‘When people asked me for gift ideas, I’d smile and say, ‘Just wine and diapers!’ How else could I unwind? It never stopped at just one glass.’: Mom shares sobriety journey, ‘I’m a better mom’

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“I’m Jess, a mom of two active, adventurous, and loving boys. I live in a present-day ‘mommy wine culture’… smack dab in wine country, and I’m doing it sober. Now, I know what you’re thinking, ‘Oh, that poor mom, she must’ve really had a problem.’ And the truth is, yeah, sure, maybe I did have a problem. But not in the way you’re thinking. There were no handcuffs. There was no rock bottom. Everyone was safe. In fact, from the outside, I just looked like a hardworking, loving, fit mom. But as we all know, there’s always more to the story.

Courtesy of Jess Steitzer

I grew up in a suburb outside of Portland, Oregon. My childhood was beyond perfect. Unbelievable parents, fantastic siblings. It was almost like we lived on the set of that old movie, ‘Pleasantville’—ya know, the one where everyone and everything is perfect all the time. We were good kids, never really broke any rules. Okay okay, so I threw ONE house party when my parents were out of town. I totally got caught and was grounded for months. Aside from that one instance, I was never the kid sneaking around trying to find alcohol. Alcohol didn’t make its way into my life until college.

After high school graduation, I headed off and attended Montana State University. Why here? When researching colleges, I stumbled across MSU and I was sold when I read these three beautiful words: ‘No essay required.’ All you really need to know about my time in Montana was while I should have had my butt in the lecture hall, I was in the back of an old truck bed, too busy learning more important things like how to bite open a beer and shotgun it. Life lessons, folks, life lessons. Looking back, I don’t see these chapters in my life as problematic, other than the damage those aluminum Keystone Light cans probably did to my teeth.

Courtesy of Jess Steitzer

I was young, dumb, and just doing what I assumed every other college kid was doing. Years down the road, I’d be down in Arizona, where I’d meet my wonderful, soon-to-be husband, move back to Oregon, and get married. I had graduated from beer drinking college girl to a sophisticated wine drinker and viewed my habits as normal and acceptable. My interactions with alcohol were centered around family gatherings, nights at home, and going out with friends. We got married, got pregnant, and entered the life-changing, magical world of motherhood.

I don’t know about you, but when I found out I was pregnant, I felt like I studied every single fact about every single phase of pregnancy. I had no problem setting that wine glass up on the shelf to collect dust for 9 months. I wanted to do everything by the book. I’d proudly post the image of ‘Your baby is the size of an eggplant,’ and eagerly await the next vegetable milestone. Just when you think you’re prepared and know what to expect, WHAM! Here’s your beautiful new baby, you’re heading home. Good luck, mama!

Courtesy of Jess Steitzer

Now the fun begins, right? Ha. While it’s true, becoming a mom is, in my opinion, the best gift in the whole entire world, it’s also the hardest and most exhausting gift. Suddenly, I was responsible for this beautiful baby and was expected to do everything right. How am I supposed to do everything right when it feels like there’s always a mom out there judging me? How am I supposed to get a grip on parenthood when I had no clue what I was doing? Breastfeeding vs. formula feeding. Crib vs. co-sleeping. Working mom vs. stay at home mom. It felt like there was nothing we moms could ever agree on. Well except for one thing… wine.

Once you become a mom, it’s almost like you receive a free lifetime membership to the mommy-wine-club. The media, wine memes, and the abundance of marketing geared specifically to moms, want us to believe drinking wine is the clutch for surviving motherhood. I bought into it. How else could I possibly unwind at the end of the day? Slowly but surely, I bought into this belief having that glass of wine at the end of the day was my reward. It was something I could look forward to, and something I had associated with my undeniably needed ‘me time.’

Courtesy of Jess Steitzer

When my son was about 6 months old, I felt like it was time for me to return to work. With a background and passion for the fitness industry, I decided to purchase my very own stroller fitness program and dive right in. What better way to do what I love than bring my baby with me and meet new moms in my community? It was a home run in my book. My fitness program began to grow and I was beginning to develop amazing relationships with fellow moms. We’d swap parenting stories while squatting, vent about our lack of sleep while planking, and count down the days until our Moms Night Out while we cursed and cried through burpees. Almost all of our nights out together ended somewhere where we could drink good wine and gossip long enough so our husbands would take care of the bedtime routine. It was the norm, it was all that we knew, so why the hell would we question it?

I soon became pregnant with my second son, and I remember when people asked me for gift ideas, I would smile and say, ‘Just wine and diapers!’ While I still had no problem shelving the wine glass for 9 months, I’ll admit, I missed my nightly routine. Fast forward a couple of years down the road, I was having wine every single night. Problem was, it never stopped at just one glass. My days would go something like this: wake up, go for a run in hopes to sweat off the hundreds of liquid calories consumed the night before, head to my stroller fitness class to teach, head home, switch to stay-at-home mommy mode, countdown till wine time, enjoy my wine time, fall asleep during something on Netflix, wake up on the couch, chug whatever juice or Gatorade was in the fridge, head to bed, struggle to fall back asleep, toss and turn for 3-ish hours, get up, and start it all over again.

