Last year, I celebrated my birthday with one of my best French friends… champagne. Sadly, champagne doesn’t love me back nearly as much as it did when I was younger. My miserable hangover lasted the entire weekend that followed and I decided:
I’ve been drinking for over two decades, starting with ill-gotten wine coolers in high school to rivers of cheap liquor in college to Sex and the City cocktails in Manhattan. At some point in my early thirties, cocktails turned into wine. “I’m too old for hangovers,” I’d say. Wine wasn’t liquor. It wasn’t vulgar. Wine was sophisticated, a pleasure, French. Drinking wine meant you were an adult, even though a grownup hangover could still involve a spinning room and a pounding headache.
Then I moved to France, where wine is the liquid running through most people’s veins. A half-bottle of Sancerre with lunch, a glass or two for the apero, a bottle with dinner. And that’s Tuesday. Let’s not forget the “take the edge off” drink that almost every mom indulges in after the kids are in bed. Playdate pickups often involve several coupes de champagne while commiserating over motherhood, wifedom and expat living. Even when you’re expecting, you’re not ostracized from the Bordeaux. With my first pregnancy, I’d demur and jovial French friends would insist, “Just half a glass, it’ll make the baby vraiment français.” The second time around, I happily accepted the flute of bubbly once I was past the first trimester.
This sort of social drinking wasn’t terrible. I never got to the gyrate-on-the-bar stage I often did in my twenties (and thirties, if I’m being honest). My mild post-lunch or post-dinner buzzes weren’t hurting anyone, least of all me, since the only side effect was a bit of fatigue or a.m. brain fog.
Except I think it was hurting. Was I a little less patient, a little more snappy with the kids and hubby the day after I had cocktails with a friend? Was my fatigue and brain fog preventing me from writing anything decent — or at all? Did I reach too quickly for the wine bottle at 6 pm, clinking my husband’s glass as we cheered to another mad-rush day winding down?
I couldn’t justify another Saturday of not being present for my family because I was too wrecked to get out of bed before lunch. I didn’t want to feel physically ill from deliberately poisoning my body with alcohol. But would I be able to have any kind of social life without wineglass in hand? Does anybody willfully not drink when they don’t have a drinking problem?
Yes and yes.
It was surprisingly easy to let people know I was forgoing alcohol. There may have been a raised eyebrow or two — Was she in recovery? Doing some crazy American detox? — but when aren’t French eyebrows raised? Luckily, I’m at an age where I don’t need lubrication to feel comfortable in a social situation. I was also on-trend: Post-holiday indulgences, there’s now Drynuary, a self-imposed January of teetotaling. Not drinking’s a thing, folks.
More seriously, functional alcoholism is also a thing with mothers. It’s easy to downplay and glamorize drinking as something modern moms do — and deserve. Motherhood is <lolsob> difficult. But wine o’clock is a stale joke. It’s even less funny when the nightly half-bottle at home slides into something terrible and tragic.
I was dry for six weeks. It felt good. No fuzzbrain, no fatigue, plenty of energy and no hangover-induced impatience with my family. I also lost two kilos since I stopped drinking all those empty calories. I’m back to having a glass or two of wine at a dinner, but it’s a far more deliberate choice. I don’t automatically say yes to the refill and there’s rarely an open bottle of wine in my fridge. As always, it comes down to balance (I’m a Libra) and I’m hoping the moderation sticks.
2017 UPDATE: Well, it didn’t stick so the Les Lolos team is doing Drynuary!