After my marriage broke down I fell into the habit of ‘rewarding’ myself with a glass of wine a few nights a week. This reward quickly turned into a glass of wine every night. And, quite comfortably and without any effort at all, I fell into the habit of having half a bottle of wine a night. It wasn’t social drinking. It was anti-social drinking. It was ‘all on my own, indulge yourself, you deserve it’ kind of drinking. And I was not alone.
Women and alcohol consumption
Alcohol consumption by Australian women during midlife has increased significantly over the last twenty years. Research shows that women aged 50-70 are more likely than younger women to consume alcohol in quantities that exceed drinking guidelines. And while 13-14 per cent of women aged 45-60 were drinking at ‘binge-drinking’ levels in 2001, this figure rose to 21 per cent by 2022.
‘Wine o’clock’ has become a well-worn term to describe the practice of rewarding ourselves with a wine at the end of a day of duties in order to relax, switch off and transition into the evening.
Like many women of my age, I was very deliberate about representing my alcohol consumption as a ‘reward’ – especially for midweek drinking and drinking alone. Research supports my behaviour – women in particular feel the need to describe their drinking as ‘an act of relaxation’ which is ‘earned’.
At some point I realised that what had started as a little reward for getting to the end of the day had become a need — a process of watching the clock click towards 5 pm so I could have a drink. And I didn’t like that feeling or that dependency. I didn’t like what it did to my sleep, or my skin or my self-worth. Every morning I would wake full of self-recrimination and I would vow that I would not have a drink that night … but by around 3 pm I would have fully turned my thinking around and into some sort of self-justification that I deserved to have a drink after all. Just one.
And so I went cold turkey and I stopped drinking for six months. I deliberately re-designed my day to piggy back breaking my old poor habits onto new good habits – I timed my daily jog for 5pm (aka wine o’clock) and I committed to very early morning ocean swims every day which had me out of bed with a clear head.
The benefits of being sober curious
The benefits were quickly realised and very tangible — I started to sleep like a dream, I woke without guilt and I felt so much better about myself.
So much better, in fact, that I decided it would be okay to indulge myself in a glass or two of wine again — but just on the weekends. And that worked to the extent that it was just a glass or two on the weekends, but my sleep went to shit, my stomach played up, my anxiety surged, I had more nightmares, and I woke feeling guilty — all over again.
Enough already! In the last 7 months I have had 4 glasses of wine. Total. I am very firmly sober curious and enjoying the liberation I feel.
No more judgement – from me or anyone else
The global sober curious movement is quickly growing. Women especially are feeling motivated to be mindful about their drinking and are choosing to drink less, or not at all. And we are supported in this by more dialogue about wellness and the benefits of not drinking, along with an ever expanding range of zero alcohol drinks on the shelves and in bars. I have noticed that even in the space of the last 12 months, I am far less likely to be judged for ordering a soda and lime as opposed to a Pinot Grigio – with my friends also expressing curiosity in not drinking and flirting heavily with sober curiosity or more mindful imbibing.
These days, more than valuing a wine o’clock reward, I am valuing:
- Feeling in control of my willpower
- Feeling good about myself
- My physical health and mental wellbeing
- My sleep
- My self-worth
And so I am out. See you later vino, you are no longer serving me well.
This is an edited extract from Kate Christie’s The Life List: Master Every Moment and Live an Audacious Life, published with the permission of the author and Wiley.