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Elaine Benson of soberhood.com.au speaks out about her struggles with alcohol and wanting to be better for her sonSoberhood is a supportive judgement-free zone aimed at normalizing an alcohol free motherhood. Elaine is a single mother to a mad but beautiful three year old boy, a Cork native living in Sydney, Australia.

Former grey area drinker, I knew alcohol was crippling my life, but I didn’t realise just how much it was damaging my relationships and body until I felt forced to stop.

I had been drinking regularly from about the age of 16 and, my teens and 20’s were hedonistic, to say the least. It was accepted to drink till you blackout and somehow wake up in your bed the next morning not sure of how you got there.

I had some great experiences but mostly it was a blur of alcohol, drugs, anxiety, depression and self-sabotage.

It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that I started to question my antics and see that for the most part, I was numbing the pain in my heart. Then when I became a mother and ‘mommy’s special medicine’ became the norm in the evening to ‘relax’, matters deteriorated quickly.

The drinking, coupled with the fact my son was not a fan of sleeping, sent me over the edge.

By the time he was two years old, I was desperately sad and feeling like life was a relentless struggle. My body was inflamed and in constant pain with endometriosis, which was intensified by the drinking.

The relationship with his Dad was in tatters. Like all my previous relationships, our connection was fuelled by alcohol and parties so when our son was born, the already tenuous foundation collapsed.

“I realised at that point that I wanted a better life for us.”

After a particularly heavy night on the booze at my work Christmas party in 2018, I didn’t get long to recover before we set off on a family Christmas holiday, 5 hours drive up the coast of Australia.

It was sweltering in the car, 40 degrees, Christmas traffic was in full swing, my partner and I were arguing and the air con was struggling.

The situation was already stressful and with the hangover from hell, my brain couldn’t cope and I had a panic attack.

My heart was breaking as my beautiful son watched me hyperventilating and crying uncontrollably. He was smiling at me but looking very confused. It must have been so unnerving for him to see his mother so scattered.

I realised at that point that I wanted a better life for us. I wanted him to feel safe and grounded with me. I begged the universe to take the dread away, and in return, I would never drink again.

In an effort to support myself, I listened to quit lit audiobooks repeatedly, I joined closed Facebook support groups, I listened to Tara Brachs life-changing podcast, I went to therapy, I journalled.

I tried to meditate daily, as well as practice mindfulness (which is basically being conscious and aware of your thoughts, feelings and emotions so that you can be better at life!)

I am still on the road to shedding my old skin and discovering what it is to be present to the reality of life, but I have noticed a few shifts, here’s what I’ve found:

I notice stories that are coming up for me

Even as I write now, I can pay attention to my fearful ego saying ‘You’re alone, who are you to think you can do this….’ and on and on the fearful ego goes.

Stories regularly come up around alcohol too ‘I need a drink. It’s boring being sober’. I can notice these stories through awareness and respond by playing the scenario forward in my head. I’ll have one drink, which will turn to 5, I’ll wake up tomorrow and hate myself, I’ll have a hangover which will affect my mood for days, even weeks. I won’t have the energy or desire to play with my son. And I know then, it’s so not worth it.

I can separate from my self-limiting and destructive thoughts and ego

When I catch it in time, I can see the script that is running ‘you’re not good at stuff!’ and interrupt it with loving-kindness ‘you’re doing the best you can’

I procrastinate less

A handy by-product of less self-loathing. If I had written a list that Christmas 2018 of what I wanted to achieve in a year of sobriety, I would have been selling myself way short! Procrastination is fear in sheep’s clothing. I back myself more.

I allow myself to feel my feelings

I am more connected to what is going on in my body (through conscious awareness) so, when I feel the pull of anxiety, sadness, or a craving to drink, instead of swallowing it down and feeling it follow me around for days. I stop, sit, close my eyes, put my hand on my heart and inquire ‘what’s going on for you’ and answer with compassion ‘this is hard for you’ and let the tears (and snot) flow. I always feel better afterwards.

