As women we want it all. We want to manage our home, work, and social lives, and do it all while keeping everyone else happy. But the reality is that, for many of us, it’s a façade, because behind the scenes we’re struggling. This inner struggle between what we need to do every day and what we’re feeling is driving an increase in consumption of alcohol and substances to cope. This use is killing women at a greater rate than ever, but women’s substance use disorder remains underdiagnosed and under-treated.
One of the reasons behind this epidemic among women is ingrained in our culture – women are the caregivers. As the caregivers, we help others and deeply believe we should not need help ourselves. The truth is, no matter if you are a stay-at-home, working, or single mom, a wife, or an executive, we can’t do it all at the same time without getting some level of help or support.
Seeking help can be incredibly complicated and raising our hand is one of the hardest things we’ll ever do. Each of us has an array of fears that act as barriers to seeking help: fear of failure, not seeming perfect, not being needed or wanted, being perceived as weak, somehow being less than enough. Those fears underlay the inner dialogue that becomes the driving force in our decision making. But, by addressing this inner voice and our deeply held beliefs, we can let down our guard and find the balance and success in the relationships we’re struggling to maintain.
My Children Need Me
As a mother, it’s totally natural to worry about leaving children for any length of time, let alone for a month or more. There’s also a tendency to think that asking for help or needing time to take care of yourself away from the family is weak and selfish. We can quickly ask ourselves, “If I need help, how am I going to be able to take care of my children? Who's going to manage the kids’ sports, the music classes, dance classes, homework, their social activities?” Or worse, “What if my family is able to do it all without me and they don’t need me anymore?”
Part of what keeps us sick is the avoidance of these uncomfortable emotions. It’s important to acknowledge that it can genuinely hurt and feel scary to be away from your kids. But by doing so, you are actually doing the best you can to improve your relationship with your spouse and children and even more importantly, your relationship with yourself.
Everything Will Fall Apart
When women do raise their hand to get help, their families may need to pick up the role of paying the bills, getting the kids to school, taking them to the doctor, picking them up from practice, and so on. Or their work may need to realize that they will not be constantly accessible, and their level of communication may change for a period. It can be difficult to let go of control and entrust someone else to manage responsibilities but it’s incredibly important.
The reality is that when you’re working through trauma, substance use, and other challenges, you may have to take a space of grace and separate from your children before you can get closer to them. By prioritizing your own needs and placing trust in others, family relationships ultimately become more supportive and stronger and you will also evolve.
I Have to Go to Work
The barrier for working women is magnified on both sides of the coin. In addition to a multitude of home responsibilities, there’s a serious career momentum to maintain.
We’ve had to work really hard to achieve the same level of success as our male counterparts and a large part of that stems from being constantly available. All of this leads to an incredible fear of what will happen if I step away, someone takes over for me, I become disposable or my colleagues find out where I am?
When we do get help, the challenge can be simply being with yourself, without the distractions of work, text messages and emails to take our attention. Often female professionals say they'll say they need access to their email and phone at least three times a day but as we work with them that changes and eventually, they're checking in maybe once a week.
They’re able to reframe their perspective from moving through to-do lists to a non-linear recovery path, which ultimately allows them to be more effective and successful when they do return to their careers.
Everyone Will Know…
The pressure to be perfect has never been higher. There’s a daily pressure we feel beyond our kids looking good and the house being presentable. It trickles down to sports, academics, the prestigious school we want our child to get into and keeping up appearances in every area of life. Social media has magnified that often adding to our guilt when we can’t do it all or we turn to a nightly glass of wine to get us through the week.
Most women aren't attuned to asking for help. Often when they have asked for help from partners, parents or co-workers, it can be met with resistance or help but not in the way they wanted. So often we return to thinking, I should be a better person, parent, mother, partner and fear overrides our openness to any kind of help. Women are the first to beat themselves up when they think they aren’t doing it all perfectly. But if we take that first step to simply admit that not only is it OK to not be perfect, but perfectionism isn’t attainable, then we can be vulnerable enough to say I need help--even if we don’t know what that means yet. For a group of girlfriends, often all it takes is one person saying that and when they do, there’s a collective sigh of relief and a comfort that everyone knows they can be genuinely vulnerable with each other.
Women often describe themselves as a mom, a partner, a hard worker. At Caron, I’ll say to a patient okay, let’s take all that away for a minute. Who are you at the core of your person? Are you kind? Are you loving? Are you giving? Do you have trouble asking for help?
Women are always putting the needs of others before their own. However, if your own needs aren’t being met, that’s detrimental. It’s not selfish to focus on your own wellness. In fact, we must be well so we can be truly present and there for others. The only way to achieve balance in life means that we must acknowledge our own needs.
My Life Will Change
Yes, life will change after treatment. That’s the point of recovery – to find our voices, interrupt the negative internal dialogue, change the behaviors, build stronger relationships, learn to love ourselves and live with authenticity. The recovery begins when we ask for help and allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Vulnerability has power and it will change your life.