When I was growing up, I would pretend I was a working mum with a huge house and a million kids. Sometimes, I would steal my mother’s high heel shoes and mauve lipstick, and I would try to talk like her while looking in the mirror. My props were an empty wine glass and a candy cigarette. I felt glamorous.
When I did grow up, I ditched the candy cigarette for the real thing. I smoked for 14 years before quitting so that I could start a family. But I didn’t quit drinking because, well, I was no prude.
Fast-forward a decade, and I’ve laid down some deep roots in my community. I am married with a house and three kids. And like most mothers I know, there is a box of red wine in my pantry that is never empty. Hardly an afternoon passes without wine legs running down the sides of the first of what will be four or five more glasses by the time I go to bed.
The pours aren’t huge, and I never get more than buzzed, so it never occurred to me that drinking glasses of wine all night could be a warning sign. As I say this truth out loud, it sounds super obvious, but for years, my developing drinking problem went unnoticed. If I’m being totally honest, drinking was almost a point of pride among my mum friends.
Kids arguing? Have wine! Stressed out day? Have wine! Hate doing laundry? Have wine!
Without ever asking why, I blindly participated in a culture that not only encourages mums to drink, but damn near expects them to. Practically every single playdate, sports game, after-school activity, and kid party features wine for the mums. And if the wine isn’t there, we quietly joke about when we can finally indulge in “mom juice” at home.
For Christmas, my friends bought me socks that say, if you can read this, get me wine on the bottoms. When I said I wanted to train to run a half marathon four years ago, another mum bought me a sweatshirt that read, if you see me running, it’s because I’m running to the store for more wine.
The jokes never ended, until I became the joke.
I can’t pinpoint the moment I went from a “normal drinker” to a “problem drinker.” It was such a slow progression that it likely took years in the making.
Unlike many adults, I can’t stop filling my cup until the vino bottle is empty. But when wine with dinner turns into wine while doing the dishes and is followed by post-bedtime wine, “de-stressing” in front of the TV wine, and a nightcap, there is a serious problem. A daily wine habit, even if it is only one drink at first, can quietly turn into alcoholism.
A friend told me recently that she couldn’t understand my problem. To her, I simply lack willpower. But to me, my brain has been rewired to see wine as a daily affirmation that I have done my job well and that I am in decompress mode. I lack strategies to deal with stress that don’t also include drinking wine to calm my nerves.
I stopped drinking to see if I could, and I was startled to find that it was so much harder than I thought it would be. Seriously questioning my relationship with alcohol has given me the opportunity to look honestly at how deal with stress and anxiety, as well as the other underlying reasons why I use wine as a crutch to get through life.
With three little kids looking to me to be their role model, I cannot afford to mess up and give them all the wrong tools to succeed in life. They deserve a mum who is present and mindful. And I deserve the kind of self-care that can heal me in meaningful ways that wine never could.