How Becoming a Sober Mom Revitalized My Life: Four Steps to Creative Recovery
By Dana Bowman
I was scrolling through social media the other day, and I landed on a meme that exclaimed: “Wine Wednesday! It’s like Taco Tuesday but for moms!” A cute image of a taco holding a wine glass winked at me from the glowing screen.
Seven years ago, Wine Wednesday had become Wine All Week, and no amount of cuteness on social media would make me not an alcoholic. Somewhere between my twenties and having children, my drinking had gone off the rails. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reports that high risk drinking among women has more than doubled since 2013. I was stuck in that statistic. I had a serious drinking problem.
Back then my nightly ritual was to park myself on the couch while my husband took my toddlers upstairs for bedtime. I was messy. Tired. Bloated. A bit teary. And every night I was trying to not empty a bottle of wine before bed.
When I look back at those nights, I want to give myself a hug. I was so very scared to give up alcohol. It seemed the only thing I could look forward to after a long day. And my shame was potent. “Women can carry that shame long into recovery,” states Diane Cameron, author and recovery coach. Shame keeps us drinking.
An anxious introvert, I used alcohol for connection, but alcohol had different plans. The more I drank, the more anxious and introverted I became. And I refused to ask for help. After all, I was supposed to be the help GIVER, not the other way around. “Mothers are very outward oriented,” explains Dr. Kevin Armington, supervising physician for Workit Health. “But hunkering down and doing it all on your own is a bad model for any disease.”
When I got sober, I did it in the most traditional way possible: group meetings and counseling. But early in my recovery journey I was faced with a very practical dilemma. “Moms face multiple challenges (in recovery), and the biggest one is time,” Cameron explains. Desperate, I allowed myself to retire from being a good mom in the early days, cuing up lots of Netflix, frozen pizzas, and a messy house as harbingers of sobriety. But, if I was going to keep my momentum, and build some solid sober time, I had to get creative.
Here’s the best news ever: moms are some of the most creative folks out there. And no, I don’t just mean that we are able to throw down with glitter crafts. Personally, I think glitter is the devil. I mean, moms are spontaneous and flexible. We are innovators because kids love curveballs, and we have to adapt. So, as a mom of two young boys, I already had learned to think outside of the box. This was great news for my sober self.
Here are four ways I got creative with my recovery:
1. Get scientific. Ok, science was not my favorite subject, but stick with me. Science is looking for answers, in a tidy, logical way, and when I first got sober, nothing about life seemed logical. So, I decided to think about this whole “not drinking thing” as just a daily experiment. No, there weren’t charts and graphs, and very often my frazzled emotions messed with the process. But, this mindset helped keep my wits together. This is just an experiment, just collected data for another day. And wonderfully, the results were always the same. Every twenty-four hours, I really did feel better.
2. Flip the narrative. Despite my fact-gathering stance, at times I felt really scared, sad, and mad about not being able to drink anymore. This is totally normal. In early sobriety, your body is releasing its physical addiction to alcohol, and your mind is scrambling to follow along. There can be a lot of whining, to be honest. So, I flipped those thoughts on their whiny little heads. I GET to go wake up tomorrow headache-free, for example. Armington explains recovery as “largely a matter of rewiring the brain,” and my rewiring always led to hard-core gratitude, which is the good stuff.
3. Step outside the bubble. It’s crucial to find a sober tribe; other moms in recovery who can support and walk alongside you. But along with these connections, I told one very trusted friend who was a total “normie” drinker. This might seem strange, but it helped. My friend Amy was my person; she only gave support, which meant so much to me due to her different perspective. Also, it was brave to tell her, and bravery counts. Big time.
4. Practice whimsy. Many recovery counselors recommend yoga or some sort of daily exercise regimen. I agree. But the daily practice of whimsy is just as important. For me, it started with thrifting for semi-ugly sweaters from the 70’s. Finding out who I was as a writer, a creative, beyond being mom, cried out for whimsy. As Dr. Armington explains, “The whole picture is so very powerful. It’s imperative that moms are treated as the whole person in recovery.” My hobbies and creative outlets had not been explored for so long, so I started small with whimsy. It invigorates, and I have a lot of questionable sweaters to prove it.
I have been sober now since 2014, and I can say serenity is something that I am no longer chasing. It is here, a solid foundation of my journey, due to my own creative recovery. Best of all, these habits are not just tools I picked up to get sober; they are part of my life permanently. Ditching wine for a truly vibrant, creative existence? Best trade ever.
Dana Bowman is an award-winning speaker and author of Bottled: A Mom’s Guide to Early Recovery and How to Be Perfect Like Me. She lives in a sweet little town in the midwest with her family and too many cats. Visit her at danabowmancreative.com and over at her podcast, Pie and Coffee.