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When Rachel Bouman, a Chicago-based C-suite coach for executive women, wrote a LinkedIn post to celebrate one year of being sober a few weeks ago, it was the first time she told anyone other than her husband and teenage daughter about her personal journey with alcohol.
“I wasn’t an alcoholic and never went to a 12-step program, yet I didn’t have a healthy relationship with alcohol. It had become the place I turned to numb, self-soothe or unwind. I knew I was doing it and wouldn’t stop,” Bouman wrote. Becoming sober helped her eliminate brain fog, munchies and even wrinkles.
As a result of her public admission, Bouman said she has been able to make valuable connections with women — and clients — who support her journey. Some of these women admitted that they have also “wrestled with” drinking a little too much or too often.
American alcohol consumption dramatically increased as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and women increased their episodes of heavy drinking (consuming four or more drinks within a couple of hours) by 41 percent.
Moreover, alcohol has a greater effect on women’s bodies than on men’s. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, biological differences in body structure and chemistry cause women to absorb more alcohol and take longer to metabolize it, leading to more longer-term health effects than their male counterparts.
To regain control of their lives, women like Bouman are choosing to abstain from alcohol…and finding a surprising amount of professional success along the way.
But for Bouman, now 46, her greatest victory came after a friend recently urged her to try “just a sip” of hard cider. Bouman’s 14-year-old daughter proudly interjected: “My mama doesn’t drink — not even a sip.”
Closing the consumption gap
A century ago, men’s alcohol consumption outpaced women’s by a ratio of 3:1; today the ratio is closer to 1:1. According to a study done by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, men have been drinking the same amount — or less — while women have been drinking more.
But some women are hoping to reverse this trend.
“Alcohol is supposed to be a celebration substance. Alcohol is supposed to be a stress relieving substance. Alcohol is that thing that’s there to make you feel better when nothing else does. And the reality is, is that’s just putting a band-aid on whatever’s going on underneath,” said 38-year-old Amanda Tice, international curve model. She abandoned alcohol “cold turkey” in May of 2019.
Although Tice said that she never felt like she was “drinking too much,” she found herself “entrenched in mommy wine culture.”
Tice recalled, “I got to this point that not only had a gained a lot of weight [from drinking], but I wasn’t able to be present. [Alcohol] was sucking a lot of joy out of my parenting experience.”
Drinking had been affecting Tice’s professional ambitions, as well. She had started writing a book at the end of 2018 but wasn’t making a lot of progress.
“It wasn’t until I stopped drinking that I was able to get really clear on my goals and realize what I was capable of, because instead of spending time drinking, I was spending time writing,” said Tice. “I honestly don’t think I would have finished this book if I had still been drinking.”
The resulting book, “The New Mom Code: Shatter Expectations and Crush It at Motherhood,” includes a chapter subtitled, “Why Alcohol is Not Your Friend,” in which she encourages women to look at how, when and why they consume alcohol.
A sobering reality
“I operate much cleaner and with more reliability when I’m not drinking,” said Dawn Hunter, founder and CEO of a product-based business for women. “When I decided to launch my company full-time back in 2018, I quit drinking entirely to focus on growing my company and to give myself the best possible chances at success.”
Before that point, Hunter had spent 14 years working in investment banking, a job that included international travel—and opportunities to drink. “Boundaries are blurred easily when we’re tipsy, and that’s dangerous territory in a professional and social environment,” said Hunter.
Because she is no longer “distracted by the draw of liquid temptations,” Hunter finds that she can maintain her drive and determination to grow her business without the anxiety that alcohol can bring.
Hunter discovered that she didn’t need alcohol to engage with colleagues at industry events. She admitted, “It can initially feel rather uncomfortable or awkward to say no to an alcoholic drink among potential new friends. I like to remind myself that nobody’s ever accused me of being boring and I’ve never regretted remaining sober for an event. It can only work in my favor.” She continued, “There’s nothing wrong with being perceived as more serious or committed. It can only add to the amount of respect a person has for you.”
A two-bottle-a-night habit
By the time she was 35 years old, Annie Grace was a global marketing executive responsible for 28 countries and traveling internationally twice a month. She was also drinking almost two bottles of wine a night.
Determined to change her habit, Grace spent a year researching and changing her desire for alcohol, finally taking her last drink in 2015. When she shared a PDF of her research efforts online, over 20,000 people downloaded it in two weeks. As a result, Grace left the corporate world, wrote two books (“This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol” and “The Alcohol Experiment”) and started a company that helps people examine the role that alcohol plays in their lives.
“My goal is their goal,” said Grace of the people (mostly women) who seek her help. She knows that not everyone wants to cut alcohol out of their life completely, so she helps people to set a goal for what they want their relationship with alcohol to be. Once they feel positive about the direction they are heading in, they will have an easier time reaching that goal.
But Grace admits that it’s not a simple process.
She stopped drinking completely while still at her high-pressure corporate job and often encountered alcohol-related work situations. When she traveled to Brazil, local colleagues strong-armed her into tasting their national drink. When she was in the United Kingdom, a colleague purchased a $3,000 ticket for Grace to attend a wine tasting that featured bottles of wine worth $20,000 each. She said, “At that time, the pressure to drink was immense,” but she was secure enough in her decision that she was unphased.
Over 300,000 people have taken Grace’s free program. According to Grace, about half said that they no longer drink, and 36 percent drink less often.
Grace noticed that the people who decreased their alcohol intake said they were more energized and focused at work. Sometimes they took a deeper interest in their career, and other times, they found clarity to shift gears and move on to an industry or position better suited to their strengths. Grace pointed out that it’s much easier to stick with an unsatisfying job if you are “numbing” your discomfort with alcohol at the end of the day. Eliminating alcohol can help you figure out the type of work you really want to pursue.
Get curious about your drinking habits
Grace had three suggestions for women who want to reexamine their relationship with alcohol.
- Instead of worrying or getting frustrated about your alcohol intake, get curious about your behavior. Did you reach for a beer because you’re hungry? Tired? Or is it just a mindless habit?
- Put down self-judgment and realize that you’re doing the best you can with the tools you have. Find compassion for yourself.
- Be open to learning something new. List all the reasons that you drink and do a deep dive into whether they’re true. For example, if you drink to relax, research whether alcohol physically relaxes you. (Spoiler alert: your overall anxiety will decrease if you eliminate alcohol altogether.) When you deconstruct what you think the benefits of alcohol are and look at them honestly, your desire to drink may change.
On a practical level, Bouman, Hunter and Tice all take a low-key approach to public sobriety. All three said that they like to have a (non-alcoholic) drink in hand at events. Bouman prefers kombucha, Hunter’s go-to is sparkling water and Tice enjoys mocktails like Zero Proof or De Soi. Tice added that sipping on a mocktail is “probably the path of least resistance for people who are dipping a toe into early sobriety.”
Bouman initially relied on a phrase she heard from Whole30 co-founder and CEO Melissa Urban. When offered a drink, Bouman would simply say, “I’m not drinking right now.”