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One Mom Gets Sober: Read Heather Kopp’s ‘Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up with a Christian Drunk’

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

Books about women and alcohol are all the rage this summer. I recently posted about Her Best-Kept SecretToday, I want to suggest a memoir about a mom who got toasted way too much and then worked hard to fix her life. Author Heather Kopp‘s Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up with a Christian Drunk is a great book for any parent who’s interested in alcohol and how it affects our kids. It’s especially helpful for, well, drunks. Heather tells you more about her incredible journey from addicted to clean below:

“I recently got an email from a mom I’ll call Lucy who recognized herself in my book. Which is to say, she’s an admitted alcoholic who hides her problem well.

Lucy is married to a prominent doctor, the mother of two school-aged kids and involved in her church. She admits that by all counts, she has a beautiful life. “So why can’t I stop drinking?!” she wrote. “How the hell did this happen?”

My guess is what happened to Lucy is what’s happening to a growing number of moms. It’s become trendy these days to combine happy hour with play dates, or to reach for a glass or two of wine in the afternoon to take the edge off a hard day with the kids. For most moms, that’s fine. But for women predisposed to alcoholism, pretty soon happy hour turns into a daily habit—and every day becomes a hard day.

Once we realize we’re stuck, denial kicks in. “I know for sure that I’m a great mom,” Lucy wrote. “My secret drinking hasn’t ever harmed my kids. I never slur or stumble. Sometimes, I think it makes me a more loving, patient mom.”

I don’t doubt that Lucy can drink copious amounts of alcohol with nary a misplaced foot or word. Increased tolerance is a hallmark of alcoholism. Neither do I doubt that drinking makes Lucy less irritable with her kids. Nothing soothes an alcoholic’s agitation more quickly than a drink.

But here’s the rub. And I say this with love: We’re kidding ourselves if we think that our addiction to any mood altering drug or activity isn’t affecting our kids. And we’re dangerously deluded if we conclude that it can actually improve our parenting.

By the way, this was me to a T. My own kids were in junior high and high school when I spiraled into alcoholism. I clung like a cat on a curtain to this idea that what my kids didn’t know couldn’t hurt them—but if I didn’t get to drink, I just might.

What I failed to reckon was that kids sense it in their bones when you are not fully present. They know you’re numbing your feelings and some part of you has gone missing. Usually, they just can’t put it into words until later. My kids were grown before they could name the myriad ways alcohol robbed them of Mom.

Of course, many addicted moms aren’t so subtle in the havoc they wreak. I know plenty who have lost custody of their kids because of drugs or alcohol. Ironically, though, it’s those of us with the wherewithal to work hard to try to manage our drinking who often stay stuck the longest. We high-functioning, fine-wino types take first place in rationalization and image management, but we’re the last to reach for help.

I suffered for twelve long years before I finally admitted my life was unmanageable and got into recovery. Since then, I’ve struggled to name and grieve the losses—conversations I never had with my kids, intimate moments we never shared—because I don’t even know what I missed.

Of course, I would have done better if I had known better. Which is part of why I wrote Sober Mercies. If you’re struggling with an addiction or know someone who is, maybe my story can serve as a kind of catalyst for healing.

It’s never too late to reach for help. And more important, it’s never too soon.”

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