From the outset, I’d like to respectfully acknowledge that this post may be triggering for some. It is not my intention to make light of issues such as substance abuse, addiction, trauma, stress and mental illness. I am not an expert on this topic and the information I share should not be perceived as advice. And to be clear, I’m not against anyone enjoying an alcoholic drink.
My purpose in sharing this story mirrors my business mission: to help mothers globally to thrive. Giving up wine o’clock is a part of my journey to thrive and I’m writing this in the hope that my story may support you, or someone you love, who is feeling like I did. It’s my opinion that the glorified wine o’clock culture in motherhood is unsupportive of mothers who are using alcohol as a coping strategy at that time of day.
As we drove to my parents’ house on Christmas morning 2021, something clicked inside me and I declared to myself, and quietly to Adam in the seat next to me, that it would be the last day I would have an alcoholic drink for 12 months, or maybe ever.
It wasn’t a sudden decision; I’d been longing for the courage to make it for almost two years. Before then I hadn’t believed that I could give up alcohol totally. Even 30 dry days had been a challenge previously! But the conviction I felt in the moment took me by surprise. I felt immense relief, and pride in myself, that I had drawn the line in the sand. It felt right and it felt absolute.
To backtrack: Since my late teens it’s been a ‘normal’ part of my life to drink. Beer, champagne, wine, rum… I enjoyed all of it. Alcohol was a part of my environment through childhood; my teen years when it was cool to start drinking; in University when being drunk was encouraged; during my professional years when a drink after work was what you did; and now as a working Mum when wine o’clock is fashionable. My subconscious has been bombarded with it for 40 years. Add to that the marketing messages we are constantly subjected to and no wonder it’s ingrained and ‘normal’ in our culture to reach for a drink to cope, relax, escape, celebrate, socialise, drown your sorrows, and every other reason we find.
I think enjoying an alcoholic drink in moderation is great, if you can. And not everyone can. And that’s the part we have to be honest with ourselves about.
From June 2013 to March 2019 I spent the better part of that time either pregnant or breastfeeding and I enjoyed the break it gave me from alcohol. I thought I’d really miss it, and I did a bit, but in my heart I was relieved that alcohol was taken out of the equation. I liked that I didn’t have to decide if, when, what or how much I would drink.
After that I would do a couple of stints of 30 days alcohol-free when I was on a health kick (mainly to help release baby weight) and I liked how it felt without it. But when I wasn’t on a health kick, wine o’clock was becoming a bigger thing for me in motherhood.
When stress showed up in my life, more alcohol did as well. Like during lockdown, times of peak load on the farm, the height of the drought, on days when things got too much with the kids, or I was pushing too hard in general. During those times enjoying one glass of wine in the evening easily turned into more.
I’d think it would help to have that extra glass of wine. But it didn’t. Or I didn’t think at all, it was just a habit to pour another glass. It felt good for a while, and then it didn’t. Alcohol is a drug. And it became a problem, because when I wasn’t feeling strong, it was ultimately controlling me and not me it. I didn’t like the after-effects that night or the next morning and the impact of it on my physical and mental health. I stopped buying wine at times because I didn’t want to be tempted by it. But then we’d eventually buy it again.
Midway through 2021 I admitted to Adam that I was worried about my relationship with alcohol. I felt like it was starting to control me, rather than the other way around. I wasn’t getting properly drunk or consuming bottles of wine every night but it was just becoming a ‘thing’ in my life. I felt like I wasn’t okay with it anymore.
Gratefully, my awareness of alcohol and addiction has increased markedly through following Sober in the Country (@sober_in_the_country). Sober in the Country is a national rural grassroots Australian charity making it OK2SAYNO to beers in the bush and saving lives. Shanna Whan and her team have cracked open more authentic conversations about alcohol use in the bush and I’ve watched with admiration as others have chosen sobriety as a result. I felt a pull towards it but wasn’t ready to choose a sober life.
In August 2021 I felt like I needed to do something. I started the Alcohol Experiment conducted by This Naked Mind @thisnakedmind to explore my relationship with alcohol and I posted about this on my Instagram page at the time. The Alcohol Experiment is focused on understanding your relationship with alcohol so that you can take back your power and choices about how you consume it, if at all, in your life. At that stage I wanted to understand why alcohol takes control sometimes, change my habits and take it off a pedestal.
