with Addictions Counselor Michelle Smith
WHAT YOU’LL LEARN
- Mommy Wine Culture
- Drinking Becomes Problematic
- Signs of Addiction
- Where To Start If You Need Help
- Starting A Conversation When Someone Has A Drinking Problem
Do you find yourself constantly thinking about the glass of wine you’re going to have at the end of the day? Do you feel a pull to have a drink throughout the day when things get hard? Are the majority of your social events with other moms centered around drinking? Mommy wine culture has been made into a lighthearted merchandisable topic that can have serious consequences for those who find themselves trapped in it. While it may be fun and lighthearted for some, for others it can quickly grow into a hidden problem with lasting impacts. Michelle Smith is an author, counselor, TEDx speaker, and founder of Recovery Is The New Black. She’s here to share her relationship with alcohol and help us unpack mommy wine culture.
Mommy Wine Culture
I want to start with a disclaimer. This isn’t about judging anyone’s choices or telling you how to live your life.
1 in 5 moms suffer from a postpartum mood disorder, and 40% of those moms are walking around undiagnosed and untreated, feeling like they are failing. These mental health challenges are the most common complication of childbirth and make moms particularly susceptible to alcohol abuse. I’ve laughed and even shared drinking memes in the past, but they can normalize a drinking culture that prevents moms from getting the support they need.
We are tackling this challenging topic today, because If you’re one of the moms struggling, I want to make sure you get the right support.
“We don’t have to wait for our relationship with alcohol or any substance to be problematic before we take a look at it,” Michelle said. “Is this serving me? Do I need to make any changes? Be more conscious of my consumption?” These are the real questions.
There is a wide spectrum between social drinking and alcoholism, and we usually fall somewhere in the middle. We don’t have to wait until we’re getting DUIs or passing out on our way to kindergarten pick-up to question if our consumption is serving us.
Michelle has a predisposition for addiction due to a family history of alcoholism, so she’d always been very cautious about when and how much she drank. But she had postpartum depression and desperately wanted something to connect with. Even being a therapist, she didn’t realize she was in the perfect place for alcohol to become a problem.
“I poked the bear,” she said, referring to this perfect storm of a predisposition, a mood disorder, and the desperate need to connect with something. “I was reaching for an external solution to an internal problem.”
For Michelle, it became a habit. She replaced healthy coping mechanisms with alcohol, and then it became routine.
A coping skill shouldn’t create its own subset of problems. It should actually help us move out of what we’re feeling. Alcohol and other substances feel like coping in the moment, but they create their own issues over time.
When our coping skills create their own subset of problems, it’s not sustainable. And it’s not an actual coping method. We learn more working through our grief and discomfort than numbing ourselves with substances.
Problematic uses of alcohol will be different for everyone. I love a glass of wine, but I need to be able to conduct interviews. That can be a creative drain for me, and my brain is foggy the morning after I drink wine, so for me, this is a problematic use.
However, my father died from alcohol poisoning at the age of 53. Even at that age, he wouldn’t have admitted it was a problem.
Signs of Addiction
Addiction is more about how you use the substance than how much you consume. If you’re having a drink because you need comfort, that’s different than, “I’m out with friends and want a margarita with my nachos.”
“If I’m exhausted, maybe I need a power nap,” Michelle said. The idea is to identify what the real need is and find a way to meet it that has long term benefits. Because once your buzz wears off, alcohol won’t make you feel better and could cause you more distress in the long term..
Another sign of addiction is the substance begins to impact your relationships. “People don’t want to cosign and say nothing. Listen to people especially if they care about you,” she stated. When she struggled with addiction, she didn’t think it affected anyone else. She got defensive about people mentioning it and later had to go back and thank them for caring enough to say something.
We are tethered to our partners. If we’re going through something, our partner is going through it in their own experience.
Where To Start If You Need Help
How do you feel when you’re about to have a drink? Can you stop? Do you have rules around this?
You can join a sober curious group for support. Michelle runs a Facebook group “Recovery Is The New Black.”
“Google women who don’t drink,” Micelle said. There are models and celebrities who don’t drink, and they all have different reasons for it.
Starting A Conversation When Someone Has A Drinking Problem
It’s really easy for someone to become defensive when confronted about a problem. As adults, we don’t like to be questioned, and it can feel like we’re being told what to do.
This becomes more true when the friend who mentioned it still enjoys a drink. If you’re going to be the friend who brings up someone’s drinking problem, it can be really helpful to give them resources. It can come across less accusatory and may be more helpful.
You can give a friend a book as a gift or share a podcast. Michelle suggested saying something like, “I found this really great book on Amazon. You should check it out.”
Another phrase she recommended to open the door is, “I’m thinking of cutting back. Do you want to do this with me? I need an accountability buddy.”
Another really helpful approach is to truly connect with the person and ask how they’re doing. If they are struggling with motherhood, or depression/anxiety, maybe they need a listening ear or supportive friend. Feeling seen and supported can help cut through the loneliness and through that connect our friends may be more willing to discuss why they’re drinking has increased.
When we say, “shame,” when talking about addiction we mean feeling like you have to hide things and feeling like you can’t share it. “The shame cycle is like that hamster wheel that is so detrimental,” Michelle said.
When she tried to put limits on her drinking and couldn’t, she viewed it as a failure which led to more drinking. Because she didn’t want to tell anyone, she had no accountability.
Everytime she reset her sobriety date she felt horrible until she learned to look at it a different way. She wasn’t a failure for not being able to stay on plan. She was persistent and determined to get up and try again every time life knocked her off her path.
You have to practice self-compassion. When we think we’re the problem instead of our decisions, we feel helpless to change it.
You’re not the problem. You can fight your way out of choices that don’t serve you.
It’s hard, and it takes courage. But you can do it.
Motherhood is hard. We all struggle with it in one way or another.
If you feel you’re overly irritable or snapping at your kids, the Managing Mom Rage Workshop might help you. And if you’re using alcohol or some other substance, so you feel in control and less irritable, it can help find better coping strategies.
Michelle is an author, counselor, TEDx speaker, and founder of Recovery is the New Black, a digital community for women living or exploring an alcohol-free life. She has appeared in media outlets including Today Show, Scary Mommy, The Washington Post, and Authority Magazine. As a wife and working mother of two, she fell into the “mommy juice” drinking culture. Michelle found a way out and has been in recovery from alcohol use disorder since 2016. As a certified addiction and mental health counselor, she provides services to other moms who are seeking supportive alternatives to a boozy culture that tells us alcohol is an accessory to motherhood.