Alas, summer has passed and I once again find myself sitting daily at my desk thinking about university courses, philosophy, and the occasional blog post. It is good to be back and the return to routine is soothing.
The theme of this post has been swirling in the back of my head for a while. A few weeks ago during my nightly knitting fix I watched a documentary about problem drinking. Featured prominently was a mother’s group who gathered weekly for wine and conversation. Most women at the gathering drank a little “too much” and one woman in particular was approaching problem drinking. The women in the group talked openly about the need to cope with their mommy moments with this weekly opportunity to gather and cut loose. Alcohol, they admitted, deadened the sting of divorce, betrayal, disappointment, loss, and daily drudgery. The fact that the their wine habit was becoming a very real problem for a dear friend seemed to be missed by the group. If anything there was judgement being directed at her inability to keep control. Seemingly lost on the friends was the idea that they, too, were only a few drinks, a divorce, or a tragedy, from losing control; that control was indeed fragile in this culture that increasingly celebrated wine as mommy’s new best friend. I remember commenting to my husband that I could see how easily the slide could happen. And that there was a time I think it could have happened to me.
Today there was an article in the paper that reminded me of that recently watched documentary. For those who don’t know there is a colossal uproar about a Toronto wine festival for new mothers. The tagline is “babes on hips, wine on lips”. The organizers of the festival argue that the vitriol directed at the mothers and the festival is unfair and is just another form of backlash and judgement heaped upon moms. They argue that a beer festival for dads would be fine, but wine and women is seen as problematic. Conversely, others worry that in an era of increased problem drinking among women public mommy-wine festivals are another brick in the wall of normalizing alcohol consumption and inappropriate drinking as stress management.
I think there was a time when I would have agreed with the first sentiment. Now I am not so sure. And in the interest of full disclosure this will be an uneasy post to write. This is not the sort of stuff a have-it-all-together woman talks about.
During the years when Matthew was at his most medically unstable I celebrated the survival of yet another day of unsustainable stress and anxiety with an evening glass of wine. My days were a blur of isolation, teeth gnashing worry, and constant thankless demands. I was knee deep in extreme care. The days were alternated with nights where I slept little. While I loved my family and was devoted to my kids, many days were filled with mind-numbing drudgery done in total isolation. Adult company of any kind was rare. And as is the case for many young moms, leaving the house to go to the gym, or go for a jog, or engage in a range of healthy coping strategies, wasn’t realistic. I couldn’t leave the kids unsupervised, and in particular Matthew with his reflux and breathing issues and seizures, required extraordinary vigilance.
Facebook told me this evening glass of wine was an acceptable and normal coping strategy. There were daily memes on Facebook celebrating the “mommy needs a cocktail” message. There were funny videos of yummy mummies sipping wine between bicep curls, or sit-ups. There was yoga and wine. Wine was cool, and funny, and mommy’s new friend. The mommy wine culture seemed pervasive. And so every evening I collapsed on the couch, often alone, with a glass of wine. During the worst years of caregiving my evening glass of wine was a ritual that I would look forward to. Some days I outright craved it. It offered a few minutes of “me” time. It took the edge off of my chronic anxiety. The nightly ritual helped shut me down. On really brutal days I might have a second glass of wine. It was normal. Many of my friends admitted to a daily glass of wine, so it must be okay. Social media confirmed this. My family doctor, when asked, noted that the number of drinks I had per week was below the accepted norm for women. So clearly I was fine.
But you know what. I wasn’t fine. My alcohol consumption might have been considered “safe”, but I knew that my nightly ritual was crossing into a form of self-medication. I knew that I was beginning to dance on the top of a slippery slope and it was starting to scare me. I could see how the fall down that hill happened to women – even women who seemed to have it all together. Wine was becoming a friend I spent my evenings with and I knew that was NOT okay.
I am not the least surprised that problem drinking is on the rise in women. Despite the fact that most women work outside the home while juggling parenting and homemaking tasks, statistics tell us that their male partners haven’t stepped in to share the load. Caregiving and household tasks inordinately fall on women. Extreme caregiving almost always falls upon women. Practicing self-care can be downright impossible and that nightly glass of wine becomes a very easy, and very convenient substitute. And there are messages every where explicitly telling us that wine is how mommies cope with an out of control day. Or life. And when life throws you a curveball, say a medically fragile child, that glass of wine could become two glasses of wine. Or more.
A few years ago I remember sitting on the couch having finished my nightly glass of wine. And I wanted another. Hell, I craved another. It had been a crappy day. Matthew had screamed for the whole freaking day. The doctors were ignoring our plea for pain control. Matthew was miserable. The house was a mess. I was alone. Again. My husband, with his inordinately demanding job, was working late. I couldn’t remember the last time I had done something fun, or had talked to an adult that wasn’t a nurse. Damn, didn’t I deserve anther glass of wine?!
And that was when I knew this evening glass of wine was not a good thing. In fact, it was probably a bad thing. I didn’t deserve a glass of wine. You don’t earn glasses of wine by surviving bad mommy-days. Wine was not my friend, nor it was my reward. Wine wasn’t a healthy way to cope with mommy stress, or any stress.
It is that message, that wine is a salve or reward, that worries me about the mommy wine culture that is emerging. The message is that moms have earned that glass of wine, or worse need it, to survive the days. Wine consumption, it seems, is something the new, hip mom does. And with that thinking it can become really easy to justify a second glass of wine. And when you’re alone, no one knows about glass number two. Or three. And there it is. The slippery slope.
Several years ago my nightly glass of wine ritual stopped. Cold turkey. I switched to herbal tea. Don’t get me wrong. I am no tea-totaler and likely never will be. I still enjoy wine socially. A glass of wine with friends, or while sitting on the dock at my cottage, is one of life’s genuine pleasures. I am turning 50 this month and I am sure I will celebrate by raising a glass. But these days I am very clear that wine is a treat. And more so, I am clear about the idea that wine is never something to ease the burden of a bad day, or stressful life. There is soccer, or jogging, or knitting, or friends, for those days and I reach out for those supports.
These days I am very intentional about when I choose to drink wine, and how much I drink. Because a few years ago I was beginning to stand at the top of a slippery slope and I could see over the edge. And I knew I didn’t want to go down that path. Ever.