There’s nothing like a stiff drink or a glass of wine to help you unwind at the end of a long day. But what happens when every day is long, and when one drink isn’t enough?
Many women are grappling with an unhealthy infatuation with alcohol. Women aged 35–44 reported a significantly higher prevalence of alcohol use (18.6 percent) than all other age groups, according to a 2015 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even more disturbing, researchers learned that 1 in 10 pregnant women drink alcohol.
Many women, of course, are likely to drink secretly. They will buy alcohol from different stores so sales clerks don’t notice; they’ll dispose of bottles in public trash cans; they’ll consume alcohol before and after special events so others don’t see how much they’re actually drinking
The Seductive Powers of Booze
I’ve been down this slippery slope. I was the first to crack open a bottle of bubbly for an occasion as benign as a Thursday evening. “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere” was one of my mantras. I relished a really good dirty martini.
Over time, I recognized the problem, so I quietly quit drinking. I had gone out for a run after having a few too many the night before, and I felt terrible. The run was a wash. I thought: What am I doing to myself?
Since then, I have noticed alcohol is everywhere. Individual plastic to-go cups of wine are for sale at the check-out at Walgreens and CVS. Gas stations have substantial beer and wine selections. Even Starbucks sells booze in some locales. The market, responding to a fertile field, has focused on women, as they are still the ones who do most of the family shopping.
Additionally, more women are involving alcohol in everyday activities. When I told a friend how nice it would be to do a yoga class on Friday night instead of happy hour, she responded it was a great idea — and that we should have wine afterward.
A foray into abstinence has been enlightening, as has the exploration of what a new teetotaler should do.
Going the AA Route
AA’s success rate is between 5 and 10 percent, slightly lower for women than men. AA’s rigid rhetoric may alienate those who want help. If you relapse, you are to blame, not the program. Just one drink and you’re back at square one.
Most hospitals, rehab facilities, and outpatient centers still recommend the 12-step program. AA’s approach has not changed much since its founding in the 1930s, and its methods have never been based on science. Attendees are anonymous, so no records are kept.
Yet AA continues to help many. Elizabeth Smith (not her real name) has been sober for five years and credits AA. She says criticism of the organization can do a great disservice to those struggling with alcohol addiction and might even deter them from getting help. When she was still drinking, she would compare herself to others, telling herself she “wasn’t that bad.” Yet she was canceling plans so that she could drink alone and was even driving drunk.
She went to a meeting. “It worked for me,” she said. “That is generally the message I have heard from AA members.”
From prescription medication, to therapy, to support networks, dozens of other choices exist.
Mary Ellen Barnes, president of Non 12 Step Alcohol Solutions, started her group because she saw an unmet need. For AA to work, she said, you have to adhere to its philosophy, which says you are powerless over your drinking.
“Powerlessness is not a helpful message for women to embrace,” Barnes said. “AA focuses on drinking as the problem and keeps people focused on that. Drinking is rarely the problem — it is the symptom of things that are not working somewhere in your life, and you are medicating with alcohol rather than addressing the real issues.”
Clients who choose Non 12 Step Alcohol Solutions spend five days at the facility. After that, they do weekly follow-up phone calls for three months. While helpful, not everyone can afford that sort of treatment.
A massive community of sober bloggers exists online to help. To find one who speaks to you, type in “sober” plus your demographic or particular characteristics — “sober, mothers” — and you’ll likely find a person or group who shares your experience.
As with any method, this is not a cure-all; blogs can abruptly disappear. Many, however, are flourishing.
On her website “One Crafty Mother,” Ellie Schoenberger blogs about how quickly her nighttime drinking turned into daytime drinking, a pattern that eventually led to rehab. Since then, she has launched a sobriety website, “Crying Out Now,” and hosts a web talk series, “The Bubble Hour,” which offers support to those in recovery.
“SoberMummy” started the blog “Mummy was a Secret Drinker” when she quit drinking in March. Through her nearly daily posts, she talks about her difficulties avoiding wine, has celebrated 100 days of sobriety, and most recently announced she stayed sober through a breast cancer diagnosis.
Her story is familiar. She started worrying about her drinking a decade ago but didn’t stop completely because she never believed she was an alcoholic. She still doesn’t, though she confessed to being an addict who was hooked on a drug. She was drinking a bottle of wine a day, two on weekends, when she finally stopped.
She never considered AA because she didn’t fit what so many believe is the alcoholic profile — a stereotypical, falling-down drunk. She was also uncomfortable surrendering to anyone else.
“I’m sure I would have hit ‘rock bottom’ eventually, and would have then made it to AA, but I didn’t want to let it get to that point,” she said.
Anonymity vs. Announcing It to the World
A key component to AA is the anonymity. “We don’t want to be judged,” said Elizabeth Smith (again, not her real name). “We want to continue being the people we are in the outside world and leave our recovery as a separate thing.”
Many bloggers opt for that dual existence as well. “SoberMummy” still isn’t completely open about her sobriety in “the real world” because many people don’t understand. “When you quit drinking, you make people question their own habits and they don’t like that,” she said.
Others feel it’s important to be open. “Sober Julie” posts photos of herself and her family on her website. She talks about how important it is to break the stigma around alcoholism. If we keep our struggles a secret, she feels, people will never recover.
“Thank GOD these women put themselves out there. Without their online articles, I may never have made it to recovery,” she writes. “The experience, strength and hope I found enabled me to seek help.”
This route is possible for some, but many drinkers find that moderating their drinking can become an obsession.
Aidan Donnelley Rowley declared 2012 to be her year without wine and documented it on her blog. She is better without alcohol, she says, but doesn’t want to part with it for good. Now her drinking is “mindful.”
“I will not put a glass of wine to my lips without considering, Why am I drinking? To celebrate? To cope? To numb? To (complement) a delicious meal? I’ve lost the ability to imbibe without thinking of reasons and consequences,” she writes.
If it takes effort to control how much you drink, remember it will likely become more difficult to control as time goes on — and that there are many available options to help counter alcoholism.
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