Pregnancy, labour and delivery, and all things that come with motherhood are undoubtedly life changing.
When I learned that I was pregnant with my first, I felt flooded with emotions.
We had been trying for a year, and I felt frustrated and apprehensive about the potential road ahead. My doctor suspected Endometriosis or PCOS. Fortunately, I lucked out and got my positive within a week of mine and my husband’s first anniversary. The same day that I found out, I received a call from my doctor’s office requesting to book an appointment with a fertility specialist. I excitedly told them the good news – that I wouldn’t be needing their services after all.
I felt grateful, especially knowing that so many women struggled for much longer than I did, and put their bodies through unthinkable stress and pain in the effort to not only become, but also sustain a pregnancy.
But amid my gratitude and excitement, there was also a tremendous amount of fear and pressure. I wasn’t sure if I’d measure up as a mom. I hadn’t even really been that passionate about having kids until a switch seemed to flip at random in my mind a couple years prior.
Now, there was no going back, and of course I didn’t want to. But I felt trapped between my former self and the self that I had no understanding of yet. No longer drinking was certainly on my mind – it had been a huge part of my life. But it wasn’t about me anymore – and that made giving up drinking a relatively easy pill to swallow.
Years later, I realized that ‘not drinking’ and ‘sobriety’ are two completely different things – and the notion of being able to remain sober throughout multiple pregnancies is a great indication of that fact.
When the day arrived that my oldest was born, they handed her to me, and I instantly experienced a sinking feeling (not what I was expecting). I realized that my life was no longer my own. My freedom, my ability to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, was gone. Sure, I had gotten a taste of this new and unfamiliar way of life throughout my pregnancy, but now she was here – in my arms and wholly my responsibility. Her health, her happiness, her future, her safety all depended on me. I felt so much love for her, but with it, so much crushing anxiety and fear.
During my pregnancy, I had really started to appreciate not drinking. No hangovers, constant clarity, less anxiety – the benefits were really shining through. I told myself and my husband countless times that I actually didn’t miss it that much, and that I surely wouldn’t drink as regularly as I had before (being a mom and all).
But when my daughter arrived, and every moment thereafter, the urge to drink kept creeping back in. I felt so much at once and I didn’t know how to cope with it. It started off slow and controlled – a drink here and there. But in a few months time, I found myself trapped in the same cycle I had seemingly left behind.
These days, I drank for a lot of the same reasons, but some different than before. I had never experienced the level of anxiety I did as a new mom, and I also felt incredibly lonely at times. I didn’t know many other moms, and my husband worked away a lot. I loved my little girl, loved being a mom, and spending every moment with her. I just couldn’t stop the feelings, and I didn’t understand how to address them. I found solace in the heaviest time of the day for me – the evenings – by having a drink, or two, or three.
Every Mom’s Doing It
It's hard to look back on your life and empathize with yourself when you no longer identify with some of the choices you once made. But particularly in this situation, I understand how and why I got sucked into ‘Mommy Wine Culture’. I've come to learn that so many women have very similar stories - and we need to talk about them more.
I’ve never been a big fan of anti-anxiety medication, and having had negative experiences in the past, I truly didn’t want to go down that route again. I just didn’t want to feel so much – because what I was feeling was overwhelming all.of.the.time and it was sucking the joy out of motherhood and every aspect of my life.
So, I told myself that it was okay and acceptable to medicate with a few drinks after I put the kids to bed. I told myself that it was okay to have a night out and maybe overindulge here and there – that I really shouldn’t feel so GUILTY over it.
My inner dialogue, friends, family, society, media, marketing – everyone told me not to feel so much mom guilt, to have the drink, and to forget the stress. So I did. And my relationship with alcohol worsened because of it.
When I say that it worsened, I don’t mean that I started drinking more. I drank less than I had in my early 20’s & teen years prior to having kids. I, for all intents and purposes, had my *shit together*. But in reality, that was just a lie I told myself and portrayed to the world. I didn’t have my shit together – not even close.
I drank less and my party days were mostly behind me, but I still sucked at moderation, and on top of that, my reasons for wanting or needing a drink were certainly starting to add up.
Switching to Wine
I had never been much of a wine drinker, until my second was born.
He suffered from acid reflux – resulting in colic for the first year of his life. It was a struggle to feed him and I would spend hours trying to get through one feeding. I spent countless hours with pediatricians, chiropractors, addressing lip and tongue ties, trying meds for his reflux, talking with sleep consultants, researching remedies, trying everything under the sun to get through the initial year. He never slept, so I didn’t either. Yet again, my husband was away working for months at a time, and I felt lower than I ever had before.
I felt tremendous guilt over not being able to give my oldest the attention she once received. I felt tremendous guilt over not being able to make my son better. I felt tremendous guilt over absolutely hating being a mom at the time. Random and unexpected thoughts of suicide started to enter my mind, and although I knew I would never act on my thoughts, it scared the crap out of me. I just wanted to escape so badly – and I found my resolve in wine.
Ironically enough, we were gifted a bottle of red wine at a family gathering soon after my son was born. My husband and I shared it, and I realized that it completely hit me differently than other type of alcohol. It was as if it provided that numbing factor that I had been desperately seeking. I felt like I had uncovered a secret that only ‘wine moms’ knew about. And whenever I mentioned to other moms that ‘I too was a red wine drinker’, it was always reciprocated with a knowing nod of approval suggesting that they knew the secret of its powers too.
