Studies suggest that it takes 66 days of repetition to cement a new habit.
For me, those 66 days (which have since grown to 90+) weren't spent trying to establish a new habit. Rather, I was working to ditch a habit that had gradually and insidiously crept up on me over the course of the past decade. One that I had become mindlessly comfortable, and then increasingly uncomfortable, with.
We live in a time and culture in which we're bombarded with messages that not only normalize, but glamorize, alcohol consumption. And more troubling still? The unabashed celebration of over-consumption: Rosé the day away. Drink all the wine. My ideal pour. Why have a water dispenser when you could have wine instead?
What's more, this "alcohol-as-lifestyle" messaging that extols excessive consumption? It's being fed to us by companies and publications that otherwise tout themselves as purveyors of healthy living: Shape magazine. Yogspiration. Summit to Soul Sportswear. Eating Well. Women's Health magazine. Which leads me to ask- when did exercise get reduced to a means of offsetting alcohol indulgence? And how did running and beer or yoga and cocktails come to be considered natural pairings? The "wellness" industry's portrayal of consuming alcohol as part and parcel of balanced living is a troubling trend, to say the least.
What's more? Over time we've inextricably linked motherhood and drinking, more often than not implying that the former can't be managed or tolerated without the latter. Exhibit A, via the Today Show:
There are, as of the publishing of this essay, 19,656 Instagram posts labeled with the hashtag #mommyneedsadrink.
And in this recent episode of "Momsplaining" (produced by The Ellen Show), Kristen Bell (whose husband, Dax Shepard, is in recovery) jokes with preschool children about their moms' antics with alcohol (starting at 3:24), even going so far as to tell them: "Sometimes it's nice to have a little glass of wine when you're an adult, and sometimes with animals like you, you need it."
What a sad message this sends to our kids, who are listening to these alcohol narratives more closely than we realize. Don't believe me? Check out writer Katie Bickell's recent viral post, Moms Tell Me to Drink.
Here's the deal, friends: problem drinking and alcohol dependence are on the rise among women. And contrary to the shiny marketing messages that abound, there's nothing glamorous about it. In fact, the increases in alcohol use and abuse from 2002-2013 (with women leading the pack) are so staggering that it's considered a public health crisis.
And is it any surprise that we're struggling? For a woman who might be questioning her drinking habits (like I was), these are the messages she's seeing everywhere she turns: Alcohol is mommy's little helper. Alcohol is our reward. When we have problems, we can turn to wine. (Rather than considering that the ease and speed with which we turn to wine might actually be one of our problems.)
Instead of being challenged to get real about our drinking, we're encouraged to (over) indulge. We're inundated with cheeky messages that declare it perfectly normal to down a few glasses of wine (nay, a bottle) at day's end. (No matter the fact that the guidelines for moderate consumption indicate that women should drink no more than one 5 oz. pour a day.) And if we're to listen to outlets like Women's Health Australia who make light of drinking before noon, or wine peddlers who hash tag their posts #breakfastwine , "day drinking" is the new norm.
The good news is that there are voices of sanity to be found amidst the noise- you just have to lean in and listen a little (okay, a lot) harder. (And sometimes, as was the case for me, those voices show up serendipitously.)
Seven years ago I stumbled upon a blog, whose author I related to in a variety of ways. Same age. Same passion for the written word. Same deep love for our daughters. And, as I would come to find out about a year later, a similar weakness for wine.
Today, all these years later? We both continue to explore what it looks like to choose the dry life.
It's easy to make the mistaken assumption that alcohol addiction is the only sort of "drinking problem" that merits our attention. It's convenient how we categorize alcoholics as "other," allowing the rest of us off the hook without having to take a serious look at our own relationship with booze. But the truth is there is an entire spectrum of problematic drinking patterns that are easy to gloss over- that fall in between moderate use and dependency. The lines can be blurry, and a little harder to make out. And the behaviors can be easy to minimize and justify. (Especially with all of the messed up messaging we're inundated with.) But in the face of a public health crisis, I'd say it's time we take a closer look.
I am not an alcoholic, and some would say that disqualifies me from speaking on the topic of sobriety.
But here's the thing- there is no shortage of resources for alcoholics. No scarcity of voices telling tales of addiction and recovery. What there are fewer of are voices in the margins. Voices that occupy the in-between spaces. Women speaking up and admitting: "I may not be addicted, but I am increasingly uncomfortable with the role that alcohol is playing in my life. I may not have bottomed out, but I'm aware that wine has become a crutch- a numbing agent for my anxiety, exhaustion, and stress. It's dulling the edges of my life. Shortening my temper. Compromising my sleep. Crowding out more important things. While my life may not have "become unmanageable," I no longer want to use alcohol to manage my life, my emotions, and my pain."
90 days ago*, these were the words that I uttered.
And if I'm completely transparent? I had no idea how far they would (or wouldn't) carry me. Could I make it a week without wine? A month? More? Did I even want to? How far was I willing to go with this experiment? What exactly was this commitment that I was making to myself?
The truth is, I still don't have all of the answers. (In fact, I probably have more questions than I did when I began.) But do you know what else I have more of 3 months in?
Peace. Rest. Presence. Perspective. Joy. Connection. Attention. Intention.**
And I've also gained the confidence to share this piece of my story. To speak out from this in-between space. To be the voice that I was searching for. To suggest that if you've been wondering whether your relationship with wine needs to change? Chances are, you already have your answer.
And to tell you that what you suspect is true:
You are not alone.
*95, as of the publishing of this post.
**Full disclosure? There's also more discomfort. But these days I'm learning to sit with it, deal with it, and work with it...rather than dull it with a drink.