At age thirty-three, I crawled beside my mother in our guest bed and began to sob. “If he woke up right now and needed to go to the hospital, I wouldn’t be sober enough to drive him,” I wailed. “He” being my one-year-old son. Mom comforted me and assured me that my baby was perfectly healthy and that, worst case scenario, my husband was up to the task. But I knew in my heart that this was the beginning of the end for alcohol and me.
There were so many reasons not to quit- my bucket list trip to Sonoma’s wine country, my best friend’s wedding in October, the premiere of a new season of The Bachelor on Monday. The list was endless. There was also my rather desperate fixation on the stories of those who had it worse. To minimize my own problem, I had grown quite adept at hoarding tales of the rock-bottom gang.
I now know I’m a member of the “high bottom” club, a term used in addiction communities to describe those of us who simply don’t fit the passed-out-behind-the-wheel-of-a-crashed-car-with-empty-whiskey-bottles-in-the-back-seat mold. High bottom is for the alcoholics who maintain their varnish, who, on the surface, seem a lot like the person they present on Facebook.
My kind? We’re tidy about the excess. We recycle our wine bottles and call cabs when we’re smashed. We work out and drive carpools and bond with friends over jokes about the dwindling ibuprofen in our medicine cabinets. Our bottom is more of a series of unsettling events and embarrassments interwoven with normal functioning than it is a shard of glass protruding from our bleeding foreheads.
Daily, I convinced myself that I was nothing like the rock-bottom gang. I was totally functional. I was fine. But I wasn’t fine. In addition to a gene pool filled with bourbon, I was also born in twentieth century America. Women’s role expectations were jacked-up then and remain so now.
In our plight to break through the glass ceiling, we still strive to get four ounces pumped on our lunch breaks and a casserole on the table by dinner. And in asserting our right to take time off from our ball-busting careers to stay-at-home with the youngins’, we’re leaping blindly into a pond of unfamiliar boredom and loneliness. Motherhood is as isolating as hell.
“It was never supposed to be this way,” my therapist asserted as we discussed the quickly narrowing gap between numbers of male and female alcoholics in the United States and the correlation it has with our flawed cultural norms.
We, as a society, have grown more and more transient. Fewer people stay in their towns of origin. Less of us maintain close ties with childhood neighbors, friends, and communities. Essentially, we have carved a gorge between ourselves and our support systems. We have become the architects of our own isolation.
In his book, Chasing the Scream, Johann Hari asserts, “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is human connection.” If this is the case, then the ever-increasing number of female alcoholics in the United States (particularly those striving for the ever illusory work/mom balance) can be directly correlated with the individualistic nature of our society.
Latin American cultures regularly rank the highest in happiness indexes, a fact which blogger Rich Basas attributes to the powers of a society founded on familial centrality and compassion:
While not exclusive to Latin America, the culture of family, support, and living a life to spend time with your family, I think, is an important part of Latin American culture that keeps people positive. Being with those close to you and finding other friends and partners that value that way of life is a key part of Latin American culture. That might be the main reason why people remain positive: they are never truly alone.
Interestingly, many discussions and documentaries about immigrant groups in the United States show an internal conflict among many who move to the US and who do not wish to lose their support systems in a new culture rooted in individualism.
When you consider this void of support in American culture, it comes as no surprise that countless moms are resorting to self-medication. HALT, an acronym employed regularly in the addiction community, warns us that being hungry, angry, lonely, or tired puts people at greater risk for addiction and/or relapse. You’d be hard-pressed to find an American mother who doesn’t battle one or all of these factors on a daily basis.
Essentially, we have carved a gorge between ourselves and our support systems. We have become the architects of our own isolation.
This correlation, by no means, precludes Latin Americans (or men and women without children) from the dangers of addiction, but rather serves to highlight a risk factor particularly threatening to our American mothers. The stigma of addiction is very much alive. The stigma of female addiction is its own beast entirely.
As a licensed therapist, I’ve spent years working with women who refuse to identify alcoholism as the common thread in decades of pain and discontent. And with every addiction resource, quite literally, at my own fingertips, I too opted for denial.
But when I found myself drunk and clinging desperately to the warm body of my sixty-seven year old mother I knew that, regardless of the semantics, I’d reached my bottom. As I stifled my sobs against a pillow, some piece of me was in the process of rearranging. Some tectonic shift within my cavity was taking place. And a few months later, without ceremony, I declared I was done.
Am I here to say it was easy? Oh, hell no. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Am I here to say you can do it too? Absolutely. But you have to build the connections. You have to create a community where it may appear that none exists. And once you’re riding that high of your first few sober milestones, you have to hold onto those connections as though your life depends on it— because it does.