The Real Story of Alcohol, My Story and Stories From Other Women
(article originally posted November 7, 2019)
After I wrote my first piece on alcohol “Perhaps Mama Needs Her Wine Shouldn’t Be The Catchphrase For Motherhood” , the response was incredible. Over the last year and a half I have had hundreds upon hundreds of women message me privately saying how much they loved the article or even seeking advice. One reader a few weeks ago messaged me and it made me finish a story I started many times, my story.
First of all, I think each of us has our own relationship with alcohol. I am not a teetotaler, I do not believe that alcohol is bad for everyone. We all have the power to decide what drinking and balance looks like in our own life. I can only tell my story and hope that it may help somebody else. I do think it is worth learning about – how it affects mental health, how it affects our bodies, how it affects our energy. I do think it is worth asking, “Why do we Americans seem to over do everything?” Awareness is empowering, no matter how you feel about alcohol.
Two years ago my husband and I re-evaluated our relationship with alcohol and decided to cut out routine alcohol use. I get down on my knees everyday and thank God for this change. I thank God for the joy and gratitude I am able to feel on a daily basis. I thank God for not continuing to buy into “motherhood is hard and the only way to have fun is to drink!” I thank God for no longer watching the clock tick away just so I could have that first drink. I thank God for long walks, hot baths, and exercise to ease my anxiety over booze. I thank God for my husband. I thank God that I am fully present for my family, for all of it – the joy and the conflict. I thank God for the intense love I am able to feel for my husband, my daughter, my friends, my neighbors, and the way I am able to be there for them when they need me and not a distracted mess. I thank God for alcohol no longer playing a role in the decisions I make – what people to meet, what places to go to, what parties to go to. I thank God that the most looked forward to moments of my day are feeling the warm sunshine on my face, making my way to pilates class, cooking for my family, having a deep, long conversation with a friend, and listening intently to my daughter tell me about her day. I thank God for releasing me from the anxiousness and the restlessness and the ‘what’s next’ that kept my soul agitated. I thank God because for me without routine alcohol use, I am closer to God. I thank God everyday, because everyday feels like heaven, even amongst the bad days life is painful and beautiful at the same time.
It’s disturbing how accepted not simply drinking is, but getting drunk is in today’s society. It’s normal for a 40 something year old woman to drink a bottle of wine on a Tuesday night, slur her speech, stumble a little, and wake up with a hangover that prevents her from being able to get her children to school, right? It’s normal to get drunk to escape the unbearableness of having to be a parent, right? It’s normal to not be able to feel genuine excitement over anything except drinking, right? And it’s funny to make little comments and post memes about “my kids make me drink”; “you’d drink too if you had my life”; “if you don’t start drinking in the morning does it even count?”; “all I want for Mother’s Day is to be drunk.” But IT. ISN’T. FUNNY. It’s not funny at all anymore. It’s sad. It’s alarming. It’s leaving women feeling miserable and anxious on a daily basis. It’s breaking a part families. It’s stealing the joy of motherhood, of parenting, of family time. It’s severing friendships. And it’s killing some of us. There are 22 reasons I don’t find it funny anymore. In 9 years, my husband and I have known 22 people who have died from alcohol related causes. Some in car accidents, some their heart stopped, some fell, some went to the hospital with other issues and found out that their liver and other organs had deteriorated so much that there was nothing doctors could do, some mixed alcohol and prescription drugs to the point it was fatal, some suicide but all in all underlying each death there could be found our dear friend alcohol playing a role in some way.
We blame drugs, we blame health conditions, we blame genetics, we blame car accidents, we blame anxiety and depression, but rarely do we blame chronic alcohol use for the devastating health issues it brings. Because if we did, most of us would have to re-evaluate our own life and how alcohol is so intrinsically tied to almost everything we do. We live in an alcohol centric society in which everything we do revolves around food and alcohol. Birthdays, fundraisers, football games, vacations, after work social events, weddings, anniversaries, festivals, a romantic night out with your significant other, a girls’ night out, book club, brunch, and the list goes on. In recent years even children’s birthday parties and yoga classes have welcomed mimosas and wine with open arms.
