Don’t glam­or­ize al­co­hol de­pen­dency

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPINION - Es­ther J. Cepeda Colum­nist

Ever get the feel­ing that women are col­lec­tively cry­ing out for help but no one is lis­ten­ing?

Scan the land­scape of en­ter­tain­ment aimed at women and you’ll find a theme: al­co­hol de­pen­dency.

Some of it is por­trayed as fun — there is a whole craft in­dus­try ded­i­cated to “Wine O’Clock” and #WineWed­nes­day home decor, and celebri­ties like Kathie Lee Gif­ford and Hoda Kotb shame­lessly glam­or­ize early morn­ing drink­ing on their “To­day” show — but it’s in­creas­ingly des­per­ate.

Take Paula Hawkins’ hit novel (and soon-to-be block­buster movie) “The Girl on the Train.” I picked up the book based on re­views that said it was “the next ‘Gone Girl.’” It was not.

Alas, it turned out to be melo­drama re­volv­ing around an al­co­holic woman’s un­rav­el­ing, her gin-fu­eled black­out pro­vid­ing the mys­tery’s con­ve­nient de­vice. It wasn’t nearly as en­ter­tain­ing as promised, un­less of course you are drawn to sto­ries about women who tear their own and oth­ers’ lives apart via al­co­holism. In the land of re­al­ity, there are two sep­a­rate me­moirs on The New York Times hard­cover best­seller list right now that will surely not eclipse the pop­u­lar­ity of “Girl on the Train” but de­serve some ma­jor play for their frank and brac­ing de­scrip­tions of what al­co­hol can do to smart, high­achiev­ing women.

ABC News jour­nal­ist Eliz­a­beth Var­gas’ book “Be­tween Breaths: A Mem­oir of Panic and Ad­dic­tion” starts out painfully, with an in­tro­duc­tion de­tail­ing her crush­ing, ev­ery­day anx­i­ety — a state of low-grade ter­ror that leads to her ever-present prayer: “Dear God, I need a drink.”

“Drink­ing started out to be some­thing that felt lovely and lux­u­ri­ous. It was a ro­mance of sorts,” Var­gas writes. “It ended with me on the brink of dy­ing from al­co­hol poi­son­ing, of los­ing ev­ery sin­gle thing and ev­ery per­son I trea­sured. It sent me to a hard­scrab­ble re­hab in Ten­nessee where I spent a grim Christ­mas alone, my two pre­cious chil­dren 900 miles away, open­ing gifts with­out their mom. There is noth­ing re­motely ro­man­tic about that.”

In “For­ward,” soc­cer star and two-time Olympic gold medal­ist Abby Wam­bach de­tails her abuse of food, al­co­hol and pre­scrip­tion drugs. Tellingly, she ti­tles the first chap­ter “Fraud,” in which she ex­plains that her book is not a story about soc­cer, but about the pain of liv­ing up to oth­ers’ ex­pec­ta­tions.

“Be­cause no mat­ter who you are or what you’ve done with your life, you rec­og­nize the feel­ing I’ve de­scribed, that pri­vate, flail­ing ter­ror that makes you won­der if you’re lost for good,” Wam­bach writes. “You’ve found your­self in the midst of tran­si­tion, work­ing up the nerve to re­lease one rung and swing to the next, hop­ing to find some magic in the mid­dle. You have been treated un­fairly and un­equally. You have been la­beled, placed into ill-fit­ting boxes and told by oth­ers what you are and how to be. You have even la­beled your­self, blunt­ing your po­ten­tial with your own words.”

This pain is at the fore­front of ev­ery ac­count of some­one who has seen the dark side of the candy-fla­vored, em­pow­er­ment-branded lie — that booze makes you happy — which al­co­hol com­pa­nies use to en­tice girls and women.

“We can’t af­ford to act like it’s OK that ‘Girls can do any­thing!’ got trans­lated ... into ‘Women must do ev­ery­thing,’” wrote Kristi Coul­ter in a re­cent Quartz mag­a­zine com­men­tary. “Giv­ing up al­co­hol opened my eyes to the in­fu­ri­at­ing truth about why women drink.” She con­cludes, “We can’t af­ford to live lives we have to fool our own cen­tral ner­vous sys­tems into tol­er­at­ing. We can’t af­ford to be 24-hour women. I couldn’t af­ford to be a 24-hour woman. But it didn’t stop me from try­ing ’til it shat­tered me.”

Like never be­fore, young women are un­der enor­mous pres­sure to ex­cel aca­dem­i­cally and pro­fes­sion­ally, have suc­cess­ful in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ships, be good moth­ers or daugh­ters and be so­cially con­scious, po­lit­i­cally en­gaged and “beau­ti­ful,” what­ever that means. Is it any won­der that more and more har­ried, stressed­out women are turn­ing to al­co­hol’s le­gal, rel­a­tively cheap and so­cially ac­cept­able form of drug abuse to cope?

In truth, women don’t need al­co­hol to lead ful­fill­ing lives; they need fa­mil­ial, pro­fes­sional and so­ci­etal sup­port. Grasp­ing des­per­ately for a drink when life gets stress­ful is not a “fun” way to “un­wind,” it is a cry for help.

Es­ther Cepeda is syn­di­cated by The Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group.

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