Sober Curious

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“Sobriety is the capacity to savour.” ~ Russ Hudson

In western society, alcohol is a symbol of sophistication, adulthood and relaxation. It represents having fun and letting loose. Consuming alcohol is often the centre point of many social gatherings, especially for young adults. Familiar sayings include: “I deserve a glass of wine” and “I need a drink to unwind.”

Cultural forces also fuel consumption. Since the mid-1990s, there’s been a ‘pinking’ of the alcohol market, with skinny cocktails and berry-flavored vodkas. Alcohol is packaged as an essential tool to “surviving” motherhood. Funny memes circulate the internet and wine companies brand their product as “mommy juice.” Women are sold the idea that parenthood is a burden that only alcohol can soothe: it is presented as the ultimate way for a woman to relax and reward herself. As a result, there is a growing number of alcohol dependent women.

“The pace at which most women live is punishing,” says Ann Dowsett Johnston, author of Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol. “You race home from a busy day at the office and have emails from work waiting for you and food to prepare and laundry piling up. The easiest thing to do when you’re standing at the cutting board making dinner is pour yourself a glass of wine. It’s the ultimate decompression tool.”

More women are drinking and the amount that they are drinking is increasing. A 2017 study sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism laid it out in stark terms. From 2001 to 2013, the prevalence of alcohol use among women in the U.S. rose nearly 16 percent. And during the same time frame, the percentage of women who have four or more drinks on a given day, on a weekly basis, rose by 58 percent. “Drinking has a tendency to escalate—one glass turns into two and then three,” says psychologist Joseph Nowinski, PhD, author of Almost Alcoholic. “That doesn’t mean you’re an addict, but you should be aware that you’ve moved from low-risk drinking to a level that’s more dangerous.” A 2017 study in the journal JAMA Psychiatry found that problem drinking, defined as drinking to the point where it interferes with your life or you are unable to stop, jumped by more than 80% among American women between 2002 and 2013.

Women are also more likely than men to experience long-term negative health effects from alcohol use. A study from the University of Oxford found that many serious illnesses and chronic health conditions are linked to drinking, even at low levels. Long-term alcohol use can increase the risk of at least eight types of cancer (mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, breast, colon, rectum) and numerous other serious conditions (e.g. epilepsy, stroke, pancreatitis, dysrythmias, and hypertension).

In my own life, I have had close relationships with more than one alcoholic. I have witnessed how addiction destroys a person’s health and ability to connect with others. It is a slow and painful loss. This experience led me to be more mindful and reflective of my own drinking habits. And after struggling to maintain balance and moderation with alcohol over time, I finally looked in the mirror and I asked myself a question. What kind of person do I want to be? One who chooses to numb myself or one who chooses to be fully present? As Brené Brown says in the Gifts of Imperfection, “We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” I wanted to feel strong in my body and model healthy choices for my daughter. This ultimately led me to make the decision to give up drinking, and learn to lean on alternate supports for stress management and relaxation (e.g exercise, meditation, yoga).

At first, it was not easy being one of the only sober people in the room, as it runs against the grain of what everyone else is doing. There were constant questions about why I was drinking sparking water instead of a glass of wine. When I answered that it was in support of my health and wellbeing, I generally received a blank stare in return. Many people could not wrap their head around the concept; and some viewed my sobriety as a personal criticism of their choice to drink. Is it not. It is a gift that I am giving to myself. Over the years, this tension has eased: or maybe I am not so worried about what other people think anymore. The people who initially had the most issue with my decision, faded out of my life, and those that still remain are very supportive. I cherish each opportunity to spend time with the people I love, with a clear head, and wake up in the morning, with no regrets.

“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety but connection.”

~ Jessica Lahey, The Addiction Inoculation

Whatever you decide is best for you, it is important for women to speak to one another about the risks of alcohol consumption, and acknowledge how easy it is to cross the line into dependency. We need to share our experiences without shame and provide support to one another. Many people rely on some form of substance to ease from the pressures of daily life. Alcohol is readily available and consumption is openly encouraged by both society and the media but it can easily spin out of control. This leads to a decline in overall levels of mental and physical health.

There is a growing movement of “sober curious” women seeking to have a different relationship with alcohol and a range of support options available to them. This includes programs and resources that offer assistance with everything from moderating alcohol intake to choosing abstinence. Here are a few that I have come across. I hope that you find them helpful. Let me know if you discover any new ones to highlight.

Club Soda Club helps people live well by being more mindful about drinking. Whether you want to cut down, take a break from alcohol, or stop drinking all together, you are welcome to join them.

Moderation Management (moderation.org) is a free program that starts with 30 days of abstinence and includes a “mutual-help” environment with meetings that you can attend in person or dial into by phone as you work on changing your habits.

Hello Sunday Morning recognizes that you don’t need to have a clinical addiction in order to change your drinking habits. Whether you just want to learn how to limit your drinking, take a break or just better understand alcohol use, Hello Sunday Morning can help. 

The Luckiest Club is a web-based, online information-sharing and connection platform which seeks to provide opportunities for like-minded people to find each other and form connections. It facilitates the sharing of information that improves understanding of addiction, sobriety, sober living, and related information.  

Tempest provides a mobile, self-directed yet supported method to get and stay sober. The course includes weekly live sessions, weekly recorded lectures, Q&A sessions, daily guided meditations, intention-setting and more. 

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