Staying Healthy and Bringing Awareness of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
I have a short list of resolutions that I’ll be making this year, but the first one is the easiest. I’m dumping alcohol from my life completely. I wouldn’t say that I have any kind of a dependency on alcohol in my adult life, and I don’t drink daily or even weekly (unless I’m nursing a bottle of wine over a week at the rate of 3 ounces a day). However, during my life, I have become awakened to the way alcohol is used in our society, and I’m going to stand firm as someone who has decided it’s not for me.
My relationship with alcohol started as a very young child – second grade to be exact. I had it at church, but we called it the Blood of Christ. I was served a sip of white zinfandel at least twice a week. It felt warm in my mouth and belly, and knowing that I was receiving this blessed sacrament brought me great comfort. As I’ve been thinking more about this first encounter with alcohol, it’s undeniable that this pattern sowed seeds that led to my alcohol dependence in high school. Receiving this sacrament was telling me that this warmth and comfort from alcohol is good. No matter what sins I had committed or how bad I felt, a little wafer of gluten and a sip of wine makes it all better.
I have a lot of addiction in my family. I grew up among people who are alcoholics or have alcohol dependencies (we call them “big drinkers” or just “drinkers”) or are addicted to drugs, toxic food, bad relationships, and gambling. A few years ago I found out that an uncle had molested his children too, so sex addiction is also likely. The truth is that humans are not perfect. We make a ton of mistakes. Addiction has roots in both nature and nurture, and in my experience with addicted family members, they often feel deep shame that they either deny for purposes of self-preservation, or they keep it all hidden to prevent others from finding out. In some cases, they just don’t give a shit. They drink and drive (sometimes even getting caught and shamelessly blaming others), post pictures of themselves drinking on social media, do things that are dysfunctional, dangerous to themselves and society, and do things they wouldn’t do unless they are drinking. Some family members have walked away from their entire family to seek out relationships with someone they believe will give them more love than their spouse or children, only to wind up with an abuser. Some spend all their money on gambling and go into huge debt. Some are very ill from being overweight because they seek food for comfort instead of using tools to comfort themselves from within by exploring and exposing those wounds with a therapist.
If someone is an addict, it’s easy to feel ashamed or afraid, but from a logical perspective, shame and fear don’t produce right action. Shame has a basis in fear, and it only perpetuates the cycle of addiction. If an addict can recognize these feelings of shame and fear, they can begin the process of acceptance and understanding. That’s how they can move to right action. When people acknowledge their problems, they become receptive to finding resources to help them live without hurting themselves or endangering those around them. I don’t mean to oversimplify addiction, because I know it’s very complex. With most addicts, they have to hit some sort of a rock bottom to realize that they don’t want the life they are living, and in that, they recognize their life is made worse because of their addictions. Even after a family member was caught drinking and driving multiple times, lost her marriage, family members and full rights to see her child, she still hasn’t hit rock bottom, so I know that these things are complex.
Our house was dry growing up. As a rule, we didn’t have alcohol in our home. It was only in my early teenage years that my dad would have some beer around, and it wasn’t much. Maybe he’d show up with a six pack here and there because they were damaged cans from work. My parents only really drank alcohol at our grandparents’ houses, and that was usually limited to a cold beer on a hot summer day or holiday festivities. Man, did my family throw some wild parties! My parents rarely went out drinking. When they did have a rare date (like literally going years between dates), it was usually for a wedding or other family event, or maybe an outing when certain family members came to town. There were a handful of times my dad came home slobbering drunk, which I found completely repulsive and disgusting when he couldn’t stand up straight and was throwing up in the only toilet in the house, but again, that was extremely rare. He didn’t know his limit because he wasn’t a well-practiced drinker, and he was also on medication that didn’t mix well with the alcohol. For the most part, daily life was dry.
I’m glad our house was dry because from the perspective of modeling good behavior for us as children, I think this is where my parents did an excellent job. They were forced to deal with daily life without using drugs or alcohol, and I think we had much better care than some other children I know that didn’t grow up in a dry house.
As I came into my late teen years and was packed with compounding adult problems I was forced to carry, I began experimenting with alcohol. Honestly, between my use of alcohol and caffeine pills, I’m pretty sure that’s the only way I was able to graduate. I was in ballet, I was learning and playing four instruments, I was in three choirs, and I worked as a professional singer while taking college courses full time and working a job at McDonalds. I tried out for the cheerleading squad, but dropped out after being unable to attend practices because of my crazy schedule. In December of 1999, I sang for 17 funerals, I had just gotten out of an abusive relationship, my dad was out of the house, my mother had disowned me and turned my family against me for breaking up with my boyfriend, and I was taking some of the most difficult classes in school. White zinfandel became my coping mechanism. When I drank it, I was pacified physically and spiritually, and the more I drank, the more I didn’t care what pressures I had. White zinfandel turned into beer and shots. Pretty soon I was drinking at least 4 days a week, and at least two of those days I was having more than 3 drinks a day.
