Get ready - this is a LONG one. I am starting to get mad about drinking. I take full responsibility for picking up that drink, but I didn't do it alone............(Buckle up - it's a long one!)
December 1, 2020: 5 months of not drinking. 5 months of not pouring wine on my head. 5 months of being fully PRESENT 24 hours a day. 5 months of the best sleep of my life. 5 months of the most rewarding mornings of my life. 5 months of the clearest mind I’ve ever had. 5 months of remembering every show I watched in the evening. 5 months of remembering all the conversations I had with my kids. 5 months of my husband and I speaking kindly and gently with each other – even when we were frustrated. 5 months of never feeling regret, loathing, guilt. Why had I waited so damn long? Because: it wasn’t about drinking the wine, it was about drinking the kool-aid (google this reference if not clear).
I am a 54 year old woman living in a mostly white, middle to upper middle class suburb of ‘any’ Canadian City. We are immersed in the ‘wine-mom’ culture. We make hoodies about wine, we wear socks beckoning wine, we hype up paint nights, jewelry parties and half marathons with the promise of wine.
Can’t anyone else but me see it? We’ve been bamboozled, we’ve been tricked. We claim to be the smarter, stronger sex and yet we have allowed the drug pushers to enter our bubble and create an addiction so subversive we don’t even know we encourage our friends and family to stay hooked with us. Remember how incensed we were at the tobacco advertisers back in the day when they targeted their ads at women?
“You’ve come a long way baby”
“121 brands of fat cigarettes fit men. Virginia Slims are made slimmer to fit you”
“It’s different now. Now there’s a slim cigarette for women only. New Virginia Slims”
“You don’t cop out, why should your cigarettes?”
Eventually we learned the truth about cigarettes. The horrible truth about these ‘cancer sticks’. We women finally got smart. We looked at these drug pushers right in the eye and said – ‘Oh no you don’t – we don’t believe you anymore. Cigarettes don’t make us look sexy, they give us wrinkles. They don’t relax us, they make us smell bad”.
So you know what actually happened? Those nicotine pushers switched their ‘brand’ of kool-aid. They moved from cigarettes to wine. And guess what? Alcohol is killing us FASTER than cigarettes did. Our young women are drinking far younger than we were when we started smoking.
I recently mentioned these statistics to a couple of friends, and I could tell they simply didn’t want to believe it. Well here are some of those statistics, and you can chose to believe it or not:
Compared to women who don't drink at all, women who have three alcoholic drinks per week have a 15% higher risk of breast cancer. Experts estimate that the risk of breast cancer goes up another 10% for each additional drink women regularly have each day.
Teen and tween girls aged 9 to 15 who drink three to five drinks a week have three times the risk of developing benign breast lumps. (Certain categories of non-cancerous breast lumps are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer later in life.)
From the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (Summer 2019):
Heavy Drinking Heavy drinking is a measure of alcohol consumption that refers to males who reported having five or more drinks on one occasion or women who reported having four or more drinks on one occasion, at least once a month in the past year. (a drink is defined as a 5 oz glass of wine. One bottle of wine contains approx 25 oz, or 5 glasses of wine)
Ottawa, June 9, 2020 — About 20% of Canadians who drink alcohol and have been staying at home more due to the COVID-19 pandemic say they have been drinking alcohol once a day since the beginning of May. This according to a new Nanos poll commissioned by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) released today……..“However, from a gender perspective, there is concern. On average, female consumers of alcohol are reporting 2.4 alcoholic drinks per occasion — which is above the low-risk alcohol drinking guidelines — and about 12% are reporting they consume alcohol in excess when they drink. By doing so, women are putting themselves at risk for short- and long-term negative health consequences.”
Of course we don’t have magazine ads to lure us ‘modern day’ addicts to their products, so now – voila! Welcome to the era of the meme:
“Tonight’s forecast – 99% chance of wine”
“2-3 glasses of wine per day reduces your risk of giving a shit”
“The only thing I’m throwing back this Thursday is a glass (or 3) of wine”
Just google images of wine memes and there are pages for days. I remember laughing at these. Out load laughing that is, but inside, I was dying. I was crying. I wanted to yell – “Yes, that’s me, but it isn’t funny! Don’t you see what it’s doing to me?” This, ‘ya sure, I will pretend to everyone I have ‘a glass of wine with dinner every night’ – but seriously? What’s the point of having just 1 glass of wine? I don’t get that familiar buzz until I’m well into glass number 2. I don’t start to feel my shoulders lower and the stress of the day release until closer to the end of glass number 2. And by then, what the hell! Just one more glass for good measure, and oh, look at that! I may as well just finish the bottle. And there you have it. (almost) Every. Single. Night.
