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).

It is important for women to speak openly to one another about the risks of alcohol consumption. It is easy it is to cross the line into dependency. We need to share our experiences 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 drinking is openly encouraged but it can easily spin out of control: eventually leading to a decline in overall levels of mental and physical health.

In my own life, I have loved more than one alcoholic. I have witnessed first-hand how addiction destroys a person’s health and the ability to connect with others. It is a slow and painful loss. This experience made me mindful of my own relationship with alcohol; and I began to notice how I used it as a crutch when I was feeling particularly sad or stressed. It soothed the immediate pain but it was not the cure. Alcohol is more of a blunt instrument than a finely tuned tool. 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.”

Over the years, I have learned that even the hardest feelings have something to teach me, but in order to receive, I must be willing to surrender: to place my head in the mouth of the lion and trust that I will not die. As a mother, I want to model making healthy choices for my daughter: to teach her that there are better ways of coping with the many pressures of life. I hope that when she witnesses me choosing to take a brave and open-hearted path, it will encourage her to do the same. All of these considerations eventually led me to the decision to give up alcohol and rely on other practices 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. It runs against the grain of what everyone else is doing and it makes you stand out. I was often asked why I was drinking sparking water instead wine. When I responded that it was a choice for my health and wellbeing, I received a blank stare, or confused expression 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 lessened: or maybe I am just not 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

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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