Women & Wine: Reflection & Recovery

Red wine glasses in focus with two women holding them.

There are several myths about wine, such as that it’s safer than other alcoholic drinks. In reality, people can abuse wine and go through the stages of alcoholism just as they can with other alcoholic beverages. In this post, a woman in recovery reflects on her personal experience with wine, offers insights into how a problem may start, as well as provides some recovery tips.

Q: Can you speak to the romance or seductiveness surrounding wine?

A: I’m a recovering alcoholic. I loved wine. Growing up, I saw my parents drink wine and so did people in movies. It was (and still is) a cultural phenomenon. There was something about the way it was portrayed and the way in which adults around me appeared while sipping a glass of wine that was very attractive. Wine drinkers seemed sophisticated and as far as I saw, everything about it was okay. Nowadays, it’s pretty standard for many television shows to depict couples drinking wine at the family table, girlfriends bonding over multiple “rounds”, and more than ever – women relaxing at the end of the day with tumblers full of wine.

Q: What are the inherent dangers of this seduction?

A: Wine can and will take you down. I remember the book “Drinking: A Love Story” by Carolyn Knapp, because it planted a seed in my mind. There’s a wine glass on the cover and when I picked up the book, I thought, “Oh, I’m going to like this book.” That’s how in love with wine I was.

Knapp talks about how wine began to seep into her everyday life and affect her relationships with people, and that’s what happened to me. I couldn’t go out and have just one glass of wine. When I did do that, I’d internally congratulate myself because I hadn’t had more, although I really wanted to. Or, I’d congratulate myself for not moving to harder alcohol or for not having more wine and then blacking out, because that was a large part of my drinking. At the time I thought, “If I could just figure out the wine thing, everything would be okay.”

There’s something about the way wine is portrayed that suggests it is manageable and safe – unlike other substances, such as cocaine, that may seem more dangerous and taboo. Some people can drink wine in moderation but for many, that line between moderation and abuse can blur quickly. I kept thinking I could master it; that I could control the wine and make it work for me. But, I couldn’t...

I was quite the binge drinker in high school and college. As I got older, drinking became a problem for me. Towards the end of college and just after I thought, “I should fix my drinking.” By fixing I meant make it look better, less messy and crazy. I switched to wine because I thought that would make it more manageable. I’d go to a bar and if a guy asked me if I wanted a drink, wine seemed to be the perfect drink to ask for. It’s not beer, which may appear less feminine, but it’s not a double whiskey sour that makes it sound like you’re a person who drinks hard liquor. Wine can seem so safe to order and to drink. But for people with a problem, it’s not.

I started to have the occasional glass of wine, or 4, at a party or a bar. No matter how I was feeling about myself that night, lifting that pretty glass made me feel less insecure. It felt like I had graduated from the keg culture of college; I moved up. I tried to limit my wine consumption to parties and bars, but occasionally I would buy a bottle of wine to take home; it was a production. For one thing, I was making barely enough money to get by living in NYC. I needed to get a bottle, but nothing too expensive, but also not too cheap! Drinking an entire bottle of cheap wine, I knew, would provide an awful hangover and that had to be taken into consideration as it rarely ended with one glass when it was my bottle. Mine all mine. The liquor store guy must have been somewhat intrigued by this young woman who truly labored over which bottle of cheap, but not the cheapest, bottle of wine she should buy. It’s sad; that was a major decision for me at that time. By following the “rarely have alcohol in the house” rule I thought, “I can’t have a problem.” And yet, when I drank wine outside of my home, it rarely turned out well. I never meant to get black out drunk after my grandmother’s funeral or crash a fancy New Year’s Eve party or hijack my friend’s wedding video, but I did.

My last taste of alcohol was two sips of wine I stole from my mother’s glass when she went to the restroom while we were at the Canada restaurant at Disney Land. It couldn’t have been more unglamorous, but I was grasping for the last little bit. I entered recovery and started to replace wine with healthier soothing techniques that helped me find peace. I made sober friends, had coffee with them, and learned how to let go of the perceived sophistication that wine seemed to give me.

Q: When someone recovers, is it possible to “grieve” for the loss of the wine-drinking ritual or is the ritual just as intoxicating as the alcohol itself?

A: Not only is it possible, it’s important. No matter your drug of choice, you need to acknowledge that you miss the ritual. To deny that gets in the way of moving past it. I had to recognize that I loved everything about wine and about how it was going to make me be perceived. There were times when I brought it into the bathroom while I was getting ready to go out. I had to work through the fact that there was nothing glamorous about that. It’s like moving through the stages of denial for any loss. I had to think about whom I was going to be without wine and I think that’s true for any person who has abused a drug. You have to think through what you’re going to be left with if you give up drugs or alcohol, and you have to know it’s going to be so much better.

Q: What about finding other healthy and realistic rituals that don’t revolve around alcohol?

A: There’s a scene in the movie “What Women Want” where Mel Gibson is dancing around to Frank Sinatra while holding a glass of wine. He’s in a beautiful apartment overlooking Lake Michigan and he’s loving life. I was about six months sober when I watched it and thought, “Wow, that looks good.” I loved everything about it and I so wanted that feeling. I thought “If I could do that right now and control it, I would.” I wanted all the things that came with wine, but it really didn’t work for me. As soon as I drank, I got sloppy and loud and turned into a person I didn’t want to be. What I really wanted was to feel good about myself and be happy and at ease; wine was doing the opposite to me. In recovery, I have learned that through my own actions and sober decisions I can access an abundance of happiness and healthy self-esteem.

I had to find other ways to feel sophisticated and have that “fun” feeling, even going out and getting a Pellegrino sparkling water, putting it in a big, fancy glass, and dancing around to Frank Sinatra myself. It can be just as fun. Taking care of myself, pampering myself with a manicure, for example, is also great. Even the ritual of having your hair done or wearing that fun little black dress for no reason at all — there are so many ways to have a good time by yourself or with others other than drinking a glass of wine. I also go out for lovely dinners which I can now truly enjoy, taste, and afford because I am not wasting my time, money, or life on wine.

If you think you or a loved one may have a problem with alcohol or other drugs, please contact us at 1-800-678-2332. To learn more about our gender-specific program for women, click here.

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