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The M Word: Booze

Several years ago I unwittingly became a poster girl for “women and drinking”. I hadn’t intended to, but I made a document called Merlot & Me where I discussed my own drinking in relation to new national statistics, and alongside other women who were candid about their own alcohol habits. Since then, I am repeatedly asked to comment any time a newspaper or talk show covers the subject, as if I either have A) a problem or B) all the answers. I don’t have either.

Our generation drink very differently to those that came before. Sometime around the mid 90’s, alcohol snuck out of the off-licences (it must have had its own keys cut and left under cloak of darkness) and crept into the supermarkets. But even then, it stayed in the designated booze section of the shop. Then one day, when we were all looking the other way, it moved itself into the main bits of the supermarket. Alcohol is smart, and worked out pretty quickly that women are still predominantly responsible for “the big shop”. It then worked out that a lot of these women are knackered mums and so wheedled its way into shiny displays at the end of the baby aisle. I hadn’t noticed this before (as I would only ever use the baby aisle as a short cut to the mixers), but now I have lost count of the number of times I have seen a pyramid of Prosecco or sparkly stand of Sauvignon within burping distance of the baby products.

Alcohol is hunting us down people.

Now I don’t want to get all sanctimonious here, but there’s no denying many of us make throwaway jokes about “mummy juice”, “wine o’clock” and read endless funny Facebook memes about booze. As someone who used to socialise around alcohol, I can’t deny I sometimes miss big nights out, but equally I know the hangover just isn’t worth it anymore. Plus, I’ve had over 20 years of big nights out – it’s time for something new. But recently I admitted to a friend that I have days where I am literally counting the hours and minutes until it would be acceptable to fix a drink (NB 11am is not it). I thought this was a dreadful confession and a worrying sign until she threw her head back, laughed and told me that I was far from alone. It turns out a lot of mums are doing it, and it’s what gets many of them through the day. Why? I used to do a busy full time job and didn’t count the hours until I could have a drink. But here’s the difference; when you’re a stay at home parent, there is very little that is just for you anymore. Despite the joy that comes with this particular job, there is also a monotony to it, and having something “grown up” in your day that’s just for you, or you and a friend, or you and your partner, is nice. I have read many people of late, extolling the virtues of teetotalism – the clear head, the shiny skin, the slimmer tummy - I liked the sound of that. I cut out my now regular evening drink completely for a month recently to see how great I’d feel in the morning, and aside from being relieved that I could do it, I didn’t feel any less fuzzy headed (turned out it was the baby waking at 4am that was responsible for the fuzziness, not the drink).

An expert of some sort once told me that we shouldn’t reward ourselves with alcohol. We should see things like a bath or a nice walk as rewards. But what mother has time for a bath? The truth is, 200mls in a glass is easier than 40 litres in a bath (of water – please do not fill your baths with booze….)

I’m sure we will have many more conversations about alcohol on this page in the future. But in the short term, I’ve learned a few things: no, looking forward to a drink doesn’t make you an alcoholic; yes, we probably should joke about it a bit less; no, it doesn’t mean you’re now a dullard if you sometimes need a drink to feel more like your old self, but yes, it might be a problem if you need ten. Basically, I’m talking about our old friend moderation. I still have one drink most evenings, but I’ve started making sure I have at least a few nights off, if for no other reason than to know that I have the upper hand. I don’t need anything else to feel guilty about.

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©2020 Maia Dunphy.