‘The Pressures Of Marriage, Motherhood, and Work Ignited My Alcoholism’

Many women will be able to relate to Brenda Wilhelmson‘s story. She was mom, wife and employee trying to do everything perfectly, but in reality she was over-worked, stressed-out, lonely and feeling like she wasn’t doing any of it well. So, she turned to drinking.

One glass of wine turned to two or three each night, and things just escalated from there until, one day, she realized she was a full-blown alcoholic–with a child in the next room. After nearly 10 years of this “hellish existence” Wilhelmson’s journey was captured in her book, Diary of an Alcoholic Housewife. In honor of Alcohol Awareness Month, we talked with Brenda, who, among other things, says that her battle with drinking made her realize the unhealthy strive for perfection that so many moms have today.

How did the drinking for you start?
I, like a lot of people, started experimenting with drugs and alcohol in high school and college. I actually preferred pot more in college and was more of a pot head. But once I graduated and was in the working world, it became much more acceptable to go out for cocktails after work.

When I got married and had my first child, it was way more socially acceptable to go to the liquor store and get a bottle of wine versus risking getting arrested from having pot, so I stuck to drinking. It was pretty much relegated to the weekends at first. Then, after I had my first child, I was a freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom. Juggling those two things and trying to be a good parent while paying attention to my writing and my child, was very stressful. I felt like I wasn’t doing anything well, and I was alone all the time. Even though I was with my child, I was lacking in adult conversation and adult contact. Before I knew it, at the end of the day, I started rewarding myself with alcohol. It started out with a glass of wine before my husband came home, then a glass or two with dinner and escalated from there.

Was it always just wine?
I was treating myself with a glass of wine while I was cooking dinner. I was dressing it up and making it part of this nice evening. But then, my cousin (who also has a drinking problem) started coming over, and we started drinking together around 4 or 5pm, right around the time that I was starting to prepare dinner. He was a bourbon drinker, which I didn’t like, so we compromised on vodka. That started the whole martini process. It felt very posh, sophisticated and grown-up.

Where was your child while you were drinking each night?
He was with us. I was living in a house at the time that had a big family room and open kitchen. He would be playing with his toys, while I was cooking dinner and my cousin was sitting at the island drinking.

How did your husband react when he got home at night?
My husband came from a family of alcoholics, so my behavior was normal for him. But he didn’t like how drunk I was. He thought I drank too much and didn’t like that my cousin was always over. When he’d walk in the door, there was me drinking with my cousin, and we were both loaded. He said that he didn’t want to come home to a drunk wife all the time. About that point, I had become very uncomfortable with my drinking too. I was going to bed drunk every night and feeling lousy every day. It was terrible.

What was the worst thing you did with your child when you were drunk?

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    • Michelle

      As a child of an alcoholic I appreciate the importance of this article. There are a lot of parents who feel like they are alone in their struggles and need to seek outside help. However, the title is just plain offensive to family members of alcoholics. I have pressures in my life too but that doesn’t make me pick up a drink. Your choices are what make you an alcoholic, not your family or job.