Yesterday, I posted this TikTok video talking about my recent journey toward exploring sobriety. I think this post came as a shock to my audience, since I’m not a heavy drinker. I’m a casual drinker who loves wine with dinner, wine after stressful days at work or with the kids, and wine because I’m happy … or sad. I’m a business owner, a soon-to-be published author. I have a PhD, an engaged social media community. I’m in a happy and functioning marriage, have great kids, thriving friendships, and a sustainable fitness lifestyle that keeps me healthy while also giving me freedom to enjoy my life.
Alcohol has, for the most part, been a joyful and “enriching” thing. I’ve never had a rock bottom experience. Never blacked out or woke up hung over. Never had to sit in bed the next morning and try to piece together what happened the night before. So, why is someone like me talking about sobriety?
The thought of giving up alcohol, or at least significantly moderating it, has been on my mind for a while. But that’s a hard concept to wrap my mind around when so much of the activities I do for fun and for relaxation include alcohol. I’m not addicted or dependent, but maybe I’m a little too attached. And that doesn’t feel good to admit.
I recently started reading a book called It’s Not About the Wine: The Loaded Truth about Mommy Wine Culture by Celeste Yvonne. It’s been really instrumental in helping me reconcile my feelings around alcohol and sobriety. What I like about the book is that it doesn’t take a hard stance about going sober. Instead, it challenges the way we, particularly as women, have come to think about alcohol. Everywhere we look, there are messages targeted at us, telling us that womanhood and motherhood are hard, so we deserve a drink. And through this messaging, a lot of us have begun to numb ourselves rather than heal ourselves.
I think a lot of the literature about sobriety comes from people with Alcohol Use Disorder. People who have hit that rock bottom place and realized they had no choice but to stop drinking and seek recovery. Those voices are invaluable. They serve an incredible purpose for other people who need to see that hope and healing is possible.
But what about those of us who haven’t hit rock bottom? Those of us who are casual drinkers, who don’t abuse alcohol, but who are starting to wonder if drinking is really serving any purpose in our lives anymore? Where are those voices?
I think those of us who don’t have alcohol use disorder, whose relationship with alcohol is just fine thank you, don’t actually want to have the conversation because, if we did, we’d have to acknowledge that maybe our drinking isn’t so casual after all. The first difficult thing I’ve had to grapple with since beginning a sober curious journey is that there is grief around the thought of giving up alcohol. And shit. That’s a hard thing to admit.
Will date nights still be fun? Will my friends stop inviting me out because I’m a buzz kill? Am I sure I remember how to cope with my feelings without a big glass of wine in my hand?
You may remember, if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, that I’ve talked about moderating my alcohol use to help me achieve my fitness goals as well as to break the habit of using wine to cope with my feelings. Those efforts have been really good for me. I’ve definitely scaled my drinking back, and that’s something I’m very proud of. An interesting and unexpected result is that taking a step back from my alcohol use has caused me to question why I’m even doing it at all.
How is this serving me? I am actually having fun getting drunk with my friends, or does it seem like alcohol dampens the mood sometimes? Are my date nights better with unending refills to my glass, or does drinking tend to lead to arguments and bickering between us? Are there things I’d rather spend my money on than a bottle of empty calories that gets tossed in the recycling after it’s done everything it can do to my brain and body?
The answer is messy.
I know. You thought there was going to be a neat little satisfying answer.
But I’m not there yet.
The truth is, the answer to a lot of those questions is the first one. I’ve had many nights out with friends made way more fun by the presence of a little alcohol. I love getting tipsy with my husband, coming home to have wild, if somewhat clumsy, sex afterward. And honestly, what’s the harm in spending money on something that brings me joy?
However, the opposite is also true. I’ve seen wine ruin friendships. My husband and I have said things to each other while tipsy that took a long time to forgive and even longer to forget. Not to mention the growing list of things we’d like to have or do that would be much easier to obtain if every bottle of wine or glass at a restaurant was deposited into our savings account instead.
I guess what I’m coming to terms with is that the writing’s on the wall. I know what I need to do. I know the right answer is to release alcohol from my life before I even give it the opportunity to become a problem. I’m just not ready to do it yet.
I’m finding myself drinking less and less. It’s happening naturally as I dissect these feelings about it. Pouring a glass of wine these days sometimes feels like a failure of mental toughness—a choice to do something that doesn’t feel quite right, but here I am doing it anyway. I think, with time, that feeling will take over all the way. And then I’ll be ready to put it down for good.
Until then, there is grief. There is anxiety, and questions. I’m going to start being loud about that. I think other people may benefit from knowing that you don’t need to have Alcohol Use Disorder to be too attached to it for your own good. And that it’s healthy to begin asking ourselves these questions. It’s okay to sit in the grief while we sort out these feelings.
It’s okay to be honest with ourselves.
If you’re on a sober curious journey, I’m proud of you. What a gift—what a blessing—to be exploring these questions before the rock bottom comes. Let’s keep asking those questions.
And when we’re ready, let’s take the first step.
Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.