03 Apr 2014

Truth and Transparency: I Think My “OFF” Switch is Broken

131114-wine-glassIf you look at my family tree, there are alcoholics teetering on nearly every branch. Given this, I am keenly aware of a little nagging voice in the back of my mind telling me I need to pay attention.

In the last few years, I have started to wonder if I’m heading in the direction of a problem. Not a Ready-for-Betty-Ford kind of problem…but one where my “OFF” switch has gone on the fritz.

I have never said this out loud, much less put it in print, but I think it’s time to be honest with myself. I teach women about the risks of breast cancer and alcohol and how alcohol disrupts hormones, and every day I am reaching for the wine bottle at the stroke of 5:00 pm. And occasionally counting down to said stroke.

This feels out of alignment and that misalignment requires a lot of my mental energy and feels very wonky. And given my already-astronomical risk of breast cancer, it’s just plain stupid.

Research shows that midlife can be a slippery slope for women who drink even a little alcohol. That’s because they begin to experience new stressors…body changes, aging parents, divorce, and retirement…the list goes on.

And alcohol is a socially acceptable way to become comfortably numb to anything we’d prefer not to deal with.

So what does problematic drinking look like?

“There aren’t kids to get out of bed in the morning, so OK, I’ll have another drink.”

“There’s nothing big on my calendar tomorrow. Pour me another glass, please.”

“I had a tough day, I deserve it.”

“I had an amazing day, let’s celebrate!”

And so it begins.

A recent study shows about 10 percent of us – us being women over 50 – binge drink during any given month. That’s 5 drinks at one sitting, although you have to wonder about those numbers because who’s doing all that score-keeping after the first two.

Whether or not you believe the math, you can’t question midlife biology. Our metabolism slows as we age. So that one glass of wine hangs around in your liver for-freakin’-ever. Hangovers linger on and on and on. The floaty around your middle gets bigger and bigger. Estrogen levels get all out of whack. There is nothing pretty about this picture.

I could drink like a fish in my 20s. And my 30s. And for most of my 40’s. But now that I’m in my 50’s, I’m tired of puffy eyes and feeling wiped out the next day if I have more than 2 glasses of wine. But more often than not, I do it anyway and that’s what makes me wonder about my OFF switch.

I found this on a web site about women and alcoholism.

“The defining characteristic of addiction is loss of control over when you drink, how much you drink or the way in which you think about drinking. Getting hooked psychologically is independent of the amount you drink. If that one drink per day becomes the focus of your life or if you feel like you can’t enjoy dinner without a drink, that’s a warning of psychological dependence.”

Hmmm. This is the part that makes me squirm. My evening wine ritual is as ingrained in me as brushing my teeth. I wonder who I would be without it and that thought makes me nervous.

I wonder how my relationship with my husband and friends would change.

What would I do with the time I spend zoned out in front of the TV?

Would my introvert no longer be allowed to hang out in the corner at parties while my lubricated self entertained?

If awareness is the first step, then I am there. The cold truth of this is that warning signs are everywhere and I can choose to ignore them or take the next step…whatever that is. If this post hits close to home for you, I invite you to share below or e-mail me privately at dranna@drannagarrett.com. We are all in this together.

Dr. Anna Garrett


  1. Cathy Wilke Says: April 4, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    Anna, I love your raw honesty here and I really appreciate how you lay out
    the facts. I’ve had a very tenuous relationship with alchol over the last
    few years. Since my 30’s I’ve felt pretty terrible the morning after even
    one glass of wine. I’ve never been able to drink more than two without
    getting sick and yet, I still had that wine on the weekends. I’ve been
    through many long stretches of not drinking and I can tell you once you get
    past the three month point, there is a clarity and bliss that you start to
    feel that’s really incredible–and by that point, you begin to miss drinking
    a lot less. I think I’m on the runway to saying goodbye to alcohol forever
    at this point and I can tell you that meditation helps enormously. It also
    requires re-thinking your social life a bit. And the great thing about it
    is that you’re no longer willing to tolerate friends who aren’t truly
    nourishing you. I hope you’ll keep us posted on the wonderful things that
    come to fill the space…Sending love and tenderness to you as you embark on
    the journey xoxo

    • Hi Cathy…great to hear from you. Thanks for sharing your story. I am so grateful for everyone’s support! I hope you’re doing well and wish you continued success on YOUR journey.

  2. Catherine Mulcahey Says: April 5, 2014 at 11:27 am

    Get out of my brain Dr. Anna! I can so relate to what you’ve written here: rampant alcoholism in family & friends, the 5:00 cravings, adapting to life after 50, numbing in front of the TV at night… I go back and forth between being “on” and “off” a nightly wine routine. I kid myself that “it’s only 1-2 (or sometimes 3) glasses”, but in reality I fill the glass way beyond the typical 4-5 oz serving.

    I appreciate this thread and your honesty, but it makes me uncomfortable about my own ambivalence. Change is difficult. Cathy’s point about meditation is well taken. I am making an effort to make daily meditation a part of my life. Using alcohol is an avoidance tactic because it’s hard to just be, to accept everything as it is.
    Love and Peace

    • Hi Catherine,

      Thanks for your comment and your honesty. I recently read something that said addiction is continuing a behavior in spite of the mounting evidence of consequences. Made me think about this even more. Keep me posted…and thanks again.

  3. Ann Darwicki RN CPC Says: April 16, 2014 at 9:25 am

    Thank you for sharing your personal inquiry around your behavior. I admire your courage in putting something so personal out there for others to see. Your honesty and transparency creates a safe, nonjudgemental space for others to ask themselves those same questions. Learning to not only ask ourselves those tough questions, but also honestly answer them provides us with great insight and the power to change what is not working for us. If I find that I need to drink every night, and if alcohol is a form of self medicating- what feeling am I trying to medicate/ numb away? What else could I do instead? Could this be an opportunity to take action, putting me on a more exciting path? The answers will be as diverse as the people that are asking the questions. I believe loving and honoring ourselves, as we do for the people we care for, is nurse’s next opportunity and will completely change the nursing profession. Nurses are truly our unsung heroes, now we need to be our own hero as well, leading by example to show others how to love and nurture themselves. Love to all of you amazing women and nurses!

  4. Lynda Saffell Says: April 16, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    I totally agree with the above! I’ve always had this nagging little voice that maybe alcohol isn’t good for me. At the end of the day I just want to relax, but there are other ways, too.
    Also, that “off” switch… Sometimes it seems that I don’t have one, especially at a party, and I drink too much….it seems like a good idea at the time!
    Thank you all, especially Anna, for your honesty! It’s great to know I’m not alone.

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