By: Kima Tozay, LICSW
To better understand what it is like to deal with addiction during the perinatal period, I interviewed Alyson, a mom who has been in recovery from alcohol for many years.
“One thing that wasn’t told to me before kids was if you already have an anxiety disorder, a history of trauma or are an addict, you should be aware of a postpartum mood disorder.”
Resources mentioned in this interview:
Alcoholics Anonymous: https://aa.org
Elenore Health: https://www.eleanorhealth.com
In Recovery Podcast:
Please introduce yourself:
I am Alyson. I’m an alcoholic and I grew up in Federal Way. I am a mom, a wife and I used to be a teacher of mostly little kids.
How did you get involved with PS-WA?
I was a facilitator of a postpartum support group for a program called Early Days. I went as a mom and started facilitating and I handed it off after[having] my second kid. I’ve gone to a lot of their trainings and the GPS groups and helped PS-WA with leading some of the trainings.
I’m [also] involved in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). I got into AA because I was getting into trouble at school, smoking, and drinking at school. I got caught forging a note and had an alcohol assessment. They recommended treatment and I did outpatient treatment. Treatment always recommends going to AA. I was required to go to three AA meetings per week.
What challenges have you had to face and overcome?
When you’re a parent it brings up stuff from your own family of origin. Most people I know in recovery have some type of trauma or abuse history or mental health disorder. That is true for me. I grew up in an abusive household, anxiety disorder, alcoholism on both sides of my family, and codependency. When you become a parent, it brings up things for you. I am working on PTSD around sexual abuse and trauma. I have gotten a lot of relief from therapy.
What can you tell us about the community you identify with?
AA talks about honesty, open-mindedness and willingness, following the traditions, and working the steps. I relearned how to be in the world. We are people trying to dive deep and understand our “causes and conditions,” why we turn toward substances to help us. We try to find how to be free of addiction. Now I have deep conversations with my friends in recovery and others not in recovery. AA talks about the present moment, gratitude, and humility, it means being not less than and not better than anyone, you’re a mom among moms, a worker among workers, normalizing our experience.
What are some misconceptions of people in your community?
A lot of people think AA is religious. God comes up a lot. We are looking into revamping the literature, it was written in the 1930’s, is very Christian and male slanted. They are working to make it more inclusive and work on the pronouns. To be a member of AA you have to be starting at the bottom, homeless, destitute and that you’re joining something rigorous. Everything in AA is a suggestion.
I was 17 when I got sober, I bottomed out fast and was in a rough complete transformation. I was an honors kid, in ballet, and I quit that and was drinking and partying. I quit and got sober. I went to community college, four-year school, worked, and met my spouse in AA. We were married six to seven years before we had kids in 2013. I was 15 years sober when I had my first kid. One thing that wasn’t told to me before kids was if you already have an anxiety disorder, a history of trauma or are an addict, you should be aware of a postpartum mood disorder. I kind of knew that. Most of the information is about depression. My go to is more anxiety. I went off meds before I got pregnant and was concerned about taking meds while pregnant. I did not realize what I was experiencing was postpartum anxiety. I was not depressed, I was hypervigilant. I wish there was more information about all the mood disorders. When I got screened by my provider it didn’t hit what I was going through.
What do you think are the most important issues facing the community or group you identify with?
I think getting information. Most people don’t become alcoholics because their past was great. A lot of times there is some history. I didn’t realize how much my risk was higher because of my past. There should be more training or more information about what might come up for a mom or pregnant people. I believe John Gottman mentioned that, 82% of marriages experience some dissatisfaction after kids. For a lot of people their sobriety takes a hit, they stop going to meetings, less attention is on themselves and is on the baby. It’s stressful. There are a handful of people I see phase out after having kids. Some get sober when pregnant. There is an increase in stress with being a new parent. I see people with new babies say they are drinking a lot. So, more education about hormones, stress, and adjustment would be helpful. It’s a lot, if you already have a drinking problem, it makes it worse.
Then there’s the “mommy wine culture.” The Facebook moms’ groups I was a part of, there was a lot of comments and memes. When the pandemic hit, there was no mention of it anymore. I guess drinking got to an uncomfortable level. We had newcomers in AA with the pandemic. The isolation has made it much worse. Even play date places are serving alcohol. It seems to be almost normal to have parents parenting with drinking. You go into a gift store there is all kind of messages about mom needing/deserving wine. When we did PEPS, when moms wanted to get together, it was always a happy hour. It’s part of our culture.
What tips you can you share for those who want to support a friend or family member in this community but don’t know what to say or how to support them?
There is psychiatrist, Dr. Nzinga Harrison who started an organization called Elenore Health and has a podcast, In Recovery. Elenore Health’s website and the podcast has some good advice. Dr. Harrison says try to love them unconditionally and point your frustration and anger at the disease and not the person. It’s hard for people to understand that alcoholism is a disease, not a choice, not a moral problem. She is big into reducing risk and harm reduction. Have an open and honest conversation about how they use alcohol or drugs. Share how it had impacted you or the family. Let them know, there is help out there and you have a concern. Say, I don’t think you are bad or damaged, but you have a problem that can be helped. Society gets hung up on it’s a behavioral thing.
What are some resources you can share with our readers if they would like to learn more about this community/issue/group?
Alcoholics Anonymous. If you are a friend or family member, there’s Al-anon. Elenore Health has so many great resources. They have a quiz on their website if you think you may have a problem. There are also a ton of free recordings of speakers from AA and Al-anon. Listen for the similarities not the differences. Listen to how they thought, felt and drank. The In Recovery podcast is on Spotify. Newsletters from the general service office of Alcoholics Anonymous, they send out tips and tricks on how to stay sober during the holidays and things like that. If you identify as a woman, I recommend women’s AA groups especially if you are struggling as a parent. I talk about using the tools of the program a lot in my women’s AA group.
Is there anything else you would like people to know?
“Parenting lights a fire under a lot of issues and it’s the same for addiction.”
Program Spotlight: Pacific Treatment Alternatives
In this edition we are featuring a program that is doing great work to support mothers and families and want to share what makes them special:
Pacific Treatment Alternatives (PTA), located in Everett, WA and is a non-profit organization that provides an array of treatment and advocacy services for pregnant and parenting women recovering from addiction. Pacific Treatment Alternatives provides case management services to over 125 families monthly, through its three-year service program model.
Its F.I.R.S.T (Family Intervention Response to Stop Trauma) Clinic opened in 2019, and has helped many mothers avoid removal of their children from their home and reduce involvement by Child Protection Services. The F.I.R.S.T Clinic offers mothers legal advocacy when faced with legal issues resulting from addiction and parenting challenges that have led to court involvement. PTA’s 30-day inpatient treatment program has allowed countless women an opportunity to avoid legal action against them by providing a space for them to go into treatment with their babies. Additionally, the organization offers Parent-Child Assistance Program (PCAP), an evidenced-based home visitation case management model designed to help mothers who abuse alcohol or drugs during their pregnancy.
Currently, PTA and Washington State University School of Medicine have formed a partnership which affords participants access to additional resources that focus on health outcomes for children and families.
The PTA team includes Executive Director, Debbie Graham, and a number of support staff such as case managers, intake coordinators, administrative staff and outreach specialists who all work as part of a robust support system for program participants. Visit their website to learn more about Pacific Treatment Alternatives eligibility criteria or referral process, and all the great work they are doing in their community.