According to the Federal Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, women are the fastest growing segment of substance abusers in the US, with about 2.7 million women – about one quarter of the identified population of substance abusers in the US. Women’s concerns about recovery are extremely complex and many identify their use as a coping strategy for growing up on a toxic or abusive environment. Many of the women from a study by Judith Grant, Sociologist from Ohio University, identify their core issue related to their recovery concerns as being low self-esteem and the lack of ability to identify their true selves. These issues exacerbate their relapse potential.
For mothers in recovery from a serious, or long-term illness including addictions, mental health, physical/medical concerns causing extended absences from their children, the guilt of these issues are compounded by the shame felt by mothers in recovery as they become aware of the effects on their children. Increased shame and stress create potential relapse triggers and warning signs for these moms attempting to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Society projects their own criticism onto Moms in recovery with the ever-so-doubtful glance and mistrustful tone of how these Moms cope with the stress and stay “healthy.” Even when Moms decide to continue their path to recovery and perhaps work through their own issues, the ongoing realization that their behavior has affected their children and “Oh my, what have I done” sets in reinforcing the shame. 12-Step programs encourage Moms to look into character defects and make direct amends. Private therapists encourage Moms to take care of their codependency issues first so they can become more emotionally available to take care of their children. All of these are positive steps toward recovery, and also steps to the road to self-realization and acceptance.
Going through the stages of guilt and shame to self-realization offers these mothers a tremendous growth opportunity and also unleashes opportunity for shame attacks potentially leading to relapses. These relapses do not necessarily need to be back to the “drug of choice” or the “suicide attempt”, although that can and does occur in some cases. The relapses can lead to other forms of self-medication such as disordered eating, distorted body image issues, unhealthy relationship issues, work addiction, to mention a few. The recovering mother’s ego is fragile and contains tricky misinformation telling her that who she is as an individual and as a mother as she navigates through the murky recovery waters. The process of moving through these waters with intention is important to a sustained and progressive recovery for Moms. This process would include:
1. Breaking through the denial and the self-medicating patterns
2. Core work of shame reduction
3. Re-parenting the self
4. Self-amends and self-forgiveness
5. Body-centered release work