A friend who had decided to cut back on her drinking recently said something that really resonated with me, “I don’t want my girls to see me drinking all the time. I don’t think the image of mommy with a glass of wine in her hand on a regular basis sends the best message.” What a simple, no brainer statement. How have we as moms lost sight of this very obvious observation?
Last night I wept. I wept deeply. I wept from my heart. I wept because my baby is 10 and she’s no longer a baby. I wept thinking of all those beautiful sweet memories that hold residence in my mind. The time she looked up at the moon and said, “Mommy do you think the moon sees us? Do you think the moon knows how much I love you?” I wept for the first time she belly laughed. I wept for the way her sweet little voice used to say ‘bloon’ instead of balloon. I wept for the image of her crawling across the floor after our dog Doolittle. I wept for that first night we were back home after the hospital and how I watched her sleep almost all night. Then I wept for the time we were playing hide and seek after my husband and I separated and after giggling with joy when she found me said, “Now let’s find daddy!” I wept for the first time I spanked her, I rationalized it was because she disobeyed but really it was because I had a couple glasses of wine and was irritable. I wept for every time I chose a distraction over her. For every time I chose to give into anxiety and pour a glass of wine instead of be present for my family. For every time I chose to hop on social media or answer a text instead of putting the damn phone down and giving her my full attention. I wept for lost time, time that will never return. I wept for all the big mistakes I’ve made. I wept thankful for the lessons I have learned. I wept out of pain and deep gratitude for the woman I have become.
When my daughter was approaching 2, a friend and I had gone to lunch. I remember saying in a jovial way, “I don’t know what I would do without my wine.” For me it was an almost daily ritual of watching the clock and anticipating that first pour either at home or arranging an impromptu happy hour with friends. The world was telling me, “Motherhood is hard, in fact unbearable, and the only way you will survive this chaotic phase of life is with drinking and medication,” and I believed it. Though I’ve never been one to take medication, I bought into the “Mommy needs her mommy juice!” – hook, line, and sinker. It wasn’t just social anymore, it was a deserved treat to get through the day. But a treat is only a treat if it is not a routine.
Of all the things I wanted to be when I grew up, a bitch who drinks too much and gossips was not one of them.
I, like so many mothers, drank almost everyday because I deserved it. (My very soul cringes at that phrase ‘Moms deserve wine’ and what it promotes.) But it’s ok because one glass of wine is good for you*, right?!?!? Spoiler alert – drinking everyday is NOT good for you. If you have to disclose a habit to your health care provider on a medical information form – it is NOT good for you. About 5.3 million women in the U.S. have Alcohol Use Disorder according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol is a toxin, it is a poison, it is a drug, it is addictive, it is a class 1 carcinogen as classified by the World Health Organization. That means it has been proven over and over again to be just as likely to cause cancer as smoking and abestos. Did you know that? Isn’t that alarming? That alcohol is a known carcinogen yet this fact isn’t really spoken about by the media, doctors or health industry? When we over consume alcohol we are putting ourselves at risk for an array of health issues from cancer to pancreatitis to injuries from car accidents. People rebut with, “But they say everything causes cancer.” No they really don’t – there are millions of things that do not cause cancer from blueberries to running to cashews to playing hide and seek – there are plenty of foods, drinks, and activities that are not toxins. Or people rebut with, “Life is short you’ve got to enjoy it!” Firstly, it is estimated by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that from 2006-2010 alcohol shortened the lives of Americans on average by 30 years- 30 years! So sometimes life is short because of our health choices. Secondly, I’m not convinced that conversations I cannot really remember, headaches that leave me worthless, and not being able to put my best foot forward because alcohol has sucked the energy out of me, qualify as enjoying life to its fullest.
I want to be clear, I do drink occasionally, I am not a teetotaler nor am I advocating for all women to stop drinking. I am just asking that perhaps we rethink how much we are drinking. I believe we each can find our own balance and harmony in how we approach alcohol. Some may find 2 days a week an appropriate amount, others may find that only a couple of times a month works for them and others may want to not drink at all. For my husband and I it’s been cutting back to only drink 2-3 times a month at social gatherings. The concerning part isn’t that people are drinking, the concerning part is how much they are drinking on an almost daily basis.