I drank for the first time in high school, the person I actually drank with for the first time is dead. She died in a car accident in college. In college I drank but other than acting ridiculous, putting myself in dumb situations, and getting sick once or twice nothing major happened. With my internship at Southern Living I had an apartment in Birmingham and I remember I kept thinking how nice it was going to be to have a Corona on my patio, at that time to me that represented freedom. My year in New York working for Us Weekly built up my tolerance, almost everyone drank and they drank hard. There were wallets that disappeared in cabs, staggering walks up the stairs to my apartment at 2am, sleepless nights with the room spinning, and then I would get up and do it all again. I married a man who graduated from the University of Alabama and as people say “you get your degree in drinking at UA.” As newlyweds we would drink on the weekends hard, but not during the week, that is until our child was born. I had a thriving business and I was a new mom, it was a lot to take on at the same time, it was tough to juggle, there was a lot of stress, and there were lots of social invitations. Drinking became routine, and everyone around me was doing it too, so it all seemed normal. And then it wasn’t. I wish I could tell you that marital issues made me question drinking, I wish I could tell you that hitting the garage door made me question drinking, I wish I could tell you that horrible head pounding hangovers made me question my drinking, but that question would come later.
Two years ago our family suffered deep losses, my stepfather died tragically and my husband’s father whom he was very close to died from lung cancer. Tension and hurt were at an all time high in our home and the endless remodel of our house wasn’t helping stress matters either. There was a lot of pain in our home, one night it escalated. That weekend we spent just the two of us in our home, no screens, no tv, just us talking from sun up to sun down. There was yelling, there was crying, there were feelings tucked away in the dark corners of our minds that we didn’t think we could utter to another human being, there were all the emotions, and once all the ugly was out, we sank heavily into each others’ arms. I looked upon this man for the incredible human being he is in all his flaws. I admitted my own flaws that fear told me to hide. For years I thought my husband had a tendency to occasionally drink too much, but I drank normally like everyone else, right? And then I pulled back the curtain to reveal the Great and Powerful Oz that had been involved in almost all my selfish decisions, big and small, and all my hurtful words, and there was our dear friend alcohol. It was a revelation to me to learn how alcohol affects the brain, how it impairs your ability and judgement (even though it’s on the bottle!) And it became so obvious the role it had played in my own marriage – I told people I was unhappy, I needed change, I was restless but if I looked closely there was alcohol and bad decision making. Although I had already cut back in years prior to that moment 2 years ago, I also saw clearly its role in more recent years – low energy levels, coming up with excuses to not exercise, feeling anxious when I read to my child at night continuously looking to see how many more pages I had to read. Then a writer friend who had chose sobriety told me about the afternoon ‘tick’. That the reason you want that 5pm glass of wine or cocktail isn’t you choosing to have a drink, it’s because after so many years of regular use, alcohol is telling your brain it’s time. And I didn’t like that, I didn’t like thinking something was controlling my brain. That freedom that I once thought alcohol represented, had become quite the opposite. Then I learned about the myriad of health issues big and small alcohol can cause. A few days went by with no alcohol, then weeks, then months, and that tick, that craving went away. I have also become acutely aware that it is not that easy for some people. Some of the most incredible women I know sought help and went through recovery, I admire their strength and courage every day.
