Experts in the Media

Sarah Rusbatch – The Age/Sydney Morning Herald/WAToday

“Grey Area Drinking” Coach, Speaker and Co-Founder of Free Spirit Drink Co

You’ve hit the mother-load and need a drink – but sauv blanc is not self-care.

As I watch the clock creeping closer and closer to 5pm, the anticipation quickly starts to build.

My body knows it’s coming and without consciously thinking about it, I find myself standing at the fridge pouring a generous serve of chilled Sauv Blanc as I mark the end of my ‘work’ day and the start of the evening routine. This will be the first of many, as I juggle mum, wife and work commitments and the only way I know to get through the next few hours.

I’ve been up since 5am and by 8am I’ve walked the dog, been to the gym, done a load of washing, made breakfast for the family, ironed school uniforms, cleaned cereal off the bench, made lunches and sent the kids off to school. Since then, I’ve been chained to my desk working and as the day comes to a close and I hear the children coming home, I brace myself for what’s to come.

Homework, dinner, a phone check-in with my elderly mum, a zoom for a self-help course I’m doing (what a joke!) break up a fight over whose turn it is to unload the dishwasher, last-minute birthday wrapping, an online food shop for the dinner party we’re hosting this weekend and maybe a minute to sort out washing that’s been waiting to be folded for the past five days.

It’s relentless, this ‘motherload’ of the modern woman. And I know I’m not alone.

The stress, overwhelm and juggle to keep all the plates spinning with unrelenting demands is seriously taking its toll.

No wonder we are all searching for a release. That moment of peace, where all the noise stops, the to-do list floats away and we can just be, without all the pressure and expectations that weigh so heavily on us. And for most of us, that blissful moment of oblivion looks like wine.

Because it does exactly what we want it to in that moment. It presses pause in our busy minds and gives us a moment of reprieve. And it can’t be that bad, right? Because everyone’s doing it. Ask any busy mum how she switches off, unwinds, relaxes or marks the change from ‘office work’ to ‘house/family work’ and the answer is nearly always the same. Wine.

But what starts as an innocent, pleasant glass to soothe away the troubles of the day can, and does, very quickly, transform into a much-needed crutch.

And from there, that alluring glass is quickly replaced by something more sinister. Dependency. Addiction. Reliance.

The demographic of those experiencing alcohol use disorder is not your stereotypical homeless man on the bench. It’s middle-class professional women who are juggling more than any generation before them and have nothing else in their toolkit to soothe their stressed nervous systems. Is perfectionism now the precursor to alcoholism?

I was stuck in this relentless pattern for years. I had nothing else in my toolkit to manage my stress and a constant buzzing in my head of the next thing on my to-do list. I certainly fell victim to the sinister side of that evening glass of wine which quickly led to a bottle, or more…

Insomnia, anxiety, shame, regret, lack of memory, a bloated face, weight gain, low mood and a dramatic loss in self-esteem all took their toll as my drinking crept up. But I honestly didn’t put it down to the drink. Because how could it be alcohol causing all this when we’re told it’s the solution?

Everywhere you turn – social media, billboards, our friends, magazines… everywhere we look there’s messaging that a drink is the perfect way to relax, unwind and switch off.

So little is talked about when it comes to the impact of this daily drinking habit and yet I now see the fallout every single day in my coaching business.

I finally quit drinking in April 2019, three years ago, after reaching my tipping point.

I knew alcohol was taking way more than it was giving and understood that moderation was never going to be an option for me. It hasn’t been easy in what is essentially an alcohol-centric society. I’ve had to re-learn how to manage my stress, soothe my nervous system and manage my emotions without numbing. But it’s changed my life.

Nowadays, when my busy day draws to an end and as the switch flicks from ‘work mode’ to ‘mum mode’, I dig into my toolkit of resources to assess what’s going to work for me today and what I need most, to ensure I continue into the evening feeling calmer, more present and less reactive to the children’s demands.

Over the past three years I’ve tried everything to create a list of options that work for me in any given situation.

Whether it’s a yoga class, a walk, breath work, meditation, a bath, some quiet time with my book, a chat with a friend or a brilliant podcast I know that as long as I’m managing my stress and prioritising my self-care that I can manage my emotions without needing to numb or escape.

I now support thousands of women across the globe who are stuck where I was. And every story’s the same. The subtle increase in quantity, the daily reliance, the mental negotiation; “I’ll just have two, and only after 5pm, and not on a Monday.” And the constant justification: “It’s been a hard day. I’ll stop tomorrow.” But for many, tomorrow never comes.

So, before you pour your nightly glass of ‘Mum’s little helper’ ask yourself, is this really ‘self-care’? Or is alcohol a fickle friend that never really had your back? Will it still love you tomorrow or will self-loathing have replaced self-care?
Sarah Rusbatch is a Grey Area Drinking Coach who has created an online community of 10,000 women who are all supporting each other through their sober journeys.