For years, I spent my evenings “unwinding” with a couple (or more) glasses of wine to relieve the unending pressure of the mental load.
I had the physical demands of three young kids and an endless mental to-do list, and it always seemed that there were things left unfinished at the end of the day. The load of laundry that didn’t get folded. The homework that I’d have to nag my oldest about in the morning. The meal prep that fell by the wayside, resulting in yet another week’s worth of produce ending up in the trash.
My work never felt done, nor did it ever feel good enough. There weren’t enough hours in the day to tend to everything that inexplicably fell to me ― noticing what needed to be done, making plans for how and when it would get done, doing or delegating out work when I was stretched thin, but still overseeing that work to make sure it was completed.
Even when I wasn’t doing the physical tasks, nothing was ever cleared from my proverbial plate. I was still drowning in these responsibilities, and unable to take care of my own needs in any meaningful way.
So I turned to wine, like so many moms do. It was quick and easy, and I know I’m not supposed to say this, but it worked. Those first few sips of wine sanded down the rough edges of my day. I could feel that tight ball in my chest relax. I stopped caring so much about the overstimulating noise of my kids, and could look past the mess for a moment and simply be. It was an escape hatch with a short shelf life, but I’d take what I could get.
Of course, those half-a-glass-in moments were the highlight reel. I didn’t like to think about the desperate feeling of craving wine earlier and earlier (and often giving in to those cravings, especially once the pandemic hit and time lost all meaning). Or the fact that one glass of wine was never enough, because my body began needing more and more to keep that good feeling going. Pair that with the fact that more than one glass of wine would make me wake in the night with a dry throat and throbbing anxiety, and I half-wondered why I kept doing this to myself.
“We deserve a few hours where we don’t feel crushed under the weight of the mental load, don’t we?”
Sometimes I’d go through difficult attempts to moderate. I could even take a month off for Dry January or Sober October. But other times I’d find myself drinking a whole bottle of wine with other moms, and no one would bat an eye. We’d down a few bottles — anyone could be culpable, so no one was. It wasn’t a daily occurrence. And besides, we’d tell one another, we deserve this.
We deserve an escape. We deserve a moment to let our minds go numb. We deserve a few hours where we don’t feel crushed under the weight of the mental load, don’t we?
It seems wild to me now that we so rarely stop to think if maybe we deserve more than that. Like actual support. Like a life we don’t need to escape from. But then again, the wine blurred the edges just enough to eliminate that sharp, clear desire for more. It kept the questions from ever getting too deep.
When I finally got sober, I had a lot of rage as I realized all the problems I was numbing with alcohol were systemic, and they weren’t going away anytime soon. Sitting with that rage was uncomfortable as hell, but it was also eye-opening. I saw how much society encouraged women, and moms especially, to drink as a coping mechanism to deal with their overburdened lives. Because wine is an easy solution to a problem that no one plans on fixing.
But we don’t call it coping or surviving or struggling, we call it something cute that can be put on a Target T-shirt like: “Sunshine & More Wine” or “A Day Without Wine Is Like Just Kidding I Have No Idea” or the evergreen “Mama Needs Wine.” Because it’s easier to laugh it off and down another glass than to face the fact that we don’t want to be fully present for our lives because we don’t have the support we want or need.
That’s why moms really “deserve” wine. Because society, government, employers and sometimes even our partners don’t believe we deserve more. At least not enough to do better for us, if we’re even considered at all.
After two years of a worldwide pandemic and a clear disregard for how the bulk of new burdens are being shirked onto women, let’s just call it like it is. Let’s stop pretending wine time is an act of self-care and not a way to numb the overwhelm caused by being forced to take on more than we can handle.
We don’t need wine. Or at least we wouldn’t if society actually gave a damn about mothers beyond the lip service of calling us “heroes” when we’re begging to take off our capes and simply breathe.
What we really need is comprehensive care policy, equal partnerships and recognition for all the work that we do. To say that wine is a good enough Band-Aid on a broken arm problem doesn’t just belittle the serious weight of the invisible load placed on women’s shoulders — it ignores what is quickly becoming a major health issue as alcoholism affects an ever-increasing percentage of women.
Even when we’re not hitting the classic marks of alcoholism, we’re often using alcohol as a way to numb, to cope, to escape. Letting go of alcohol wasn’t hard for me because I relied on it too much, or because I was a problematic drinker. It was hard because I suddenly had nowhere to hide from those rage-filled questions about why the burden of the mental load never seemed to lighten. About why women aren’t getting the support we need, even when we ask over and over and over again. I am done wanting alcohol. What I want is answers. Solutions. More.
Moms don’t deserve wine. We deserve better than this.
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