairs brain – a work in progress.” They write:
Your upstairs brain…is made up of the cerebral cortex and its various parts…Unlike your more basic downstairs brain, the upstairs brain is more evolved and can give you a fuller perspective on your world…This is where more intricate mental processes take place, like thinking, imagining, and planning…it is responsible for producing characteristics we hope to see in our kids: Sound decision-making and planning, Control over emotions and body, Self-understanding, Empathy, and Morality. 1
So how do we help our children (and ourselves) wait before eating the marshmallow (chocolate cake, ice-cream)? How do we develop and cultivate this part of the brain so our impulse for pleasure (sugar, sex, alcohol) can be moderated with our big picture vision of what we value for ourselves, our bodies, our relationships, and our life?
Mr. Mischel (the “Marshmallow man”) says:
…there are two warring parts of the brain: a hot part demanding immediate gratification (the limbic system), and a cool, goal-oriented part (the prefrontal cortex). The secret of self-control, he says, is to train the prefrontal cortex to kick in first.
To do this, use specific if-then plans, like ‘If it’s before noon, I won’t check email’ or ‘If I feel angry, I will count backward from 10.’ Done repeatedly, this buys a few seconds to at least consider your options. The point isn’t to be robotic and never eat chocolate mousse again. It’s to summon self-control when you want it, and be able to carry out long-term plans. We don’t need to be victims of our emotions, we have a prefrontal cortex that allows us to evaluate whether or not we like the emotions that are running us.’
Simple, but not easy! Doctors Siegel and Payne Bryson offer a couple of child friendly strategies that are excellent practice for adults as well:
1. Play the tape out and exercise your upstairs brain
Instead of giving in to the immediate answer, exercise the upstairs brain. For example, if your child finds a snuggly stuffed animal on the floor of the library, instead of saying “No, that’s not yours,” try saying “Hmmm… I wonder where that came from? Do you think someone dropped it and forgot it here? How would you feel if you left your stuffed animal at the library by mistake? Shall we see if there is a lost-and-found and then we can check back in a week if no-one comes back for it?”
Or, if you are struggling with recovering from bingeing on sugary food, instead of acting out of impulsive habit and eating a whole box of cookies, play the tape out (for those of us who still remember cassettes 🙂 ) and say to yourself
“What happens when I eat all those cookies?”
Hmmm… I feel guilty.
“And then what?”
Then I feel sleepy and depressed.
“And then what?”
Then I feel ashamed and don’t want to go out with my friends or show up to work.
“Ahhhhh, ok, so it’s not going to really give you the sweetness that you want right now- it’s actually going to give you a bitter experience of self-loathing. How else can I help you find sweetness and comfort right now?”
2. Move your body
Another way to bring in the upstairs part of your brain is to move your body. This helps your downstairs brain re-find a place of willingness and flexibility when you are feeling rigid and resistant. For example, when your child is saying “I don’t want to put my socks on!” and you want to wrestle them to just get the freakin socks on their feet, you can instead say “Let’s go all the wiggles out of your feet first!” and then jump around for a few minutes. This allows them to calm their “downstairs” brain from flooding the upstairs enough to allow some willingness back in.
In the urge-to-binge scenario, it might be to leave the kitchen and take a walk around the block or dance around your house and move the feelings of anger, fear, or anxiety. Though this may sound silly, moving your body can help your amygdala (the part of the brain that is super activated in fear and anger) calm back down enough for you to access your “upstairs” brain again.
- 1. Sugar is not morally bad- there is a reason why we and/or our children want it.
- 2. We can teach ourselves and our children moderation and pausing on impulsivity in order to become and be the balanced, moral, ethical, empathic people we want to be.
- 3. It is never too early or too late to cultivate neural pathways in your (and your child’s brain) that can help integrate the upstairs and downstairs of your “house!”
1. Siegel, Daniel J, MD and and Payne Bryson,PhD Tina, The Whole Brain Child, New York: Delacorte Random House, 2011.
2. Drukerman, Pamela, “Learning How to Exert Self-Control,” NYT Sunday Book Review, SEPT. 12, 2014.
NPR “Why Sugar Makes us Feel So Good” http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/01/15/262741403/why-sugar-makes-us-feel-so-good
Urist, Jacoba, “What the Marshmallow Test Really Teaches About Self-Control,” The Atlantic, Sept 24, 2014.
Stanford Marshmallow experiment, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_marshmallow_experiment
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