I think we do, but the booze isn’t necessarily the issue.
I have been an earth-side mother for 1,441 days. Which means that’s how long it’s been since I felt my brain belonged to me, and it was about 10 months before that, that I last felt like my body was my own.
I always “knew” I wanted to have kids, but I didn’t have the language to describe my transition into motherhood until I was listening to “Nobody Talks About This,” a podcast by Elise & Scott Grice. The clarity came when I heard them describe the word trauma.
I always thought of trauma as a physical event, like being shot or abused. And to be honest, I’ve had a pretty a-ok (read: privileged) life. That’s not to say there haven’t been hard moments, but I’d be hard-pressed to look back and say, “here is an isolated incident that seriously fucked me up.”
This year, I started re-examining my relationship with trauma and the impact it’s had on my life.
In the first episode of Elise & Scott’s podcast, they talked about their experiences with trauma and shared two definitions of it. The first comes from Vancouver-based therapist and feminist author, Hillary McBride. She says:
“Trauma is a negative and unexpected event that leaves a person feeling confused, overwhelmed, and powerless.”
The other definition they operate with comes from Onsite workshops, a residential program for trauma, codependency, depression and mental health based in Nashville:
“…trauma is a much broader phenomenon than was once imagined. It is defined as any experience that creates feelings of overwhelming-ness and/or an event that is perceived as life threatening…a hallmark of trauma is a sense of loss of connection to ourselves, our bodies, our families, others, and even to the world around us. It’s as if, in trauma, we inhale a strong sense of loss and personal defectiveness with no direction as to how to exhale.”
Holy. Freaking. Shitballs.
When I heard those definitions, I nearly broke down and started crying right then and there because they hit home so hard for me.
Before having kids, I was such a doer. A go-getter. An achiever. A goal crusher. And I prided myself in being that way — so much of my sense of Self and worth was derived from what I could accomplish, and how well I could do it.
For as long as I can remember, I kept myself as busy as humanly possible and I liked it that way because I didn’t have time to think about what the hell I was running from. To be honest, I don’t think I even knew that I was running from anything…it was just what I did and I didn’t stop to question it.
Then, I became a mother.
There’s a bit of pattern with first pregnancies…you don’t really know what you’re getting into, which is probably for the best.
You think you know — “I’ll be sleep deprived and it’ll be hard but I’m going to love this little nugget so much it will be fine. We will eat organic food that I make from scratch, there will be no screen time, and I will be so fulfilled in this role I have spent my whole life waiting for.”
But nothing that could have prepared me for what was coming.
More importantly, for those of us who are used to being hustlers, there is no way to predict what can happen when the hustle stops.
There are folks out there who are so well-suited to spending their time around children. They are unendingly patient, creative with kid shit, and get so much joy from witnessing the accomplishments of children.
I am not that kind of person. And I didn’t know that until I did.
Experience is a bitch of a teacher.
My doctor once said that he doesn’t lose sleep worrying about babies, and he doesn’t lose sleep worrying about the aforementioned group of people who genuinely enjoy the work of raising children.
He loses sleep over the high-functioning, cerebral moms. The ones who wanted kids, but whose skills and disposition are at extreme odds with the work of parenting. The ones who hate being at home with their babies.
That sounds a lot more like me.
Note: I am absolutely not here to say that one way is better than the other way — I don’t give a shit if you are a stay at home parent, a work from home parent, or a work out of home parent. What I care about is that you are aware of how you function best so that you can make the necessary adjustments to show up for your kids in the way that they deserve.
Like a true West-coaster, I had pictured myself as the blissful, granola, stay at home mom who would breastfeed without issue, co-sleep, attachment parent, and eventually homeschool my brilliant and compliant offspring.
…all together now: Ha. Ha. Ha.
Enter: Motherhood, aka the biggest kick in the ass I have ever received in my entire life.
Let’s go back a few years to give some context to my expectations.
I grew up in a small and close-knit community in Southwestern Ontario. I had a huge extended family (we are Dutch, after all), and a conservative church community that spilled over into the school community. I went to school with the kids of the people my parents went to school with, and most of my aunts, uncles, and 60+ cousins lived within an hour of each other…most were less than 15 minutes away.
That meant that there was no shortage of support around — I always imagined that I would raise kids basically next door to my sister and down the road from my cousins, and our children would be the best friends in the land.
The reality is that I live on the West coast, some 4,000 km away from that close-knit community. And, I was the first of my friends to reproduce. So in spite of a wonderful husband who was super hands-on with our little minion,
I felt so fucking alone I could barely breathe.
It’s not that I didn’t have offers of help…people genuinely want to help when you have a baby. But unless they’ve had one, there’s no way to understand what kind of adjustment is happening behind the scenes, and if they have a baby of their own, they are busy AF trying to keep their own lives together and can offer little more than solidarity.
