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Lacy Atalick is an audience editor at The Globe and Mail.
I decided to stop drinking in October, just for a month. I had a boozy summer, but it was time for a break: Sober October.
That turned into No November, then Dry December.
There was no rock bottom, no week-long binges and no alcohol-induced fights with my partner that initiated the pause. But several months into the pandemic, I realized that while social gatherings had abated under lockdown, my drinking hadn’t. In fact, I was actually drinking more. It helped wash down the doomsday news alerts and the relentless isolation. A few glasses of wine or a couple of whiskey sours surely weren’t cause for concern. After all, when everything else closed, the liquor store stayed open, and for good reason.
Except I was getting tired of living in a blur. And, it turns out, casual drinking is a real concern, particularly for women. Globe reporters Wency Leung and Erin Anderssen put it bluntly: “The safest level of drinking is none.”
As they reported, drinking guidelines are woefully outdated and need to be brought in line with new research showing that the risks of alcohol are underestimated – “most alarmingly, for cancer, and especially for women.” They cited one study that showed that for women who consume at least two drinks a day, the risk of breast cancer was 50 per cent higher than for non-drinkers. “The risk was found to increase with lifetime exposure and binge drinking.”
These days, instead of reaching for the cab sauv, I’m thinking about what compelled me to fill my glass in the first place, especially at home and not just at parties or dinners out.
That’s when I realized how much solo drinking is encouraged among my thirtysomething peers, to the point that it’s become somehow brag-worthy. We share stories of crushing that bottle of wine, alone, and fill social media feeds with photos of ourselves, often with a half-full cocktail in the frame.
And we’re not the only ones. I’d be remiss not to mention “wine moms” – a group I’m not part of but have definitely encountered on social media.
You’ve obviously seen the memes, which exploded as women on Facebook and Instagram everywhere began joking about all the drinking they were doing to survive parenting. Lauren Ferranti-Ballem rounds up a few standouts in her Today’s Parent piece titled “Why mommy drinks: The scary truth about #WineMom”:
“The most expensive part of having kids is all the wine you have to drink.”
“Motherhood: Powered by love. Fuelled by coffee. Sustained by wine.”
“I can’t wait for the day when I can drink with my kids instead of because of them.”
“I want my kids to be good at math but not so good that they can count how many glasses of wine I’ve had.”
“Technically, you’re not drinking alone if your kids are home.”
Sure, these self-deprecating memes might get a laugh, but for some moms, the laughs stop when they realize they have a real problem. Enter the Sober Mom Squad, a support group founded at the start of the pandemic for moms who’d already stepped away from drinking and those just starting their sobriety journey. Becca Heary, a mom in Florida, told the Today website that the women she met through the Sober Mom Squad had stories like hers – “about morning mimosas at play dates, beers while waiting for their kids to finish up a soccer game and a seemingly endless supply of wine, everywhere they turned.” When the pandemic took hold, she felt “lost” and ended up hiring Emily Lynn Paulson, founder of the Sober Mom Squad and author of Highlight Real: Finding Honesty & Recovery Beyond the Filtered Life, as her recovery coach.
Another mom who decided to put down the booze is Amanda Finlayson, who wrote in a Globe First Person essay: “I have been sober for 229 days. The only ‘mommy juice’ I drink now is coffee and lots of it. I wake up remembering exactly what I said the night before (though that still doesn’t mean I don’t regret some of the things I say!) and feeling mostly rested (I do have a toddler). Most importantly, I am present in my life at all times.”
These days, I relish waking up with a clear head and a bit more energy. I recently did a Google search for other benefits of sobriety, turning up things like glowing skin and deep sleep.
Is my skin extra glow-y? No.
Did I notice a marked improvement in my sleep? Also no.
But those hangovers that used to leave me feeling tired and groggy are gone, and in their place I’ve found the space to pursue new interests. I’ve taken up cross-country skiing and started bird-watching.
After five months of sobriety, I’m not sure I want to go back to drinking. I guess it’s time to try all those non-alcoholic beers and mocktails I keep hearing about.
What else we’re thinking about:
I recently listened to Canadaland’s The Convenient Pretendian podcast, a conversation about the fallout that came after director Michelle Latimer’s claims to Indigenous identity were called into question. Her acclaimed TV show Trickster was cancelled, and her documentary Inconvenient Indian was pulled from distribution. I’ve been actively trying to learn about Indigenous history and injustice, and this illuminating podcast helped me better understand how unsubstantiated claims to Indigenous identity trigger painful discussions in the community.
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