I learned alcohol does not bring out my best. I have drank out of celebration in the past two years, but I have no illusions about alcohol – that it is going to make me more fun, make me have a good time, make the night ‘epic’. For years I didn’t even realize that not drinking was an option. I thought the only people who didn’t drink had major devastating problems, that you could simply opt out just like people do with cigarettes was a foreign concept. I thought alcohol was a part of life and you adjusted. If you had a bad night or couldn’t handle it, well then you needed to figure that out because alcohol is fun. That is a lie, alcohol is not always fun as we all know. It’s a hell of a drug, and because it isn’t called a drug technically, because heavy drinking is so normalized and joked about, it is the sneakiest drug in existence. I thought by uttering out loud ‘alcohol can be bad’ that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy nice dinners anymore, that parties would no longer be fun, that weddings would no longer be fun, that there would be no more tailgating on a SEC Saturday, but then I did those things alcohol free and they were fun, in fact even more fun than before because I was present in my conversations with people, I could listen really really listen, I remembered the conversations the next day, and I felt good the next morning. The conversations I have with people now are the most deeply inspiring I could ever imagine. In fact choosing to opt out of routine alcohol use has made EVERYTHING better.
5 Ways Alcohol Can Affect You:
Taking Up Time and Space – I hear women complain often about not having time for this or that, and I do get it, some days you just do not have time. But I know for me years were taken up telling myself I didn’t have time when in actuality I did, it was just that the space was being taken up by something else – alcohol. Almost everyday I was choosing that glass of wine (or 2 or 3) over exercise or that happy hour with friends over meditation or prayerful time. It is amazing the things you have time for when alcohol isn’t taking up that space. Now I have time for all the things that for years I made excuses to put off.
Your Skin – So you’ve seen that redness people develop that can become permanent, but there’s also dryness, flakiness, pimples and acne. That’s right in those years when my drinking increased I had breakouts and no dermatologist could explain why, alcohol can cause pimples and acne too. I no longer have breakouts, in fact my skin, besides some wrinkles, is in the best condition it has been in since I was a teenager.
Irritability – It’s your anxiety right? I don’t want to downplay anyone’s issues with anxiety, but guess what makes it worse. That’s right our dear friend alcohol enhances your anxiety and your irritability. Maybe that coworker angered you, maybe you snapped at your child, maybe you just have this overall feeling like you aren’t in control of your days – alcohol can play a role in all those anxious feelings.
Cancer – Alcohol increases your risk for cancer, specifically breast cancer by 15%. This study was released a few years ago and received a lot of press. So imagine my surprise when I saw a local restaurant advertise $10 Cosmos to support Breast Cancer research. Isn’t that like hosting dog fight fundraisers to prevent animal cruelty? I took a picture of it because I could not believe the ignorance.
Eating Habits – Alcohol makes it very difficult for the body to absorb nutrients. Alcohol affects your taste buds. It also increases how much you eat. Those late night bowls of macaroni and cheese in college or runs through the Taco Bell drive through after a fundraising gala or looking down and realizing you just inhaled your filet mignon and potatoes, you can thank alcohol for those added pounds.
I reached out to readers unknowing some of their stories and asked if they would share, these women without hesitation did. These are varying stories of struggle, recovery, finding balance, and opting out. They are intense, they are the real story of alcohol. You might want to grab some tissues. I am honored and grateful that each of these women felt like they could share their story with me:
“Alcohol, it’s the first thing that I think about as I wake up with a headache every morning. My head may hurt slightly or perhaps throbbing depending on if the second bottle of wine was opened or not. If I catch a glimpse of the wine glass from the night before I push it away or tuck it behind something, so I don’t have to be reminded of the cause of my angst. It’s always foggy in my head the only variable is how much fog and for how long it will last.
Then I start to try and recall all that was said or done last night. Did I say or do something I will regret, most-likely yes is the answer. My husband and children will at some point wake up and by this point he will ask do you remember what you said or did last night. I usually can remember bits and pieces of the evening but there will be parts that he will fill in for me. I try to brush it off like it wasn’t that big of a deal and change the topic of conversation. I’m numb at this point as I assume he is as well to how my words and actions make him feel when I have had too much to drink. The real pain comes when I realize I have done or said something and my children may have seen or heard. I keep telling myself that fortunately they are young and won’t remember many of these instances. I pray they do not.”
