When I began my sober-curious journey over three years ago, I had no intention of breaking up with alcohol. I figured I just needed a few tools to reign it in so I could get back to being a so-called “normal” drinker. The problem is, once I began really exploring what my life looked like without alcohol, I discovered that, like many of us, I was literally sucking down the Kool-Aid of pro-drinking messages. I realized I hadn’t been able to see that the messages all around me in our drinking culture were convincing me that my gray area drinking was “normal.”
As women and mothers, we’re conditioned to believe that we should put everyone else’s needs before our own. Often, this means there’s little time left for ourselves. We’ve bought into the story that going to the grocery store is a “break” when in reality we’re just checking another item off our endless to-do lists. It often feels like we have a news ticker streaming an endless list of tasks in our heads. We manage all the details of the day—booking doctor appointments, buying birthday gifts, researching and scheduling after-school activities, and putting out fires—finding a missing uniform, delivering a required form—slaying each one as it pops up. At the end of the day, when our fight is won and everyone’s needs are met, we are taught that the way to recover from all the madness is with alcohol.
The alcohol industry—a vast network of producers, distributors, marketers, and retailers known as “big alcohol”—specifically targets women with messages that alcohol is the solution to our stress including our parenting challenges. This has created an epidemic for women who are becoming addicted to alcohol at an alarming rate. These toxic messages are particularly disparaging for moms. We are taught by society, by our peers, and by big alcohol that “when our kids whine, we wine.” We drink down the lie that we have “earned it;” “we deserve it.” The sad truth is that all this alcohol is keeping us small, quiet, and checked out. It is not our fault we’ve been duped, but it is our responsibility to do something about it.
In my debut book, Intoxicating Lies: One Woman’s Journey to Freedom from Gray Area Drinking, I discuss the lies that we, as women and as a society, tell ourselves. These lies such as “I am not good enough” or “smart enough” (also known as imposter syndrome) keep us trapped and hiding behind alcohol. Alcohol numbs these limiting beliefs and helps us temporarily escape them. But the truth is, over time, alcohol corrodes the inner connection to ourselves. By exploring our relationship with alcohol, we can start to look at who we truly are without a substance blurring and dulling our fullest potential.
Here are five of the biggest lies we tell ourselves about alcohol. I know I guzzled them all down unknowingly. Which of these conditioned and pre-programmed beliefs ring true for you?
1. “I Deserve a Drink”
We are taught, and believe, that after a hard day we should reward ourselves with alcohol. I would frequently tell myself, “I earned it.” I viewed my wine as self-care. It was my “me-time”—my time to unwind after checking off my never-ending to-do list and taking care of everyone’s needs.
Wine is not self-care. We often don’t realize this truth until we decide we might have a problem with alcohol and start looking deeper. The truth is that alcohol is a crappy consolation prize that adds to our exhaustion, anxiety, and depression. True self-care is not a glass of wine or even a manicure. The self-care I’m now ascribing to includes movement, meditation, prayer, connection, journaling, therapy, a hot bath, or other healthful activities that allow me to truly process and release my stress.
2. “You Don’t Have a Drinking Problem”
I was confused by my gray area drinking for a long time because I was told over and over—by society, family, and our pro-drinking culture—that my drinking was “normal.” I would work out to “detox” and better myself, but then be handed a glass of champagne at a yoga event. Conflicting messages were everywhere. I was a woman with a divided mind and heart. I finally got the courage to tell my therapist, “I think I might have a drinking problem,” and her response was, “I think you’re thinking about it too much.” Her ill advice kept my nightly wine habit in motion for two more years. (Note: She is no longer my therapist.) My inner self was pleading with me to do something about my “detox to retox” drinking loop. I am glad I finally listened to that small, inner voice and not the external ones that were claiming my drinking was normal.
The truth is it doesn’t matter if a healthcare professional, wellness instructor, or even a mentor is telling you your drinking behavior is “normal.” What matters is how you feel about it. Is it serving you? Is it helping you reach your goals? The truth is no amount of alcohol is safe. If you are questioning your relationship with alcohol, then I encourage you to explore why you’re feeling that way.
3. “I Can Control My Drinking”
When I quit drinking, I was initially hoping to go back to being a “take it or leave it” drinker (if I ever actually was that person). I was still convinced I could put up some guard rails to moderate my drinking. “I’ll only drink on the weekends or just on special occasions.” “I’ll only have one or two, never more.” All my self-imposed rules would slowly go out the window over time, especially if I had a hard day. (See lie number one.)
The truth is there is no freedom in moderation. Moderation means constantly thinking about when it’s okay to have a drink. It means always wondering “How much is too much?” “Does this qualify as a special occasion?” Talk about decision fatigue!
The worst part of trying unsuccessfully to moderate is the shame and guilt that comes when you keep breaking your own rules and promises to yourself. The truth is, trying to moderate a highly addictive drug is exhausting and dang near impossible. True freedom comes when you escape the constant torment of wondering whether it’s working for you. I encourage you to get curious—if you want to moderate, you probably have a lurking belief that alcohol holds some value or benefit for you. Ask yourself: Is this really true?
4. “Sober is Boring”
My greatest fear when I ditched the drink was worrying whether I would be fun anymore. For most of my life, alcohol was at the center of my social world. I had bought into the idea that the only way to have a good time was with alcohol. Most of my social activities revolved around alcohol. I feared what my life would look like without alcohol in the picture.
It turns out what’s actually boring is being hungover all day. Not playing with my kids because I was too tired from drinking the night before is boring too. Being too enveloped in an alcohol-induced fog to truly listen to what others were saying at a party—also boring. I am no longer boring, because I am present and not numbing the good and the bad. Now, I go out with friends and family and I am present for all the memories we create together. I’m full of energy and participate in all the fun. And, most importantly, I am no longer using a depressant to celebrate. I see now that I had lost sight of the little girl who had fun without alcohol. Now, I find joy in things like biking, hiking, and painting, all of which I loved to do as a child.
5. “Behind Every Great Mom is a Bottle of Wine”
“Mommy wine culture” is filled with toxic, insidious lies that lead us to believe wine is a solution to our parenting woes. Like so many women, I fell deep into the abyss of the messages the alcohol industry sent my way. When I was drinking, I bought items that I thought were clever at the time—the napkins, the T-shirts, the tea towels…even wine glasses and cups—with messages that reinforced my belief that alcohol was “Mommy’s sanity juice.” I could have been the poster child for mommy wine culture. What I didn’t realize at the time was I was putting alcohol on a pedestal. When we post these pro-normative drinking messages to other women, we are unknowingly furthering this culture. A year before my exploration of what it would mean to go alcohol-free, I posted a picture on social media of a full glass of wine. The message printed on the glass read, “If I go missing, please put my face on wine bottles so my friends know.” My caption sadly proclaimed, “Friday Vibes.”
We rush our children to bed for the much-deserved beverage society offers us to deal with motherhood and all its stresses. We wake up in a groggy fog, not giving our best selves to our children, our partners, or our colleagues. Our fuses are shorter, our anxiety heightened, and our depression deepened—all due to alcohol. But there’s no handbook or label on bottles that warns against these side effects of alcohol…in fact, it is just the opposite. We’re told we will be better moms and women if we drink, yet we feel like a failure when we don’t live up to the tea towel’s message that wine makes us great. We are conditioned subliminally by popular media to believe that when life’s challenges pop up we should turn to our old friend alcohol who’s been by our side all these years. Our society reinforces an unattainable goal: Drink to be happy. Drink, you’ve earned it. Drink to celebrate. Drink to relax, Momma. Drink to cope. Drink to buffer yourself from any uncomfortable feelings. Just drink. It will make it all better.
The truth is that alcohol only compounds our challenges. It does not solve our problems or alleviate our stress. Alcohol leaves our problems to be dealt with the next day with a hangover. What women need is rest, community, and support, not wine. They say connection and community are two of the greatest antidotes to addiction. Finding a community of people whose stories resemble yours, or getting the support you need from a coach, is key. Equally important is normalizing therapy, rest, and support at home. With true self care and our eyes open to the truths about alcohol, we can start to create a life that brings real joy and build the strength and stamina to be fully present for all of it. * * *