It’s almost the end of October and, for many who signed up for Stoptober, it’s been almost a month with no booze. Congratulations to all who stuck with it. Neither I nor my two close friends and fellow mothers-of-three got anywhere near the finishing line.
It wasn’t that we tried our utmost yet eventually succumbed to the temptation of a glass of malbec at the end of the day. The most committed of the three of us made it to October 3. Then we all made a conscious decision to quit quitting alcohol, for now.
The reason wasn’t a total lack of willpower. I like to think that if I’d decided it really was the best course of action in the current moment, I would have been capable of sticking with it. But to ditch the booze in this most hellish of years, while parenting three children under seven? Just no.
For millions of parents – myself and my friends included – the coronavirus pandemic has multiplied the usual stresses and strains in a way we have struggled to cope with. When choosing to have children, none of us ever imagined taking on the burden of home-schooling, while trying to juggle it with work and keeping everyone healthy and sane while trapped in the house for long stints.
If it sounds like a bad time to challenge ourselves to be better at something – in my case, sobriety – that’s because it is.
“It goes without saying that excessive alcohol consumption is damaging to mental and physical health long term”, says Dr Gigi Taguri, a north London GP. But, she goes on: “Parents have faced one of the most stressful years of their lives and, while it’s imperative we all take the utmost care of ourselves, it can also be detrimental to set unrealistic goals. Mothers can be particularly tough on themselves and this can lead to feelings of failure and a decrease in self-worth.
“This is especially true when it comes to fitness goals, diets and cutting things out completely – like that occasional glass of wine.”
My own relationship with vin rouge could be described as a healthy one, I think – full of love, appreciation, and respect. Savoured with steak or cheese or even just on its own when I’m curled up on the sofa, relieved that yet another day of pandemic-parenting is over.
I certainly don’t drink every day and it’s never more than a glass or two during the week, but I do find myself looking forward to it when 5pm hits and it’s feeding time at the zoo.
Looking back, as conversations around Stoptober and Macmillan’s Cancer Support’s Go Sober for October campaign gained momentum, I initially felt persuaded I should take this opportunity to reset my relationship with alcohol, not least because I’d like to lose weight. Instead, I’ve upped my exercise quotient with regular running, and my friends and I have come up with the idea of a “booze box”. This means that for every alcoholic drink we consume, we pop £1 in the pot for Macmillan. An unexpected side-effect of this is all three of us have found we’re now more mindful with our wine-pouring. It’s naturally become more savoured and less voluminous.
Of course, I’m well aware of the seriousness of severe alcohol dependency. Over the years I have watched people close to me struggle with addiction. I’m not an advocate for alcohol as a stressbuster or an escape. I know what a slippery slope this can be. But I am a supporter of mothers cutting themselves some slack during the pandemic, for the sake of our emotional wellbeing.
Dr Taguri says she saw a marked decline in the mental health of patients during lockdown, with mothers in particular feeling the weight of anxiety around the virus. The stress of home-schooling and balancing work commitments with meeting the family’s myriad needs was often overwhelming.
With ongoing restrictions on socialising, and the threat of further school closures, it’s little wonder parents find solace in that post-bedtime splash of wine.
“Women are suffering the most right now, with working from home and juggling absolutely everything else”, says psychologist and broadcaster Emma Kenny.
“So if a glass of wine on an evening is that punctuation mark that says ‘that was the day and now it’s finished, this is my time’ then go for it. We need these reminders of our humanness. To feel guilty is just adding to the pressure.
“If you know your boundaries, I think to deny yourself of anything completely is destructive.”
In my case, I’ve reached the conclusion it’s fine not to shine right now. To survive rather than thrive is OK too, for a time. I admire and salute all those who have managed a month with no booze. But I’ve stopped feeling guilty about pouring myself a drink at the end of the day. For me, it’s just not the right time. Maybe I’ll have a crack at Dry January. I said maybe.