I was a normal drinker. A social drinker. A mid-lane drinker. A grey area drinker. Which is to say I drank like most people in Ireland. I never drank to worrying levels and I never hit rock bottom.
When my three children were all under 5 years old their dad and I would share a bottle of wine most nights. It was a way of releasing the pressure. A moment of adult time among the mayhem. I looked forward to it daily. We hadn’t always drunk every night, we’d just slipping into the habit. Friday and Saturdays extended into Thursdays and Sundays. Then Monday was added as a way of brightening up the worst day of the week. It seemed silly not to throw in Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Around that time I wrote an article for the Irish Independent titled ‘I’m not a desperate housewife, but I like my glass of wine’. I wrote about the stress and boredom of being a stay at home mum to three young children and feeling the need to ceremoniously acknowledge some adult time at the end of another long day.
A poll of friends had shown that many of them did the same. We had all come to rely on the crutch and the ritual. Inevitably the next day we would feel a little more tired, a little less enthused about the ten hours that lay ahead of us. By the time 7pm rolled around we would be gasping for something to take the edge off and make us feel better. Alcohol was making motherhood harder rather than easier and I didn’t even notice. Soon after exploring our drinking habits for that piece we managed to break the cycle of the daily bottle. It was tough that first week, but very quickly it seemed crazy that we had been sinking six to seven bottles a week between us.
The weekends however remained sacrosanct. Friday night was not Friday night without a celebratory drink in hand.
I continued drinking mostly at the weekends and on special occasions for the next few years, never seeing it as an issue other than my dreaded hangovers. When they hit I would feel guilty for not being in top form for the kids, but not enough to change my habits.
As the children grew up, they watched us drinking almost every Friday and Saturday night. Some Sunday afternoons we would all go to the pub to meet with friends, or else join family at my mother’s house for a home cooked roast dinner. All events inevitably revolved around alcohol.
Obviously watching us all week after week would have impacted my children’s view on drinking. It’s fun! It’s grown up! Everyone does it! As children we observe what goes on around us and that becomes our truth. It’s uncomfortable to think about, and when I was drinking I would have become dismissive of anyone who might dare to mention it. Articles on the damaging effects of alcohol were dismissed in favour of highly debatable ‘Red wine is good for your heart’ research – which of course we all lapped up and passed on because that was what we wanted to hear.
When I gave up alcohol over four years ago it was only supposed to be for 30 days, but the benefits were so good that I just kept going.
One of those benefits was becoming a better mother. I hadn’t factored in the difference it would make to parenting and family life.
Once alcohol had been taken off the table, both literally and figuratively, it was apparent how much of an effect it had had on me. With my new found time and energy came endless plans. We would go hiking, or swimming, or adventuring. I no longer talked about doing fun stuff with them on the weekend and then not see it through because I was too tired. I would commit to driving to the place to do the thing that Saturday, because I would know that I would not be hungover.
The most unexpected gain from giving up drink was how much easier it made the logistics of my parenting life. Lifts, planning and outings all fell into place and my messy mothering began to take a little more shape.
I became fascinated with a child’s view on it. They hadn’t yet been sucked into the machine yet. It wasn’t a part of their daily lives. So what did they really think about it? I asked my own children and their cousins. ‘Alcohol makes some grown ups scary’ said one. ‘They’re like different people when they’re drinking’ said another. ‘They think they’re funny, but they’re not’ said a third.
My children now have a number of adults in their life who don’t drink. I am so proud of that. I’d like to think they have been gifted the vision and choice of an alternative path. Yes they will want to experiment and explore as they get older – but perhaps the inevitability of drinking has been lifted.
The world is changing. Non-alcoholic drinks are the fastest growing sector of the drinks market. Whereas my friends and I aspired to the ladette culture of our time growing up, our kids are taking inspiration from the world of wellness.
Perhaps we have reached peak alcohol and the next generation will have a healthier and more educated relationship with it. What I know for sure is that I’ve given my own kids the best chance of that.
I am so happy that I accidentally stumbled on this soberista way of life, and I would recommend that every parent gives it a shot – you just never know the difference it might make to you, your happiness, your health and of course your children.
Kate Gunn is an Irish author. Her second book The Accidental Soberista, chronicling the unexpected bliss of an alcohol free life, is out now. Available in all good bookstores, on Kindle, or as an audiobook.
This is our second Guest Blog with Kate Gunn, read her blog ‘How giving up drink for 30 days changed my life’
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