Monday, December 16, 2013

Book review: Drink

Earlier this year I heard Ann Dowsett Johnston plugging her new book 'Drink: the intimate relationship between women and alcohol' on the radio and what she said motivated me enough to actually buy and read her book.

Why would I want to read a book about women and alcohol?  I don't drink much myself but I have noticed an increasing number of female peers drink very regularly.  I don't think it's always been the case, but as life gets more stressful juggling kids, work and everything else, a glass of wine in the evenings helps take the edge off the stress.  I see the appeal.  Because it's easy.  Not complicated (unlike everything else in life).  Not illegal and mostly not that addictive.

Except for some it is.  And this is what this book is about.  For twenty years the author had a glass of wine while she was cooking the evening meal after a busy day at work.  Just one.  Hands up who does that?  Heaps of my readers I would guess.

But the tipping point came when she found herself with a broken marriage, a son at college and in a new city with no friends.  Slowly the one glass an evening crept up to two and then three.  Eventually she lost her job (she was vice-principal at McGill University) and her long term relationship.  She lost a lot.

This book is combination of her own story of her progression into alcoholism and research that she's done about the relationship between women and alcohol.

I think it's a helpful book to read and I think it's a warning to me and my can-do-it-all peer group. The warning is that research has recently shown that while women can manage alcohol in their 30's and 40's, there are an increasing number of women heading into their 50's with significant addictions to alcohol.

Like all these types of books (and there are plenty of 'This is my story but since I'm a journalist here's my research too' books out there) the research leaves a bit to be desired (often because she is recounting interviews she's done with the boss of one company, followed by a chat with a female executive friend and on it goes).

But here's one passage that I thought I'd share with you (and I had to work hard to choose just one - there's a lot of interesting stuff in this book - other useful information about alcohol and teenage girls):

"In a recent poll done by Netmum in Britain, 81 percent of those who drank above the safe drinking guidelines said they did so 'to wind down from a stressful day.'  And 86 percent said they felt they should drink less.  Jungian analyst Jan Bauer author of 'Alcoholism and Women: the Background and the Psychology' believes women are looking for what she calls 'oblivion drinking'. 'Alcohol offers a time out from doing it all - takes me out of my perfectionism'…

Perfectionism is a culprit that Cowan [female friend she interviews] knows all too well. 

'At one point in my life I was trying to be the perfect woman:  doing things in the community,' she says.  'For a good ten years, I was unconsciously driving my life - and that's when I self-medicated the most with wine.  I was involved in so many community efforts - it was that feeling that I was never good enough.  The whole perfectionist thing was driving everyone … this is the way we are.  We encourage young women to live their lives a certain way - and it has nothing to do with what feels right.  I think we're living in a culture that's so demanding: you never feel like you're good enough.  It wears people down. People are exhausted at the end of the day.  They go home and have a drink as a way to cope with all of this.'" (pp 162-170. from 'Drink' (2013) by Ann Dowsett Johnston).

If you think you might be dependent on alcohol it could be an interesting test to not drink when you normally do - at the end of the day, at a social dinner, having takeaway, Friday nights.  And just see how you go.  It think it would also be good to talk about this issue with your female friends.  I suspect many of us think we might have a problem but don't want to raise it.

2 comments:

Bella said...

I read High Sobriety by Jill Stark earlier this year. It is about her year of not drinking and the impact on her health and social life. It certainly got me thinking about the place of alcohol in Australia, and the reasons why I have a drink or 2 at times.

Sarah said...

I heard a sermon at a women's convention some years ago about this topic - well not alcohol in particular but rather the need many women seem to have for some kind of 'vice' (I don't drink alcohol anymore, but my weak spots are definitely chocolate and TV). The issue is not really what the thing is, but rather why we do it. Often it's because we think we 'deserve it' after whatever stress we've been facing. The problem is when we start to depend on these things for comfort and security more than we bring our worries and stresses to our Heavenly Father.