At the age of 39, I decided to quit drinking. For years I relied heavily on wine to wind down, socialize and to connect with people. By 18 I already had a very well-crafted ‘wine story’ that would fuel my high-functioning alcoholism for two decades.
What kept me going for 20 years were the stories I told myself about my drinking, about drinking wine specifically, and about it being totally normal. Some of my wine stories were that cool people drink. Or that people who don’t drink are weird losers that don’t know how to live or have fun. This I absorbed from sitcoms, my parents, friends and magazines.
Wine helps me relax, decompress, deal with whatever is stressing me out, to tune out my problems and have a little fun! Wine makes me sexy! I looked at my ability to drink like the boys as a superpower, something to be proud of, and something that gave me confidence to talk to strangers, and specifically to men.
I grew up in a family that values travel, European fine dining, and knowing your wine grapes. Therefore a strong part of my wine story was that it was “high-brow” — educated successful people drink fine wine. I remember feeling cultured that I knew the difference between a white and red wine glass, how to hold them properly, and as an early teen how to properly open a bottle.
I didn’t actually drink any until my late teens, but you know how kids like to help out, feel seen and absorb everything. I felt grown-up and worldly knowing where the different grapes came from in the world from listening to so many adult conversations at fine restaurants. I knew that it is proper to ask for the wine list before the menu, and how to pick a good bottle on the list. A bottle of wine was the perfect hostess gift, wine and cheese parties where standard operating procedure and a ‘proper’ dinner was accompanied with wine.
So when I became a mom, and actually well before I did, I’m sure that the strong Mommy Wine Cultural narratives were already internalized. I thought that cool moms drink. Fun moms drink. Refined moms drink fine wine. I needed wine at the end of my day to relax so I could be patient with my kids for the last few hours of the day, that was the story anyway.
Maybe one of the most profoundly wrong but strong stories I carried was that you need wine for deep conversations and connection. In 20 years of living, I had very few deep conversations sober. My friends and colleagues liked to connect over a bottle of red, or three. Funny enough, I would rarely remember the details of these conversations. I was lucky if I remembered the gist of the deep dark secret that was revealed in confidence.
I particularly hung on to this deep connection wine story when it came to connecting with my partners over the years, because I was taught that wine is romantic. Envisioning myself with a glass of champagne in hand at my wedding is the number one reason I didn’t quit drinking at 38.
What I want to share, besides maybe giving you a place to reflect on your own wine story, is that as much as I was afraid to give up all these stories, when I did, I realized how untrue they all are. My ability to feel joy in my everyday life was actually hindered by wine, not helped.
Alcohol actually doesn’t relax our bodies, it acts as a stimulant for the first 20 minutes it is in our bloodstream, this is that nice “buzzed” feeling we experience. Then for the following 2-3 hours if we don’t slam another one back it acts as a depressant to our system: this means that it depresses arousal levels and reduces excitability, which leaves us feeling anxious, tired and uneasy in our own skin (This Naked Mind, Annie Grace, 2018). It makes sense we reach for another to get back to the buzz feeling.
In the long run, our body comes to rely on the stimulant factor of alcohol to feel good. Looking back, I spent an absorbent amount of time and energy looking forward to my next chance to ‘connect’ or ‘vent’ over drinks. The false narrative that parenting was easier with wine became most apparent as a mother of two young boys, my ability to be in awe and share their joy was directly contradicted by drinking or recovering from drinking. My boys were 3 and 5 years old when I quit.
For me hangovers and conscious parenting just didn’t mix. Having that glass or two of red in the evening to ‘wind down’ actually made me more likely to lose my patience at bath time, not to mention it was interfering with my sleep which was already in short supply. We are sold this narrative that wine makes us a chilled-out mom, but it really and truly doesn’t in the moment and certainly not in the long run.
I was starting to include wine in all of our family events, which I wanted to clearly remember and not have to rely on pictures to jog my memory. There had already been some of the most precious moments with them, like when they told me that they loved me for the first time, I wanted to have a visceral memory of, not just a hazy recollection. I also remembered being hurt a few times as a teenager when I realized my mom didn’t remember a heart-to-heart talk we had had the night before.
The last straw was when I drove my boys home from a day of drinking at a girlfriend’s house. I had crossed the line on almost all the things I swore I would never do. My boys are the number one reason I changed my wine story, chose clarity and chose joy.
It might surprise you how the little things in life like sex, a morning walk, a deep conversation with a friend or celebrating a family holiday and remembering every last moment are naturally joyful and intense experiences when you are able to be 100 percent present in them and not have a part of you wondering if this might be better with some wine goggles on.
Megan Swan is an Integrated Wellness & Business Coach. She has 10 years of integrative wellness experience as a certified IIN Health Coach, Plant-Based Chef, Yoga Teacher and CEO.
At 30 she sold everything to embark on her own “Eat, Pray, Love” journey of sorts and now at 43 finds herself still on her first stop where she fell in love with one of her English students. She and her husband have two beautiful boys and two adorable dogs. She has been sober for 4 years.