Everyone wants to come over and cuddle the newborn baby, and inhale those fresh baby smells. Then the newborn phase passes and everyone disappears.
On top of being without a ton of support postpartum, I had a horrifically painful start to breastfeeding — which I thought was normal, because everything about becoming a mother is so fucking painful…you’ve either had your lady bits torn apart, or had massive abdominal surgery.
I wasn’t on the path to blissful momming that I’d imagined.
Postpartum, your hormones are going crazy so crying is normal (for you AND the baby), and there is usually some form of nipple pain as baby learns to latch and lots of sweaty fumbling as the mom learns to nurse. If you choose to formula feed there’s often pain from engorgement of milk coming in and outside guilt about not breastfeeding. Which, by the way, is total crap.
There are so many ways that this process can go wrong, and in my case, it was excruciating pain that would not go away. Every time I had to feed my baby, I would weep. I wept because it hurt. I wept because I hated it. I wept because this was supposed to be natural, so why did it feel so horrific?
Between all of this healing, and bleeding, and crying, and trying to figure out how to keep this little screaming spawn alive without killing myself in the process, I was so lonely. And it was so boring.
All of the doing came to a grinding halt, and I finally had to face the shit I’d been running from.
I could no longer use my external accomplishments to validate my sense of worth. I couldn’t check off the boxes that made me feel like I had done something meaningful.
It was the exact opposite — no matter what I accomplished each day, I would have to do it again, and I felt like I had never done enough.
It was a relentless cycle of diapers, laundry, feeding, and trying to remember how to take care of myself, while attempting to keep my business afloat working part-time, and not hate my husband amidst it all.
I faced my first bout of depression in my early high school years, which was about when I ushered in the busy — sports, band, clubs…you name it, I joined it. I used all of my busy-ness to numb the pain of my depression because I couldn’t stop to think about my feelings if I wasn’t stopping at all, right?
Once it was just me and the baby (the hubs was working crazy long hours to support us because holy hell it is expensive to keep yourself afloat these days) there was no more moving “forward” and busy to numb me. And dear lord, did I mention how BORING it is to be home with a baby?!
So, I turned to mommy juice — wine. Or beer. Or pot.
I know now that I’m not the only one who faced this kind of struggle adjusting to motherhood, thanks to a generation of mom bloggers like Janelle Hanchett of Renegade Mothering:
I soon learned as a married, stay-at-home mother that if I remained drunk about 40% of my waking hours, I really enjoyed it. That’s not true. I did not calculate percentages, Also, I did not particularly enjoy it.
I would go to the store to buy groceries for a nice dinner” and come back with a couple nice bottles of wine, for our nice dinner, which I would drink while I cooked. At our actual dinner I would have more wine and a cocktail or two. This made bedtime manageable, as well as motherhood as a whole. (They did not write this in the “new mom” brochure we get when they discharge us from the hospital, but perhaps they should.)
I drank for relief. I drank because from my first sip at sixteen, alcohol felt like peace, like coming home after a long and arduous journey. Anticipation of the day’s first glass was a rush of lifted spirits within me — energy, comfort, being — and by glass number two, I began to feel the way I thought I should feel all the time. —Excerpt from “I’m Just Happy To Be Here: A Memoir of Renegade Mothering”
But I didn’t know people like Janelle existed at the time.
Well-meaning people recommended that I join mommy groups and make some friends to help break up the day, and I tried. But despite being a relatively friendly person, I do not make friends easily. It is really hard for me to find “my people,” and the go-to in mom groups is to talk about our kids.
I cannot tell you how many times I knew the names of every baby in the room but I had no idea what the names of their moms were. Why not just ask? I don’t know. But none of us did. And even if you managed to make painful small talk (as in introvert, this is not my strong suit) how do you follow up?
And how do you talk about the things that really matter? Like feeling so disconnected from your body, or your partner, or your sense of freaking Self. Where did I go?
Having a kid made me realize how much I loved my life before he came along, which made me feel like an extra special kind of crap. And in the words of Rollo, our favourite convenience store attendant:
So. There I was, lonely as hell, raising an adorable little boy who I loved with all of my heart AND had extreme regret over having because it felt like I ruined my life. Just a bit.
People will rave about how having kids gives you so much clarity about what you want from life, or what you want to achieve. And maybe that’s the case, but I found that I was just out of time or energy to do anything other than the bare minimum, which left me feeling like shit.
But I couldn’t reach out and tell anybody about it because what kind of person hates being a mom? What kind of a person spends their whole life wanting something, and then can’t stand it when they finally get what they want?
Me. That’s who.
Instead of the granola-mom I saw myself being, I was traumatized.
The transition to motherhood felt more like a negative and unexpected event that left me feeling confused, overwhelmed, and powerless.
I felt an extreme sense of loss of connection to myself, my body, my family, my friends, and the world around me.
So I numbed. Which “worked,” for a while.
Then we decided that the arrangement of hubs gone all the time and me being home with the baby while working part-time wasn’t making for a happy home environment, so we flipped — I went back to work full-time, and he became a stay-at-home dad. That kind of worked, except that I couldn’t bring in enough money to cover our expenses on my own.
We tried to find daycare so both of us could work, but it was a) almost impossible to track down, and b) SO FUCKING EXPENSIVE. You can expect to pay approximately $16,000 per year according to a 2017 study, but at the time I remember getting quotes that were much higher.
So, we moved. And then, I was pregnant again.
I’m going to fast forward here to after my second kiddo was born.
I’m not sure why I thought things would be different the second time around, but they weren’t. I guess I figured that I’d already done the whole momming thing once so I should know what I was getting into, but it turns out that having two kids isn’t 2x as hard, it’s like 17x harder. I know, the math doesn’t check out.
I fell apart for real.
If I thought I was struggling the first time around, I was full-on drowning the with round two. It was relentless and I could not cope. I felt like even more of a failure as the laundry piled up, the dog didn’t get walked, I wasn’t able to make it out the door to get groceries (thank jeebus for grocery delivery), never mind meal planning and actually making dinner.
Remember how I mentioned that we’d moved? For this round of baby-having, we were 45 minutes (or 2 hours, depending on traffic) away from our friends and the general civilization of living in a city.
That meant I couldn’t put the kids on the stroller and walk down to the coffee shop to chat with the baristas if I started to go stir crazy, I didn’t have friends who were 10 minutes away in case of an emergency, and I didn’t have the “down-time” of naps that I had with one kid.
It’s a funny thing…parenting. You have a kid and realize how much free time you had before kids. Then you have a second and realize how much free time you had with one kid. I’m not even going to pretend to entertain a third.
I felt isolated and incredibly lonely, but I also didn’t get any time to be by myself, which I desperately needed as an introvert.
To be honest, I’m not sure how we survived that transition because I don’t really remember it.
Eventually, I got called out by my doctor for being not okay…at all. In fact, not being able to stop crying or get off the floor is far from okay, so we started figuring out the right dose of anti-depressants for me and finding a therapist. I also found some childcare for the kids and started working again.
I was attempting to claw my way out of a pit so deep I didn’t even know which direction to scramble…which is a whole other story, so I’ll borrow the words of Brené Brown and just say: it was a cage match.
Despite taking steps in the right direction, I kept numbing. Even though I was desperately trying to get better, I was still very much not okay.
My brain was reeling so much that I couldn’t keep up, and I needed to take the edge off so I could make it through the day.
In the summer of 2018, when I’d been actively in treatment for about six months, I started to open up about my story and shared my battle with PPD on my friend Ashley’s podcast. I talked about how much I struggled with my second kid versus my first, and about how I tried to reach out…kind of.
Because I lived so far from my friends, Instagram was my lifeline. It was the easiest way to feel like I was connecting with people without actually having to look them in the eye and own how much I was struggling.
I could posture and pretend that things were okay.
But one day, I was really having a hard go and I posted an Instagram story that shared some self-deprecating humour and said something along the lines of, “Can someone please find me a job that pays enough that I can afford to get away from my kids?”
And there were crickets.
I could see that people were watching my stories and seeing my pain, but no one was saying anything and I was mortified. A shame spiral started and all of a sudden I realized I had gone too far.
I made people uncomfortable because I was too honest about how much I hated being a parent.
In the world of social media — especially if you’re in online marketing or personal branding — people want you to be open and vulnerable; there’s an unspoken obligation to share your story and what you’ve learned so that it can be of value to others.
But it’s kind of like the world wants you to be real and raw and honest, just not too much because if you show the whole unfiltered truth, it makes people uncomfortable. Because it can be pretty murky, and most people aren’t quite sure what to do with that; they’re afraid of the dark and don’t want to face it.
Most people prefer your dark to have a silver lining.
They want to be sold the shiny and happy “whatever” but I was so deep in that that I couldn’t see the good. I couldn’t see a happy ending. I couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. I was looking down a pit and I could not get out myself.
Maybe I shouldn’t have shared anything on the internet when I was in that place, but I didn’t know what else to do. Social media was my connection to the outside world, and I was so tired of faking it and pretending everything was okay when I was falling apart.
I wanted to be seen for who I really am, and I wanted to share what was really going on. Even if it was dark and messy.
I wanted to be seen in spite of my pain, instead of putting a filter on it and calling my best life so I could fit in with the moms of Instagram and get the hits of dopamine from the likes.
I wanted to be honest and have that be okay, because I was so tired of the oppressive loneliness that had consumed me.
Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance. — Brené Brown
The problem is that when you’re really honest about how much you’re hurting, people often start pulling away because it is so fucking uncomfortable to hold space for and bear witness to someone else’s pain.
For a while I found myself standing alone in my pain, but somehow that hurt less than pretending it didn’t exist at all.
I’ll be honest. I’ve gotten to the point that I’m okay with people pulling away when I speak my truth. It’s like that cliché that’s attributed to Marilyn Monroe but I have no idea where it actually came from:
Whoever actually said it doesn’t matter. But. I believe we — and our emotions — exist on a spectrum…I just found myself at the shit end of that spectrum for a while. But here’s the thing:
Where there’s a capacity for life to be deep and dark and awful, there’s an equal opportunity on the other side for it to be beautiful and joyful and glorious because you have that capacity to feel.
But knowing that doesn’t diminish that it is so fucking hard. And in that moment, all I wanted to do was numb my pain to help cope with the trauma. So I did. I would do almost anything to take the edge off, and this is where we see the culture of wine o’clock for the moms that is common, and symbolic of something much more problematic.
“Is 10:00 too early for wine? Hell no! It’s 5:00 somewhere!”
But let’s look at what’s actually going on here.
We are in so much pain, so lonely, and struggling so much with the relentless experience of motherhood that we’re numbing it with substance and it’s culturally acceptable because it’s “mommy juice.”
I know that not everybody has that relationship with wine or whatever your substance of choice is, but I still think it’s worth bringing up. Because when you numb the bad or negative feelings you experience, you also numb the good and end up missing out on so much joy.
I think that’s why Mommy Wine Culture is so pervasive, and so problematic.
They say that the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety, it’s connection.
(Well, Johann Hari says that.)
Connection is what human beings crave, and it’s what we are missing so desperately in this experience of child-rearing. We are told that we can — and should — do it all, have it all, be it all…and I’m calling bullshit.
We were not meant to do this alone, but somehow here we are. Lonely as fuck.
To top it all off, we live in the time of social media which creates the illusion of connection and belonging, when the truth is that it can often leave you feeling like you don’t measure up.
Pinterest-worthy birthday parties and white linens with giggling children made me wonder what the hell I was doing wrong — why were my kids screaming and my house looked like…well, not like it belonged on my Instagram grid.
So I started thinking about how all of these stressful pieces in the modern mothering puzzle come together to create a perfectly disastrous storm: the desire to belong, the struggle to fit in, the posturing of perfection, the fear of never being or doing enough, the isolation, the loneliness, feeling invisible, devalued, questioning your worth…and drinking so much wine to cope.
I am far from having a real answer to this, but one day I put some words on paper and drew a bunch of arrows that create the illusion that they’re connected to each other, and how I think they led to what I (now) affectionately refer to as The Dark. The place that I learned to face my Shadow Self, and find a way to love Her:
Where does this leave me, the trauma of mothering, and Mommy Wine Culture? I still don’t really know.
What I do know is that I take my medication every day. I go to therapy. I see my doctor regularly. I tell my friends when I’m feeling exceptionally low. And I remain critical of how I use substances to numb my feelings and disconnect from my experience.
I can proudly say that it has been over a month since I last smoked pot, and I’m in a solid state of “harm reduction” with drinking — aka I know my limits and am very conscious to play within them. I enjoy alcohol and it can enhance experiences, but I’m not using it to escape them anymore.
What I also know that if we don’t bring this messy, sometimes uncomfortable conversation to light, women will continue to feel alone in this process, and fuel a sense of disconnection from others and Self.
The transition to motherhood is no joke, especially for the cerebral, creative, introverted, introspective minds out there.
I see you. And you are not alone in it.
I may not have all the answers…or any answers at all. And that’s okay.
What I do have is surviving my experience, sharing my story, and knowing that I’m not afraid of The Dark anymore. And the more that I share that truth, I have hope that it frees others to face their Shadow, learn to love her, and we can step into the light together.
Or just hang out in The Dark for a while, knowing it won’t last forever and we aren’t alone there.
Mothering hasn’t been a garden of roses…or at least, it’s been more thorns than blooms for me so far. But I’m getting there.
In the moments that things feel impossible and I’m crying, because I don’t hide my feelings from my kids, I explain to them that it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be in your feelings, process them, and then we come out of it.
There are times that I’ve been sobbing on the couch and my toddler comes up to me, rubs my hair, and he says “it’s okay Mommy, just breathe. Calm down. You’re okay. Let’s breathe together.”
And we do.
In the same way that many writers over the years have been attributed to saying that they don’t love the process of writing but they love having written, when those moments come along I will say that while I don’t love mothering, I am so glad that I have mothered.
With, or without, the wine.
True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are. — Brené Brown