My last drink ever was a glass of champagne in 2015, to celebrate a friend’s birthday. When I woke up in a fog the next day, I knew that I was finally ready to be done with alcohol. It wasn’t a giant, momentous, lightning bolt of a decision, but a quiet one that had been building for quite some time. I was newly married, I wanted to become a mother, and I was grappling with the reality that I had anxiety and depression which required medication. This meant accepting that my brain chemistry simply did not agree with alcohol.
Like many women, medication and therapy are the best way for me to manage my mental health issues. I didn’t feel that I had a problem with overconsumption of alcohol, but rather that it just no longer served me. Ultimately, I chose sobriety—and it has been one of the best decisions of my life. Since that time, I’ve become a mom to a bright, hilarious little girl. I’m also a healthier, more content version of myself. My very absolute decision about drinking has proved to be the best way for me to care for myself and my family. What’s more, seven years of being sober has taught me some important lessons. Here are a few:
It Didn’t Happen Overnight
I slowly inched closer to the conclusion to quit drinking for about a year. I’d go for weeks at a time without any alcohol, and then I’d end up accepting an offered drink at a party or a dinner out with friends, just to be social. As the year crept on, I got tired of this pattern. It wasn’t worth the inevitable next-day sluggishness and blues—or even panic attack—that would follow, after just a couple of drinks one evening. I was tired of feeling numb when I drank. I wanted to feel present, all the time, fully immersed in both my good feelings and the hard ones, too. Before I knew it, it had been months since that last glass of champagne. Then a year. Then two.
There were some immediate positive effects like better sleep, improved digestion, and more energy. For the most part, though, the shift in my new, alcohol-free existence was as subtle as my decision to abstain in the first place. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what changed in me, but life just got better: physically, mentally, and emotionally, as I’d hoped it would. This past fall came and went unceremoniously, marking seven years of sobriety. It’s safe to say that being sober is now a part of who I am, albeit a small part, but an important one nonetheless. While reflecting upon my own journey and observations, I reached out to Bryce Reddy, Licensed Mental Health Counselor and creator of The Mom Brain Therapist, for some insight.
The Sober Curious Movement Is Growing
I acknowledge that complete sobriety is not for everyone, and I would never judge anyone for their choice to drink. Many of my friends and family do. What works for me may not work for another person, but I believe that anyone can reap the benefits from moderating their consumption of alcohol and evaluating their relationship with it.
In recent years, I noticed a term that kept popping up in various articles I read: “Sober Curious.” The Sober Curious movement has been gaining more attention and interest from people who, like me, have realized that they may want their lives to look a little different. In regard to its rising popularity, Reddy said, “A big part of this is due to an increasing awareness and prioritization of mental health and wellbeing. There is no denying that alcohol can negatively impact mental health for many people. As we become a culture more open to discussing mental health, we also become more willing to let go of the things we believe are negatively impacting us, such as alcohol use.”
Moms Need More Support
Being sober as a mother has also meant that I’ve had to figure out other ways to unwind after a long, stressful day. Let me tell you, it’s not always easy; after having a child, I have become aware of the “wine mom culture.” It makes sense that moms could be susceptible to it. Reddy explained a few reasons for this: “Motherhood and parenting are hard work and come with a lot of demands, frustrations, and loneliness. The ‘mommy wine culture’ movement markets alcohol to mothers as an antidote to this in many ways. Alluding that alcohol can relax us, melt our problems away, and connect us with one another.”
The pandemic highlighted the immense pressure that is placed on mothers. The burden we’ve had to carry these past few years has adversely affected many mothers’ senses of happiness and well-being. Moms have to shoulder the weight of daily tasks and mental loads, and too many just aren’t receiving the support they need. (All of this, coupled with a historic time of uncertainty and grief.) “In my place in the social media Mom space,” said Reddy, “I definitely noticed an increase in jokes and memes around alcohol during the pandemic. Alcohol became even more of a punch line for how to cope with parenthood during a global crisis and I think as mental health continued to be impacted, there was a normalization of alcohol as a means of self-medicating that intense upheaval we were all feeling.”
“Alcohol became even more of a punch line for how to cope with parenthood during a global crisis and I think as mental health continued to be impacted, there was a normalization of alcohol as a means of self-medicating that intense upheaval we were all feeling.”
Explaining My Sobriety Was Tough–At First
Choosing sobriety was, initially, a hard thing to explain to friends and even my family. Alcohol is so thoroughly ingrained in our social culture, I worried about losing my connection with others. Many people also didn’t know that I took medication, and at first, I kept it a private aspect of my life because I was so scared of being judged. Gradually, with the support of my husband, I came to a place where my embarrassment dissipated. With each passing year, I feel prouder of my resolve to do what I know to be right for me, and for the ones I love most.
The other part of the equation is that I still like to go out and have fun. That has certainly not changed since I gave up alcohol. Over time, I’ve found simple ways to explain my non-drinking. If a new friend asks to get together for a glass of wine, it’s two sentences: “I don’t drink. I’d still love to meet up at that restaurant!” I don’t owe anyone a detailed explanation until I’m ready to share more. And according to Reddy, another great option for transparency about your sober lifestyle is to suggest alternative, non-drinking activities. She said, “Whether it’s meeting up for a hike, going for breakfast instead of dinner (where drinking can be more of an expectation), or meeting for some other alcohol-free indulgence, there are plenty of ways to socialize without alcohol.”
It Helps to Have Good Friends
I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that I have many friends who are completely fine with my choice. With any friendship, I’ve always felt it’s important to accept the person as a whole–unconditionally. I’m lucky to have some special women in my life who do just that. We support each other in all aspects of motherhood and more, including the decision to either drink alcohol moderately, or to abstain from it altogether. As a mom, connecting with other parents is essential for me to recharge, and to be more present for my daughter. And if I can do so while being sober and preserving my mental health—well, that’s a win-win.
This article was originally published in 2023 and has been updated for timeliness.