"Why would you keep drinking when you know it makes you sick?," my daughter apprehensively asked just around the time I celebrated one year sober. Sick had become our code word for drunk at some point during the five years I drank in excess. I can only guess the question had been consuming her for years, but she was afraid to ask. She saw her mom turn into a pretty bad person every single time she drank alcohol. Her 10-year-old mind could not comprehend why I would continue to drink despite all of the many negative consequences. From where she sat, I had 100 percent control over my alcohol consumption. Yet control is exactly what I was lacking — the disease of alcoholism was in complete control of my life, my body, and my mind.
She stumped me. I wanted to give her all of the answers. I wanted to offer an explanation that would prove I wasn't drinking to hurt her and that my decision to drink did not mean I didn't love her. I wanted to take her on a journey through my mind, going back over the years that I spent drinking despite all those negative consequences, so that she could see things from the inside out, but I just didn't know how.
"It is really insane, isn't it?" I asked, mostly rhetorically. Insane — a word that comes up a lot in my Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. As alcoholics and addicts, we do the same thing over and over again and expect different results, that's the definition of insanity. Any non-alcoholic at any age would struggle to understand why we keep picking up that drink or drug. Addiction doesn't make sense at all.
"Every time I drank, my mind tricked me into thinking it would be different," I said. "I believed I would not get very drunk and I believed there would not be any negative consequences. I was sick. Alcoholism is a disease of the mind, body and spirit, and I had no medicine for this disease. But now I do. I know how to treat this disease and I will work hard every day to make sure I don't go back to that place." It was a tough conversation to have, but through my addiction, I've made it a point to open up to my three children.
Indra Cidambi, MD, a psychiatrist and the vicepresident of the New Jersey Society of Addiction Medicine, as well as the medical director for the Centre of Network Therapy in New Jersey, suggests starting these conversations about drugs, alcohol and addiction with your children at a young age. "Talk to your kids about addiction as early as 4 or 5 years old. Leverage teachable moments to make the topic of addiction a part of the daily, casual conversation instead of having a sit down solely to discuss these topics. If you observe a person smoking, for example, talk to your kids about the ills of that addiction and how it affects a person's health, and use that as an opening to talk about other drugs."
Cidambi also stresses the importance of keeping the lines of communication open. She suggests having honest conversations with your kids over family dinner where "you can find out what is going on in their lives and at school. Always make them feel loved and blend in the topic of peer pressure and ways to deal with it." In other words, help kids to develop the tools they need to resist temptation and pressures that are likely to occur by talking to them about the experiences they are having.
I have been sober for 5 years, and these conversations happen regularly in my home. My kids are curious. They want to know about vaping, smoking, drugs and alcohol, so I talk to them about it all. I tell them they are genetically vulnerable to this disease. We discuss warning signs and treatment options and I share a lot more about my own experience with alcoholism than I ever imagined I would. I firmly believe that knowledge is power and I do not want them to ever be afraid to ask or tell me anything.
Just yesterday, my oldest daughter said to me: "Mom, when was the last time you went to an AA meeting?" She wasn't nervous at all. I felt so proud of her and of us. My 15-year-old, understanding the power of alcoholism, probably wanted confirmation that I am taking good care of myself. "I went to a meeting yesterday. I'm going tomorrow, too. I don't ever want to go back to who I used to be," I said. We both smiled a little and continued with our morning because conversations like this are routine now, and isn't that a beautiful thing?
I never know if I am answering my children's questions correctly or if there even is a correct way to answer at all. But I do know that the best thing I can do is to be a sober, honest and humble mother.