I drink every day. Almost without exception.
It is part of my daily ritual... in some ways part of my identity. And it brings me great pleasure.
At the end of the day, when I close my laptop, I love to open a bottle of something white and crisp. I turn on music, cook dinner, watch my kids play (or fight), and take in the life I have built. Sometimes these reflections are joyful. Sometimes they are frustrated and tired. Either way, I view this moment in my day as a great one.
When I serve dinner, I tend to pour myself and my husband something red. I often sip this throughout the night, sometimes even taking the last few mouthfuls to bed with me as I watch a favorite show or finish up work or mindlessly scroll through my phone, enjoying those few moments to myself.
A lunch or dinner among friends without wine seems like a missed opportunity to me. Not to catch a buzz, but to go back in time, connect with the land, and experience multi-sensory pleasure. Wine is a fantastic accompaniment to food, a wonderful social lubricant, and a small mechanism for making an ordinary moment feel extraordinary. Is it the only way? Of course not. But it's a nice way, an age-old way, and that way is currently taking a beating.
And, for the first time, writing this down suddenly feels like a guilty confession. I am actually bracing for an onslaught of negative commentary after hitting "publish" on this one.
As the ubiquitous and well-intended "Dry January" -- something in which I have never participated -- comes to a close, and I take stock of all the pro/con articles about it out there, as well as the informal documentation on social media from those on the wagon for the past near 31 days, I find myself feeling protective of my beloved drink. My wine. My industry.
I find myself asking... when did this happen? When did everything change? When did behaviors on the extreme ends of consumption start to determine the go-forward plan for everyone?
In fairness, I work in the adult beverage industry, and my livelihood largely depends on the purchase and promotion of alcohol -- wine specifically. However, I have been quite outspoken about the pressures of alcohol consumption that plague this business. I am also no stranger to alcoholism. It has impacted many in my family in painful and destructive ways.
This piece isn't for them, and it's not for those who truly are at a crossroads, wondering if their drinking is becoming a problem. It's not even for those who just want to take a break from drinking or are, in fact, sober curious. I believe in self awareness and going through life with eyes wide open, and this of course applies to one's relationships -- be they to food, beverage, ideas, jobs or people. I have helped others navigate their sobriety, participated in family rehab, held interventions, and seen the worst of what alcoholism can bring, and I believe in the need for greater resources and tools for those struggling with addiction. I will continue scrutinize not just those close to me, but the alcohol business itself, to look for real signs of danger, exploring real tools for addressing the issues.
My frustration is that it is starting to feel like the media and messaging surrounding the sober curious movement is suggesting that we are all at that crossroads. And, even if we don't think we are, there is this gentle nudge for us to take a long, hard look at our "unhealthy" habit of alcohol consumption. I have friends who are moderate drinkers suddenly starting to over-analyze whether or not to have a glass of wine at dinner. While I think a good gut check is never a bad idea, there is a new paranoia that has crept in. Never underestimate the power of suggestion -- especially when it's in the name of wellness.
The messaging at times feels crusading and laced with judgement. I will not do Dry January, and I am not sober curious, but I am also not a train-wreck who wakes up feeling ashamed or unproductive every day, as some of the rhetoric might suggest. I, too, spent January 1st without a hangover, although I did enjoy a phenomenal bottle of Grower Champagne the night before. Much like the message in this post isn't for those on the extreme ends of the spectrum, perhaps the sober curious aren't talking to me either, but for some reason I can't help but feel lumped in. When I read things like, "Choosing not to imbibe is the ultimate health choice one can make," blasted to a social media audience in the tens of thousands, I wonder if that's not unfairly demonizing something or someone.
I resent the shaming of the "wine mom." I am a mom. I love wine. And I love to drink wine with other moms. And yes, at times this happens before noon and is a momentary escape, about which we bond and laugh. There was a time in history when alcohol was used to numb the pain of a tooth extraction. Why can this not apply to the experience of potty training a defiant toddler, which makes a drug-free tooth extraction seem like a walk in the part by comparison? The jokes we share surrounding "Thank God for Wine" moments don't define our relationship as women and fellow mothers, nor do they necessarily signal a problematic relationship with alcohol or an inability to parent without anesthesia.
I follow some sober-curious-themed social media accounts and, in writing about the benefits of mindful drinking over teetotaling, have done my share of research about the movement. My WSET Diploma case study exam was about the growth of the low- and no-alcohol business. There are brilliant voices on the mindful drinking side of the aisle encouraging us to return to viewing wine as part of a pleasurable lifestyle, and a ritual in self-care itself. Perhaps these are the beginnings of the pendulum swinging the other way and I hope this is the case. In the meantime, these voices seem to be muted and a little bit nervous, as my own is right now.
For every study outlining the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, five others appear about how terrible it is for us. And yet, to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure there is a study out there that could convince me to put down my glass of wine. Does this make me an addict? A skeptic? Or someone who just weighs the risks in life against the potential pleasures and makes a decision, in the same way I decide to get into my car each day, drink a cup or two of coffee, wear deodorant, cook with butter, cut with sharp knives and travel via airplane. I'm not even sure the decision is an entirely informed one -- how can it be when the science is ever-changing and someone keeps moving the goal post?
Because something is difficult to give up does not somehow by definition make it an addiction or even a problematic behavior. There are plenty of benign habits and even wellness-focused acts -- exercise, eating, sex, cleaning, you name it -- that, when they cross over into the extreme, are no longer healthy. But that crossover is hopefully the exception, not the norm.
There is an entire world of people out there for whom alcohol is one of life's enjoyments; who would genuinely have a hard time giving it up -- not because they have an unhealthy relationship with it, but because it is part of their lifestyle. I don't believe this means they are flirting with addiction. I simply think it means that, like many other things in our lives, this small, daily, weekly, or monthly pleasure is a non-negotiable. And, as the wine business struggles to keep up and compete, I personally want to know that this world of people isn't being overlooked, or, worse, shamed. I see you and I am one of you. This piece is for you.
Wine is still one of life's smallest and greatest pleasures to me -- its mindful consumption an act of self-care and happiness, which, I would argue, go hand in hand with health. No study or campaign is going to change that.
Devin Parr writes about wine -- drinking it, making it, life with it, traveling for it and the business of it. She also dabbles a bit in careers and parenting.