I know I don’t have to believe my thoughts

Understanding that thoughts and emotions are visitors helps let them come and go. I try to frame these thoughts as ‘Negative Protectors’. Our primitive ancestors owe their very existence to the ‘Be careful!’ thoughts, but these days the voices say things like ‘Have a drink, you don’t have to feel this’, when we all know it only delays and worsens the feeling.

Mindfulness practice helps you live with your thoughts without always reacting.

Today as I write this, I am in a much better place mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. I attribute that to sobriety and mindfulness. I still struggle, as we all do, that is the human experience. But I have greater reserves to deal with the tough times and they don’t last nearly as long.

As one of my inspirations, Jill Stark puts it,

“Sometimes for the life we want, we have to sacrifice the short-term fix for the long-term rewards. We have to work out what we value the most and put that above the things that take us further away from everything we hold dear. It’s not always easy but jeez it’s worth it”

To learn more about Elaine’s struggle with alcohol and overcoming addiction for the sake of your family visit her website or contact her via email.

Website: soberhood.com.au
Email: elaine@soberhood.com.au

Do you ever leave just a sliver of wine in the bottle you’ve just drunk to yourself before you and your lopsided grin shuffle off to bed? Just so you don’t have to admit to yourself that you’d drunk the whole thing, again? Or is that just me?

As it happens Morning Me just rolls her eyes at Wino Mum’s clumsy veil of deception, knowing full well that she drinks too much and too often and if Wino Mum is honest with herself, she knows it too.

The thing is, until recently I didn’t think it was much of a problem. My life is far from unravelling and most people I know wouldn’t bat an eyelid at knocking off a bottle to themselves and let’s face it, medicating the stresses of work/family life and any other gremlins lurking in the depths of your soul is essentially, a National Pastime.

There’s just been one thing not buying it though, a worried little voice that wakes in my head at two am and cries “This isn’t fun”.

As the National Healthy Drinking Guidelines begin to penetrate and I begin to contemplate the health risks of my habit, I discover that a bottle of wine is between eight and nine standard drinks instead of what I believed to be four and decide it’s time to rein in it.

Depending on which study you happen upon, Australian drinking trends have been cast in varied shades leaving us wondering do we have a problem or don’t we? Imagine an easy Sunday afternoon, dappled sunlight filtering through the trees of a beer garden as children play and mothers’ laughter tinkle against glasses of crisp Sauvignon Blanc and the situation seems bright, if we are to consider a recent study released in August 2017 by DrinkWise revealing Australians are drinking more responsibly than they did 10 years ago.

According to DrinkWise, an independent charity funded by the alcohol industry, our cultural attitude toward drinking practices is maturing and evolving. While their research tells us the number of Australians drinking to excess is decreasing and Moderate Drinkers, Abstainers and mercifully, Adolescents delaying their first drink are rising, it also details why we drink.

DrinkWise report Younger Families with children under 13 years are drinking smaller amounts than in 2007, using alcohol to relax, unwind and cope with the pressures of parenthood. (Taking an elementary guess I shall confidently deduce that Sherlock was not called upon to tease out this motive.)

Older Families, with children above 13 years are said to be rediscovering their identity and freedom as the responsibility of parenthood tapers. For those drinking at risky levels, they are returning to pre-parenthood drinking habits, whatever that means, if they’re referring to me then I’m stage diving off a Santorini Bar and letting my alarm clock bleep away for two hours before waking up in a haze of ouzo with my sneakers still on. Shikes, that’s not such good news.

“Up until recently I was drinking approximately four times a week,” she says, “mid-week, I’d drink a few glasses of wine at night and on weekends, if there was a social function, I’d drink one or two bottles of wine.”

This carefully optimistic data, however, is supported in premise, by other research such as the 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare which shows a reduction in alcohol consumption except, notably, for a rise in women between the ages of 50 – 59 but we’ve all got an Aunty Joy, so no surprises there.

The survey does acknowledge, however, that the consumption of alcohol is widespread in Australia and entwined in many social and cultural activities which poses the question, is the decline meaningful enough to claim we’re half French or are we just a goon pillow away from half cut?

