The things you do to make yourself feel better shouldn’t also make you feel guilty, right? I’m talking about those especially rough days that end with a second glass of wine, or a cigarette, or an episode of reality TV, a chocolate bar, whatever your choice coping mechanism. Whatever makes you feel better, whatever you need to calm your thoughts and get through the night. But ultimately, is that extra glass of wine worth the guilt?
The Atlantic recently published a piece (read here) about how (typically middle-class) high-functioning women are turning to increased wine consumption to cope with the daily stress of their lives. “In a recent poll done by Netmums in Britain, 81 percent of those who drank above the safe drinking guidelines said they did so ‘to wind down from a stressful day.’ And 86 percent said they felt they should drink less.”
The article continues, “Jungian analyst Jan Bauer … believes women are looking for what she calls “oblivion drinking.” ‘Alcohol offers a time out from doing it all—‘Take me out of my perfectionism.’ Superwoman is a cliché now, but it is extremely dangerous. I’ve seen such a perversion of feminism, where everything becomes work: raising children, reading all the books, not listening to their instincts. The main question is: What self are they trying to turn off? These women have climbed so high that when they fall, they crash—and alcohol’s a perfect way to crash.'”
I hardly think that life stress is confined to middle-class, middle-aged women, but it’s clear that some people are much better at handling stress and anxiety than others. I recently complained to my brother that I thought my teenage self was much better at coping with stress than I am now. When I was 14, I would mope and cry and listen to some HIM. Angsty – yes, a little pathetic – maybe, but ultimately harmless. But now, that generous glass of Shiraz, or that Marlboro menthol… those have more consequences, including health repercussions and the danger of addiction. And I am painfully aware of those consequences. If growing older is supposed to make you wiser, I haven’t figured it out yet.
My friends and I often joke about our ‘alcoholism,’ or say “Damn, you should’ve seen me last night, I was a total hot mess,” or “I never would have slept with him/her on a good day.” And really, we’re seeking a bit of sympathy and understanding, some affirmation that we’ve all been there, there’s nothing wrong with what you’re doing. Is coping by definition giving yourself some small allowance, some small lapse in perfection to do something you otherwise would not? Is it possible to perpetually hold yourself to a rigorously high standard of perfection, and should breaking that standard bring you guilt? What do you do to de-stress, or to cope?
Edit: For those who have individually expressed some sort of concern (mostly via Facebook), I do also have ‘healthier’ ways of dealing with stress – a favorite copy of Franny and Zooey, a bottomless bag of dark chocolate, an Aimee Mann playlist – but I suppose my point is that some days even stress eating or reading Salinger doesn’t quite cut it. And that’s where the wine comes in.