Want to work on your wellbeing? Start by ditching the self-flagellation, my friend.
We women are experts in telling ourselves to ‘do better’. We constantly beat ourselves up for never being ‘enough’, for never getting things quite ‘right’. We’re utterly unforgiving.
I get it – I was expert level in it too!
And that’s why I drank. Because I was drowning under the unrelenting pressure of modern womanhood and I’d learned, from a very young age, that alcohol was my band-aid of choice.
If you don’t already know, I was born in the UK but grew up in Africa. My parents didn’t drink any more than any of their friends, BUT my grandparents started each day with a Gin and Cinzano. And, at the ripe old age of 13, I was allowed to start drinking too.
I don’t blame any of them. The received wisdom back then was that, ‘if we let them drink with us then they'll be used to alcohol and better able to manage themselves’. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out so well….
In my 20s I moved to London for a high-flying career and a party-filled lifestyle. But even when I got married, relocated to Australia and had kids, I didn’t see any reason to change.
In fact, the alcohol seemed like the glue holding it all together. It was there to pep me up, to wind me down, to help me de-stress and to make me FUN!
Spoiler alert… these are the biggest lies ever told!!
So, there I was, working at the same feverish rate I always had, while trying to raise a family – and using alcohol to let off steam.
I was doing contract work for huge brands and always trying to prove myself so I could gain a real foothold in this new country. It was a recipe for disaster.
The unvarnished truth
In that time, it never occurred to me that being tipsy in charge of my kids, and boozily falling asleep in the garden when people came over, was a red flag. Not for me or any of my circle.
I had a few glasses of wine at night – enough that I couldn’t drive my kids if they had an accident or were unwell, but nobody blinked. It was normalised behaviour.
The times that I fell asleep in taxis after a night out, or toppled head-first into the garden, were just a bit embarrassing. A hilarious anecdote over the next bottle of wine, but nothing that made me stop and think.
Until my kids, quite innocently, held a mirror up to my behaviour.
We’re all just doing our best
I'd always tried to be a great example of what a mum could be. I worked so very hard; I was juggling like a maniac to be this loving, engaged mum, committed wife, motivated and high-achieving professional and fun friend.
But this one weekend when, as usual, we had loads of people round, I went to put my kids to bed. My eldest was 11 at this stage, and said to me, ‘mum, can you leave the wine glass out of the bedroom? It makes me feel anxious’.
That was a real body-blow. I thought, how did I miss this? How did I not realise that my kids aren’t seeing a well-rounded person, they’re seeing who I really am – a woman on the edge.
It was time for a big change.
How do you flick the switch?
I’d done things like Febfast, OcSober or Dry July before, and while I’d quite often try to go beyond that four-week period, I could never manage it. I’d romanticised alcohol and I felt like I was constantly resisting it – it was a part of my life I was desperate to get back. So those 30-day challenges were a breeze, but not a minute more, because then I knew I could jump straight back into drinking.
That changed, when I stopped believing that alcohol was a positive addition to my life. I wasn’t denying myself ‘fun’ or relief – it was actually just storing up my problems, and making them even worse.
But it took time to see that.
I began by quietly exploring what alcohol is, and what it does, when I used it, and how it felt – in the moment and over the longer term, for me and for everyone around me.
I didn’t ‘stop’ during that time. I kept the glass of wine in my hand as I read, listened to podcasts and explored the ‘sober curious’ movement. And I did that so that I was free to investigate and to question, without fighting a battle with a nervous system panicking and craving alcohol.
I turned it from an effort at deprivation, into a mindful conversation with myself about the life I was living and the life I wanted.
And, in that time, I realised that the glue I was using to hold everything together, was actually standing in the way of real contentment.
Maybe you’re feeling the same?
Perhaps you think that alcohol makes you fun. But, when you reflect on a night out or an event, you might realise that it makes you loose, in a way you’re not entirely comfortable with. It might cause you to make decisions you regret, or feel sick or a bit embarrassed for days. Even that nightly glass of wine might mean you’re ditching a bedtime cuddle and an opportunity to connect, and regretting it afterwards.
If the sums are no longer adding up, then it’s time to make a change.
But please, please, please, please, DO NOT make this another stick to beat yourself with. Another thing to feel bad about – another way we can tell ourselves we’re ‘failing’.
Alcohol is designed to f*ck with us. Its whole purpose is to drop our inhibitions and make itself indispensable. The fact that it’s wriggled its way into your life isn’t your fault – but now it’s time to develop the tools to leave it behind, without a backward glance.
The good news?
No blame, no shame, just the promise that you are enough, and that we can work through this together.