Alcohol is everywhere. It permeates our culture. It’s in advertisements, movies, literature, our yoga classes (which still baffles me). Before I started getting serious about sobriety, I hadn’t really noticed because it was so ingrained into my everyday life. Of course we can find it in all the old familiar places: bars, clubs, restaurants. But it doesn’t end there. We’ve got book clubs with wine. Baby showers with wine. Painting classes with wine. Concerts in the park. With wine. We are constantly being inundated with the idea that we need alcohol to have fun, socialize, kick back, or function successfully.
I was browsing a book store the other day and happened upon an adult coloring book with the title “It’s 5’clock Somewhere.” Inside, I found such little gems as a group of drunk people I could color with the line: “Alcoholics go to meetings. Drunks go to parties.” Nice. On the next page was a liver (yes, a liver!) with cutesie little flowers and swirls to color in and the line “sometimes I drink water just to shock my liver.” My personal favorite was a picture of a pirate (also inexplicably designed with flowers and swirls on the inside with the assurance that “Drinking before 10 am doesn’t make me an alcoholic. It makes me a pirate.” What. The. Fuck.
My husband found the book hilarious. I saw it as a symptom of a larger problem. At every turn, we seem to be promoting alcohol as a means by which to handle life. Adult coloring books, which are meant to be a meditative and fun activity, are promoting pithy little anecdotes about alcoholic drinking replete with pretty flowers and mandala designs for your coloring pleasure. We are encouraged to end our weeks getting lit at the bar so that we can unwind. Women are targeted with low calorie cocktails and tiny bottles of wine labeled as “mommy juice” because apparently, we can have it all so long as we stay a little tipsy. Home décor professing that’s it’s always wine o’clock hang on kitchen walls. These are supposed to be cute little gifts that we give to the women in our life, but it masks a much darker trend. From early on, we receive constant messages that encourage us to self-medicate with alcohol. Stressed out? Drink. Don’t feel confident? Drink. Kids driving you nuts? Drink. Worked out hard at the gym? Treat yo’self and drink.
The profitability of these messages is obvious, but the consequences and societal impact may be less so. It’s become so normalized that we rarely give it a second thought. For the record, I do not believe that because I am sober the rest of the world should be too. There are plenty of people who can drink responsibly and lead healthy, happy lives. But the messages we receive from advertisers, product designers, and society are not geared towards moderation or alcohol as an occasional pleasure to be enjoyed in moments of leisure. The message is alcohol as medication, a salve to all your internal and external crises, the reason you’re fun, the secret to being easy going and liked.
This trend is particularly troubling among women whose rate of alcohol consumption has dramatically increased over the years. I’m among this trend. I learned in my twenties that a night out on the town that you can’t remember the next day equals a good time. The wilder, the better. We post the evidence on Instragram and SnapChat and wait for the comments and likes to roll in. It validates some notion that we’re grabbing life by the balls and living for the moment. We’re encouraged to take our drinking home and pour our cocktails into cheeky little mugs that proclaim “not coffee” with a wink and a nod. Hell, you don’t even have to leave the house anymore. There are wine and booze clubs that will deliver customized selections to your door for a monthly membership fee.
When you stop drinking, you become hyper aware of just how much alcohol has invaded nearly every aspect of your life. Work parties and networking functions, intimate gatherings with friends, art exhibits, dinner. It’s everywhere and when you’re newly sober, these events can feel incredibly isolating. People want to know why you’re not drinking. The uncouth among them may suggest that you’re suddenly a bore or try to shove a drink in your hand. Engaging with others in these settings can feel a little like trying to function with one hand tied behind your back and the instinct is often to retreat. The tricky thing about that is that when we retreat from alcohol infused events, we miss out on professional and social opportunities because rarely is one divorced from the other.
It’s a landscape I’m still learning to navigate and plenty of smart people have written extensively on how to manage in these scenarios. I won’t offer any nuggets here, but the question of “why” continues to inspire and fascinate me. Why has drinking inserted itself into so many aspects of our daily lives? How did we get here and are we even fully aware of our participation?
I’m encouraged by the increase of sober influencers on our culture and the ever-expanding presence of the sober community. The conversation about alcohol and why we drink is starting to gain traction on social media. Sober celebrities and every day folks are stepping out to talk about their experiences and I’m both comforted and amazed by how many people are able to say “me too.” Until a few months ago, I didn’t realize just how many people out there have been wrestling with the same issues with alcohol as me and it helps me get a sense of normalcy back. I suddenly don’t feel like a crazy person who can’t get it together. I realize that the issues I struggle with are pervasive and shared by others.
How many working moms are filling that “not coffee” mug four or five times a day just to keep going? How many cups of coffee and double doses of Advil have we popped to make it in to work on time after an after work function where we “unwinded” a little too hard? How many seemingly put together women filling their glass in the early afternoon under that cute wine o’clock sign are desperately wishing they could get it together?
I believe there are more of us out there than we realize. Because alcohol is so widely celebrated and alcoholism still largely stigmatized, it is easy to live in a state of high functioning denial, hiding in the shadows, combing the internet for signs that we’re not alone in feeling like something’s wrong. I certainly have for years. And whereas I can look at ridiculous coloring books, free drink tickets at a book reading, or stupid wall art that professes “one tequila, two tequila, three tequila floor” with an eye roll and move on, I still appreciate the power these little reminders have on our psyche.
The good news is that we don’t have to feel imprisoned by these messages. We can own our sobriety and see it as a source of power, navigating social settings with nothing but a glass of juice and our innate wit. It may take some doing to get to that point, but it’s possible and millions of people are doing it every single day. When the tough days come and the external pressures get a little too loud, there’s an entire sober community here willing to lend support and encouragement.