Moving to D.C. was the best thing I could have done for myself. Although I was going from one stressful situation to another, I didn’t know anyone here besides my boyfriend’s family, so I had plenty of time to catch up on sleep, read my bible, and abstain from alcohol. I worked three jobs: I was a substitute teacher for the Loudoun County school system, I had a part time job at a bank in the evenings, and on weekends, I worked the front desk at the Sheraton Hotel. I ate healthy again. I exercised. I didn’t have to be around dead bodies while trying to keep my shit together singing for people who were in the depths of despair and mourning. Leaving my hometown and family was the end of my major problems, and thus, I didn’t need to use alcohol. Although I continued to drink in a social way, I didn’t do it daily.
Skipping forward to life today, I’ve become much more aware of alcohol and its effects on humans. First and foremost, alcohol is toxic to the human body. After three years of doctor appointments, voracious reading post-car accident, and learning about alcohol’s extremely toxic effects on the brain, I’ve become a quasi-expert this area. Here’s the short story: there’s no human need for alcohol, and we’re not going to suffer alcohol deficiencies if we don’t drink. We can argue about resveratrol in red wine, and I can give you Japanese knotweed which has more resveratrol without the toxicity. You can say that it’s used as medicine to calm your nervous system, and I can give you magnesium rich foods which will calm your nervous system without damaging it. You can tell me that you like how it cleanses your palate with creamy pasta, and I can give you sparking water with lemon or lime. You can tell me that your baby is still feeding from the yolk sack so downing a box of wine in your car while driving won’t hurt your baby, and I’ll tell you:
- Once alcohol is in the bloodstream it can diffuse into nearly every biological tissue of the body – including your unborn child.
- Drinking and driving is not only illegal, but it has the potential to kill YOU, YOUR UNBORN CHILD, AND OTHER INNOCENT PEOPLE.
I CAN ALSO TELL YOU THAT THROWING YOUR BOX OF WINE OUT ON THE ROAD IS LITTERING. But if you cared about yourself, your unborn child, or the people on the road, you wouldn’t be the littering type anyway, so I digress.
So I have a couple of confessions to make. First, during my three pregnancies, I had about the equivalent of 2.2 glasses of wine. That means I consumed some alcohol during two of three pregnancies. I remember those times clearly. Once I had a drink of my sister’s wine while on a double date (she was dating Sean Banks the now imprisoned Christian Mingle Rapist). …talk about a horrible experience… The second was when I had nearly a full glass of wine during that same pregnancy during a Valentine’s Day dinner. Then when I was pregnant with my third child, and I had a glass with Thanksgiving dinner.
The second confession is that I’m not only writing this blog to talk about what I’m going to do in 2017, but I wanted to explain why I’m giving up alcohol in 2017. It’s to compensate for my complete helplessness watching someone drown their unborn child in alcohol nearly every day. That whole drinking and driving story above? Yeah, I’m compensating for her.
“Why are you so obsessed with my life,” she asks? It’s because I care. I care about the child you say you want to mother, but you choose alcohol over every day. I care about the one you’re supposed to be growing in your body, but you binge drink while driving regularly. I CARE ABOUT YOU, AND AT THIS POINT, I FEEL LIKE I’M THE ONLY ONE WHO DOES BECAUSE I’M THE ONLY ONE WHO GIVES A SHIT TO TRY AND GET THROUGH TO YOU.
So, I’m going to be a dry mom the same way my mom was a dry mom. I’m going to do this so that I can make damn sure I’m dealing with my problems like a grown-up instead of turning to something that could make me feel less pain about what you’re doing to your life and your children. I’m not going to regress by making the same mistakes like when I did with an immature teenage brain. As an adult, I have the tools to do it like a grown-up – without alcohol or drugs or food or gambling or any unhealthy compulsions. I challenge you to be adult enough to quit too.
In times like these, I often dive back into my roots and look for comfort and confirmation in the bible. If we were created in God’s image, shouldn’t we honor God by taking care of this temple that houses this Holy Spirit? If you are a manifestation of God’s divinity, don’t you have a responsibility to honor this manifestation? For me, that answer is yes. That means I protect myself from toxins, and I definitely protect my children (born or unborn), as well as those around me.
I’m not going to make lame excuses like “relaxation” or “resveratrol” or “palate cleansing” because I know there are non-toxic alternatives. I’ve given it up to set an example to myself and to my kids that Mama can get through life without alcohol, and that’s a point that I’ll be making regularly so they understand why I’m dry. Although I don’t have a dependency, I know that I’m taking all this pain that I feel for those innocent victims of alcoholics, and using it to be sure my own house is in order.
Please keep in mind that this blog is about my experience, and yours may be different. You may have an occasional glass of wine or beer, and it may not affect you. However, if you drink to unwind from the day, or to compensate for feeling bad, or you have more than one drink a day, you may have a dependency. Emotional drinking can creep into dysfunction really quickly, so if you find yourself pouring something to ease negative emotions, check yourself and see if there’s something non-toxic you could use instead of alcohol.
I’m going to end this blog in a different way because my intention is to communicate directly to those who still believe they need to hold onto their addictions, specifically to alcohol, and specifically while pregnant, to get through life. The links below contain resources to help you understand what you’re doing and how you can get better. I’m here to support you in your journey, but the first step is acknowledging you have a problem.
Please stop drinking. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for your children.