Leah, a 33 year old working mother of two recently decided to moderate her drinking habits after her husband asked her to cut down. “Up until recently I was drinking approximately four times a week,” she says, “mid-week, I’d drink a few glasses of wine at night and on weekends, if there was a social function, I’d drink one or two bottles of wine. A special occasion would call for cocktails, champagne and perhaps even shots if I was trying to be really fun.”

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After three years of sobriety while pregnant and breastfeeding Leah began to have an occasional glass of wine but began to drink more heavily after moving to a street populated with mostly stay at home mums.

“After each Groundhog Day we’d meet out the front of our houses while the kids played, waiting for our husbands to come home from work,” she says. “It was very Stepford Wives. We’d done our chores, tended to the children and finally showered so we could meet up on the lawn and wind down over a glass of wine. It all felt quite civilised until it got to the point that dinner was being made later with the drinking starting earlier.”

 

Friday after work drinks is an ingrained ritual embedded within our cultural landscape, yet in the strained world of parenthood where working hours blur like an indiscriminate crayon smear on a cream suede couch, a long week can easily be traded for a long day and before you can shout “Get your bottom out of your brother’s face!” There’s seems a legitimate reason for Wine O’clock, even though it’s only Monday.

Sally, 44 and mother to four, whose three glasses of wine each night can easily escalate as she toys with the “once the bottle is open scenario” admits that “Wine time” can easily get out of hand, “I definitely use alcohol to wind down after a day with the kids. I have a few habits that I need to address this year,” she confesses.

It is easier to drink, an immediate hit to your reward centre, when your life feels everything but your own, but is it really helping? Is it sustainable?

A study released in June 2017 by The Centre for Alcohol and Policy Research, found that although there had been a reduction in parent drinking from 2001, parents in 2013 were less likely to be abstainers than non-parents. And, let’s face it, it’s easier to knock back a glass of red and watch Married at First Sight (my personal research findings reveal reality TV is completely shit sober) than it is to make a yoga class, leaving your husband to “put the kids to bed” and “do the dishes”.

It is easier to drink, an immediate hit to your reward centre, when your life feels everything but your own, but is it really helping? Is it sustainable? And, what are the long term ramifications to physical and mental wellbeing? We all have a pretty good idea of the answers but they can be scary to contemplate.

Hannah, a 43 year old mother of one says, “I drink two glasses of red wine every night after my daughter is in bed. I definitely associate wine with winding down and having some “me” time. That said, I do have concerns about the health implications of habitual drinking. If I’m honest, it’s something I would like to change but find difficult to do.”

As the sun begins to seep on the Sunday session, deepening the shade over the beer garden and the kids start to whine while couples bicker over who was meant to drive, we may take a more sober view of an in-depth seven year study investigating alcohol dependence in Australian women aged between 35 to 59.

Conducted by Dr Janice Withnall, from the University of Western Sydney, the study, Researching with Women in Recovery, identified 16 per cent of the group were alcohol dependent and the healthcare required to meet their needs, was inadequate. The study highlighted a lack of acknowledgement of Alcohol Use Disorders within the demographic who often suffered from misdiagnosis or, “preferable diagnosis”, having symptoms treated instead for PMT, anxiety, depression, PTSD or menopause related.

“I thought drinking gave me a sense of wellbeing, eased the stress but it actually increases my guilt and anxiety. Motherhood and married life made me feel like I’d lost myself and drinking seemed to bring me closer to my old self but I’d gotten to the point where I just felt lost.”

Leah, who now makes a point not to drink through the week says, “I thought drinking gave me a sense of wellbeing, eased the stress but it actually increases my guilt and anxiety. Motherhood and married life made me feel like I’d lost myself and drinking seemed to bring me closer to my old self but I’d gotten to the point where I just felt lost.”

If you, or someone you know have concerns about alcohol misuse, numbers to call are Alcohol and Drug Information Services (ADIS) within your state or territory (numbers differ), Alcoholics Anonymous Helpline (AA) 1300 222 222, Lifeline Australia 13 11 14 or contact your local GP.

Names have been changed in this story for the sake of privacy.