Sober Moms: Explaining Drinking to My Daughter
As you may have imagined there were many more questions that my daughter had about alcoholism and recovery after our initial conversation a few weeks ago. (You can read about it in my last Sober Moms post: Talking About Recovery.) At the end of that conversation, I did let her know that whenever she had any more questions, about anything, that she could most definitely come and ask me.
I have also shared this experience with the moms in my sober circles. It has also brought up interesting conversations and many questions from the moms. The main question that everyone seemed to have, was why? Why did I choose to tell my daughter about my alcoholism and recovery? Is she not too young? (She is 11) Was I worried that she would be telling her friends, or the neighbors, or someone who would make it into a gossip? Was I worried that she would think less of me? Was I worried that she was going to be angry with me? YES! Yes, and yes! I most certainly was. I was mostly terrified that she would go to school and tell everyone that her mom had a problem with drinking alcohol, and then people would be knocking on my door wondering what the heck is going on!
However, knowing my daughter, I do not think that she talks about me that often! Additionally, in our last talk I did explain that I am in recovery from Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), which means that I no longer drink alcohol. Therefore, and hopefully, that explanation covered the possible confusion and if some misunderstanding happens, I will be glad to explain this all! I am truly ok with telling her because I am no longer ashamed of it myself, and I especially want her to understand that people can recover and live happy lives without ever drinking again. In addition, I try to explain things as facts, and I do not add whether they are good or bad. This way she will more likely see this just as information. I really do not believe that kids carry shame until we make the information shameful. If we present things in a neutral way, then that is the way they will accept them.
So why? Why did I choose to share this with my daughter? Well, primarily I want to be the first one to tell her, and before she hears it from her peers who most likely will be glamorizing getting drunk. I also wanted to clear up any questions about why her mom goes to those meetings and such. I noticed that if I am the first person to tell her about something then she accepts it easier as a fact. But if her friends get to her first, then it is really hard to convince her that what she may think she knows, may actually be wrong!
The other huge reason is to make her aware that this is a family disease. Her family has been afflicted with alcoholism on both sides; chances are that she will develop it at some point too… I know… Scary, scary, scary! BUT. Hopefully she will know that recovery is possible, and hopefully she will feel comfortable enough to come to us for help.
Several questions that came up this time around were actually quite hard to explain: What is alcohol? Why do people drink alcohol? How does alcohol make you feel? My dad drinks too, does he have a problem?
I have to admit, I was a bit lost. How do I explain alcohol? It is not illegal, it is not necessarily bad for you, although it can be, and it can make you feel relaxed, and happy, or get you really impaired and horribly sick. Hmm… What I really wanted to say to her was that drinking is horrible, and she should stay away from it, and never EVER try it, and that it will ruin your life! However, I think that might have made her even more inclined to try it, especially since most kids do exactly the opposite of what their parents say, right?
So back to basics! I started by explaining that alcohol is added to some drinks, like beer, wine and liquor. Usually beer and wine are served straight out of the bottle or can, and liquors are mixed with other drinks, like a coke or sprite. I explained that many people drink alcoholic drinks with dinner, or when they are celebrating something. Small amounts of alcohol, maybe a drink or two can make a person feel more relaxed. Some people feel happier and as if they are having more fun. But, larger amounts of alcohol have quite an opposite effect on people, and they begin to lose some control of their body. They may talk loud, have a hard time walking and may fall into deep sleep, often called passing out. Then I ended by stating that by law you have to be 21 to drink any drink that has alcohol in it.
Then she asked the last question: My dad drinks, is he drinking too much? This question really scared me, and I did not have a good answer for it, or at least not one that I wanted to share with my daughter. However, I do think he drinks too much; he was my drinking buddy when we were together. He still drinks every day and sometimes he drinks to excess. I can tell because his speech gets really slurred and he does not make sense when he talks. Nevertheless, his drinking has never caused him to have any consequences, as if it caused me. He is more of a sipper, he does not get drunk often, but he drinks every day. Does he have a problem? Hmm, well, it is not for me to make that judgment.
Therefore, I skipped this question, just for now, so I can figure out how to answer it properly. I told her that I was not sure and we can talk about it little later.
However, I do worry about his drinking! We have joint custody and she spends half of her time over at his house. I hope he does not get drunk with her around. I hope that he is not putting her in danger. I feel strangely uncomfortable being on the other side of the scenario, especially since I used to be the drinking parent. It makes me even more gratefully that I am sober today, what a gift! And hopefully someday, I may find a way to answer that last question, or not.
If you have any helpful ideas on how to talk to your kids about drinking, please share! Thank you!
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If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)*, please check out the Sober Courage menu at the top of this page for an extensive list of support groups and recovery related articles. You may also find some great inspiration, support and resources at the bottom of this page.
*Problem drinking that becomes severe is given the medical diagnosis of “alcohol use disorder” or AUD. AUD is a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using. (Ref: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders)