The last place on earth you’d expect a wine joke to fall flat is around a bunch of mom bloggers. They practically invented sayings like “Wine not Whine,” “Mommy’s Sippy Cup,” and “Wine O’Clock.”
I was at a book launch in Atlanta for a fellow writer who is very popular among mom bloggers. She made a name for herself writing about the same stuff we did: highly relatable parenting topics told in a humorous way. As we all gathered around her in a circle like total fangirls, we exchanged mommy war stories. Tales of kiddie vomit, diaper blow outs, and stepping on Legos. We discussed our disdain for “Peppa Pig,” “Max and Ruby,” and “Caillou.”
The conversation shifted to professional endeavors: Where have you been published? What editors are your favorite? How much do they pay? Have you ever gone “viral?” I was the only one besides the celebrated Author Woman who had gone viral before. I explained that I was grateful for having so many people connect to my work, but it was a rollercoaster. For 48 hours, my Internet life was on full blast. I got praised, trolled, and sent hate mail — all at once. Tabloids attempted to put their version of my personal life on display to the whole world. It was a lot to manage.
“So how did you get through it? What happened?” the Author Woman asked me.
“Welp, I put ‘drink wine’ on my to-do list and because I’m an over-achiever I drank the whole damn bottle,” I said, chuckling at myself.
But no one else was laughing; instead, I got uncomfortable smiles. It wasn’t just that my wine joke was bad (it was), it was that they all knew something I didn’t.
“Oh, that wouldn’t be me. I’ve been sober for years,” Author Woman said.
My laughing face must have fell and hit the floor with an audible thud. I frantically searched my brain for something witty to say, but instead I was speechless. I couldn’t save myself. Silence penetrated the air between us and I felt like a volcanic asshole. She explained to me that she was a recovering cocaine addict and didn’t drink either.
I don’t remember what I said after that, but I do remember this: I bought the damn book. I considered buying 20 copies. As if the purchases could absolve me of my insensitivity.
How did I not notice? I looked around after nice Author Woman left our circle to talk to other clusters of eager mom bloggers. The book launch party had no booze. It was all hors d’oeuvres of fruit, cheese, and veggies served with water. The only time I’ve ever seen a celebration sans booze was at a kiddie birthday party and a God-fearing southern lady’s baby shower. I was oblivious to the sober tone of this party, well, until it hit me square in the sober face.
I drove home that night in shame. The last thing I would ever want to do is make a person with an addiction feel bad for not imbibing. That’s, like, the opposite of support.
That one incident changed my whole perspective about mommy drinking jokes; they aren’t funny — they’re dangerous. Not only do they actively threaten the sobriety of people in recovery, they’re a threat to us all. The mommy wine drinking culture makes us think it’s OK to deal with life’s stresses with a few drinks. Maybe the whole bottle. And for many who have a precarious relationship with drugs or alcohol, it’s a slippery slope.
I question my relationship with alcohol regularly, because for a long time it was out of control. Before I became a published writer on bigger sites, I too had a mom blog where I vented my frustrations about motherhood, connected with other moms, and made tired booze jokes.
Absolutely nothing was funny about my life then. I was juggling life with two toddlers, my marriage was shaky, and I was a hot mess. The ennui of motherhood cloaked me, and it was suffocating. I felt trapped. Oppressed. The sheer relentlessness of daily life has literally never stopped or slowed down.
So I downed a bottle of wine a night. I slurred my way through bedtime stories, and passed out in bed with my kids.
I didn’t notice that I had a problem with alcohol because all of the women around me were doing the same thing. And hell, I was functioning. I worked, fed my kids, carted them to preschool and their activities, I exercised, and grocery shopped. I just felt like I needed something at 5 o’clock to slide into the evening transition. To help me get through the rest of the day when my brain and my patience were fried.
I needed to numb the burden of second shift. I needed to feel like myself again, a human, an adult woman who didn’t only exist on this earth to change poopy diapers and manage toddler playdates. I needed to find humor in my abysmal life and the only way I could laugh about it was with one, two, or three glasses of wine every single night.
I’m not alone and my story isn’t unique. According to national surveys conducted by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in two women of child-bearing age (i.e. ages 18-44) drink alcohol, and 18 percent of women who drink alcohol in the this age group binge drink. Binge drinking is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as “a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL” (typically 4 drinks for women). Drinking excessively is bad for your health and puts you at a higher risk for cancer, heart disease, liver disease, and brain shrinkage. Sure, there are some touted health benefits to drinking moderately, but the science is very muddy.
The main question I think we should be asking ourselves is this: If I could find another way to deal with mommy anxiety, guilt, pressure, and monotony, would I try it?
If running could help us cope with being a mom, would we incorporate it into our lives instead of a bottle? If yoga, meditation, or even mind numbing episodes of the Real-Housewives-of-whatever-wretched-city-or-county could help us get through part of our day, would we replace booze sessions with that?
I went for the bottle because it was easier and more convenient, or at least that’s what I told myself. I always had booze in the house. I could plop the kids down in front of “Dora” or “Doc McStuffins” and retreat to my outdoor oasis — i.e. the side porch of my house — and have “me time” while I watched them through the window. For an hour I could turn the switch “off” and just be. Just exist and breathe.
I didn’t have any other tools in my emotional arsenal to deal with my mental load of being a mom in today’s modern society. And because of my consistent cloud of booze, I didn’t seek out alternative ways to cope, either.
It’s no secret that moms today are under an enormous amount of pressure. It’s not enough for us to tend to the emotional needs of our children, we need to be concerned about how much exercise they’re getting and how much screen time they have each day. We’re supposed to worry about how much sunscreen-death-cream we’re slathering on their precious skin, but don’t let them get burnt! We have to worry about feeding them organic foods and no packaged mac-and-cheese. We need to enroll them in a thousand extracurricular activities, but not too many because you know that’s bad, right?
Sarcasm aside, the shame you get from other moms and society at large for deviating from these ideals is merciless. Every action or inaction has a consequence. And those consequences get magnified under the microscope of social media.
Instead of numbing all of our problems with booze, maybe we should be looking at why moms feel like they need to drink in the first place. There are many cultural factors that have led to moms turning to the bottle. There is a clear lack of postpartum support and help for healing moms and their babies. Sexism and racism are pervasive in our society and both can emotionally wreck a person. Middle class wages haven’t budged significantly in years, and yet it costs exponentially more to raise kids and simply live in today’s society, disproportionately affecting women and children. Women are expected to raise kids like they don’t work outside the home while also working outside the home like they don’t have kids.
The challenges we are up against as women and mothers are not funny; they’re scary.
It’s time to get clear on why alcohol is not a cultural cliché or gimmick we should get behind. Really, it only distracts us from solving the social problems we face. We need to reject it. It’s time to do better for ourselves, for women, and for our kids — clear-headed and eyes wide open.
This post originally appeared on Ravishly.