April is alcohol awareness month. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) has asked that we:
Talk Early, Talk Often: Parents Can Make a Difference in Teen Alcohol Use
Although I've always had an open dialogue with my kids about alcohol and drugs I've also known that my behavior would have a more lasting effect than my words. When my daughter and son learned in third grade social studies that alcohol was an addictive drug I found myself in the uncomfortable position of trying to explain why I often drank more than I should.
My kids accepted my excuses because they knew that they could count on me to keep everything running smoothly. They were safe, well cared for and loved but the example I set of self medicating the stresses of life with too much wine was a recipe for disaster. I knew that if I didn't learn how to maneuver the obstacle course of adult life without the alcohol buffer than it was likely that my kids would repeat my behavior.
When I stopped drinking after several years of struggling unsuccessfully to keep it under control the most liberating thing for me as a parent was knowing that I could finally model a healthy lifestyle. It took me a while to figure out how to de stress at the end of the day without my wine crutch but I quickly learned that no crutch was needed without the exhausting effect of nightly wine binges.
As a sober mom I am no longer treading water in the deep end to keep things running smoothly. I am present every waking hour and less likely to over dramatize life's little problems. Now that I'm off the hamster wheel that drinking became for me "peace and tranquility" have descended on my little family's crazy busy world.
Talking to our kids about the dangers of alcohol abuse can make a difference even if we don't always model the best behavior. One of the most amazing things about parenting is that we often learn as much from our children as they learn from us. I am not sure if I would have stopped drinking when I did if I didn't have the mirror of my behavior reflected back to me in my children's eyes. I am grateful to both of them for pushing me to put a cork in it simply by their need for me to be truly present.
High risk binge drinking is often the game for my daughter's generation. The cheap keg beer in plastic cups that was the common party drink when I was a teen has been replaced by vodka shots and alcopops. From Australia to Alaska, in our global village, it has become a badge of courage for girls to slam back shots on an empty stomach and black out. This is a terrifying trend that I hope my daughter avoids but if she ever does gets sucked in I will be able to listen. We will be able to talk without my guilt at my own behavior clouding my perspective.
We talked early and we will continue to talk often because it has made a difference not only for my children but for me. Alcohol abuse, alcohol addiction, alcoholism, takes many forms and can become a problem at any time in our lives. If we keep talking we'll eventually work it through as individuals, as families and as a culture.