Nanci Imagery

It was getting to a point where I started feeling like something just wasn’t right. I felt off. How was I eating healthy all day, running double-digit mileage, encouraging clients to be the healthiest versions of themselves, and yet here I was, wine glass in hand every single night. I was starting to feel like a fake. A phony. I felt unbalanced and began to realize how frustrating it was there was this one ‘thing’ that I couldn’t get a grasp on. It couldn’t be wine, or was it?

Finally, I just got sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. After countless attempts of Dry January’s and Sober October’s, I was exhausted. The conversation I was having in my head became repetitive and I found myself seriously questioning my relationship with alcohol. But were there people out there who actually don’t drink? Were there moms who seriously didn’t reward themselves at the end of the day? How did they survive?

Courtesy of Jess Steitzer

I began flooding my Instagram feed with sober-minded accounts. Started reading the books, listening to the podcasts, and became incredibly curious about this so-called ‘sober movement’ I was hearing about. In February 2019, I happened to see an ad for a 21-Day Reset Program offered by SoberSis, an Instagram account I was quietly following. I signed up, forked over the money, and told myself, ‘You have to do this Jess. The goal here is to feel more, not less.’

This program was a game-changer for me. Not only did I learn so much about alcohol and its effects, I learned there were so many women out there just like me. Women and mothers questioning their relationship with alcohol, but unsure where to turn. After removing alcohol, I was suddenly sleeping soundly, waking up feeling refreshed and energized. I was more present with my kids, more patient, and overall just in a really good place. I completed the 21-day program and felt so good I decided to keep going. I didn’t have a set goal in mind, just knew I felt too good to start all over again.

Courtesy of Jess Steitzer

I had entered triple digits into my sober journey when all of a sudden, summer hit. I still felt physically amazing, but suddenly started dealing with a lot of emotional issues. My sober sisters and I joke it’s kind of like a toddler having a tantrum in the back of your brain. A little whiny voice saying things like, ‘Why can they have wine and I can’t?’ ‘I could totally try drinking in moderation.’ ‘How am I supposed to go to a country concert and not drink?’ My personal favorite, ‘There’s no way I’d go back to my old drinking habits.’ Well, guess what folks? After 150+ days of not a single sip of alcohol, I caved. We were off backpacking up in The Enchantments Wilderness area and I don’t know if it was the fact we were literally off the grid, or the toddler had won the fight, but I gave in. There was no one around to see, therefore no one around to judge. At first, it felt like a relief, then familiar, as if I was reunited with an old friend. Before I knew it, I slipped right back into my old ways and was back to drinking multiple glasses of wine every night. Just like riding a bike.

It wasn’t until one morning in December I woke up feeling utterly terrible. Too much wine the night before, slept like crap and was on the verge of being sick. I set my palms on the bathroom counter, leaned in, looked myself straight in the eye, and said, ‘You’re done. No more.’

Michelle D. Frantz Photography

The very next day, I created a sober Instagram account and began documenting my journey. I had seen just how powerful and supportive this sober community was and knew if I put myself out there and shared my story, it would hold me more accountable this time around. Months after recommitting to my sober journey, I discovered another amazing community of women called The Sober Mom Squad. They offered weekly Zoom meetings to lend support to moms (especially those struggling during the pandemic) who were striving to live an alcohol-free life. Joining this wonderful group made me realize just how valuable connection is when you’re attempting to achieve goals like these. I owe a ton of my success to these groups.

Nanci Imagery

Finally, I celebrated my 1-year milestone of being alcohol-free on December 7, 2020. And my journey’s just beginning. I am unbelievably grateful for this new, bright, beautiful life I’ve created. What have I learned over these past 365+ days? I’ve learned choosing to be alcohol-free is freaking hard. It takes work, every single day. I’ve had the best da*n sleep of my life since cutting out alcohol. I feel healthier, clear-headed, creative, and joyful. I’ve learned there are actually SO many ways to cope with stress and unwind at the end of the day. It’s actually quite magical waking up every morning feeling good. I’ve read to my boys every single night. I’ve painted, read, and been more present than ever before. I don’t have to worry about not being able to drive if there’s an emergency. I don’t have to worry about being tipsy in the middle of the night if my kids need me. In the words of Glennon Doyle, ‘WE CAN DO HARD THINGS!’

My journey hasn’t been perfect, far from it. I’ve learned from every challenge and come out stronger than before. I’ve always been a big fan of ‘you-do-you.’ I’ll never judge you for drinking or try to persuade you to stop. The only person who can decide to make a change in your life is you. I decided to survive motherhood without alcohol. I don’t want to miss out on these precious years. I’ve ditched alcohol and let me tell ya, I’m an even better mom than before. My children are everything to me, and the only thing I NEED to survive motherhood is love, patience, faith, community, and a whole lotta coffee.”

Courtesy of Jess Steitzer
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