by Meg Geiswite
I had never heard of gray area drinking until I felt trapped in a constant “Detox just to retox” loop with wine. Each day, I would wake up at a deficit with a slight hangover, eat healthy all day, and complete a strenuous workout to prove I was in control. Then, when the sun would set, my brain would flip, telling me I deserved a glass of wine. It was rarely one glass.
For most of my life, social drinking was the norm. A few glasses with friends and family on the weekends. It wasn’t until I had three back-to-back life-challenging incidents happen that my weekend wine shifted into a nightly habit. What was once a recreational use was now a medicinal use. I was overwhelmed by these life-challenging events, and I escaped the madness of my day with a glass of vino. I never hit a rock bottom. There were no external consequences. I was winning awards at work; my marriage was intact, and my two kids were thriving. However, I was questioning my toxic relationship with alcohol and struggled silently. I felt alone and like it was my problem that I couldn’t get my nightly wine habit under control. I would quit for two weeks at a time with sheer willpower but eventually found myself back in my gray area of drinking.
What is gray area drinking?
It’s a vast, wide space on the alcohol use disorder spectrum. On the one end of the spectrum, you have truly take-it-or-leave-it drinkers who may have an occasional glass of champagne at a wedding or one glass of wine on their birthday but may even leave half of the wine in the glass… they really can take it or leave it. On the other end of the spectrum is end-stage drinking, where you are physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol. That middle space on the (Alcohol Use Disorder) AUD spectrum is called gray area drinking. Many of us fall somewhere in this category. For women, gray area drinking has become an epidemic. Drinking went up 41% during the pandemic in women who were trying to juggle home life, homeschooling, and work online all simultaneously.* It was exhausting and overwhelming, to say the least. Many of us turned to alcohol because we are sold these intoxicating lies:
- Drink – you’ve earned it.
- Wine is self-care and a reward.
- One glass will help you deal with your kids.
What we are NOT told or modeled is that alcohol is a carcinogen, a depressant, adds to our anxiety, and makes parenting more challenging. It is not your fault; we have been duped. But it is your responsibility to explore your relationship with alcohol, especially if you are questioning your relationship with it like I was. In my book, Intoxicating Lies, I take you on my sober curious journey and the five most intoxicating lies about alcohol.
1ST LIE: “I Deserve a Drink”
We see in movies, on TV, and in commercials that after a hard day or a major life challenge, the actor swigs down a drink to cope. It is also glamorized on the screen as the sole way to celebrate and have fun. Big alcohol is targeting women who are exhausted and marketing the dangerous message that alcohol is self-care. The truth is that it is an unhealthy consolation prize. It only adds to our challenges and compounds everything on our plate.
2nd LIE: “You Don’t Have A Drinking Problem”
Gray area drinking is a tricky space on the AUD spectrum because many of us do not hit rock bottom or per se need help. It’s a confusing space when those around you will say your drinking looks so-called “normal.” It doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks or how your drinking appears in comparison to others. What matters is if you are questioning your relationship with alcohol, you should get curious about why you are questioning it.
3rd LIE: “I Can Control My Drinking”
Many of us believe that we can get our drinking back again to so-called “normal” (whatever that means) by imposing self-written rules around our drinking such as, “I will only drink on the weekends or special occasions.” By doing this, we are actually placing more value on alcohol and tricking ourselves into believing we can control a highly addictive drug. Then, when we fail to keep our guardrails in place, we beat ourselves up resulting in a lot of shame. Shame keeps us trapped because it makes us feel like we are the problem, not alcohol.
4th LIE: “Being Sober Is Boring”
My biggest fear in ditching the drink was that I would be boring. I had bought into the societal lie that the only way to have fun was with a drink. Boy, was I wrong! What is boring is having surface conversations, being hungover, and not having the energy to play with my kids because I was either having a glass of wine or too tired from my glasses of wine.
5th LIE: “Behind Every Great Mom is A Bottle of Wine”
The mommy wine culture is toxic and insidious with its dangerous messages that wine is the solution to motherhood. We trade in playing with our kids or rushing their bedtime stories so we can reward ourselves with a glass. It’s becoming more and more normal to see moms drinking at kids’ playdates and sporting events. Even the zoo now serves alcohol.
What we really need is community, support, connection, and rest – not alcohol. We need to lose the stigma around exploring our relationship with alcohol and normalize not drinking in a culture that is obsessed with it. We need to know the science and facts of what alcohol truly is and to ask ourselves if it is truly serving us or not?
You can find Intoxicating Lies: One Woman’s Journey to Freedom from Gray Area Drinking everywhere books are sold. Follow Meg’s journey on Instagram (@intoxicatingliesbook) and on Facebook at “Intoxicating Lies: One Woman’s Journey to Freedom from Gray Area Drinking.”