Like many people in recovery, I don’t have the fondest things to say about alcohol.
It was my fickle friend that ended up robbing me of my sanity and leaving me in pieces that I’ve since had to reassemble as best I can. I will happily discuss the many dangers of alcohol with anyone who will entertain the conversation. That said, I try not to force my strong feelings about alcohol on anyone and I will never shame people for choosing to drink.
Despite all of this, when I stumbled upon a The New York Times piece titled “Natural Wine Is My Self-Care,” I knew I had to respond.
I don’t want to put Fariha Roisin, the author of this piece, on blast because I relate to her more than she could imagine. Not so long ago, I was a natural wine aficionado with an amateur wine blog and lots of friends in the wine industry. Despite not actually working in wine, my life revolved around it. If I wasn’t drinking wine, I was researching it— but usually, I was drinking it. However, after one too many alcohol-fueled panic attacks and seeing that many areas of my life were in serious danger of collapse, I came to the realization that wine had to go, even if it felt like my greatest romance up until that point.
Romanticizing wine and other alcohol is dangerous for many reasons.
The article seems benign enough, mostly discussing what natural wine is and how it differs from mass-produced commercial wine. I have no beef with this or with anyone who cares deeply about wine. I could always tell the difference between someone with a genuine love for wine and my obsession with it. They would sip, I would gulp. It’s when the author starts waxing poetic about wine and discussing its spiritual qualities that I became concerned. The belief that good wine can elevate any situation is one I held tightly for years. But eventually, I needed wine not just to elevate situations but to get through them at all. By this point, it was too late to extricate myself easily or anonymously.
Romanticizing wine and other alcohol is dangerous for many reasons.
First of all, it is often marketed far more aggressively to women than it is to men. Walk into any liquor store and you will be bombarded with feminine-sounding names like Skinnygirl, Little Black Dress, and Sofia. If you start internalizing the messages that are being broadcast (and it’s hard not to), you’ll believe that alcohol is an essential part of a woman’s life.
If you are friends with a lot of thirty and forty-something women on social media, chances are that you’ve seen the reference to wine being “mommy juice” or the wine memes with taglines like, “I’m a wine enthusiast. The more I drink, the more enthusiastic I become.” There are whole accounts dedicated to this specific humor. The problem with it is that it encourages binge drinking and drinking as a coping mechanism, while reinforcing that all of this is normal, keeping many women from questioning their own relationship with alcohol. It also monetizes women’s invisible labor by using the knowledge that women are overworked, underpaid, and looking for a way to deal with the stress and selling them a temporary solution in wine. And trust me, it really is just a temporary solution.
It also monetizes women’s invisible labor by using the knowledge that women are overworked, underpaid, and looking for a way to deal with the stress and selling them a temporary solution in wine. And trust me, it really is just a temporary solution.
If you didn’t already feel like alcohol was an essential part of being a woman, there are scores of influencers and bloggers encouraging you to take it one step further and make alcohol a part of your self-care routine or even fitness regimen.
I appreciate the fact that Roisin takes a more nuanced approach to self-care than the fitness influencers that promote “Pilates and Prosecco.” She basically makes the case that living a more intentional life, and more specifically, being aware of what ingredients are in the food and drink she consumes, is a spiritual practice for her. While I’m on board with this philosophy, in theory, the truth is, for many of us, alcohol takes us out of the moment, transporting us somewhere else entirely.
Recovery has shown me the actual truth: That I can only truly be present when I’m sober. I’m not saying it’s this way for everyone, but for me, there was a tipping point where I started seeking out alcohol because I was looking for something to separate me from the present because the present was difficult and full of pain. I know that I share this experience with many.
Recovery has shown me the actual truth: That I can only truly be present when I’m sober.
The newest medical research states that there is no healthy level of alcohol consumption so the notion that it can be used as self-care is an illogical one.
Alcohol negatively affects the body in a number of ways, like disrupting sleep and increasing stomach acid, not to mention an exhaustive list of harmful long-term effects. Using an addictive substance in place of a healthy coping mechanism can lead to dependence and potentially addiction with enough time and use. I have heard countless stories from individuals whose seemingly “normal” drinking became problematic or turned into clinical addiction, often precipitated by a traumatic event.
This is an area that I know all too well. I thought of myself as a normal (albeit heavy) drinker in my early 20s. However, when my brother died by suicide when I was twenty-four, I quickly saw how alcohol could be a means by which to escape the pain — at least temporarily. From there, I entered the cycle of binging, abstaining, and moderating until I couldn’t do it any longer.
When I got sober, I quickly learned that I needed to put some healthy coping mechanisms in the place where alcohol had been “functioning” for years. I created a “sobriety toolkit”; self-care action items I turn to if I feel the urge to drink. For me, this has become a regular meditation practice as well as establishing boundaries in all areas in my life — both of these protect my sanity which makes me more capable of withstanding whatever life throws at me.
I had to speak out about this topic. If I can help even one woman avoid being duped by the same messaging that is so prevalent — that alcohol can be a healthy form of self-care — it will be worth it. When you consider how alcohol physiologically affects the body, it’s clear that it is not a proper self-care tool. What’s more, when you use alcohol (or any addictive substance), in place of healthy coping mechanisms, you run the risk of becoming addicted and having to deal with the fallout. While some people are able to right their course quickly and treat their addiction successfully, others die trying.
There are a million (free!) things you can do for self-care from meditation and bubble baths to setting boundaries and saying “no” more often, but I promise you that a glass of wine isn’t going to get you there.
Next time you are stressed, try something that has actually been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, like taking a brisk walk or doing a five minute guided meditation. Just please stop “caring” for yourself with alcohol.