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The kids aren’t going back to school: Rethinking our coping strategies

Many of us parents are settling into the fact that our kids aren’t heading back to school as they normally would this fall and a return to our pre-COVID lives is still far away. The last six months have been nothing short of stressful. Our lives have been upended, our routines have gone out the window, and the thought of one more day - let alone many more months - of this is just too much. As a result, we are looking for just about anything to cope with the stress, anxiety, and complete sense of overwhelm, be it by practicing yoga, screaming into a pillow, or pouring another glass of wine. 

Alcohol is often viewed as a tool to relax and take the edge off, though it's actually not that good for us. So how did the nightly glass of wine become associated with relaxing and self care? For many, alcohol is one of life’s simple pleasures, something we can enjoy at will and consume without a second thought. For the average adult, drinking is just part of our American lifestyle and not something that’s considered as a “problem.”

Hiding in plain sight

In reality, alcoholism can hide in plain sight inside someone who is highly functional, with a good job, and a loving family. Furthermore, alcoholism doesn’t start at rock bottom. It can begin with a glass of wine at dinner each night that gradually turns into a couple more. It can start with “having a fun night out with friends” a couple of times a week. 

I know this because I never got to the point where I lost everything, though I am an alcoholic. 

I was a straight-A student throughout high school. Then I went to college and started to have fun. A lot of fun. This fun continued throughout my early twenties. I’d go out, a lot, but I’d do it with different groups of friends so that no one really knew how much I was drinking. I was highly functioning. I had a job. I had a loving family. 

I also had a real problem. 

One day I realized it was time to make a change, and I decided to get help. My plan was to get sober, get in good shape, and then I’d be able to enjoy going out with friends and having a glass of wine without getting out of control. 

However, once I became sober and addressed the underlying issues at the root of my drinking, I decided I didn’t actually want to drink anymore. I learned coping skills to replace alcohol as the method to alleviate my dis-ease. I’m now much happier and healthier for it. 

Adding sobriety to our personal wellness checklist

I am on a mission to help women in a similar situation to my own get help before their lives crumble and completely fall apart. You wouldn’t wait until cancer is stage four to receive treatment if you are able to catch it in stage two. Why doesn’t this rule apply to substance use? Why not intervene at the first sign that your drinking is a problem instead of putting yourself in a position to possibly lose everything? Why can’t substance use disorder treatment be another thing we do for ourselves to promote wellness and self-care, along the same lines of yoga, meditation, therapy, or acupuncture? 

For many of us, we can’t imagine giving up our evening glass of wine. For those who enjoy an after work drink to unwind, treatment doesn’t sound applicable or necessary. Seeking help for our drinking is often portrayed by the recovery industry as giving up all substances forever, but I don’t think help requires this ultimatum. Early intervention, and utilizing therapy to assist with the demons or stressors that cause us to drink even just a glass or two each night, means learning alternative coping skills to better deal with our pains, even the “smaller” ones, and be more in control. It goes back to the cancer analogy - intervene early before you hit stage four and the disease is insurmountable. 

How do you know if you truly have a problem?

Here are some questions to consider if you’re wondering whether or not it is time to seek help:

  1. When pouring that glass of wine, ask yourself why you are doing it. Is it for social reasons? Is it to calm your nerves, quiet your anxiety, or to numb pain? Is it out of habit? Do you need it?

  1. Instead of drinking (or using a substance), could you find another way to quiet your mind? Do you have the skill set to do so? Does exercise help? Meditation? A cup of tea? Or is booze the only thing that “works?”

  1. Have you noticed any consequences from your drinking? I recommend people use the CAGE assessment which asks four simple questions to indicate when it may be time to seek help.

I believe a simple change in how we view addiction could fundamentally benefit our society. If we removed alcohol from our go-to relaxation aids, might we be healthier for it? If we viewed substance use therapy as another item on our wellness checklist, we may preempt addiction or alcoholism from becoming terminal threats to our personal health down the road. Unfortunately a return to normalcy may still be far off and the coming months will likely include many stressful moments as we balance work/life/parenting. Perhaps we should all take the time to build up our arsenal of coping mechanisms, but leave the alcohol out.

About Holly Montag Wilson

Holly Montag Wilson is a passionate champion for women in recovery, encouraging them to become empowered leaders of their health and wellness journeys. She is the founder and CEO of Women's Recovery and is dedicated to helping women overcome the unique challenges they face in maintaining parental and familial responsibilities as they navigate their road to recovery.

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