Recovery from alcohol addiction is “freaking hard,” especially so, if you are supposed to take care of your children at the same time.
In her humorous memoir Bottled, Dana Bowman chronicles her struggle with alcoholism and recovery through the prism of early motherhood.
Dana’s problems with alcohol use emerged before she became a mother. When she had a tough day at work, she would come home, “drop my satchel, pat the very cooped up dog and head straight for a glass of merlot,” she writes in the book.
Slowly but surely, alcohol becomes her best friend and her worst enemy:
“I loved it, but hated it. I feared it, but needed it. I didn’t want it to ever leave me, but I knew it was killing me. I wanted, at all costs, to just stay together, no matter how bitter and awful the problems were.”
She was plagued by bouts of anxiety which she tried to self-medicate. “Today, I know that anxiety is a real ailment, not some floating feeling that surfaces from time to time, but an actual, diagnosable problem,” she writes in Bottled. Dana also learned that drinking alcohol is the wrong treatment. “As the drinking increased, so did the depression.”
Her workaholic husband Brian was beginning to suspect a real problem when parenthood was thrown into the mix. Dana and Brian have two boys, Charlie and Henry, who are now aged seven and five, respectively.
“Motherhood was like gasoline,” Dana told me. “In a good and bad way. I had this flame of addiction totally lit, and then whammo, two kids and the thing blows up. The good thing is that the explosion caused the whole thing to stop. I might not have paid as much attention sans kids - might have just trucked along till I died.”
Dana tried to stop. “I decided to quit drinking in a logical and healthful manner: I would go on a bender.” Naturally, that plan was headed for a disaster. Days before an attempt to get sober, she collapses in the kitchen after just two sips of wine.
“I don’t know exactly what happened. I took a second sip and found myself suddenly so terribly inebriated that I couldn’t stand up. Or speak. Or function.”
To make things worse, the children were playing in the living room. “They are safe, my brain said slowly. You are not. Get up. Get up! But I couldn’t.”
It was at this point that Dana felt a divine intervention. “For some reason, God decided to step right into my mess.” She soon discovered that “recovery is a spiritual thing.”
“My faith has changed so much since I got into recovery,” she told me. “Before, my faith was about guilt and to-do lists and no grace. Now, it is very personal, alive, and filled with grace. I have never been more close to my Higher Power (in my faith, God and Jesus) but also, I have never questioned them more. I really wrestle with them now—before, I think I had a set way of thinking about how Christ does his thing for us and end-of-story. Now, I question and argue and sometimes get really mad.”
Dana didn’t think she could take on parenting and sobriety at the same time but she did so anyway. “Trying to get sober with two small children running about underfoot is simply astonishing.” It was anything but easy.
“I would get up, get coffee in me, and try to figure out how to stay sober for the next twenty minutes,” she remembers. “It was lazy parenting at its finest but we all did fine. We ate the lousy food and watched a lot of PBS and to this day I do not feel guilty about that. I just don’t - because I didn’t drink.”
Dana also asked her husband Brian for help - a lot. “This was super hard because I hated needing anyone. It hurt my pride. He would bring home dinner or sometimes take the kids as soon as I got home. He was good that way, not all people have that. We all need a support network, especially moms with little kids.”
Bringing up children while fighting off cravings was not the only challenge. Halfway through the book, we learn that alcoholism runs in Dana’s family. Her dad is an alcoholic and her alcoholic brother Christopher died last year from liver failure—three years into Dana’s recovery.
This illustrates the immensity of the task to stay sober for many addicts. All too often they have to proceed with their recovery despite a genetic predisposition and in the face of additional trauma. Dana offers some tips in ‘Top Ten Ways To Stay Sober Through Really Hard Stuff’: “Get used to it. Pain will happen. Bad things will, too. Get your arsenal ready. Have a plan. Know the triggers. Know what helps.”
As a parent, Dana now has one other special thing to worry about, how to keep Charlie and Henry sober when they grow up. Sometimes there is the feeling “I have doomed them,” she says, “that kind of thinking is not healthy at all, but I am sure we all go there, we sober parents.”
Dana plans to keep it open, answer their questions, and generally keep the word recovery in their lives. Most of all she wants to make sure, she’s always in recovery herself.
“The other part of this is just surrender. My kids are not me. And one day I am going to have to let them go and let them be themselves. Really, really tough stuff. The whole drugs and alcohol thing is starting up really early now, so I am just super vigilant.”
Bottled by Dana Bowman available at Central Recovery Press