“You wake up at 3am to a painful jolt. Your head is pounding, your mouth is dry, and your bladder is going to burst. As you get up to use the bathroom and find some pain reliever, you start thinking about your evening and try to put the pieces together. Quite a bit of your memory is just a black hole. The last thing you remember is having a glass of wine around 8 pm, but how many glasses had you drank before that? Was that number 3 or 4? Did you continue drinking after that? The dread sinks in and you start to think about what you may have said or done the night before. Your behavior is always awful when you blackout. As you lay back in bed, you attempt to get a few more hours of sleep before the day begins. However, you cannot sleep because all you can think about is the shame and embarrassment that awaits you in the morning. As you lie there filled with self-hate and loathing, all you can do is pray that when you wake up, the damage is not too severe.”
Reading through this scenario, I would like to think that this possibly occurred in the early Sunday morning hours, in college, after a night out at the bars. It may have possibly occurred after dinner with friends on a Friday or Saturday night. Most people have encountered this scenario at least once in their life. You are having a great night out, get a little (or a lot) drunk, and regret your behavior in the morning. Now big deal, right? Well this scenario was a common one for me. I’d find myself living though it on a Wednesday morning. There was no big party on Tuesday night or even a fancy dinner with friends. My Tuesday would be filled with watching my children all day, running errands, making dinner for my family, and getting everyone off to bed. I often found myself wondering, what is the hell occurred during the day that would make me want to get so intoxicated? What made me want to get blackout drunk?
In my teenage years, I experienced the effects of alcohol consumption for the first time. Drinking alcohol made me relaxed and light hearted. My mood was at an all time high and nothing bothered me. I read this children’s book to my daughter and these words are on one of the pages:
“But other times, my heart is cool. I bob along gently like a balloon on a string. My heart feels lazy and slow, as quiet as snowfall. This is when my heart is calm.” (Witek 2013)
This is how I feel when I drink alcohol. When I have my first drink of the day, my body physically relaxes, muscles unwind, and I can breath in deep. All my anxiety and stress during the day melts away. I learned to use the effects of alcohol as my main coping strategy early in life. It continued into my college years and further into adulthood. Now that I am sober, I’m able to reflect on this behavior and wonder why I chose that path. It was ultimately my decision and no one forced me to drink alcohol over and over again. Why did I feel that starting this behavior was an acceptable way to deal with my emotions?
Growing up, I lived in a home where there was no alcohol available. My mom did not start pouring wine in a large glass right after work. My dad did not sit on the couch, engrossed in a television show, drinking beer after beer. I may have seen other family members or friend’s parents enjoying a beverage, but I had never seen anyone blackout drunk. When I first drank alcohol in high school, my friends encouraged it, but I had already known in the back of my mind that it would make me relax. How would I already know that, if I had not actually witnessed it?
I had never really heard or thought about the “alcohol-centric culture” that is prevalent in our society. It wasn’t until I read the book, This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol, Find Freedom, Discover Happiness, and Change your Life by Annie Grace (2018) that I really started paying attention. In her book, she talks about our alcohol centered culture and the need to fit in. She writes:
“You observe everyone drinking all the time. In fact, at almost every occasion, from grade school fundraisers to “wine and women” church groups, and even the finish line of marathons. You experience all manner of conversations about alcohol- at work, after work, at home, on the weekends, and in the media. You assume our culture is so intertwined with alcohol that living a life without it would be next to impossible. You conclude that our culture dictates, even mandates drinking, and you will find it too difficult and lonely to live without drinking” (Grace 2018).
This is a very powerful and eye opening paragraph that begins her chapter on our culture and alcohol. It got me thinking about all the positive messages we are bombarded with every day about how alcohol will make you feel better, look sexier, be bolder, etc. I started paying attention, and noticed that there are so many advertisements, pictures, and conversations portraying alcohol in a positive light. Now that I have children, the “mommy wine culture” is everywhere. I cannot scroll through facebook without seeing a picture or quote about mommy needing to drink in order to deal with her children. Drinking alcohol has been glamorized by society and the media. It is no wonder that everyone feels that they need it in order to just survive life. I believe these messages are targeted towards late teens, young adults, and adults. However, they are reaching a much younger audience. When I took my first sip of beer, I was told by my friends that it would make me feel better, more relaxed, and more confident. Those statements came from my peers, not from some young adult or parent. Children in their early teens (and younger) are already receiving the message that you needed alcohol to get through tough situations.
I have never viewed an advertisement that shows the ill effects of alcohol. How it can not only be detrimental to your health, but can negatively impact every aspect of your life. When you are watching television shows or the news, there are many anti-smoking and anti-drug campaigns, but nothing about alcohol use. Until I read Annie Grace’s book, I never realized how bad alcohol is for your body. Alcohol is a carcinogen and even light drinking can increase your risk of developing cancer, including breast cancer in women (Grace 2018). I have never heard of this. EVER. There are also many other health risks, but this one is a big deal for me. I come from a family with a history of breast and uterine cancers, so I am already at risk. I had no idea that by consuming alcohol, I was further increasing that risk. I am in my mid-thirties and have already experienced friends dying of various types of cancers. It is heartbreaking to realize that I put myself in a position where I could potentially leave behind everyone that is important to me. Envisioning a life where my children would never see their mother again, is terrifying and horrific. I spent years poisoning my body and had absolutely no idea that consuming alcohol was that bad for me. We are constantly being bombarded with messages letting us know that we need to drink alcohol and all the reasons why. It is amazing how much pro-alcohol material I view every day and is no surprise that I felt, and sometimes still feel, that I need to consume it in order to get through my daily life.
Now that I am aware of all these messages being sent my direction, I am able to recognize it and ignore it. I don’t see alcohol advertisements ending anytime soon, so it’s best that I see it for what it is and simply, move on. My hope is to be able to talk to my children about this issue as they grow up and keep an open dialogue going. I’d like to help them develop appropriate coping skills early on so they don’t fall into the same trap as I did. At some point, my children will be able to make their own decisions. The best I can do is to educate them in the best way that I can and also say a lot of prayers. Hopefully the idea of using alcohol to deflect or enhance emotions will not be as ingrained in their thoughts as they are in mine.
Today, I am 8 months sober and it has been quite a journey. I keep waiting for the day when drinking my favorite beverage is no longer a thought in my brain. I’m not sure that day will ever come. I still have moments where I think about giving it all up, just so I can feel that warm feeling again. Just so I can breathe in deep. Days where I feel stressed to the maximum limit are my hardest days. However, I think about how far I’ve come. I think about all the wonderful mornings I’ve shared with my children without a hangover. How many dinners I’ve attended where I’ve carried on a fantastic conversations and actually remembered them the next day. I think about the relationships I’m slowly building with friends and family. The better relationship that I am building with my husband. I also think about the relationship I am building with myself. I am getting to know myself all over again. I am developing positive coping skills so I can handle stress in a more positive way. I am figuring out hobbies that I really enjoy doing. Most of all, I am starting to enjoy life. I am starting to slow down and enjoy all the small moments. I wouldn’t have all of this, if I decide to just give in, so I’ll continue to push through and see where this amazing life takes me.
Grace, Annie (2018). This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol, Find Freedom, Discover Happiness, and Change your Life. New York, NY. Penguin Random House.
Witek, Jo (2013). In My Heart. A Book of Feelings. New York, NY. Abrams Books