I stopped drinking in my early 40s after I had my youngest. She was three and my son six. My diaries in between her birth and my sober birthday are full of lists and goals and shoulds such as losing weight and detoxing. These were punctuated with regular hangover entries, saying how fed up I was of drinking, how I was going to give up that day, as I went round and around in circles. With hindsight, I realised there were two main problems: a) I thought I was being too hard on myself, which I was. And b) I thought that it would be a good idea have a glass (bottle) of wine, which it wasn’t.
Before I became sober, I looked on the surface to be ‘normal’ and drank about the same as most of my friends did. A few glasses of wine a few nights a week and a bottle or so on a Saturday night, whilst I nicked my husband’s fags. I had a very dodgy off-switch. The odd wild night this would result in a four day hangover but not vodka on the cornflakes, by any means.
Although obviously drinking problems are not the sole custody of mums, it’s a key time for many women when self- care goes out of the window and we can become depleted and overwhelmed. The shift in identity/role, the loss of freedom, time and financial constraints bored down on me down on me it became all too easy to see the answer to all evils in a wine bottle shaped hug, that sparkling white medicine.
I look back now and see a woman who on the surface had everything she wanted. But the day to day job of being a mum, spinning plates, trying to work, keeping up with a baby and a very energetic and challenging toddler exhausted me and my mental health was actually in tatters. My husband worked late in another city, getting back at 11pm most nights. I had little support - my parents live a long way away and we knew no-one in the new town. I was exhausted and depleted.
I couldn't get out to yoga classes; I couldn't go out in the evening. I felt like I was a prisoner in my own home. I had a natural narrowing of my world, because of my lifestyle and my role. I missed being young, being wild. I missed spontaneity. I missed the person I used to be. Wine became entwined with those feelings somehow.
This wasn’t every night; I worked to control it by making rules about when I would drink and how much I would drink. But alcohol had started to take a central role, becoming the focal point of my day as I raced through the cleaning; the play dates the toddler groups towards that Holy Grail of the 5 pm mark. Then, cooking the dinner like a million other middle class mums, I would exhale and pour my first civilised glass of wine. This always led to more - sometimes only half a bottle, in the week generally not a whole bottle, I would stop usually 3/4 of a bottle to prove I was OK. I counted units, set rules around my drinking such as ‘I’ll only have one glass tonight’ or ‘I’ll only drink one night in the week and at the weekend’ I would fail to meet those goals and feel disgusted with myself.
I had no clue about self-care. I just sprinted through my tasks, waving away red flags and I really saw that glass of wine as my reward. And it became the medicine, the thing to put the brakes on the sprint, a false force quit - I had lost the natural skill of resting and winding down.
I just went hell for leather and then drank to stop. I saw what was happening as just life. I didn't have a choice about the evenings, couldn't afford a baby sitter so I just got on with it. I did what women do - I found a get-around... wine.
I thought alcoholics were other people on park benches with a bottle of White Lightning, who went to AA, who ’had’ to give up drinking. How awful, how sad to be without lovely booze, I thought. I endured the walk of shame at the school gates too many times the morning after the night before, with obligatory shades and chewing gum. I used to laugh about that with other mums but inside I felt like crying.
Stopping was not easy; there was a lot of fear. How would I cope without my helper? I was having to rethink everything, I was fighting the brainwashing and marketing, facing the fears about relationships and friendships changing, not knowing how to switch off, trying to stay calm as really primal fears raged about I don’t quite know what. I worked hard at keeping busy till wine o'clock was past, I ate chocolate, I watched boxsets compulsively. But slowly, slowly the days clocked up. I immersed myself in quit lit and reading blogs on the site, made online friends and weeks turned into months. A new habit was forming and gradually felt less like pushing a boulder up a hill.
It was when I started to work with self-care and started really looking after myself that being alcohol-free shifted into a place as a positive choice and about self-protection rather that self- deprivation. AS my sober friendships grew I felt seen and like I belonged. Over time, I learnt not to engage with my own internal bully / the inner meanie who ran the show. By practicing little acts of kindness towards myself, the bully went quiet. I got the sober treats in and learnt about self- compassion in and the upward spiral continued.
I stopped seeing alcohol as a reward but for what it is-a poisonous addictive drug. It’s legal but it’s still a drug and it is marketed at women and mothers aggressively as a treat or reward. I find it helpful to remind myself that and they do not care you that are suffering or putting yourself and your kids at risk. They just want to sell you booze, sometimes at the end of the back to school aisle, as ‘mummy time’. Alcohol is not a treat and it is not self-care. And it stops you getting to grips with what you actually need because it causes a disconnection with your feelings.
I feel like a different woman today, a different kind of mum. I’m not second guessing myself because I’m hungover. And I’m not parenting under the influence which is obviously a no-brainer. I’m also not having to pretend I’m perfect because I’m actually hiding a drink problem. It’s not always easy and weekends can still drive me up the wall and I still lose my temper and my house is still a mess but I feel so thankful I don’t drink now.
Facing every day sober creates an emotional resilience that makes me feel like a warrior. If feel so proud of myself. Being sober means I see things that are really beautiful, I don’t miss those moments. I can listen better and I can ‘be’ better. I’m real with my kids. I’m not perfect. I don’t have to be. I’m enough. I don’t always feel like I am but on a fundamental level I know I am. I feel grateful that a drink problem did not have to be my ‘story ‘.