It was eight years ago that Lotta Dan’s journey out of alcohol addiction and into a clearer, gentler, better way of life began. She started keeping a blog about her experiences which blossomed into a book, Mrs D Is Going Without, as well as a new career supporting others looking for help changing their alcohol soaked lifestyle. She followed it up with a second book Mrs D is Going Within and this week her third book on the topic, The Wine O’clock Myth, hits the stands.
While the previous two books were memoirs about her own experiences, this one is a stark look at the way alcohol is such a fixture in our society and how that affects us, particularly those who want or need to live differently. I asked her why she felt compelled to write this book, which takes a much broader view of the issue.
“The problem hasn’t gone away, in fact it’s getting worse. I get messages from women everyday who are struggling with alcohol. I wanted to illustrate that there are so many people who are in the push-pull relationship with the stuff. They can see that it’s not good and it’s causing pain but they can’t see their life without it.”
As well as Lotta’s learnings from six years running the Living Sober website, the book is filled with stories of ordinary Kiwi women examining the role that alcohol plays in their life. For some it is already clearly wreaking havoc, while for others it is more a nagging sense that they are too dependent, particularly when it comes to work functions or social situations. Lotta says she didn’t want to simply show tales of people who have come out the other side but illustrate clearly what it looks like to still be in the grip of things. “I want to reach those people who haven’t turned a corner yet because I’ve been there and i know it’s awful. It’s not only awful because you feel like shit all the time, waking up feeling hungover and guilty but you feel really isolated and alone. It’s the shame and stigma and the environment that we’re in that perpetuates that because everyone else is having a great time with the stuff so you keep it to yourself. People are going to see themselves in these stories and identify because all these voices tell the story of what’s going on right now.”
So for those who do recognise that alcohol is a problem, how do they begin the process of taking back control of their lives? “The first step is be honest with yourself, because you know the truth, and then talk to your girlfriends. Know that it’s actually not a terrible thing if you get to the point where you just can’t touch it anymore, it’s going to be ok, I promise. I used to love the stuff and it was a huge part of my life and I don’t even miss it anymore. We’re so conditioned to believe it’s necessary.”
Lotta says that part of the problem is that even once people do make the decision to cut back on or quit the grog, society is not necessarily on their side. “Alcohol is everywhere and marketers target women, we’ve got purchasing power and they want our dollar. They do it overtly with campaigns of people looking glamorous and happy but also covertly – they create a lot of the memes that circulate on social media. We have to be aware that we’re being targeted constantly. At the end of the day they’re selling an addictive drug that is harmful to, not everyone, but a lot of people.”
To that end she would like to see some improved governance around the sale and promotion of alcohol and says, “Take it out of the supermarkets and put some curbs on the advertising especially on social media. It’s easier for a person to fess up and start to move around the world not touching alcohol – which is a huge and scary thing to do – if they’re in an environment that acknowledges their reality because at the moment my reality is not echoed anywhere.”
The fact that Lotta’s voice feels like a lone one is perhaps the perfect illustration of her point and she knows not everyone will respond well to what she’s saying. “I’m definitely feeling quite vulnerable right now. I’m putting myself out there and I’ve already made the decision that I’m going to be careful about reading comments online because there will be push back from people, I know. They’ll say ‘She’s the fun police, why is she telling us what to do’. They’ll get defensive. I am going to look after myself but I still feel that I have to do this because too many people are struggling. I want them to know, ‘You’re not alone, change is possible’.
“I’m also hoping this book will appeal to the curious, smart, thinking woman who maybe isn’t aware because she’s not struggling herself. I want her to have her eyes open and think, ‘Maybe it’s not great that I’m always putting out the wines for my friends, maybe i could start doing something differently?
“I think we should all talk to our girlfriends. Not at 5pm on a friday which you’ve just had a chardonnay and you’ve got that lovely dopamine hit. Talk to them at 9am on a Saturday when your anxiety is peaking and you’re feeling low. It’s only by all sharing our truths that we’ll help each other.”
The Wine O’Clock Myth by Lotta Dann (Allen and Unwin) $36.99 is out now.