“I work in the medical field and I guess people feel that they can share more with me. I can’t tell you how many patients tell me daily, “it’s been a day, can’t wait to go have some wine.” Or I ask friends how do you manage to take care of multiple children, “with a lot of wine!” Or my workout instructor comes in “it’s going to be a hard ass class, I overserved myself last night!” Now I feel a little better about myself, I’m in good company right? I’m not alone here, we are all drinking too much. The day flows by and I have probably thought about alcohol at least every hour. The first hour or two the thoughts are pretty harsh, I beat myself up and feel pretty down. I think, I can do this, tonight I won’t drink. Then I will limit it to one glass of wine tonight. Then as the day progresses and challenges mount up and the fog starts to lift I start to negotiate in my head that I have earned a couple of glasses at least. Finally, by the end of the day I have forgotten how I felt in the morning and start to look forward to a glass of wine. I work out in my head I have just earned yet another glass of wine. I pick up my sweet little girl this is the best to see her face and get the biggest hug. I missed her, I want to be with her more and spend time with her. We head home and the very first thing I do is pour a glass of wine. If I don’t she will ask, “Mommy where’s your wine?” Every day, a different version of the same.
There have been days like this as long as I can remember. I think the first time I realized what a problem it was my husband was traveling out of town. I had some girlfriends in the neighborhood over for wine. We all had small children but managed to polish off enough wine that I passed out on the couch with all the lights on, the TV on, the back door wide open, the beloved family dog in the backyard, and fortunately for me my little girl who had been kept up way past her bedtime fell asleep on top of me on the couch. My husband who hadn’t heard from me was calling my phone repeatedly with no answer of course. He was able to log into our security system and see that at 11pm at night all the lights were on, the TV he could hear in the background and our dog barking in the yard. But I never answered. He reluctantly called our next door neighbors who came over to check on things. They found me passed out on the couch with the baby. I am not sure if my husband was just so relieved that we were alive or if he has just been broken down by my behavior over the years it wasn’t too much of a surprise. The neighbors turned everything off, let our sweet pup inside and locked up the house. I thank God for them often. When I finally woke up the next morning it was all a blur, I had no idea I had done any wrong. Then I spoke to my husband who let me know how scared and disappointed he was in me. I promised I would do better and I did, for awhile.
I didn’t drink at all for 2 weeks. I slowly started consuming again and before I knew it I was right back to my old ways. Only this time it was worse. This time I got to see myself thanks to a video my husband recorded of me. I had drank myself into a black out fell in the shower and hit my head, passed out in the floor and my daughter saw it all. In the video, you see me lying on the floor and my little girl shaking me and saying mommy please wake up. Mommy don’t sleep in the floor. My husband took her to bed and she cried herself to sleep. I woke up shaking and got myself together enough to get into the bed at some point. In the morning my husband said nothing he just handed me his phone and pressed play. It made me cry, it made me ashamed, it made me feel so low and alone and like the worst mother ever. I promised again that I would make it right and I would get myself under control. I went to AA meetings, I tried to change my schedule so I wasn’t home during those hours where I drank all the wine. I really want to change. I have made big improvements but I would be lying if I said I don’t drink and have things under control. The truth is Alcohol controls me. It controls my thoughts, it controls my life. I have not found the strength to quit drinking. It scares me to know what harm I have caused to my body. My hope is that I figure it out soon.”
“I was lucky to grow up in a home where a glass of wine and a home cooked family dinner were the norm; my brother and I were always offered a small glass of wine from a relatively early age. A cocktail or glass of wine has always been in the background serving as a means to celebrate, to bond, to smooth the jagged edges at the end of a long day. My decision to drink became one of typically opting out rather than partaking. My two pregnancies have changed that dynamic as the option to drink was removed entirely, and I’ve become much more intentional about the decision to add it back. The decision has shifted back and forth between opting out and opting in.
Regardless of the context alcohol has always been an amplifier for me. It can make those heady celebrations even bubblier, but those numbed out stressed feelings can easily resurface as a quick temper and little patience.