It was a light bulb ‘of course!’ moment on Day 1 of the Alcohol Experiment to start with my beliefs around alcohol. Why do I drink? Why did I sign up to the Experiment? This is the sort of work I do with my clients in their lives so it’s funny how you don’t see the obvious for yourself and wondered why I’d never thought of this before in relation to alcohol!
Each day of the Experiment there’s a new lesson, for example: Why we think we like to drink; Why willpower doesn’t work for long; The power of self-talk; Your incredible body and brain; Staying mindful in the midst of chaos; and Relieving boredom without drinking.
It was a beautiful reminder that everything starts from within. Our habits and the results we get in life are all largely controlled by our subconscious mind. You can change your behaviour and use your thoughts and willpower to stop or alter your habits, but to enact lasting change you need to go deeper and work on your subconscious beliefs. The same applies for any habitual behaviour.
The Alcohol Experiment app says on Day 6:
It’s safe to say that most of us have tried to use ‘willpower’ to control our drinking, but most have also failed miserably. Recent studies have been conducted to examine this topic of willpower, and interestingly, what they found is that willpower is much like the life of a battery – or an energy source.
Did you know that making decisions requires you to use some of that energy reserve of willpower? Stressful days at work or with the kids or whatever you do, sucks life out of that energy reserve. So by the time it’s 5pm and we have exhausted our power bank, it’s a whole lot harder to say no to a drink.
There is hope! If we can get the different parts of our minds (subconscious and conscious) to agree that we don’t WANT or NEED to drink… there’s no willpower needed – because there’s no decision to be made. Your mind will be in harmony with the decision to abstain from drinking.
By doing the inner work that The Alcohol Experiment asked of me I quite quickly felt differently about alcohol. I started working on changing my beliefs (both conscious and subconscious) and actually changing my desire for alcohol. I didn’t give it up after the 30 days but I appreciated the break and learned a lot. I felt like I was on a better path.
Then in the next few months I went through some stuff in life that impacted me heavily from a mental and emotional point of view. Unconsciously, drinking became a numbing behaviour, along with food, to escape the uncomfortable feelings I was feeling. I didn’t recognise this at the time, I just knew I was drinking more than normal and beating myself up about it. It was harvest time and a lot to cope with on my own, then it got to the silly season and there were even more reasons to drink.
As the afternoon would approach, the mental chatter would begin, deciding whether to have a drink or not, and how many. I tried enforcing all sorts of rules, like: just one glass of wine; no alcohol on weeknights; no wine while preparing dinner; only a wine while preparing dinner but that’s it; no red wine; only drinks on Wednesday night and the weekend. I continually broke my rules and it caused a huge amount of anguish within me. When it got to Christmas Day I decided enough was enough. It was easier to stop completely than to try and control it any longer.
I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol since and it feels fantastic. Have I been tempted? Absolutely. Has it been easy? No, not always. Do I miss it? Sometimes, but I have found replacements and the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.
I love that:
- I can go to bed every night with a clear mind.
- My sleep is no longer affected.
- I have lost weight off my belly.
- I drink more water.
- I no longer worry about what will happen if someone is sick or hurt and I can’t drive the 130km to the hospital.
- I wake up without the effects of alcohol, even after a social occasion.
- No hangovers!
- There is no longer the exhausting mental struggle around alcohol as wine o’clock approaches.
- I’m taking better care of my health.
- I feel healthier.
- I’m investing wine money elsewhere.
- And most importantly – I can drive my family home safely from wherever we are on a night out.
I’m not sure yet if I’m giving up alcohol for life or whether it’s for these 12 months, but I’m loving the advantages of alcohol-free life so far. It’s different, and not always easy, but better.
I know this is a heavy, complex topic. Again I want to reiterate that I support individual choices and I have nothing against drinking in a safe and responsible way. What I have experienced, and maybe you have too, is that wine o’clock can creep up on you and start to become a bit of a problem. If you are starting to get concerned about your drinking, as I was mine, it may be time to pause and have an honest conversation, or reach out for support.
There are some great resources on the Sober In The Country’s website https://www.soberinthecountry.org/resources as a place to start. Please also reach out to me if I can support you with a listening ear. I am not a professional in the addiction space but together we can become aware of your thoughts, feelings and behaviour related to alcohol, and take it from there. Please don’t struggle with wine o’clock alone, because you are not alone.