If your first instinct is to ask questions, I love you. If it’s to stare at me like a deer in headlights or decide that I’m no fun, well, that’s on you.
This is tricky for me. I don’t identify as an alcoholic. In fact, when I told others I was going alcohol-free, most of my people were shocked. Many asked for how long I’d be taking on this little life experiment. Some were straight up disappointed and they made it known. And most recently during the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve gotten a lot of “you’re still not drinking — even now?!”
The thing is, I’m a successful and highly motivated businesswoman, wife, and mom. My husband and I have a strong, solid, and loving partnership. My children are happy, smart, well-adjusted human beings. We have a home cooked dinner on the table most nights. My kids never run out of clean clothes and I whip up some pretty fancy breakfasts on the weekends. Camps and summer schedules are planned out in January and I set my Thanksgiving tablescape three nights before the big event. The stuff Type-A dreams are made of, am I right, mommas? All the plates spin, and I do a kick-ass job of keeping them spinning steadily.
Nothing happened. No embarrassing stories.
So, couldn’t I just cut back or take a break, you ask?
I did. For a while. But it was annoying. Too much to think about, and things got in the way: “I’ll only have wine on the weekends (except when I have Friday off, in which case Thursday starts the weekend).” Or “I’ll only have a glass of wine or two after my kids go to bed” (except as they got older, their bedtime got later. No good, little people). The 2016 dumpster fire that was our presidential election season. And my favorite — being on vacation, summertime, or the window between Thanksgiving and New Year’s of course don’t count (I mean, we’re talking long, unstructured time with extended family — need I say more?).
And then one uneventful Monday night, my four-year-old came pitter-pattering into the kitchen in his footie pajamas, and I ever so slightly moved a glass of wine behind the coffee maker. It was sneaky. This was my moment.
We all think we’ll slow down once we get married, settle down, and have kids. My twenties and thirties involved sophisticated social drinking. Sunday brunches, drinks after work, wine tastings, trips to Napa Valley, and weekly work travel and/or networking events. Shiny and fun stuff. So naturally settling down to a life in the burbs would equate to less drinking, right? Except it didn’t — it just looked different. Sure, there were still plenty of social activities and opportunities to imbibe — much of it involving children. But, for the most part, it involved Netflix and wine. At home. On the couch.
Enter “gray area drinking.”
No one really talks about the grown-up, gray area of maintenance drinking that teeters between responsible and irresponsible. Am I or aren’t I? How much is really too much? I deserve this! Is there any truth behind the link between breast cancer and moderate alcohol use in women (spoiler alert: there is, and it needs to be talked about more)?
This is me. No physical addiction. No real outward consequences, except my mental health was taking a hit. My world wasn’t as bright as it should have been. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew a few things. On nights that I didn’t have two, three, or four glasses of wine, I didn’t wake up with anxiety for no reason at 3am. On nights I did have wine, I felt off my A-game the next day; generally blah, less focused, and less present. I also began noticing myself getting resentful when something or someone got in the way of my self prescribed self-care (friends, drinking wine almost every night of the week is NOT self-care). And for the cherry on top — it is perhaps the worst kept secret that the leaves of my family tree are soaked in alcoholism.
So, without any great pomp or circumstance, I rinsed my glass out, put it in the sink, and made a commitment to show up for myself that I’m deeply proud of every day.
Today, it’s been 2.5 years since that quiet Monday night, and my world is infinitely better and brighter without wine. Do I miss it sometimes? Sure, for a fleeting moment. But without it, life is so much bigger and richer for me. Life has more color. I have more patience. My relationships are deep and rich and based on substance. And the best part is that I can and want to talk to my children about the addiction spectrum with openness, honesty and experience — and those discussions will be grounded not in shame, but in love and empathy.
Imagine a culture where instead of normalizing and cheering on disordered drinking, or worse yet, teaching our children that we drink because of them (I’m speaking to you, alcohol marketing people), we celebrate and cheer on all the moms who want more for themselves and want to send a different, healthier message to our kids? I see it, and I want to live in that world.