U.K. Mom Reveals When You Need to Ask Yourself, "Am I an Alcoholic?"
Sophie wants others to know that "alcoholics come in all shapes and sizes and levels of severity."
Sophie, 29, is a mom who lives outside of London. She also runs an Instagram page called @sober_and_happy, where she writes about quitting drinking and motherhood. Like anyone else who's done it, Sophie's journey to sobriety wasn't an easy one. But she says it's important that if alcohol has any negative hold on you, "it's worth taking a hard look at your drinking" and asking yourself, "Am I an alcoholic?" That's what she did about two and a half years ago—and it completely changed her life.
Sophie knows her longstanding vision of an "alcoholic"—"the old man with the brown paper bag"—is something she couldn't be further from. But now, she knows that doesn't mean she didn't have a serious problem. "Alcoholics come in all shapes and sizes and levels of severity. It's all about how you use it," she told Best Life. "I didn't realize how attached I'd gotten."
She had grown up in a house of moderate drinkers, and had her first drink when she was 15 years old at Christmas. "I drank an entire bottle of wine and woke up covered in Christmas dinner," she said.
Things got worse once she started university, where the intense drinking culture made her feel pressured to liquor up in order to seem fun. "When I went to my first house party, I heard a few girls say, 'Make the geek drink and smoke,' referring to me," she said. "Drinking made me feel cool and popular, and I started to believe that I must not be fun without booze.'"
What followed was several years of heavy partying most days of the week and acting recklessly. "I spent all of my student loan on alcohol and didn't even really think about it," she said. "I scraped through my degree. I didn't eat because 'eating's cheating,' as we say here, so I was constantly sick. But I didn't think of it as a problem because every single person around me was doing the same thing."
Once Sophie graduated, she got a job in sales, where the culture was "work hard, play hard." She was going out every "Thirsty Thursday" and onwards through the weekend. Though she was constantly struggling to make ends meet, it never occurred to her to cut back on alcohol. "If I wanted to buy a dress for 40 pounds, I'd think that was too steep," she said. "But I'd drop 200 pounds on a night out like it was a life necessity."
Additionally, Sophie said she was experiencing panic attacks and constant anxiety, which she also didn't link to her drinking habits, even though she knows now that one of the effects of a hangover can be feelings of anxiety.
But everything changed for Sophie when she met her now-fiancé at 25. To her surprise, he didn't enjoy heavy drinking, which soon became a problem in their relationship.
"We went to a champagne afternoon tea once, and he didn't drink the champagne, and I was so angry at him," she said. "I'd say really nasty things to him when I was drunk, or I'd be aggressive, or I'd just throw up all over the floor. It became increasingly apparent he didn't like it when I drank. I told him he was boring and controlling and he didn't understand me, and broke up with him."
For the next eight weeks, she partied harder than ever, but they got back together once Sophie realized how much she missed him.
Then she found out she was pregnant.
Sophie was elated, until she realized it meant nine whole months of sobriety. "I didn't drink apart from the occasional champagne toast, but it was horrible," she said. "I hated all of my friends for being able to drink. I couldn't enjoy events. I felt like a boring, miserable loser and my brain was screaming for alcohol."
Once her son was born, Sophie moved straight into "wine mom" culture, waiting until 5 p.m. to begin "wine o'clock."
"You'd see cards in shops saying that wine is 'mommy's juice,'" she said. "Then you'd watch shows like The Good Wife where the main character, who's a top lawyer with a family, always has a glass of wine in her hand. So it just made it seem like moms need wine to get through the day."
Sophie also believes that a lot of alcohol marketing in the U.K.—where alcohol abuse has been steadily on the rise for women—is targeted at women.
"We have pink gin now, and lots of my friends use it to make their cocktails with martinis and straws and take boomerangs," she said. "We see the boomerangs at the beginning of the night, but not at the end when you've lost your keys and you're screaming at your husband."
Sophie would still drink heavily at special occasions, and sometimes wake up so hungover, she couldn't change her son's diaper. "I felt like a terrible mom and the worst person in the world," she said. "I would watch him play and cry and think how he deserved a better mother."
In addition to anxiety and depression, Sophie was also getting migraines, her skin was breaking out, and she was the heaviest she'd ever been. So, she decided to stop drinking, just to see what it would feel like. And while she was on and off the wagon for the next 18 months, she has now been sober for eight months, and she couldn't be happier about it.
"I lost weight, my skin cleared up, the migraines went away," she said. "But, most importantly, my mental health improved. I don't have negative thoughts like I used to. I feel lighter and more patient and like a much better person overall."
For others asking themselves if their relationship with alcohol is unhealthy, moms and young women in particular, Sophie says: "I believe that if alcohol is affecting you negatively in any way, it's worth taking a hard look at your drinking. If you think you can't possibly do 30 days without drinking, there might be a problem there."