Help for the Mom Who is Struggling to Cope
Hey there, I understand.
I chronically binged every show available after my dad passed away suddenly a few years ago. With three young children at home, I didn’t want to be on the couch where they could see me and my puffy face, so I became a bed potato. I curled up and binged the sad away. I numbed myself with television. It was easier than feeling.
This is one of many forms of self-medication that don’t come in a wine bottle, with a warning label, or under a safety lid. They come in everyday packages – things like chocolate, media binges, phone apps, snacks, social media attention, exercise.
They are objects or activities that are perfectly fine when used as an accessory to life, but unhealthy when used to distract us from our lives, to ease our troubles, to soothe our pain, or to forget things we don’t want to think about. In my case, I was delaying the true grieving process. At other times, I’ve self-medicated anxiety with wine, or depression with increasing amounts of coffee.
Even without a tragedy or trauma, as moms it is easy to get to a place of feeling dissatisfied, disgruntled, and weary. Our instincts tell us we should feel better than we do. So we set about finding our equilibrium again through our vice of choice, the kinds of vices that don’t get brought up from the pulpit on Sunday.
What defines a real problem?
It is easy to feel superior to people struggling with “real problems” when my big problem is too much television. Hey, I’m not using sex or drugs to deal with my issues, so I’m doing PRETTY. GOOD.
And yet during the great TV binge of 2015 my insides told another story.
I was incredibly sad because I had lost my dad, but I wasn’t feeling most of those sad feelings. I was in an in-between place where I couldn’t move forward. The programming kept me in suspended animation and I liked it there. I could laugh there. I could think about other people and their (terrible) problems.
Although I fully support anyone who wants to lounge around in sweatpants when they’re grieving, there are healthy and unhealthy ways to approach pain and malaise in our lives.
Indulgence vs. Self-medication
We live in an age where pleasure is right at our fingertips most of the day, in the form of all of these little luxuries. I say luxuries because I don’t imagine The Little House on the Prairie had ANY of them, unless you’re counting licking your fingers after churning the butter.
We have quick access to so many things that soothe our ills, our discomforts, our and boredom. Maybe there is no harm in my volume of exercise or chocolate cake or podcast listening. Only I really know what’s going on inside.
Only I can know when the chocolate stash stops being about enjoying a little treat and instead is about retreating from confronting a major issue with my child.
Only I can know when the media bingeing is a way to unwind at night, or a way to avoid the unspoken pain in my marriage.
Only I can know if I am avoiding and creating a crutch out of something harmless.
Is it just a little indulgence? If I’m honest with myself, sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.
Life on the Other Side
I believe there is something much better on the other side of self-medication. It is like pulling back that horrible curtain in the Wizard of Oz and finding out that the powerful being pulling the strings is not so scary after all. The real path to freedom comes from knowing the truth about my life and dealing with it.
Three truths about finding healthier ways to cope:
- Nothing in our hearts and minds get better from letting hard situations fester. No relationships are improved that way, no tough decisions are made, no personal issues are addressed. Facing our problems, even if it’s painful, is the only way through them.
- On the other side of every problem is possibility. Not all painful situations will resolve into a bed of roses. But choosing to show up and work through hard things is the only way to know what else is available for us.
- Our pet binges are not actually satisfying us but keeping us from feeling truly satisfied. They are like that big bag of salty chips that you can’t put down, but that never leave you feeling like you’ve had a good meal. (Mmmm chips.) Letting go of the unhealthy ways of coping forces us to find better, and ultimately more satisfying ways to cope.
Redeem the Time
What should I do when I feel depleted, discouraged, frustrated, or overwhelmed, and I realize I am headed for one of those typical self-medicating behaviors to help me feel better?
I am going to redeem that time and put it to good use. I am not going to starve myself physically, mentally or emotionally, but I am going to replace those behaviors with something that is enjoyable and also healthy for me.
I can choose an activity that most suits me, such as calling a friend and making a plan to spend time together, going for a long walk and spending the time praying or listening to music, or cooking a nourishing meal and savoring it. The options are pretty unlimited.
To the mom who self-medicates, I know how you feel and how hard it is to make the healthy choice. I know how easy it is to get lost in a fantasy so you don’t have to think about what’s really going on in your mind and your home. I also know there are freer ways to live. Let’s face the truth of whatever challenges are in our lives and choose to bravely move forward instead.
What “everyday vices” would you like to trade for healthier habits?
What are your go-to healthy means of coping?
PSA: In this article I am talking about working through sad, overwhelmed, and depressed feelings, and not psychological disorders that may require medical attention and/or medication. Please don’t stop taking any prescribed medications you need.