Women call it Wine O’Clock, the glass that marks the beginning of “me time” at the end of a long, hard day. But Greystones mother of two Lucy Rocca, 37, knows only too well how easy it is to cripple your life with Chardonnay. She released she had a problem when she woke up in hospital with no idea how she got there, quit drinking and has launched soberistas.com, a social network site to support worried binge-drinkers.
Q. Wine O’Clock - can it easily get out of hand?
A. The trouble with joking about Wine O’Clock is that drinking at hazardous levels becomes trivial and normalised. But just three glasses of wine a night raises the risk of breast cancer by 50 per cent, plus other cancers, heart disease and early-onset dementia.
Q. How much is too much? Government health guidelines recommend two to three units of alcohol two to three times a week. But many people drink more than that...
A. The safest way to drink (if at all) is to never exceed government guidelines and to have at least three alcohol-free days each week. Hardly anyone who drinks on a regular basis sticks to that advice, so we, as a nation, are storing up major health problems.
Q. How can people tell when they are developing a problem? The number of empties in the recycling bin?
A. You know all too well when you have a dependency on alcohol - it stops being something that can be laughed off. You over-think alcohol; at what time is it OK to open the wine? Will I look like an alkie if I pour another glass? Other signs are ‘needing’ a drink to cope with stress, feeling disappointed when booze isn’t on the evening’s agenda - and when you wake in the morning filled with shame and embarrassment about the night before
Q. When did you realise?
A. I always drank hazardously – one was never enough. I always wanted to get drunk. As a teenager I would be the one who passed out at parties and everyone hid the booze supply from. The penny finally dropped when I woke up in hospital one morning in April 2011 with absolutely no memory of how I got there. I had collapsed alone on a dark pavement near my home in Fulwood. A friend had found me and called an ambulance. That was my rock-bottom. I haven’t drunk alcohol since.
Q. Why did you drink like that? Had people influenced you?
A .I know I gravitated towards other heavy drinkers, which ensured my drinking patterns were not out of the ordinary. I grew up in the 1990s when the ladette culture was prevalent – I remember watching the Euro ‘96 matches in pubs on Ecclesall Road, drinking pints with the boys and getting absolutely hammered while drinking from lunchtime until closing. That was, believe it or not, normal among my social circle.
Q. Did your parents drink a lot?
A. No, my parents have always been moderate drinkers and there is no history of alcoholism in my family. I had a very stable middle-class upbringing, so no excuses there!
Q. You started drinking more as a result of divorce and single parenthood. Do you think that such circumstances create an alcohol trap that many women fall into?
A. Yes I do. Before my divorce I drank socially (a lot!) but never alone. Afterwards, I was depressed, lonely and financially struggling and I turned to wine to relieve both boredom and loneliness. I became utterly dependent on a bottle of white wine a night and didn’t see that it was making all of my problems worse.
I drank even more when, after finishing my post-graduate diploma in 2010, I couldn’t get a job.
But I was adding to my depression, wasting the small amount of money I had and feeling groggy every morning. I’m not sure I would have found a job sooner had I put down the bottle, but I certainly would have gained a clearer perspective on things, had more energy and a more positive attitude.
Q. What happened to change things?
A. I met my current partner Sean in 2011 and he told me in no uncertain terms that I drank in a way that wasn’t conducive to us having a good relationship. Nobody had ever vocalised it before and I felt as though finally someone was bothered enough to tell me it’s not OK to drink until you pass out every weekend. I wanted my life to get better, and when Sean said that to me it was the start of me coming out the other side.
Q. Why do women drink? Are there reasons that differ to why men drink?
A. Many drink because they are too busy caring for their families to sort out issues like bereavement, single parenthood, post-natal depression, inability to conceive, poor work-life balance, caring for relatives... Women get put upon a lot. And we are made to feel inferior if we aren’t a size 10 with model good looks..
Wine has been very effectively marketed at women over the last two decades, succeeding in making us believe that we are treating ourselves when we pop open a bottle after the kids have gone to sleep.
Q. Going to the GP, or Alcoholics Anonymous, seems too extreme for the two-glasses-a-night woman, don’t you think?
A. Yes definitely, I would never have gone to the AA in a million years – a) because I would have been scared of who I might have bumped into b) because I didn’t class myself as an alcoholic c) because I was a single parent and couldn’t have committed to meetings.
That’s why I launched Soberistas in 2012. I knew I wasn’t the only one who was dying of shame over an out-of-control relationship with alcohol. I wanted to create a non-judgmental and safe haven for women who drank but did not think of themselves as alcoholics. Within four months it had a membership of 4,000.
Q. How did you feel at the response?
It was a double-edged coin. It was great that we were reaching out to so many people, but sad that this is such an enormous problem, and that so many women have been secretly filled with self-loathing as a result of alcohol for years and years.
Q. Do members range from those with serious drinking problems to Wine O’Clockers?
A. Most are dependent drinkers rather than physically-addicted. The typical Soberista is a frazzled working mum who is sick of feeling rubbish every morning because of drinking the previous evening. and wants to be something in life other than an old lush. There are stories of hospital admissions, fatty livers and broken marriages, but also inspirational tales of women who found the strength to put the bottle down and subsequently had their self-esteem, passion for life and relationships with loved ones restored. There is a fantastic air of positivity and kindness on Soberistas.
Q. In January you are releasing two books on the dangers of drinking - The Sober Revolution and Your 6 Week Plan. Your problem, now conquered, has become your area of specialism. Are you proud of that?
A. Yes I am. It’s all too easy to blame your weaknesses on life and the world at large. I have learned that you make your own success and happiness in this life. Now I’m the best mum I can be, my teenage daughter is really proud of me,I have control back in my life, I’m a healthy, responsible person. Now I want to concentrate on helping other women to empower themselves by breaking free.