I didn't realise I was an alcoholic because of 'Mummy's wine o'clock' memes

I arranged my birthday cards on the mantelpiece and looked at the words on the front.

Mummy’s wine o’clock! Prosecco time! Professional drinker!

Every single card referenced alcohol. When I was given these cards, I’d laughed and smiled. But looking at them now, with a hangover the day after, I just felt sad.

I knew I’d had a drink problem for years. Even as a teenager, when I’d first started, I’d be the one to get so drunk I’d pass out. People would recount funny stories about me I couldn’t remember. I’d wake with bruises and no idea how I got them.

This carried on into my twenties. I was the one people called when they wanted a fun night. Whoever I went out with, I’d always be the drunkest. And the birthday cards mirrored this with slogans about wine.

I got married in November 2011 and had our first child, now eight, then another, now five. For the first few years of their lives I didn’t drink, but once they were toddlers, the wine began calling again. As soon as I got home after picking them up from school or nursery, I’d be counting the hours until I could have a drink.

Friends on social media called it ‘mummy’s wine o’clock’. There were so many seemingly harmless memes about mums and Prosecco that I was lulled into thinking what I was doing was normal and acceptable. After all, everyone was at it – weren’t they?

I was drinking a bottle of white wine a night in summer and a bottle of red in winter

But these memes and jokes are no laughing matter. In fact I believe they’re helping fuel and normalise harmful drinking culture.

Soon, I was drinking the moment I got in the door from the school run at 4:30pm. In my head it was close enough to ‘it’s 5 o’clock somewhere’ to be acceptable. I’d drink while they watched TV, I’d drink while I made their tea.

I was drinking a bottle of white wine a night in summer and a bottle of red in winter.

Strangely, I was fully able to function. I’d feel fuzzy the next day but I could still go to work, get up for the school run, keep the kids fed, tidy and clean. No one would ever have guessed I had a problem.

Then in 2020 my mum died suddenly. A year later, I divorced. 

In just one year, my whole life had turned upside down. I’d lost everything – everything except my beautiful children.

And I realised they needed a mother who was present for them, not always counting down to the next drink. At this point, I was having up to two bottles a night. My tolerance had significantly increased.

Some people claim to have a single lightbulb moment, but mine was a slow, gradual realisation that I was no longer happy. I loathed how I felt the day after drinking, how exhausted I felt, how I could never sleep properly, how all I thought about was booze. 

I knew this would eventually kill me. I started with five days off wine. Each day was hard, I was so used to it. But I began to feel better as the days went on, and to sleep properly for the first time in years.

By the Saturday after five days clean, I felt amazing.

Then I had one glass of wine… then two… then more.

That night I wrote in a journal at the side of my bed: ‘You don’t feel good.’ Then I passed out.

When I woke, I saw my scrawled writing.

It was true – I felt terrible. I decided it was time to quit. Not just cut down, but quit booze completely, forever.

To spur myself along, I started a blog called Why Mummy Gave Up Drinking. I wanted others to see it. I couldn’t face ever writing that I was back at day one all over again, and it was the accountability I knew I needed.

I felt like I’d let people down if I didn’t stick to it and I couldn’t be responsible for allowing anyone else to fall off the wagon if they saw relapse as being part of getting sober.

I wrote about how those ‘mummy drinking’ memes had made my alcohol addiction seem normal and even funny. I’ve been contacted by so many people, women in particular, who say that my words resonate so much. I hear this more than anything else. They’re relieved ‘they’re not the only one.’ That’s why I created the community. 

It’s the most wonderful supportive space and unlike other groups, there is no shaming – ever. Everyone is helpful and caring. It normalises sobriety and supports the women who are there, trying to get there or at the very least, wanting to.

In April 2022 I started a company called Sober Mama to help other mums quit drinking. I was desperate to share what I’d learned – and how I’d done this myself without a doctor or AA – and help people break free of their unhealthy drinking habits and become sober.

I started a Sober Mama Facebook group and amassed followers from the UK and America, all with the same story as me. They’d used alcohol to cope socially, then had kids and lost their identity. Like me, they’d just used drink to try and feel alive again. But it was doing the opposite.

I’ve now been sober for a whole year. 

I no longer feel the need to drink to unwind. I treat myself with care and enjoy the smaller things in life. Running, reading, journalling, painting, rock concerts, cooking, stand-up comedy, writing a book, starting my business, coffee dates… I’ve even bought myself an acoustic guitar. I’ve always wanted to learn and I’ve no idea what I was ever waiting for. 

I’m more present for my children instead of thinking about the next drink.

I still see the ‘mummy’ memes and the ‘wine o’clock’ jokes, but I find them sinister. They make alcohol dependency seem trivial and funny, when it’s a real issue. Addiction is no laughing matter, and now I want to help other mothers break free.

I did it – I’m now a better mum than never.

As told to Julie Cook.

For more information, visit sobermama.co.uk

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