Drinking has always been a big part of my feminist identity. (Yes I’m a feminist AND I still cook my husband’s dinner, these things can coexist) I am a modern a woman after all and we are allowed to drink now. Thank god! I used to say. We’re not restricted to the side entrances of ‘ladies’ bars anymore. We can go into any establishment and get just as shitfaced as men, we’ve earned the right Goddamnit!
We work, we raise families we balance the budget and whilst doing all of this we are flagellating ourselves for not looking like a 16 year old model on the cover of Vogue who eats one piece of celery per year and then sticks her fingers down her throat afterwards.
I used to think my drunken exploits were a big middle finger to the patriarchal establishment. “Take that!: —As I’m downing garish neon coloured shots. “I’ll show you!”—As I’m getting sick round the side of the club.
However misplaced this notion was, I wasn’t alone in this thinking. I was part of the ‘ladette’ culture and not surprisingly this coincided with alcohol marketing massively pushing towards the female market.
Recent years have seen profound changes in women’s drinking habits. Part of being a modern woman is ‘doing it all’, and part of ‘doing it all’ means WINE. This idea that alcohol is somehow an inevitable part of being an empowered woman is keeping a lot of women stuck in the no mans land of problem drinking.
When I relate this to my own life I can see so clearly that alcohol has been nothing but disempowering. To a painfully awkward and slightly depressed teenager, alcohol was a quick fix to numb out all the anxiety I felt about myself, my body and about life. It helped drown out the critical voices. It helped me be more outgoing.
Of course if you start binge drinking at aged 13 the chances of you experiencing violence and or assault is increased dramatically.
The Centre of Addiction states: “Although drinking does not cause sexual assault, there is evidence that alcohol use creates an environment in which sexual assaults are more likely to occur. Studies show that 50% to 75% of all sexual assaults on college campuses involve alcohol.”
When I became a mother the disempowerment was compounded by the fact that I gave up full time work to look after the children. At the time I didn’t realise how much that choice would influence my sense of self worth. I went from freelancing in London and earning the same amount as my husband to staying/working from home earning a fraction of what I used to.
The drinking escalated at home, being a stay at home mom is NOT for the faint of heart. Nothing can prepare you for the isolation, monotony and relentlessness of it all. The sea of nappies, bottles, tantrums. The PND with both children made it gruelling instead of joyful. I felt guilty for not being the glowy mom you see in the Johnson and Johnson’s ads and so I self medicated with wine. This was a lethal combination. Trying to soothe the guilt you feel over being a shitty mom with alcohol is like pouring a massive can of petrol on a raging fire.
The disempowerment that goes hand and hand with alcohol abuse is far reaching and undoubtedly affected all the areas of my life. Drinking led to a myriad of bad choices, flaky goals and generally just coasting around looking for my next fix.
The most insidious way alcohol disempowers us is that a life fuelled by addiction will most likely lead to many unfulfilled goals and dreams. Passions are put on the back burner in favour drinking. The more the drinking escalates the more you are just playing catch up. You are functioning with a handicap, dealing with drinking time and hangover time. This really doesn’t leave much time for anything else.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes about addiction in her book – Women who run with the wolves:
“The instinctual nature tells us when enough is enough. It is prudent and life preserving. A woman cannot make up for a lifetime of betrayal and wounding through the excesses of pleasure, rage or denial.
Sometimes is it difficult for us for us to realise that we are losing our instincts, for it is often an insidious process that does not occur all in one day, but rather over a long period of time. Too, the loss or deadening of instinct is often entirely supported by the surrounding culture, and sometimes even by other women who endure the loss of instinct as a way of achieving belonging in a culture that keeps no nourishing habitat for the natural woman.”
At age 39 I feel like I’m in the driver’s seat for the first time in my life. I am now actively pursuing goals that have been gathering dust for years. Yes, it is scary and sure, I may fail but you know what, I’m doing it anyway.
Taking the power back baby!