Every once in a while you read a book that has a big impact on you.
Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol is one for me.
This one started out as a not-really-joking option for book club. We ignored it the first time it was brought up but decided to go for it the second time. There were jokes about how this was going to turn our book club into a dry event.
I started reading it thinking “this isn’t going to affect me, I don’t have a problem with alcohol” and finished it thinking “holy f&ck.”
Not that I’m an alcoholic or anything. But I maybe don’t have as healthy a relationship with alcohol as I like to think I do.
The author Ann Dowsett Johnston starts out by sharing her own story. How she grew up with an alcoholic mother (relatively rare, historically you’re more likely to have an alcoholic father) and howshe grew up with a healthy appetite for alcohol until it wasn’t. Until, for various reasons, she was having 3 glasses of wine a night, alone in a pub, before grabbing another bottle to take home, sleeping in and being late for work because she was too fuzzy to get started properly, jeopardizing her relationship with her son and her partner, trying to stop on her own for three years before realizing that she did really need help.
And peppered through her own experience with alcohol is a social discussion on the place of alcohol in the lives of women. As women have agitated for change, to be considered as the equal of men, an unintended result has been that we now have our own problems with alcohol.
It’s not a perfect book by any means. Often Dowsett Johnston repeats herself, or explains things a second time when it’s already been covered, almost like she doesn’t think her readers can keep up. There is an element of “when women drink, they open themselves up to sexual assault” like it’s the risky behaviour that causes it instead of the fact that men rape.
But it’s a courageous book and it’s definitely started a conversation for me.
Here are some of the things that stuck out for me:
- Women’s bodies aren’t able to break down alcohol the same way as men due to a combination of hormones, enzymes and the makeup of our bodies (we have more fat then men). This means that it takes less alcohol for us to get drunk and it also takes a shorter amount of time for women to become dependent on alcohol.
- My generation of women is the first to have alcohol marketed directly at them. Wine as Mommy Juice, alcopops, ready mixed coolers and flavoured vodkas? Those were created to appeal directly to women and they work.
- Binge drinking is considered to be 4 or more drinks in one “sitting” in the last 30 days. Put your hand up if that includes you. (*raises hand*)
- Depending on where in her cycle a woman is, alcohol will affect her differently.
- That alcohol consumption has become so normalized in our society, we look down on people who are more tee total, who don’t really drink when they go out. But that as alcohol is normalized, we up the limits, flirting with alcohol problems.
I expected to read this book and go “that was interesting.” I ended up reading this going “some things maybe need to change.”