If we think back to our own childhood, most of us will likely remember our mothers not drinking very much at all, certainly not on a daily basis. I have no memory of my mom venting about how insane I was making her and pouring a big glass of red. My mom wasn’t showing up to the ballpark with a mixed drink in her tumbler or trick or treating with wine in her cup, the person doing that was labeled a ‘drunk’. When I grew up there was even a campaign MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. How has the pendulum swung this much that now there’s huge oversized pink flasks targeted at women reading “Finally a flask that fits my needs!”
Peruse any retail store and you’ll see an array of merchandise glamorizing or poking fun at women drinking – “Rose All Day” “Mommy’s Juice” “Champagne Queen” “Sunday Hangover Club”. What happened to “World’s Greatest Mom”? That’s what was on t-shirts, coffee mugs, pajamas when I was growing up. Look around for a moment are you seeing these same trends with men? Do you see t-shirts being marketed to men that emblazon the words,”IPA All Day” “Daddy Needs His Shots” or “Bourbon King”?
On any given night half the posts I see pop up on social media are about drinking. Almost every event is centered around alcohol. I was recently invited to an event sponsored by the Baptist Health Foundation (two key words here ‘Baptist’ and ‘Health’) entitled Women and Wine. There’s Bourbon and Bacon, Champagne and Cupcakes, Corks For A Cure and the list of events goes on mainly in the name of some health-related non profit. Even event industry professionals are noticing the alarming rates at which people are consuming alcohol. Event manager Julius Solaris, “The amount of alcohol being served at events is concerning. As an industry we need to step it up and take responsibility for our attendees.”
Won’t you help me sober up
All the big kids they are drunk
And I want to feel something again – song Sober Up
No matter how much we ‘hipsterize’ it, no matter how creative we get with ingredients, no matter how cute our pineapple tumblers are, no matter how unique the distilling process is to make a liquor, no matter how cool the name of an IPA is – it is still a toxin that needs to be consumed in moderation. It has been a struggle for me because I love creating cocktail recipes, I enjoy muddling fresh basil, experimenting with bitters, and creating a beautiful drink. But I have found just as much satisfaction in creating mocktails. In larger cities where there is a growing awareness of overconsumption of alcohol, mocktails are the trend. Alcohol free events where mocktails are served are gaining in popularity and restaurants are offering full menus of alcohol free beverages – mocktails, teas, kombuchas, etc.
One of my biggest revelations in my routine alcohol consumption was that in every major fight with my husband, in every escalated moment with family, in every little tiff with a friend, in every embarrassing moment, and in every unproductive day there was a common denominator – alcohol.
Watching that clock tick down to 5pm so you can have your first drink is not ok. Drinking to escape your life is not ok. Drinking to cope because you had such a stressful day is not ok. It’s a lie. Alcohol will not take away your stress. Alcohol will not make motherhood easier. Alcohol will not make your marriage easier. Alcohol will not make your job easier. In fact it will most likely do the opposite. Every time I drank to escape, to cope, to ‘decompress’, that first glass may have offered a temporary buzz but then only led to more agitation, lethargy, poor sleep, restlessness, lack of energy the next day, and an inability to give my full attention to anything, including my family.
I didn’t think I could live without it. It was a surprise to me that I stopped and still is, three and a half years on, that I was able — with a lot of people’s help — that I was able to quit. It’s a big surprise to me that I still have just as much fun on a daily basis. I have things to keep me busy and I feel reasonably well-entertained. -Jason Isbell
Energy became the catalyst for me. I did not like not having energy. I didn’t like feeling unproductive. Once I cut back significantly on drinking my energy levels changed immensely. I also found that all those things I said I didn’t have time for – exercise, writing letters to friends, reading, being more organized, being more mindful throughout the day – all of sudden I did have time and energy for.
One of the most beautiful gifts I have gotten from cutting back on alcohol is being fully present. I notice my senses are more engaged to the world around me, I am able to really listen and give my undivided attention to the people I am with, I am able to sit and be still with my daughter, and my conversations are more vibrant, more meaningful and more thought provoking than ever before. I may not have 10 more years before my daughter is an adult, but I plan to be fully present for those 8.
If you are looking for advice, support, or just find this conversation about our current drinking culture intriguing, I strongly recommend you read writer Erin Street Shaw’s Tell Better Stories: Challenging The Alcohol As Lifestyle Narrative https://www.facebook.com/tellbetterstories2018/.
*To be clear the study that years ago said a glass of red wine a day is good for you points to the health benefits of resveratrol which is found in the skin of red grapes. (Let’s be real, who is having just one glass?) If you’re really after health benefits, it is far healthier to eat red grapes than drink red wine.