I don’t know if I’m qualified to write this, but I’m going to do it anyways.
I am not a stay at home mother. I am not even female. I don’t viscerally and emotionally know what it’s like to be a woman in a patriarchal society. I don’t know, firsthand, the pressures involved in living up to what society thinks a powerful woman looks like, or just being a woman, period. So it may seem presumptuous to forge ahead, but I think there is a greater energy at work and exploring to do.
I need to start off and say that I am not anti-alcohol. I don’t get upset at targeted ads in my social media time lines. I don’t get set off by seeing page after page of booze ads in magazines. I don’t freak out when I watch funny or silly TV commercials which romanticize or minimize the affects of alcohol use. I just don’t. Just because I got sober, it doesn’t mean others can’t drink. Having said that, I did go through a short phase in my very early recovery where I felt indignant towards the alcohol industry, where I did raise a shaking fist against the “irresponsible” booze giants and their “propaganda”. It was my own anger in not getting what I wanted (lots of adult beverages), and I soon stopped raging against the machine and focused on my own healing.
But there is something about the culture of “wine o’clock” which does set off flags for me, the mental equivalent of a dog raising its ears to an unknown and strange sound in the near distance. For those who aren’t familiar with this call-to-arms-and-elbows-bending, “wine o’clock” is the phrase which heralds the unscrewing of a cap or popping of a cork to let our collective hair down and finally relax goddammit and wash away the sins of the world by swirling an ice cold Chard or deep, brooding Amarone. It’s a cutesy term for “the bar is now open.” It’s the in-joke for stressed out mothers and caregivers, for six-figure power women, for those who need a break from the world. It’s the equivalent of “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere in the world!” Get the corkscrew and let’s chug from expensive bottles, shall we?
Dads and men in general don’t get into the “wine o’clock” culture. Sure we have “boys night out”, but it’s not the same. We don’t have that perky, light-hearted mantra to usher in glassfuls of gleeful cheer. “Wine o’clock” generally pervades middle class and upper-middle class homes. It tells us that mom is now off the clock and taking care of herself. She is unwinding. She is slipping off the skin of her day and indulging. Hell, there is even a wine called “Mommy’s Time Out.”
If you read up on this topic, you will find a dark underbelly – women who start to succumb to alcohol abuse, women who feel the need to fill the void with wine, women who rationalize their increased drinking by latching onto the idea that all women “deserve a break.” Many female alcoholics I know started out with the “wine o’clock” tipple and started down the dark path of alcoholism. There are many ways to go down that spiraling path, but there is something insulating about being part of a culture where stress and even binge drinking is painted over in glittery euphemisms. And this is the danger.
The days of men outdrinking women are becoming extinct, although women (generally) still get drunk quicker than men. Studies show that women are drinking a whole hell of a lot more than they traditionally did in the past (thirty-four percent of British women are classed as high risk drinkers, with a one in six chance of having health problems due to drinking too much, according to the Daily Mail) and that has a lot to do with alcohol companies targeting women with all sorts of cute wine names and with the normalizing of getting sloshed on Sauvignon Blanc while taking a bath or binge watching Netflix. And I don’t blame the booze pushers per se, although they capitalize on it. This culture was there before the marketing agents got their talons in it. It’s the culture which is the danger, not the wineries, even though they are certainly enjoying the spoils of “wine o’clock”.
There is nothing wrong with unwinding at the end of a day. There is nothing wrong with having a glass or two of wine. There is nothing wrong with having a laugh with friends while sharing drinks. I am certainly not asserting these things be abolished. Most people can manage this. Most people don’t have to have wine or a stiff drink every day. Many people will also go to the gym, call a friend, do yoga, take a nap, watch TV, play games with their kids, or upload cute puppy videos on Facebook. In other words, there are many ways to wash away the dirt of the day. Wine can be one of those things (to a non-alcoholic, of course), but when the culture gets pushed and creating a sense that every other mother out there is popping corks with the same frequency they change diapers, that is the slippery slope.
This romanticism of a gay ol’ time with our friend Ms. Merlot creates a sense that without alcohol, we are a ball of anxiety and will never full relax. It also gives the false sense that just because one drinks pricey wine in an even pricier wine glass, that they will never be that wino in the park drinking from a paper bag-covered bottle underneath a bridge image of what a “real” alcoholic looks like. It’s as if the alcohol from a 1971 Chateau Margaux is different than that from a 1.5 liter bottle of sweet sherry. It’s that arrogance and ignorance (tied into pride) which is the shackle that binds so many people to potential alcohol abuse.
Regardless of the vehicle and ritual which brought us to the drink, I feel that underneath any (or lack thereof) pomp and circumstance, the same causes and conditions apply. I have sat with many men and women who, on the surface, were light years away in their circumstances, but were united in how they felt before, during and after drinking. I have met older women, dressed in stunning clothes and driving expensive cars to meetings, talking about their bottoms, about how they felt utterly desperate and wanting and suicidal. I could relate to their emotional states. I could sense the same feelings of worthlessness and pain that I had when I was drinking. I could also relate to the guy who ate from dumpsters and abandoned his family, who also felt alone, desolate and angry.
From Park Avenue to park bench, it’s all the same.
In the end, it’s about living an authentic life, to the best of our ability. We all have our diversions and activities to chill out and treat ourselves. I wouldn’t think of chastising anyone (read: a social drinker) for taking a glass of Riesling to the fireplace and relaxing. That’s not the point here, but I do worry when slamming down bottles of wine is normalized underneath a circus tent full of unicorns and bunnies and given the cutesy term “wine o’clock.” Perhaps I am being judgy, and perhaps I am not explaining this well, but I do know that many women needlessly die from alcohol abuse because they don’t see the damage they are doing guised as “taking the edge off.”
I would love to see a “self-love o’clock” become a thing.
But it’s not as catchy, is it?