I have wanted to change my drinking habits for a long, long time. Years in fact. I thought I should just ‘cut back’. Maybe I would only drink on weekends. (Weekends eventually started on Thursdays and ended on Sundays). I would only have 1 drink with dinner. (Ok, maybe 1 drink while I prepared dinner, then 1 WITH dinner) I wouldn’t finish the bottle ‘this time’. (Look at me! I don’t have a drinking problem, I left half a glass of wine in the bottle). I would make sure I had a glass of water in between drinks (that just ruined the momentum of my buzz). I would workout right after work, then walk the dog before I had my wine (Boy, I had a lot of catching up to do).
What I eventually realized, for me, was that moderating wasn’t going to work. Plain and simple – I had ruined my brain. From my constant over-drinking over the last several years I changed all the ‘natural’ chemical workings of my brain: The dopamine, the serotonin, the neural pathways. Just all of it. The drug, alcohol, changed all of that so much so that it created an ‘alter ego’ in my brain. I developed a second ‘voice’, much like the devil sitting on your shoulder that said “Awww… you’ve had a stressful day? You deserve a glass of wine”, “Awwww, your kids are driving you nuts? You deserve a glass of wine”. “Awww… you found out some awful news? You really deserve a glass of wine”. And guess what? I had that glass of wine, because I ‘deserved’ it in so many ways. But also guess what? That glass turned into a bottle, more days than I admit, and oh and guess what the ‘best’ part was?
- The stress was still there from before
- The kids were still driving me crazy
- The bad news didn’t go away, and the worst of it –
NOW I had to deal with all of that with a hangover. A fuzzy brain, maybe a headache, accompanied with a glorious dose self-loathing. Oftentimes the self-loathing started at 3am, (sound familiar?) the time when the sugar rush of the wine wears off and the effects of ‘false sleep’ wears off.
Funny how I write this under the cloak of ‘anonymity’ when I want to shout from every rooftop in the City. The reason I don’t is for all the reasons above. I don’t want to be different, I don’t want to have to admit I was drinking more than I wanted. I don’t want to be labelled. That “A” word – God that’s an awful word ‘alcoholic’. I don’t identify as one, nor do I use the term ‘sober’. Not drinking alcohol is the happiest, most peaceful, elated sense of being I could ever have imagined. ‘Sober’ gives the connotation of boring and serious. It does not accurately define all the gifts I have received since taking a break from the wine. I am delighted that 12 step groups have worked for so many over the decades, however I needed to take a different path. I needed to take personal control and intellectually realize that wine is a poison that was ultimately controlling me, and quite frankly I was so, so tired of being 2 different ‘me’s’: There was the me that was the gregarious, intelligent, extroverted friend and co-worker that was the life of the party. Then there was the ‘after 5 me’ who poured wine over her head most evenings. I would literally ‘shut off’ that daytime me so I could just become numb and quiet all the noise in my head.
I have since learned that there is a gigantic alcohol-free community online and in the “blog-osphere”. Podcasts and audiobooks have been the driving force in my decision to give wine a break for a while. I joined some online ‘challenges’ that started as 30 days, then 100, and now…… it’s been 5 months and I don’t have a specific plan to have a drink in the near future.
There are a lot of ‘normy’s’ out there, those who can take or leave a drink. Obviously I’m not reaching out to you folks. You’re the lucky ones. I am reaching out to those who, as an analogy, love ripple chips for instance. You know exactly the last time you had ripple chips, and you plan your day thinking about that next bag of ripple chips will eat. Almost every morning you tell yourself “today, I will not have ripple chips”. And then, like magic, at around 5pm, that voice says, “It’s ok, just have a few ripple chips tonight, you can stop eating them tomorrow….” Take it from me, nothing has been more freeing than to completely remove ripple chips from my diet. Even for a little while.
I cannot say it enough – the actual THINKING about quitting drinking is the hardest, scariest, most stressful part. Actually DECIDING to stop, even for 30 days, is like the brightest sunrise you can imagine. It’s the best sleep you’ve had in years and it is literally looking in the mirror and instead of saying to that reflection “You failed again. You are just a weak, failure”, you get to say “Good morning beautiful – just look at you go!”. Once you turn the corner and learn that you CAN live a day or 2 without the wine, an entire new world will open up. I promise this. If it were so awful to quit pouring wine over your head, why are more and more people making that choice and are jubilant about it?