I've been co-editing the Drinking Diaries blog for almost three years now, since 2009, with Caren Osten Gerszberg. Our mission: To get women to share their drinking stories -- without judgment. Hearing so many women's stories has helped me put my own drinking in perspective and develop a healthier relationship with alcohol. In sifting through all the stories, all the years of interviews, excerpts, news clips and quotes, here are some things I've learned about drinking:
1) When It Comes To Drinking, Life's Not Fair. Practice acceptance of this fact rather than defensiveness, and you'll go a long way toward gaining a clear picture of your own relationship to alcohol. Some women are indifferent to alcohol and some can take a few sips and leave it at that, while others have a seemingly insatiable appetite for the stuff. Some drink a ton and get addicted, and some don't. The phrase, "But she drinks just as much as I do!" is meaningless. We're all different, and that's just the way it is.
2) Drinker, Know Thyself. It's taken me years to find my own drinking "comfort zone" -- that space where I can enjoy drinking as one of life's pleasures, rather than worry about it as a potential source of anguish. I have friends who can drink a glass of wine every night while they're cooking dinner, no problem. If I did that, I'd be tortured, worrying that my kids would think I was an alcoholic, worrying about wanting a second glass and a third, because for me, if one feels good, two feels twice as good. That's just how I roll. I choose not to drink wine at home, alone. I choose not to drink every night, because it makes me feel fogged and sluggish. Drinking on special occasions and when I go out works for me.
3) Drinking Doesn't Have to Be All or Nothing. And yet the word "moderation" can be annoying, because my lifestyle and my idea of moderation may be entirely different than yours. The key is to find your own "comfort zone," and then, when you find it (and that may end up being no alcoholic beverages at all), you can break the cycle of binging and then depriving yourself. Set your limit before you go out and stick to it. If it's two glasses, then savor those glasses. Plan ahead of time what you'll order when you've reached your quota: Seltzer? Gingerale?
4) Not Everyone Who Has a Drinking Problem Is an Alcoholic. Some women simply drink too much and need to practice "portion control." For these women, quitting drinking is not always necessary, and can cause a bingeing/abstaining seesaw. There are other programs out there besides AA. Rebecca Johnson detailed her experiences with Moderate Drinking for Vogue in a piece called "The Sipping Point."
5) For Alcoholics, AA Isn't the Only Answer If you're an alcoholic and AA doesn't work for you, don't give up or bag the whole concept of sobriety. There are other ways of getting and staying sober, as Amy Lee Coy details in her book, From Death Do I Part: How I Freed Myself From Addiction. Maybe the God part of AA doesn't work for you. Maybe the idea of descending into a basement depresses you. Keep looking till you find what works.
6) Drinkers and Non-Drinkers Need to Peacefully Co-Exist Republicans and Democrats, vegetarians and carnivores, Muslims and Christians have to share the same breathing space, and so do drinkers and non-drinkers. If you've stopped drinking, sooner or later, you're going to find yourself among people who drink. For your own sanity, it's probably best to try to get comfortable in these situations. And drinkers -- sometimes, you're going to find yourself in a situation where it's better that you abstain. My mother is a recovered alcoholic, and while sometimes I'll order a glass of wine when we go out to dinner together, most often I don't. My husband's family barely drinks, so I drink very little when I'm with them. Why? Because in life, it's easiest if you're flexible.
7) Work Hard to Make Drinking a Choice, Rather Than a Habit Read Charles Duhigg's great book about habits. Once you get in a habit loop, it's damn hard to break. And things that are routine can become boring and unconscious. Drinking is too fun to become just another thing you do.
8) Share Your Stories and Read Other People's Stories -- It's Good For You When people find out I have a blog called Drinking Diaries, they assume I'm a huge boozer, obsessed with alcohol. Actually, the opposite is true. The more I share my own stories and read other women's stories about their relationship with alcohol, the more I learn and the more I've been able to develop a conscious and healthy relationship with alcohol. I actually drink less, but I enjoy it more. (Which reminds me of how waitresses I've known tell me that by the time they get off their shift, they're kind of sick of food, so they eat less.)
9) Find Your Drinking Mentors. So many great women are writing fiction and nonfiction and blogging about all things drinking related, from teens to women of a certain age, wine lovers to people in recovery and everyone in between. I recommend the various writers on The Fix and other writers like Alice Feiring, Mary Karr, Sacha Scoblic, Caroline Knapp, Koren Zailckas, Brenda Wilhelmson, Michelle Huneven, Stefanie Wilder Taylor -- and the list goes on. Read their stories and learn from them.
Leah Odze Epstein is a writer and co-founder of the Drinking Diaries. She is currently working on a young adult novel about a character who is the daughter of an alcoholic. She has reviewed books for BookPage and Publisher's Weekly, among other publications. She also writes poetry, and her poems can be found on the website Literary Mama.