I'm a sober mom in a wine mom culture.

Tara Blair Ball

Kelsey Knight/Unsplash

It’s our monthly moms’ get together for the moms’ group I’ve been a member of since my twins were four months old.

Seven of us arrive around the same time at the fine-dining restaurant.

“You got your hair done! You look so nice!” One mom says to another.

“I know. First time since Charlie was born!” She says back.

“It does look good! Feels nice to get something done for yourself, right??” I say, pulling my hands through my thick hair and noticing the roughness of the ends because I haven’t had a haircut since before my kids were even born.

The hostess seats us.

“Can we have the drinks menu?” A mom asks.

“Of course!” the hostess says, passing out one to each of us.

“I’m pumping and dumping tonight,” Another mom says.

“You’re still pumping?” Another mom pipes up. “I was so glad when I stopped. Now I drink a glass of wine every night before bed. I don’t even care.” A few laugh.

Our server comes around for our drink order.

“How big are your wine glasses?” One mom asks.

“Uh…we only have one size of wine glasses,” the server says.

“Dang,” she says back. “I need a super-sized one after this week…” The women laugh.

I remain quiet.

When the server asks me for my order, I tell him, “I’ll just have a water.”

When the server walks away, the mom to my right whispers, “Are you pregnant?!?”

“No,” I say back.

“Then why aren’t you getting some wine??”

“I don’t drink,” I tell her.

“Hm,” she says back and immediately turns to the mom on her right and says, “God, I can’t wait. I haven’t had a drink in soooooo long.”

What these women don’t know, because I frankly don’t advertise it, is that I’ve been sober and an active member of a 12-step recovery program for nine years.

I got sober shortly after my 23rd birthday.

I’d started drinking and drugging when I was a teenager. My parents had smelled it on me, or I’d come home blinking and fidgety, red-eyed, or wet-eyed, or they’d woken up to me retching in the upstairs toilet. They caught me sneaking out so many times from various downstairs windows that they nailed all of them shut and then put the security system on every night.

An ugly combination of homesickness, anxiety, and depression was so overwhelming when I went off to a college two states away that drinking and drugging became a way I could self-medicate. Soon enough, the consequences started rolling in (lower grades, poor life choices, ruined relationships), and I went back home.

I transferred to another college and finished out my degree, trying to remain sober on my own, but it wasn’t until I was about to graduate that I finally stopped altogether and sought out the help of a 12-step program.

In the preceding years between when I got sober and had my twins at 31, I was barely around drinking at all. I had married another recovering alcoholic/addict and had only other recovering alcoholics/addicts as friends, but then I had children and got introduced to “Wine Mom” culture.

Urban Dictionary’s top definition for “Wine Mom” is

“A middle-aged female (usually a mother) who enjoys drinking a refined, complex red or white wine most likely bought from Whole Foods with her other middle-aged female friends while exchanging neighborhood gossip.”

I get that moms — especially new moms — need to unwind and alcohol seems the perfect way to do so. #Winemom though glorifies binge-drinking and makes alcohol seem like the only way to deal with the normal awfulness of parenting.

I can’t ignore the fact that the memes and captioned photos are hilarious.

One #winemom post that went viral shows four moms holding up their glasses of wine celebrating sending their total of eighteen children back to school.

Wee Winks Photography/Facebook

I laughed when I saw it, but then I had to think about it. We can assume from the fact that the women are wearing bathrobes that they just sent their children off to school. It’s probably 8, maybe 9, in the morning. They’re drinking wine with their donuts (shown by the giant yellow box near one woman’s feet).

Everybody knows drinking early in the day is bad. If you feel like you have to, you likely have a psychological dependence on alcohol. It sets you up for drinking throughout the day, which also means you might have an afternoon hangover. Nothing sounds worse to me than trying to get kids fed and off to bed while nursing a hangover.

I’m not saying the mothers pictured above are alcoholics, drank any of or more than what is pictured, or that it’s a regular occurrence; I’m merely pointing out that this image, and ones like it, promote unhealthy drinking habits.

High-risk drinking, defined as more than three drinks in a day or seven in a week for women, is on the rise among women by about 58 percent, according to a 2017 study in JAMA Psychiatry comparing habits from 2001 to 2002 and 2012 to 2013.

As I scroll through my Instagram or Facebook feed, I see similar pictures of the moms in my moms’ group or other women I’ve befriended since having kids. One woman posts a picture of herself every night with a glass of wine in the bathtub with captions like, “Kids are asleep. It’s mommy’s time!”

It doesn’t stop with the memes. The internet has exploded with T-shirts, onesies, wall prints and canvases, wine glasses, among many other items. “They whine, I wine” is a popular slogan.

As a sober mom, all of this is not only triggering, but also isolating. I find it hard participating in events where I know alcohol will be present. Other mothers have chosen not to invite me and my children to outings or playdates because they know I won’t drink and their plan is to pop some champagne on the playground (a real thing that happened).

I take this in stride because I know, all too well, that when I start drinking, I can’t stop. I just thought that when I had kids, I wouldn’t have to be around a culture that feels very much like being in college again.

It worries me for issues of mental health as well. I self-medicated my own anxiety and depression before I got sober, and this #winemom culture sounds very much like the “Mother’s Little Helper” epidemic of women using Valium in the 1960s. Instead of mothers being taught tools for coping with their anxiety and postpartum depression, their doctors prescribed them Valium.

By the end of the dinner with my moms’ group, some of the women have ordered at least three rounds. I’ve kept track of how much has been drunk because this is something I do when I get anxious and triggered. When one woman doesn’t finish her second glass, I start fidgeting. She’s not going to finish that? What is wrong with her?

Just because I’ve been sober for nine years doesn’t mean being around drinking doesn’t bother me. Whenever I drank, I drank to excess. I would NEVER leave a glass of wine half-drunk. And sometimes, like at this gathering, drinking looks so…nice. Normal! Pleasant! I could just knock back one, maybe two, and it would really take the edge off…

But I know I can’t, so I used my tools. I texted a friend of mine in recovery and said a prayer while I was in the bathroom.

After we pay and walk out to our cars, one of the moms is obviously too drunk to drive and another, that I thought was just fine, trips on a completely flat surface.

“Are you going to be able to drive home?” I ask them both.

“Definitely not,” the obviously drunk one says. “I ordered an Uber. It’ll be here in 5 minutes.”

“My mom is picking me up because my husband just got home to relieve her,” the other tells me.

When I get in my car, I exhale deeply. I’m relieved.

Every mom has the right to decide whether she can drink or not. These moms had fun while they were out, and I don’t have any judgment about that. We all caught up and unloaded and had a nice time. Some of the best tools for anxiety and depression are a sense of community and the ability to talk openly and honestly about what’s going on, which we have.

Unfortunately, there can be fine line between responsible social drinking and numbing yourself with booze to deal with life. As a sober mom, I can say that going out and connecting can do a lot more than sitting at home with a glass of wine.

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Tara Blair Ball is a Certified Relationship Coach and author of Grateful in Love: A Daily Gratitude Journal for Couples, A Couples Goals Journal, and Reclaim & Recover: Heal from Toxic Relationships with a 7-Step Guided Journal. She has a Master's from the University of Memphis and is accredited by CTAA. You can find her on Tiktok, Instagram, or YouTube at @tara.relationshipcoach.

Memphis, TN

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