Life & Style

Drinking and How It Changed My Life: Ann Dowsett-Johnston (Transcript)

The doctor gave her Valium, and she drank on the Valium, and she was, indeed, the poster girl for her era, the 1960s, mixing cocktails during the day as a stay-at-home mom who really devolved over about three decades into someone who looked very different and who was very different.

And it was really tough in our house. And it was the one thing I was sure I was never going to do was to become an alcoholic. I was really sure. That was not on my wishlist.

I did not look like my mother, I didn’t drink in the day, I didn’t miss work, I won awards at work. I really was sure I wasn’t an alcoholic, or I prayed that I wasn’t one.

And it wasn’t until I received this very beautiful handmade card from my 22-year-old son that I realized maybe there was no denying it. I received this card from him seven years ago, and I opened it up, and I thought, “How extraordinary. He’s an artist, it’s handmade, it’s got a heart behind me. It says, ‘Happy Mother.’ ”

And I thought, “This is perfect.” I hadn’t read the fine print. I had had a root canal, and I hadn’t been drinking for three weeks, and he had seen me really sober, sober every evening.

He’d watched me sleeping well, he’d watched my moods be very smooth. And he wrote on one side. I don’t know if you can read it, but it says, “No bags under her eyes.” And it says, “Writing, not editing.”

He knew that I wanted to write and that I was betraying myself as an individual. But most importantly, he said, “Perrier, not wine.”

And I received this card, and I knew the gig was up. I knew there was no denying that I was an alcoholic.

Now, alcoholism is like this: you will deny it, and it will progress, and you will deny it and play games with it, and it will progress — that’s what happened to me.

I’d like to tell you that I quit drinking then, but I didn’t. I drank for another two years, and I took a very, very big job, and that’s all in my book.

Finally, I got sober. Finally, I got sober. I did the heavy lifting of recovery, and it’s not for the faint of heart, I have to tell you. But, five years ago, I gave up drinking, and it was a new beginning, a new life, an absolutely new life, and not totally easy because, as we all know, we live in an alcogenic culture.

We live in an alcogenic culture, and here is the real truth, and this is global. The richer the country, the more narrow the gap between women’s drinking and men’s drinking, and this is the way it’s going.

Men have always had more to drink than women. But men are flatlining or going down just a little bit. Women are going this way, and it’s confounding epidemiologists. All around the world, this is what’s happening.

Walk into any room, any social event, as you know, and the first question you’re going to be asked right now is “Red or white?”

Know your wines — you’re sophisticated. Know your vodkas — you’re cool, you’re hip. And know you’re coolers – you’re young and female.

We know all the downsides of trans fats and all the downsides of tanning beds, but we like to think of a glass of red wine sort of like vitamin D or dark chocolate — good for our health.

And if we’re drinking a little bit too much, well, we’re just sort of drinking like the Italians or French, imbibing in the name of sophistication. That’s the way we like to look at things.

We don’t like to hear, in fact, that 15% of breast cancer cases are linked to alcohol. We don’t like to know those things. In fact, we have very, very fuzzy values about alcohol.

And women drinking more than they ever have before — well, that was the major question of my book. I knew I wasn’t alone. I knew it wasn’t just me.

I asked why, and I came up with three reasons: number one, is I think it’s become the modern woman’s steroid, enabling her to do the lifting in a still-evolving world. We’re in the middle of a socioeconomic revolution, and we all know that.

And so many of us race home from a busy day, stand there at the chopping board, getting ready for dinner, pour ourselves a glass of wine. It’s benign behavior. It’s common behavior. Get ready for dinner, maybe an evening, a second shift of overseeing homework and maybe doing a little work yourself, and you pour yourself another glass of wine.

For years, this was me. For years, this was me, until I had a major depression, a very serious depression in my 50s.

And that was reason number two: self-medication. Self-medication was why I drank in a really different way. Self-medication, in my case, for depression and anxiety, but for other women, it’s a decompression tool. It’s for stress.

In fact, the most common indicator that you’re going to have trouble, as a woman with alcohol, is childhood sexual abuse. That’s the most common reason.

And the third reason people drink is because they can, because they can, and it’s delightful. And we are being marketed to. We are being marketed to in an incredible way.

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By Pangambam S

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