Chaos is at an all-time high come evening with two little ones (and two dogs) running around. Instead of reaching for that glass of wine to take the edge off, I find myself asking , “Can I stand to feel those heightened emotions even more?” For now, I’m choosing to sit with the crazy and the messiness. At some point that may change, but I’m finding power and peace in taking that decision back for myself.”
“When I went away to rehab, my sister-in-law sent me a letter saying she was shocked and had no idea “things were that bad.” Well that makes two of us. It only took thirty-something years for me to finally come to the realization how “bad things were” myself.
As a mother of two very young children, then 2 and 3, my life had unraveled to such a state that my world consisted of drinking copious amounts of wine on my back porch until I passed out…every single night for three years. I couldn’t go anywhere because I knew I could not drive at night in the state that I would undoubtedly find myself in every night. So I began to disappear, literally and figuratively. My rule of waiting until 5pm to start my solitary cocktailing, crept up 4pm, then 3pm and finally to lunchtime. My role as a wife, mother, career woman, school volunteer… and countless other hats I had accumulated, were simply tasks to be dealt with as quickly as possible so that I could then get to my desired alone time to with my bottle…or two of pinot noir and drink the way I wanted to drink. I told myself that every mother drinks wine at night to unwind. I told myself that I was fun and carefree. I told myself that I had “earned” the right to drink. I told myself that if you had responsibilities like mine, you would drink like I drink too.
So what happened? After my youngest child, my daughter was born, something changed with my drinking. I had always been a heavy drinker and can look back now and see that it was a problem, but after my last child was born, I simply couldn’t stop drinking. And no amount was ever enough. My tolerance grew and I would go from feeling a brief “buzz” to being in a complete blackout. This is one sign of late-stage alcoholism.
And then my health began to deteriorate in alarming ways. I had lost so much weight that my normal size 6 had dwindled to a size 2, and not by means of vigorous exercise. My hair began to fall out in clumps. I found that I bled easily and profusely from the tiniest scratch. I carried bruises on my limbs, as if I had been in a bicycle accident. My skin itched intensely for no apparent reason. My blood pressure was sky high. I broke my nose from falling in my house one night in a complete blackout. And needless to say, my liver enzymes were elevated…something I inadvertently found out having routine blood work.
Yet nobody else saw these things. Why? Because I hid them out of my fear and shame. A myriad of doctors couldn’t seem to figure out what was wrong with me (because I never disclosed how much I drank.) My friends and fellow parents saw someone who seemed to care deeply about her children, was active in the community, had an exciting job and a great husband. My outside persona simply did not match what was happening on my inside. I was an emotional wreck. I had crippling anxiety. I had become deceitful and dishonest, trying to hide how much I was drinking, most of all hiding the fact from myself.
Nothing extraordinary happened for me to get help. No car accident. No failed marriage or losing my children or job…although these things were hanging by a thread I would later find out. I simply couldn’t wake up one more morning, promising myself that I wouldn’t drink that day, only to find myself in a version of Groundhog Day…over and over again. I would like to think it was a Godly intervention when I realized that I simply couldn’t bare the burden one more day of carrying around my big secret and I cried out for help. That’s all I had to do was utter those three magical words, “I Need Help”, and help came swiftly.
My husband called someone we both knew who had gotten sober several years earlier, and through a network of people, they found a rehab for me and I was on a plane in four days. Good friends came over and packed my bags because I couldn’t even manage the simplest of tasks by then. When I boarded the plane to Palm Springs, I turned to my husband and said “Are you sure I’m making the right decision?” He hugged me tightly, but briefly and I felt as if I were about to jump off a cliff. The thought of not drinking again after having said my “big secret” out loud was terrifying, yet somehow not quite as terrifying as continuing to live the way I was living. It was a turning point. So I surrendered. I completely surrendered and from that moment forward, did whatever I was told in rehab, when I got home, and when I continued to work a 12-step program as I still do today.
It was the hardest thing I ever did and also the easiest thing. My life got dramatically better almost immediately. Yet I had to relearn how to live life again, without wanting or needing a drink.
