My Postpartum Depression caused my Alcoholism– September, 2010. I am eight months pregnant and roughly the size of Detroit. A friend of mine spots me lumbering through the grocery store and did that “I’m going to touch your belly” thing, smiling at me and my girth. “Oh I just loved being pregnant,” she told me as she grasped my stomach. I kind of felt like a melon that was being thumped for ripeness. At eight months, I am not enjoying being pregnant that much, but I smile back, tiredly. My pregnancies with both boys had been difficult, as I was older, and I had been terribly sick during most months.
I also paired my pregnancy with a whole lot of worrying. I read obsessively; prayed obsessively, and also didn’t sleep, obsessively. My nights were punctuated by heart burn and terrible nightmares. I know, this all sounds rather dramatic. It fit with my personality, however, as most of my life had been sewn together by drama and perfectionism. I imagined becoming a mom would be the world’s toughest job (I still do see it this way), but I had to do it, and do it really well. And I had a sinking feeling, with all my worrying and anxiety, that I wasn’t up for it.
And then I had my son, Charlie. This is when the narrative is supposed to shift, and the music gets all sentimental and sappy, and I am able to happily relate how I was suffused with the joy of parenting.
That’s not what happened. To my frustration and shame, I welcomed Charlie into the world, and a curtain of postpartum depression descended upon me. I loved my son Charlie with all my heart, but at the same time, I felt like I was going crazy.
Take this tangled mess and add one more ingredient: alcohol.
My alcoholism had waited for me very patiently. I drank and partied in my college years, but not to any horrible excess. I enjoyed my martinis and sophisticated wine-tastings in my twenties and thirties, but all without any major problems. However, as a child of an alcoholic, a codependent, and a woman prone to perfectionism, it seemed to be only a matter of time.
Add a marriage that moved me away from my family and beloved teaching job, and I started into a daily drinking habit. I partook in a crisp gin and tonic after work, a complicated martini, a subtle Pinot Gris. But all this sophistication hid a slowly growing need for a daily fix of numb that helped with anxiety.
It is hard to write this. When speaking or writing about my postpartum depression, I can get mired in shame as I try to explain how having my children was the catalyst for my addiction to take its grip on me.
I do know that kids or no kids, I would have ended up in the same place. It might have taken longer, but, as I said, alcohol is very patient.
I did not drink during my pregnancy, except for one time. A dear friend was visiting me, and we went out to eat at one of my favorite restaurants. Her visit was wonderful, but I remember all too well the anxiety of being “on” and perfect, and just the better version of me, all the time. My nerves were tight, and I longed for my familiar glass of wine. I laughed with her over the menu and said, “Do you think I could do just one glass? I so love the (whatever brand it was) they have here.” She smiled and I proceeded. I only finished about half of it. And this tells you how much of an alcoholic I am, that I can still remember, over five years ago, leaving half a glass of wine behind. That night, I just couldn’t choke it down. My girlfriend and I sat and talked and laughed, but inside I was a mess. The wine stared at me, a taunting glass of longing and guilt, and I had a horrible realization about how much I really, really wanted that glass of wine. I was terrified.
And so, when I did have my first son, I also intended to not drink. Not a bit. Not a drop. I was a mom! I had to be on point! This was really, really important that I get this right!
And yet, I felt so wrong. It felt like dark curtains had been lowered over my life, and I would wake at all hours, sometimes to Charlie’s cries, sometimes just to stare into the silent darkness, with a solid weight of doom suffocating me. I found myself imagining what my family would do after my death. I started selecting which of the single women in my little town would make a good mom for Charlie, and how I could get her here, soon, to meet Brian.
I know. Crazy.
The thing with postpartum depression is that it truly does make you lose touch with sanity. And, as most alcoholics know, addiction also makes us pretty much nuts. Even while not drinking, my addiction had been slowly increasing its grip on me. So finally, one dusky afternoon, I started googling “pump and dump” to master this whole breast-feeding while drinking thing. Because, clearly, having some wine would fix all these horrible feelings. And, as usual, I knew that I could fix whatever was wrong with me, if I researched it enough, if I timed it all right, if I just worked harder to be the awesome parent, wife, teacher, runner, breast feeding momma that I could be.
So sanity slipped away quietly while I took my already fraught hormones and anxiety and tried to figure out how to wedge an actual drinking schedule into all of this. I could drink after Charlie’s bedtime feeding, yes, dump it, and then by the time he woke up at three I could use some milk I had frozen… and on and on. I would work it out. By God, I would work this out.
And then, when the wine was again a daily habit, and my nightly two glasses increased in size, and my guilt screamed at me, then I realized:
I have to quit.
And I cannot quit.
Sometimes I look back at my postpartum depression and my alcoholism with a chicken and the egg kind of theorizing. Did my addictive personality cause the depression? Did the depression exacerbate the drinking?
Ultimately, it does not really matter to figure this all out. I know enough to say, either way, I survived. One day at a time. My boys are now five and seven, and I am the world’s Okay-est Mom. And I am proud of that. I still have anxiety at times. Medicine and therapy and lots of 12-step meetings help this. But also, I know that these are only feelings, and it’s kind of an honor to have them. It means I am still alive. So, I accept the feelings, and the utter and total lack of perfect anything in my life, and I am still here.
Dana Bowman is a wife, a mother, a teacher, a writer, and a runner, all simultaneously. This is only possible because her family donates loads of material. She has been published in The Fix, substance.com, and The After Party Magazine, and many others, and is the proud author at Momsieblog.com. Her book, Bottled: How to Survive Early Recovery, published by Central Recovery Press, is now available. One day, she hopes to master the skill of making sure all dessert apportionment is completely equal.
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