Therein began my relationship with red wine – furthering my descent down the spiral of problematic drinking.
The Un-Glamourous Side of Wine Culture
As time went on, red wine became my drug of choice. I say drug of choice because I truly became addicted to it, uniquely. Sure, I was open to other things, but red wine was my usual. That’s when I really started noticing a decline in my health.
“But it couldn’t be the wine!!” I would naively say to myself and my husband whenever I felt like complete crap, or noticed a new and concerning health issue, or gained yet another 5 pounds. Red wine is good for our cardiovascular health after all, it’s low in sugar, has antioxidants, and like, it’s basically just squished, fermented grapes…or is it?
Short answer: no. That’s all a lie and red wine is poison just like every other kind of alcohol. Sorry, not sorry! 🤷🏽♀️
In addition to that, drinking red wine deeply affected my mind and clarity. I always felt foggy, forgetful, and unfocused. More often than not, I’d wake up in the morning, knowing that I had gone through my usual routine of brushing my teeth, washing my face, locking the doors, turning off the lights, etc. but would have no recollection of it. It was like a downsized version of a blackout, and it was really unsettling. I also started sleepwalking on occasion, which was something that I had never done before.
Mornings after a date with red wine generally felt fuzzy and regretful. Every morning was the same routine. Wake up, pray that I wouldn’t feel too bad upon getting out of bed, cue the nausea and what I can only describe as blinding dizziness, standing under the shower uttering ‘I’m done drinking’ over and over. Not a great way to start everyday, is it? But hey, 'ditch the mom guilt' – I DESERVED it (and everything that came with it, too)!
Why did I feel this way? It wasn’t just the amount I was drinking – it was also the fact that I had become completely sensitized to red wine. That means that I had drank enough of it collectively over time that my body just started saying “screw this” and I developed a severe allergy to it.
On the addiction side of things, I also developed a dependency to wine. So, the only way that I could temporarily counteract feeling like complete ass was to drink again – usually around what I refer to as witching hour, which was 9 PM for me.
After genuinely exhausting every other possible reason for what could be causing all the problems in my life, I started to question my relationship with wine. I knew that I sucked at controlling my drinking, and I had known that for many years already. But, I wholeheartedly thought that what I was doing was okay, and not a problem. I thought that I had somehow grown into a person who could control their drinking to an acceptable degree. I was just a responsible mom who enjoyed her nightly 2 (large) glasses of wine…so why was I always so sick?
I did what everyone does:
- I tried to make rules: no wine during the week, no wine on weekends, etc.,
- I tried to limit the amount I was drinking: impossible because you can’t reason with yourself once you’ve been drinking
- I made plans to quit, but always in the future and not immediately
Nothing worked until I poured every last ounce of alcohol out and hunkered down. I didn’t ‘hit bottom’, and there were extenuating circumstances when I did finally quit, but I had had enough. I fully understood the extent of the damage that comes with addiction, and I was out of reasons to keep drinking, so I stopped.
From the outside looking in, my former drinking patterns ARE acceptable in the eyes of many individuals. That is a huge problem in our society. I know this, because I’ve lived it, and I know I’m not the only one.
Alcohol is glamourized and falsely represented as being something it’s not – safe, good for you, healthy, and normal – more normal than sobriety. I had to almost kill myself with alcohol before I realized that drinking it is NOT NORMAL. I know, now, that that’s an excruciatingly difficult concept for most to comprehend because marketing is a very powerful thing in our society.
In my own experience, I didn’t fully understand this notion until becoming sober and finally gaining clarity on alcohol culture from educating myself on it.
I think that so many people get caught up in the fear that comes with asking themselves, “Am I an alcoholic?”
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether you’re an alcoholic or not. Although I personally am fine with the label, I know that most are not willing to accept it for themselves. And I get that, and appreciate why that may be.
The good news is that sobriety isn’t as archaic and structured as it used to be. AA is no longer the only way, and alcoholism is not black and white.
Problematic drinking exists on a spectrum. You might be a daily drinker, or a weekend drinker, you might drink once a month, or a few times a year.
It comes down to asking yourself a very simple, but powerful question: “How is alcohol serving me?”
And if you do find that alcohol is manageable for you, or that it is positively impacting your life, then all the power to you! I’m not here to preach and suggest that everyone needs to give up alcohol.
What I am suggesting though, is that we do away with the limiting belief that suggests alcohol equates to happiness. I always pictured sobriety as being incredibly depressing and unfulfilling – and it isn’t. I also thought it’d be REALLY hard. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my days white knuckling it through life. Although it is hard to face your fears, your feelings, work through your past, and all that – it’s also rewarding. I love that constant thoughts of drinking, worries related to drinking, and being hungover is no longer a part of my day-to-day. Now, I'm able to maintain a sense of calm that I never had before. Life felt so tumultuous when it involved alcohol.
Near the end of my drinking days, I made a list of the things I wanted to accomplish in my life. Some things were typical: learn to practice yoga, read everyday, travel here or there, etc. But the thing that came to mind first (and always came to mind, really) was my desire to quit drinking. What I didn’t realize was that I had to do that first in order to do anything else.
So, I unsubscribed to Mommy Wine Culture, and soon I understood the toxicity that coincides with the ideology that suggests mom’s require wine, or any mind-altering substance, to cope as a parent.
And low and behold, all of the things that I was so afraid of dealing with sans alcohol turned out to be very manageable over time – even the big things!