Dana Bowman, longtime English teacher, professor, blogger, and now author of Bottled: A Mom’s Guide to Early Recovery, grew up in a home with a recovering alcoholic father, but she admits that her own struggle with alcoholism stemmed from the constant need she felt to be perfect.
Bowman says she excelled at everything—getting straight A’s all the way through college—but had issues with control. Calling herself one of those “Pinterest moms” who has to have everything beautiful on the exterior, she’ll be the first to say that her story is common.
“I thought I was Super Girl, then Super Wife, and then Super Mom, but when you have a three- and four-year-old you cannot have perfection,” she says. “If you try to keep that going, you’re going to implode, and unfortunately as that progressed for me, the cards started to fall.”
Her book (Central Recovery Press) delves into just that, but Bowman says her alcohol abuse started when she was still single and could drink alone with only her roommate or her dog to call her out. Her logic was to “numb out” the imperfections she couldn’t handle in her life, and for a long time she would come home, drink, go to bed, and it was OK—so she thought. “Most of my drinking was very sophisticated and I was really good at hiding it,” she says. After the birth of her children, Bowman experienced postpartum depression and turned to alcohol as her coping mechanism. Even during her first pregnancy, Bowman admits that one of her biggest issues was she couldn’t drink. “A lot of people get pregnant and they’re thrilled, but inwardly I was saying, ‘Damn it, I can’t have a glass of wine anymore,’ and I remember thinking that was a little wacky,” she says.
Bowman’s problem started coming to a head about four years ago when she would regularly come home and pour herself a drink around 4 p.m. Even though her father lectured about her having a 50% chance of being an alcoholic, she says she would say to herself, “I’m smarter than that,” “I can handle this,” and “I deserve my wine,” and one glass progressed into several.
“I had it stored on this pretty little shelf of ‘its fine, it’s only wine!’” she says. “Meanwhile, I’d be going to the liquor store and talking to the people about what goes well with chicken to make it look like something entirely different.”
Even after accepting her alcoholism, Bowman says the hectic nature of being a mom combined with her stubbornness acted as a barrier to seeking sobriety.
“Alcoholism is being savvy; it tells you that you can’t live without it and you do whatever it takes,” she says. “I honestly remember thinking, ‘Girl, you’re drinking out of your closet right now,’ and that I’m choosing this instead of my family.”
Bowman says her recovery story isn’t anything dramatic—just that one day she decided to quit.
“I did a really brilliant thing of deciding to quit on a Monday when it was Wednesday, ran out, got all the stuff that I really love, and just decided to go to town,” she says. “By Friday afternoon, my tolerance had kind of shot itself. I poured a glass of wine—it was my first of the day—and when I drank it I collapsed.”
Bowman says she still remembers lying there unable to move, thinking for the first time that if her kids needed help she wouldn’t be able to do anything. The next day, she went to a meeting.
“I don’t know how I did it. I feel like God put me in cruise control for a few days, but I had to go to AA. It was the only way,” she says. “And my first meeting was hilarious. It was the most frightening meeting I had ever been to, with all these men that were tattooed and it was just not my scene.”
Eventually Bowman found a group that was a good fit for her and went to a meeting a day for months until she says she started to finally get on her feet and deal with her feelings of depression, anxiety, sadness, imperfection, and even happiness.
When she landed her book contract, she admits that her initial reaction was to celebrate with alcohol. Now she’s considering writing a second book about how happiness can be elusive in recovery.
“Alcoholics have a really hard time dealing with happiness because we think it’s going to go away,” Bowman says. “We’re putting Band-Aids on huge gaping holes when we have to learn how to fix the gaping hole, and I’m still doing that.”
Bowman admits that she still numbs out with fast food and reality TV. She has, however, found positive outlets such as running, humor, and writing about her experiences.
When the Huffington Post picked up one of Bowman’s articles, Central Recovery Press came knocking. Both Bowman and CRP were over recovery-oriented books that were depressing.
“I would read these books and think ‘Is there any hope, humor, or moments when we can just laugh?’” she says. “I’ve been told by many of the women who have read my book that they laughed and cried while reading it, and that’s good!”
Humor is hugely important in recovery, Bowman adds.
“I would be climbing the walls, feeling like I could sell one of my children in the front yard for a martini and my husband would say something to try to crack me up,” she says. “Initially I thought, ‘This is not funny, this is serious,’ but it always helped, and so it dawned on me that I needed to be able to get that message out. Yes, this thing kills people, but if you can’t laugh then you might not make it.”