I learned that I am an alcoholic and I drank the way I drank because that’s what alcoholics do. It is a disease. It sets off a craving and obsession that another drinker may not experience. My sheer willpower alone could not and cannot keep me sober. I rely on the women in my 12-step program and the steps and principles laid out for me to be able to live a life that is happy, joyous and free.
I was 42 when I got sober. I now have a life that on the outside might not look very different from how it did four years ago, but on the inside it is the most heavenly existence I could have ever imagined. I wish for any woman who is suffering and struggling, as I was, the blessings I have been given today by simply asking for help.”
“I haven’t had alcohol for 3 weeks and it has already helped regulate my sleep. I’ve replaced alcohol with hot Kiva yoga in the process to help with my stress. It’s a life changer. Being alcohol free already feels like a blessing. I am doing this to feel more balanced.
I want to be intentional with my decision making and not reactive. I want to decrease inflammation in my body. And most importantly, I want to feel good when I wake up in the morning and have the energy to power through the day because I didn’t end my night with a bottle of wine.”
“I grew up in a “dry” town where alcohol flowed freely at private country clubs and parties but stayed hidden under the bathroom counter at my house. Partly out of fear, partly out of the self-righteousness that came with denial, I didn’t drink in high school. Though I never developed a taste for beer, I discovered hunch punch and Jack and Coke in college.I got room-spinning drunk on infrequent occasions—at a formal or maybe a big theme party—but, because I was drinking with a trusted boyfriend, I didn’t worry about that scary feeling of lack of control.
Drinking with girlfriends or on a regular basis didn’t appeal to me. I never developed a love affair with wine. As I got older, drinking became less and less a part of my life—never nightly or on the weekend, occasionally at a party. Sometimes even now, if I have more than one drink at a party, I say something that I think is clever and then wonder later if I should have even said it. I don’t particularly like that feeling. I draw a hard line in the sand about drinking and driving. Nor do I drink when I have the responsibility of taking care of my grandchildren—at all. It’s that lack of control thing again, with potentially life and death consequences.”
“If you see a problem, you should say something. If someone has a problem there’s likely one lone person who’s been working alone for years to try to get them help. The more people who actually address it, the better.
I lost someone dear to me. There were years of going to counseling together, when a counselor said something he didn’t like, he would stop going. Everyone knew there was a problem. People at the office knew, family knew and no one besides me spoke up.”
“Growing up, there was no alcohol in the house. That’s not true. There was a six-pack of dusty, bottled beer on a high shelf of the pantry. It was there in the event someone important came over and wanted it. It was next to a few empty, commemorative coke bottles with a Bear Bryant hat. My first drink was on a senior cruise to Mexico. That memory of being drunk for the first time at age 17 includes singing “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” loudly and obnoxiously in the ship’s bowels. I drank some in college. I’d get buzzed, or worse. Everyone did this. I’d feel dizzy, or I’d feel so drunk that I had to put my foot on the ground while sleeping to try to stop spinning. It made me feel gross. It made me feel even worse after. I did it over and over again because I thought it made me more confident and older, and I thought I needed the boost, until I realized I didn’t. It was around then I became clear that drinking gives you less self control, and for me, it put me more at risk of embarrassment. Avoiding embarrassment was a high-priority.
My early 20s were in NYC. I’m still here. Over these 20 years, I drink sometimes, but a year could go by without a drink and I wouldn’t notice. At 41, people don’t challenge me when I stick to water. They either make assumptions about why, or they don’t care. Either way, I certainly don’t care.
I feel zero pressure to drink when others are drinking. I notice this is not true for most people. I feel zero desire to feel drunk, or buzzed. I notice this is not true for most people. Maybe it’s nature, or environment, or DNA, or fluke — it’s certainly not religion, and it’s not fear — I simply don’t factor alcohol in. It’s no surprise, I suppose, that I married a man with a similar disinterest in alcohol. I am thankful these are my truths. It is important for us all to remember, we are more than a habit.”