I took this photo on December 1, 2018. Despite the smile, this was in the height of some of my darkest days. I had been on maternity leave for nearly four months (two of which were spent with my daughter, Ellie, in the NICU) and was battling a serious case of postpartum anxiety. I was also drinking every night under the guise of calming my anxiety and helping me sleep. Even though I wasn’t drinking a ton most nights, I rarely went a night without at least a couple of glasses of wine. And then there were the nights with friends. Rare nights when a friend or two would come over or I would go out and would lose all control. I now describe my drinking as playing a game of Russian Roulette. It wasn’t that I was unable to control my drinking at times, it was just that I couldn’t predict when it would go off the rails and I would be left beaten and broken to pick up the pieces the next day. This got far more challenging once I had a child to care for.
The night I took this photo was one of those nights. I was going out with a friend to one of my favorite restaurants and bringing a great bottle of wine. I started drinking before my friend arrived which had become the norm. I had gotten pretty good at convincing myself that if it was afternoon and I wasn’t the only adult home watching Ellie, it was okay to drink a little wine. I was feeling great. My anxiety (which spikes at night) barely noticeable in my boozy haze. I held my daughter and took photos with her. My friend arrived and we took an Uber to the restaurant. At the restaurant the wine flowed. I was drinking faster than my friend (but I was used to this) and when the bottle was empty, I asked the owner, a woman who I met on instagram and bonded with over our shared love for wine, for a recommendation on a wine by the glass. My friend hadn’t even finished her last glass from the bottle when two new glasses of wine appeared at the table.
This phenomenon happens sometimes when I drink, where I am loving the moment and the wine so much (and the wine feels like a key part of the moment) that I don’t want it to stop so I keep drinking. At this point in the night I was starting to feel less in control and couldn’t hold it together. I could tell that it was clear that I was drunk. I told the owner goodbye, maybe hugged her, I don’t know, and then got in an Uber to go home. That’s all I remember.
When I stopped drinking, it was because I was so sick of those nights that I lost control and the days after that I wasted feeling like shit, trying to piece together what exactly happened after I lost track or blacked out. I felt disgusted with myself that I couldn’t pull it together now that I had a young daughter. I had a great life, why did I have this “issue” and why was it so hard to fix? It was Christmas when my self-loathing hit an all time high and I made the decision I had always known was necessary, to quit drinking. Like many people with problematic drinking, I had tried to cut back many times but it never stuck. I decided that I couldn’t keep playing this game of Russian Roulette with my drinking and my life, I had to quit completely. Over the next few days, I wrapped my head around my decision as much as I could, approached some sober friends for help, sold my wine collection to a friend and declared on social media that I had quit drinking.
People had all sorts of reactions. Many thought it was an overreaction and that I was being dramatic. Others, who had seen the dark side of my drinking, avoided me completely. I constantly questioned why I felt the need to announce publicly that I had quit alcohol. My husband told me that he was so proud of me but that he wouldn’t have announced it like that. Well, hear I am some 37 days later and I have had no less than 20 people reach out to me on social media, worried about their own drinking. Friends and acquaintances have messaged me to share that they too have a problematic relationship with alcohol (or another substance) and either want to cut back or quit entirely. I was shocked by the people who reached out. A lot of them were people I didn’t know well and had seemingly perfect lives from what I saw on Instagram or Facebook. What stuck out to me most was that they were all women and mostly mothers.
Since becoming pregnant, I’ve grown curious about the idea of invisible labor. It’s this concept of the unquantifiable domestic and kind of miscellaneous work that mostly women find themself doing once married and especially once kids come along. While women still do the majority of domestic labor and childcare in the home, they also do the bulk of this “invisible” labor-- making the doctors appointments, buying gifts, taking kids to birthday parties, meal planning, calling the vet, the list goes on and on. Women are staying home with children less and less and yet they are still shouldering the bulk of the household and childcare work, and they are expected to do it smiling, reassuring others that they don’t need help. If you have any doubt about this, consult Instagram.
At the same time, the number of alcohol-related hospitalizations for women between 18-24 increased dramatically between 1999 and 2008 and the rates of drunk driving arrests amongst women increased by 30% from 1998 to 2007 (both from Holly Whitaker’s amazing piece about women and alcohol here: https://www.hipsobriety.com/home/13thingswomenalcohol). I believe these things aren’t unrelated. That women feel the constant pressure to do it all (be successful at work and home, raise children who aren’t assholes, be good partners, be in shape, have an insta-worthy house, etc.) and need a relief. This often comes in the form of wine or another alcoholic beverage, which makes sense since entire marketing campaigns are built off of the “mommy needs wine” trope.
In fact, when I stopped drinking I saw how truly drenched in booze our entire society is. I was getting ads on Facebook for discounted t-shirts with dumb slogans about wine on them and invited to events like “yoga and beer” (what’s the point of the yoga?). It’s not that I judge people who do drink, it’s just that we live in a culture that makes it really hard to evaluate your own relationship with alcohol to know if it’s even worth continuing. If you want to know if alcohol is a problem for you, ask how it impacts your life. If it’s not much at all, maybe it’s not an issue, but if it is at the root of many of your other problems, maybe it is. Hell, if it’s the root of any of your problems, it’s worth considering. And it’s okay to have a problem with alcohol. It’s an addictive substance and if you use it long enough, you’ll become addicted.
I had spent years stuck in a cycle of problematic drinking because every time I questioned it, I was confronted with a million reasons it wasn’t an issue-- that plenty of people drank more than I did, that I had never lost a job due to my drinking, that I’d never had legal trouble, that I deserved to relax. The thing I wouldn’t admit was that it made my life worse and that was reason enough to stop. I was sick of feeling sick, sick of not being present in my life, sick of counting down the hours each day until I got home from work and could have that glass (or more) of wine.
I’m not trying to be a sobriety evangelist. I am not promising that by giving up wine, your problems will go away, mine certainly haven’t. But what I’ve found is that my quality of life has improved dramatically since I quit drinking and what problems I do have, I am more equipped to handle. I am not overwhelmed by self-loathing anymore and I’m not constantly distracted. I am clear and I am present. I was so scared to eliminate alcohol from my life because I thought it was part of my identity. I thought I needed it to combat my anxiety, but once I cut the shit and started dealing with the real issues I had, I realized I never needed booze in the first place and it truly made everything worse. I thought alcohol made me edgy, but in my opinion, the ones with real edge are the ones who don’t need to alter their state to be content and they are who I long to be with and like. If you don’t have a problem with drinking, keep drinking. But if you think you might, know that it’s okay. Just don’t be afraid to ask the question in the first place.