Drinking in the new year and why I'm glad cocaine is expensive.
Women - you deserve to be physically and emotionally healthy, let's be clear about that as a non-negotiable starting point. This blog is about my long ride with alcohol as co-pilot, I hope you get something from it, particularly those slipping through the cracks and quietly fretting about your health as you drink a little too much a lot too often.
There's a reason my GP gives middle class women in Australia with alcohol related health issues the nickname of a silent epidemic. It's not super easy to find information around the impact of alcohol dependence on middle aged busy women, things not talked about in polite society, pour me another wine.
We are good at diverting the wrong sort of attention, putting our all into work and family and on the whole feeling OK about life...as long as there is wine, there must always be wine, wine is comfort, wine is our friend.
I was shocked to read that adults born in Australia are more than twice as likely to drink in excess of the lifetime risk guidelines. 2:1, thats a scary national drinking culture! Safe drinking is currently defined as a maximum of 2 standard drinks a day and 4 standard drinks on a single occasion. (ABS and health.gov.au).
A standard red or white wine is around 100ml, thats HALF of one of those juice poppers kids get at parties. I don't know about you but I could drink one of those in one slug when I'm thirsty. Most of us would feel disappointed if given a standard drink, an at home wind-down-wine o'clock pour is more likely to be 2 standard drinks and rarely stops there. (https://adf.org.au/insights/what-is-a-standard-drink/)
Cultural norms and media content hold some responsibility for the gap between advisable and normal. Just look at the wine glasses in the hands of glamorous women on screens and in advertising, big luxurious buckets with a generous splash is very stylish, but it's also way too much alcohol.
Side - I still love our local wine, beer and spirit producers and am not anti-alcohol, Its just not great for some women and I'm one of them.
Alcohol research, education and messaging targets women at risk as
young, pregnant or both, and rightly so - developing brains are at risk. But what about the decades unaccounted for? when you aren't young or pregnant? What are the messages we give and get around alcohol and how are these messages delivered?
This is when jokes, memes and banter about drinking for survival step in. The normalising of worrying behaviour helps us feel ok and seen, jokes on facebook, texts between friends. How many of us have felt relief when we heard others fudged the numbers to their GP about how much wine they're regularly drinking?
The "always keep a bottle of wine handy for special occasions, you know.. like Wednesday." memes shared between hard working mothers in the trenches, the generous offers of wine and company to reduce stress, laugh and pull yourself up by the bootstraps, "its better to be full of wine than full of shit"after all, ha ha ha...
My socially acceptable technically unsafe drinking started young and continued effortlessly into middle age with a few short breaks. It's an easy going non-confronting, supportive, caring and highly dangerous banter we women have around bad habits and health niggles.
Women are disproportionately affected by alcohol-related health problems compared to men due to differences in body composition. Women's bodies have less water to dilute alcohol, we reach intoxication quicker, become alcohol dependent sooner, and develop alcohol-related problems faster than men with similar drinking patterns.
Years ago I brought up my own worries with colleagues and everyone poo poo'ed the concept of me having a problem. I didn't act like someone with a problem, I worked, played and mothered pretty well, I wasn't cloistered away drinking vodka in the mornings obviously ruining my life.
I freelanced for 25 years in the arts and, as anyone from the sector knows, there's a lot of self medicating and coping mechanisms for the brutal pace and content. Its hard to live a balanced healthy life when you are working 12 hour days in intense rarified environments. Opening a bottle of wine was an attempt at counteracting the huge hours and adrenalin of the day - I know I wasn't alone in using wine as a rapid switch off tool.
Compared to some of my lighter drinking friends I was fit and healthy, had a great job and a happy enough life so it was ok... wasn't it? Living with a number of health niggles that weren't improving and then being hospitalised for some serious, but not necessarily alcohol related health scares, forced me to take a brutal look at my habits. I decided it was time to kick the grog forever.
I was too tired to keep wine on as my very high maintenance friend, it was impacting life more than just feeling a bit shabby in the mornings. I was exhausted and sick of the hold wine had on me, of the arguments my mind monkeys had about how I "deserved" a glass of wine at every turn.
Wine was my antidote for stress, the wind down ritual, the celebration drink, the reward, the social lubricator and the sleep inducer. I knew changing the habit of 30 years was going to take a head on approach and it felt really really scary.
There are a lot of options out there to help you stop drinking, I looked into most of them. I chose cold turkey and a bit of neural linguistic programming, treating drinking as a drug in the way I'd treated smoking 15 years prior, I'd tell myself 'alcohol is a drug, cravings pass' (and they do sooner than you think).
I'd tell myself to ride the early evening crave waves and remember wine sucked me dry. I've got kids, I want healthy longevity and I sure as hell don't want another drug controlling my time, pulling focus away from the things I love. Defining what I wanted more of instead of what I was losing was the key.
Once free of having to think about, plan for, budget for and control my old friend wine I had so much more time, energy and mental clarity. Thankfully it was much easier to kick than society made me believe it would be and the rewards were rapid.
Three years after stopping I sometimes try the word "alcoholic"on as an experiment when people ask why I'm not drinking. I don't identify with the word, I didn't go through a 12 step program, I haven't dealt with all the crap of life that ever contributed to my self medicating habit, I just stopped drinking and am now a healthier happier person as a result.
Was I/am I an alcoholic? Does the answer matter? I think not.
For 30 years I was a very high functioning heavy drinker, now I don't drink and I love it! I still love opening champagne bottles and occasionally lead merry gangs through the streets at 1am and its still fun not drunk. My children are no longer competing for attention with a wine glass and I don't ever wake up hungover, whats not to love?
Cocaine use is apparently another serious contributor to the silent epidemic - Thank goodness I never had the cash for that!
* I'm an ICF ACC coach, get in touch if you are interested in my work or want to kick bad habits to the curb in 2020. If this blog has triggered anything serious for you please get help help via organisations such as:
** I discovered since writing this blog that juice poppers are 200ml not 150ml!!