I love wine. I really do. I love the smell of it. All the smells–flowery, citrusy, spicy, musty, astringent. I love the look of it–in bottles and boxes and glasses big, small and stemless. A generously poured glass of ruby or golden liquid, whether lit by the soft glow of a restaurant candle or the staccato blue bursts of a Netflix binge, is a beautiful thing indeed. And of course the taste. The wonderful, contradictory taste. Piquant and round, salty and sweet, earthy yet fresh. But all of those aspects pale in comparison to the way it makes you feel. Relaxed, welcomed, relieved, exhilarated. Excited and alive in the most interesting of situations and the least.
I know I’m not the only one who loves these things about wine. And I’m damn certain I’m not the only mom who does. After all, wine is “mommy’s time out,” “mommy juice,” and “play date punch” according to hundreds of internet memes. Complain on Facebook about a hard day with the kids and you’ll find dozens of wineglass emojis littering the comments. Many of the mainstays of mommy-friend bonding are bolstered by bottles of the stuff. Think book groups, backyard barbecues, and moms’ nights out. And why not? For many of us, alcohol played, if not a starring role, then a very big supporting one during our young adulthood. Shouldn’t that continue in some fashion once you become a parent? Advertisers certainly think so, and so does society at large.
I didn’t drink much in college because I was young for my year and I wasn’t a big fan of breaking the law. But after 8 months learning how to properly DRINK in the UK (they have it down to a delirious science) during a post-college “working holiday,” I came home with a much higher tolerance and a Pavlovian association between alcohol and fun/relaxation/boredom/any reason really. So in my 20s, like a lot of folks that age, weekend nights were spent with friends barhopping, then later going out on the town with my boyfriend-fiance-husband and other couples. Wine was always present and it was always fun. Being young and child-free, I could sleep in all weekend and feel none the worse for wear after a good night out.
…And then I became a mom. My daughter was an amazing baby, but we had a very difficult nursing relationship that led to me following some terrible advice and going on an absolutely brutal elimination diet for months on end. No dairy, soy, wheat, corn, nuts, legumes, eggs or chicken. And definitely no alcohol. When I finally said enough is enough and transitioned her to a hypoallergenic formula (which testing later proved she didn’t actually need), I was elated to eat and drink EVERYTHING again. And once we were no longer stuck at home all day, desperately trying to breastfeed and bake disgusting allergen-free quinoa cookies, we joined the local moms’ group, started going to the park and play dates, smiling, laughing, breathing again.
And of course, I began drinking wine again on weekend evenings, like a grown up, just like I had all throughout my twenties (I was now a ripe old 29). Because I was a grown up dammit, even if I now couldn’t shower regularly or watch certain commercials without weeping. And nothing says fun-loving, independent grown up to a new mom like a raucous moms’ night out, full of other giddy, desperate, sleep-deprived young mothers. I made some wonderful friends at those moms’ nights, which, in our laid-back neighborhood, consisted not of wine-and-canvas or wine-and-pedicure outings, but wine-and-firepit-and-wine-storytelling/wisecracking bonding sessions. But as time, and the terrifying all-in reality of parenting marched on, I began to crave the freedom and fun of not only those once-a-month moms’ nights, but of all the glorious nights out in the past. I spent all day, all week working part-time from home and anxiously (oh so anxiously) caring for my lovely daughter, and, like the proverbial spring, was coiled so tightly trying to keep everything together in this new reality that was so absurdly different from my former life. Then Friday evening would roll around and the husband and I would celebrate surviving another week by clinking glasses. And I would drink with him and then stay up after he went to bed, sipping and making phone calls to far away friends and family. And this weekly ritual, while certainly crowning me with a nasty headache in the morning (after all, I was older now and getting much less sleep), also made me feel like ME again. Like an independent, fun-loving girl connected to the outside world and in control of her choices.
Except, as the years rolled on, and another child was gestated (sober), birthed (sober), nursed (drinking very moderately) and weaned (woo hoo, party’s back on and now I have twice the stress to drown!), I began to feel less and less in control of the choices I made where booze was concerned. I began to wonder if wine was really the warm, fuzzy friend I so fondly remembered and tried valiantly to resurrect each weekend. Where drinking had once been a joyous celebration of a work week conquered, it was now starting to seem like a boring, inevitable default. Still, I soldiered on, because moms need wine, right? Deserve it. After all, I was a great mom. I was active and attentive, got my daughter to preschool and back on time, fed/changed/calmed/entertained everyone all day, all week. Which is one reason the call of the wine glass was so darn strong once the house was finally silent, finally mine. I knew it was my reward for not only getting through it all, but doing it well. But I was paying for it. There was rarely a Saturday or Sunday morning that didn’t provide me with a massive headache and sour stomach. I kept gaining weight but couldn’t figure out why (though deep down I knew why). And nagging doubts began revealing themselves in my Google search history: “safe limits for drinking;” “does wine cause weight gain;” “how to lose weight while drinking wine;” “sober moms.”
A few of months after this soul searching began, we moved to a different part of town. I joined a new moms’ group and ended up in exactly the setting I had dreamed of for several years–living on a street with other stay-at-home moms, full of young playmates for my kids. My new neighbors were (are) kind and funny and genuine and lovely. And not partiers. Likewise the ladies in my new moms’ group. I began to glimpse a gentle, generally contented existence where maybe I didn’t need to drink my stress away each weekend. Where the young, fun-loving girl I had been so fiercely chasing was now a 34-year-old mom with a minivan, living on a cul-de-sac. I began to feel satisfied with that, with this place, with this life. Proud of it, in fact. In short, I grew up. And I knew the wine had to go. Not because moms can’t or shouldn’t drink or enjoy themselves in that way. But because this mom wasn’t enjoying herself that way. I’d had my fill.
So I started reading sober mom blogs (yes, these are a thing and there are a lot of them). I learned about non-alcoholic beer and wine as a tasty and ridiculously less caloric substitute on those evenings when you crave something “adult” to drink (my favorite is Buckler beer, which you can find in the cooler section at Giant Eagle). I read about all the benefits of giving up the wine habit, like weight loss, better skin, much better sleep, better mood. And then, about 9 months ago, I began living that booze-free reality. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made. I’ve lost 30 lbs and am back in the size clothing I was before I had kids. I sleep really, really well (ear plugs help too, ha ha). I remember exactly what happened on the shows I binge watch (still gotta binge somehow). I have more patience with my kids and no longer have to bargain with my husband to take a nap on the weekends. I feel good. I’m happy.
So, the questions, because I know you have them: Am I in AA? No. Do I consider myself an alcoholic? No, I think I so strongly associated alcohol with the good times of my youth that I fell into the trap of believing that wine was necessary to feeling self-actualized, independent and entertained. Do I ever drink? Yes, I had some wine at a good friend’s wedding in the fall, with good friends on Christmas Day, and at a dinner party last month. But I simply enjoyed those experiences and didn’t use them as an excuse to start over-drinking regularly again. I am positively too vain (30 lbs!) and too happy with being a non-drinker the majority of the time to invite wine back into my life on a regular basis.
So that’s my story of putting down the wine glass. Of growing up. Of letting go. If it’s inspired you to look into a life with less alcohol or none at all, these blogs are a fabulous place to start: