Guest writer Kimberly Hinds shares her decision to stop drinking – and how the stressful and lonely days of early motherhood lead to her drinking problem.
After 18 months of sobriety, I can finally look back and admit I had a drinking problem.
Sometime after having my first child 10 years ago, alcohol switched from being something I did just on weekends out with friends to something I did every night at home alone.
In my early 20s, bars and drinking was a huge part of my life. It was more the social scene than the alcohol that I was drawn to but getting drunk was always the outcome. Outside of those nights out, I didn’t drink. But eventually, those lively weekends gave way to the tired and housebound life of a first-time parent. Where friends and parties once were, now sat cold pureed food and endless chores, all set to a play list of wailing. A nightly dose of wine-induced amnesia (a cheeky wine or two) became an easy and enjoyable habit to start.
Social media reassured me that I was united with mothers all around the world enjoying a five o’clock wine.
I began to think about drinking all day long, hanging out for the end of the day when I could settle in with a giant glass of wine and feel euphoric and relaxed. Social media reassured me that I was united with mothers all around the world enjoying a five o’clock wine, and I’d tell myself, “I’m doing this for my kids, so I can be a better mother”.
Other than a faint hangover each morning, the alcohol didn’t seem to be affecting my life in any big way. Although I was always waking up tired, I figured, what mother isn’t? Over time, my drinking habits began to behave like compounding interest in a bad investment: one glass the first night, two glasses the next, then four, and when I reached eight, I’d reset to one glass.
At one point, I took an online quiz to see how my drinking habits rated. It was the first time I learnt that a “heavy drinker” for a woman is classified as having eight standard glasses a week. The way I pour, consuming a single glass of wine nightly meant I was clearly in heavy drinker territory. But I scoffed at the diagnosis, shut my laptop, and carried on my merry, inebriated way.
A couple of years ago, I started getting blackouts whenever I drank. For the first time, I was truly conscious I needed to cut back on my drinking. I looked for books to help but there was only advice about quitting for good, not about moderating. I wasn’t prepared for such a bleak forecast, but the harder I tried to cut back, the more it seemed impossible. There seemed to be more and more mornings tinged with regret and nausea, me standing over the kitchen sink draining out the remainder of another wine bottle, an ugly bookmark of my daily battle not to drink and an irresistible nightly indulgence. I knew deep down this had to change and started to think about trying to give up for good.
One day, after a few stop-starts, I finally gathered my courage and resolved to plunge into sobriety. My closest friends were supportive, in disbelief more than anything, but social events were hard. People were a mix of surprised, bemused and argumentative. “Why deprive yourself? Life is too short to go without. A daily glass of wine is good for you. I know someone who drinks 20 glasses a night and they are just fine!’”.
In our culture, drinking is so ingrained with having “a good time” that many of us refuse to acknowledge it can be harmful.
In our culture, drinking is so ingrained with having “a good time” that many of us refuse to acknowledge it can be harmful. Aside from the physical and psychological dependence on alcohol, there are health effects such as damage to the brain and liver, and an increased risk of certain cancers. If these were lottery winning odds we’d be gambling our savings, but instead we’re gambling our lives.
There were many times I wanted to cave in, neck a bottle of champagne to resounding cheers and claps and fall back into my own dark hole, but somehow I managed to stick to my commitment. To help me, I surrounded myself with books, podcasts and courses about alcohol addiction. Instead of thinking of alcohol as a joyful reward that I was depriving myself of, I tried to recognise it for what it really is, something which ruins my sleep, affects my whole next day and increases my chance of disease.
Eventually, drinking became less significant in my world, and social events became easier to attend sober.
Eventually, drinking became less significant in my world, and social events became easier to attend sober. I hardly think about alcohol now although I do find it impossible to stay out after 9:30pm. It can feel embarrassing to peel away when the night is still young in my friends’ eyes. I am sure I’ve let everyone down (“I knew she wouldn’t be fun anymore!”) but the next morning, when I wake up before sunrise feeling refreshed, that guilt has gone. ‘How do you feel?’ people ask me. Honestly? Smug. Now that I’m out the other side, I can’t help but wonder how binge drinking could still such a part of our culture and identity. Excess drinking is the mark of a great event and how we celebrate an important milestone or success.
When you think about other things that are bad for our health, we treat them so differently. Take fast food, for example. In most cases, we eat this in the privacy of our homes with closed doors, we collect it in our cars, stealthily cruising through the drive-through while still wearing our flannel pyjamas.
Or tanning… Having a bronzed tan is covetable, but it’s all about the right balance between our genes, fake tan application and carefully monitored sun-blocked exposure. But the minute we see a hint of crimson sunburn on skin, it makes us cringe. We look at sunburnt bodies still out there tanning on a beach as frightening, little rotisserie beacons of death. Yet, “she can handle her drink”, a title one can only achieve by drinking regularly and in excess enough, is supposed to be a huge compliment. We don’t say, “she can really handle her sunburn.”
I worry that there aren’t enough conversations about the consequences of alcohol in our society. There are just too many people who love (and need) to drink. Even though we have medical research and years of evidence about the dangers of drinking right here in front of us, alcohol continues to be considered a dignified nectar of the gods. Are we really more afraid of missing out on a “good time” than we are of illness and death?
This is a personal story indicative of one woman’s experience. If you are worried about your drinking, please ring the Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797, visit their website, or free txt 8681 for confidential advice.