There is nothing like a good motherhood meme to really make me feel seen and understood. The last two years have offered us no shortage of solid memes, videos, and products speaking to the crazy experience of parenting in a pandemic. Particularly, I’ve noticed an increase in jokes along the lines of “mommy needs less whine and more wine.”
Is it just me, or does it seem the new expectation for mothers is that we all run on “caffeine, wine, and Amazon Prime”?
I used to find these jokes funny. I find it much harder to laugh at them now.
I’ve never been a big drinker, aside from a handful of Halloween parties and Gatlinburg moonshine tours. I’ve been generally mindful about my alcohol consumption. Plus, I worked in an addiction treatment center for several years, which educated me on the reality of substance use and abuse.
But over the course of the pandemic, like many parents, I found myself turning to at least one glass of wine a day to cope with the year-long stress of tiring days working from home while homeschooling.
At first, this didn’t seem problematic at all. Almost everyone I knew was having Zoom happy hours and socially distanced outdoor drinking circles. I was making the best of an impossible situation. What was a little wine thrown into the mix each night?
My Wake-Up Call
But one day after my son finally went back to daycare, I realized I was waking up depressed—not sad, anxious, or frustrated about the daily grind.
I was feeling numb and empty.
Like, I didn’t care if I got out of bed. I still got out of bed, but there was this void of emotions I felt some days. I couldn’t enjoy things that normally felt enjoyable, particularly time with my family.
Then it occurred to me, “If I’m depressed, maybe I shouldn’t be putting a depressant in my body.” This sounds so obvious, right? But when our culture normalizes, and even glorifies, alcohol as a solution to difficult times, we rarely think of it as something that can make us struggle more.
But alcohol, even in what may be considered small amounts, has the ability to increase anxiety and depression. It actually impairs our ability to cope with stress in the long-term! For many people, this is how the painful cycle of addiction begins.
I’m thankful that I was able to catch the connection between alcohol and my mental health early on. As a therapist, I’m privileged to know about the mental and emotional impacts of substances. I have access to a wide range of coping mechanisms. I also have a great support network, a loving husband, and my own therapist. This is not everyone’s reality.
Multiple studies are showing that alcohol consumption and mental health concerns have significantly increased over the course of the pandemic, particularly for women.
Alcohol wasn’t the only reason I felt depressed—there were plenty of other contributing factors. Cutting out alcohol also didn’t magically take the depression away, but it helped tremendously in my ability to get back to feeling like myself.
This is by no means an “all alcohol is bad” kind of post. Like many things, within the right context and the right amount, alcohol can be fine for plenty of people. But there are many of us for whom that may not be true anymore.
When assisting clients who have identified they need to cut back or stop drinking, we often talk about the pressure they feel in social situations. Whether the pressure is external from that friend who keeps putting drinks in everyone’s hand, or internal from seeing others letting loose, this choice can be hard.
If you find that scaling back alcohol is a choice you want to make for yourself in 2022, whether for Dry January or beyond, here are a few “hacks” to set you up for success in settings where alcohol is flowing.
1. Work out a script.
Answering the question of why you aren’t drinking can can be as simple as “I don’t feel like it tonight,” or “I’m cutting back for health reasons.” With some people you may feel safe to share more. Just know what you want to say ahead of time to not be caught off guard.
2. Keep a non-alcoholic drink of choice in hand.
Whether a fancy mock-tail, tonic with lime, tea or coffee, you are less likely to have a drink shoved in your hand by “that friend” if your hand is already occupied.
3. Make a Self-Care Plan
How can you help ease any anxiety ahead of time? How will you get away if the situation becomes uncomfortable? Who can you talk to about your plans to feel supported in your choice?
Additionally, working through specific situations and triggers with a therapist can be beneficial. Psychiatric medication can also be a great addition to therapeutic work when depression and anxiety feel hard to shake. (Those are two more choices we really need to normalize!)
When More Help Is Needed
With all this being this said, for many people sobriety is not a simple decision. If you try to cut back or stop but aren’t successful, this is an indicator you may need more support. If other’s concerns and the consequences of drinking aren’t enough to help you stop, seeking professional help is likely necessary. Also, for anyone who finds they have withdrawal symptoms, stopping suddenly without medical assistance carries a risk of seizure.
Here are a few resources to connect with if you or a loved one needs extra support towards sobriety:
If you find that the stress of the world right now is weighing on you, and the ways you have been coping have left you feeling worse rather than better, you aren’t alone.
Life is hard.
Parenting can feel impossible.
Maybe what moms need less of isn’t just wine, but also crazy unrealistic expectations and pressure to be perfect. Maybe we all need more support, companionship, and grace to get through these times together.