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Ten Toronto Womxn Who Stopped Drinking To Improve Their Mental Health, And The Stigma They Want to Smash

Eleven, actually, because I inserted myself into this grid as well. But the number doesn’t matter—this could be a collage of 1000 faces because 77% of Canadian women aged 18-24 are considered heavy drinkers, and 49% of women 25+ fall into the same category, and you can bet (or I certainly can), that a significant percentage of those heavy drinkers are experiencing negative impacts from alcohol. 

Having been active in the recovery space for nearly a decade, I’ve seen the extent of how enormous this issue is—the issue being women getting sick from alcohol. My theory is that there is someone on every city block struggling: for every school class, a mother who drinks herself to sleep at night; for every friend group, an individual who has questioned their relationship with booze.

I’m not a researcher, so I don’t have the hard data to back that theory up, but after years of engaging with women who secretly confide in me or not-so-secretly pipe up on social media, it’s obvious that harmful drinking affects many of us. If you’re struggling, you are not alone, not at all!

Some of us feel comfortable calling ourselves alcoholics, some of us don’t. Alcoholic, addict, problem drinker, binge drinker—you don’t need to identify with a label to know when your drinking is hurting you or your loved ones. Alcohol-use disorder is a spectrum. A doctor’s opinion isn’t required; if you’re being honest with yourself, you already know. 

While we can definitely see parts of our stories in others, the more we acknowledge that this issue looks different on everyone, the more comfortable people will be in seeking out the help they need. 

Last week I was in Ottawa, speaking on a local TV show about drinking, and taking questions about #Dry January. Of the five callers, four of them had a variation on the same question: when my friends or family ask why I’m not drinking, what should I say?

The fact that this is such a concern, is proof that we’re only at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to smashing stigma. Why should it be so hard to say, “Yeah, drinking wasn’t working for me.” That’s enough! It shouldn’t be more complicated than that, and yet it is SO COMPLICATED.

In the past decade, there have been massive improvements, especially in recognizing that recovery looks different for everyone. However, until people can feel 100% comfortable answering a simple question about why they aren’t drinking, there’s much work to be done. 

Starting tomorrow, we will kick off a Women + Drinking series, starting with the beautiful humans pictured above. Each will courageously share how they stopped their drinking, what their recovery looked like in the early days, what it looks like now, how their mental health has improved in sobriety, and how they have fun (very important!). 

For now, I will share with you one of their answers to a very big question: what stigma do you think needs to be smashed? The range of responses is indicative of how deep-rooted the issues are. 

What stigma do you think needs to be smashed? 

That there is something wrong with you, or you are less than, when you discover that your body, mind & spirit are sick when you consume alcohol. You are a whole and complete person, no matter what. – Alana Nugent

What stigma do you think needs to be smashed?

The idea of anonymity really ticks me off!  Remove the shame and the whole darn world would have a much easier time getting well.  The idea that mistakes are the end of something, let’s all flip that to: mistakes are the beginning of a whole new way.  – Jenn Harper

What stigma do you think needs to be smashed?

The idea that alcoholism is some kind of inherent, fatal flaw in a person needs to be dismantled. I believe that alcohol abuse, like all addictions, is a symptom of larger emotional problems more than a lone-standing issue in itself. It’s one of many symptoms a complex human experiences in the process of trying to alleviate their pain. – Hayley Gibson 

What stigma do you think needs to be smashed?

That there needs to be some hardcore reason or “rock bottom” moment to give up alcohol when, quite frankly, it’s ridiculous we drink it at all considering it how bad it is for us! – Anne Joyce

What stigma do you think needs to be smashed?

I think one stigma that needs to be smashed is that sobriety is for everyone. And it isn’t some people have found other ways to navigate healing and using. So I just want to emphasize that sobriety, at least for me, is connected to socio-political understandings of systemic oppression.  Meaning that it’s not just about individual will, but also conditions that folks are in, and not stigmatizing folks who are struggling or actively choose to use. I know that people are often shocked when I say that, but I need to be honest in my perspectives. – Yamikani M

What stigma do you think needs to be smashed?

All of it. In particular, that life doesn’t exist after sobriety and that addiction is something to be ashamed of. I encourage you to be brave and explore all that a sober life has to offer you. As it was once told me to me and I will continue to say, life will become abundant in more ways than you could’ve ever imagined. Sober is sexy. Sober is cool. – April Wozny

What stigma do you think needs to be smashed?

That the issue with alcohol lies with the people who can’t drink it. Where the issue is actually in alcohol itself. – Damhnait Doyle

What stigma do you think needs to be smashed?

I think the depiction of addiction in the media is really misleading when in reality there is no archetype for addiction, it doesn’t discriminate. If we could stop blaming addicts and judging people for their addictions I think we could save a lot of people a lot of pain. It’s scary to face a problem when the perception of it is so negative. Addiction is rampant and it’s difficult enough without a stigma surrounding it. I think the more honest conversations we can have about addiction, the better. We’ve all been touched by it in some way and we need to be honest about its impact in order to make a difference. – Alyssa B

What stigma do you think needs to be smashed? 

That you will always want a drink. That you will never have as much fun as you did before sobriety. That you will all of a sudden permanently Cinderella-at-midnight into the boring, unrecognizable version of yourself you always feared was lying beneath that bubbly, intoxicating, golden elixir. Like, none of that is true. You’re you, you’re awesome, the alcohol is just dulling your bright, twinkly spark –  I promise. – Vanessa Vakharia

What stigma do you think needs to be smashed?

The stereotypical imagery that comes up for society in general around addiction (ie: homeless person, parasite, shameful, criminal, immoral, etc.). People need more education and understanding in order to foster compassion. Especially because it seems that pretty much everyone on the planet is suffering from one addiction or another these days. In the case with drinking and drugging – it’s a complex mental health challenge and it often stems from an assortment of variables (genetics, adverse childhood experiences, family history etc.). Education will be the answer to cultivating compassion around it and smashing stigma. – Lisa

What stigma do YOU think needs to be smashed? You may not personally identify as having any negative issues with alcohol but I bet you know somebody who has suffered or is suffering. We all have a voice in this. 

We need to keep asking the question, because the stigma—and all the shame that comes with it—is what prevents us from healing, individually, and collectively. 

 

 

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