Now Or Never

Why this former 'wine mom' is calling out drinking culture

Ally Garber had self-medicated with alcohol on and off for 20 years, but never identified as a problem drinker. Find out how she found the courage to admit her problem, and why she went public with her story.

'I was hiding my problem with alcohol in plain sight,' said Ally Garber, who just marked a year of sobriety

Ally Garber self-medicated with alcohol on and off for 20 years, but just celebrated one year of sobriety. (Ally Garber/Instagram)

Ally Garber can't stand wine mom memes.

But not that long ago, she felt differently.

"Just over a year ago, I ... thought they were funny. I ... felt very comfortable using them myself," said Garber. 

"Wine memes and 'mommy wine culture' allowed me to justify what I knew in my heart was a problem for many years. In fact I was hiding my problem with alcohol in plain sight."

Garber, 41, traces her problem drinking back to her 20s, around the time she was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. 

"I carried a lot of shame with having these issues," said Garber. "I tried different medications, but the one thing that seemed to constantly work was this reward I gave myself at the end of the day, which was alcohol.

"Alcohol would numb everything and would allow me this reprieve from anxiety and those obsessive thoughts."

A Google Images search for 'wine mom memes' turns up just a few of the messages that justify and encourage drinking to soothe the stress of parenting. (Screenshot/Google Image)

When she was pregnant with her children, Garber had no problem quitting drinking, but when her son was diagnosed with autism six years ago, she used alcohol to deal with the stress. 

"I don't want to imply at all that he was the cause of this," said Garber, who is an advocate for people living with autism.

"It just increased the stress of motherhood and balancing a career. So again, at the end of the day, this became my reward and I began consuming more."

The 2017 Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey shows that alcohol use among women increased between 2013 and 2017, while alcohol use among men decreased over the same time period. 

This is the first photo Garber posted when she started her Instagram page to document her sobriety and push back against 'wine mom' messages. (Ally Garber/Instagram)

Garber says the normalization of moms drinking to deal with the stresses of parenthood allowed her to blend in.  She was also highly functional.

"I was checking off all the boxes. My kids had everything they needed. [They were] very well cared for and very well loved. I was, somehow, excelling professionally," said Garber, who runs her own public relations consultancy. 

"But throughout the day, as the stress began to build, I would just tell myself, 'You can get through the day because come five o'clock, you can pour that drink. And once the kids are in bed you can have another drink.' And it was this vicious cycle."

Tipping point

Garber's mom, pictured here, lived with cancer for 10 years before she died in May. (Ally Garber/Instagram)

Things came to a head in 2018 when the cancer Garber's mother had lived with for 10 years spread to her brain. 

Garber, who said her mom was her best friend, spiralled and increased her drinking to the point that it became hard to ignore.

"I hit a point where I decided either this is going to take me down or I can be present for my mom in her final year of life," said Garber.

"I reached out to a couple friends who are in recovery and said, 'I think I have a problem.'"

Garber's journal on her second day of sobriety. (Ally Garber/Instagram)

She got help, she took up running, and started to change her life. But Garber struggled with overcoming the shame she felt at having self-medicated with alcohol for so many years.  

The day she decided to quit drinking, Garber went to the library and checked out books by other professional women and mothers who had gone public with their stories. She also followed several people on Instagram who were going through a similar experience as she was.

"I related so much to mothers and professional women who were able to find the courage to raise their hands and say 'I had a problem with alcohol,'" said Garber.

"That really did save me in a lot of ways." 

Six months after she quit drinking, when she felt strong in her recovery, Garber went public about her sobriety on a public Instagram page, hoping her story could help others. She posts regularly about her recovery, mental health, and calls out wine mom culture.

Ally Garber read dozens of books by professional women and mothers about their struggle to quit drinking. 'That really did save me in a lot of ways,' she says. (Submitted by Ally Garber)

"It's scary to think there's probably a lot of women out there who are questioning their alcohol consumption but are having it reinforced with these messages that say 'Don't worry about it! Everybody's drinking copious amounts of alcohol, it's how we're all surviving," said Garber. 

"It's [telling us] that parenting is this exhausting, all-consuming, terrible thing that is done to us and we need wine to cope. What kind of message is that sending to our kids?"

Garber's own kids also inspired her to speak out. 

"I want them to see ... when you run into challenges it's about having the strength to tackle them, to take accountability and constantly put in the work," said Garber.

"And when you're feeling stronger, to turn back around and grab the hand of the next person who may need assistance."

Garber took up running after she quit drinking. Less than two weeks after her mom died, Garber ran her first half-marathon. (Ally Garber/Instagram)

A month after she started her Instagram page, Garber's mother died and she had to manage that huge loss without turning to alcohol.

"She was my best friend, and I will be forever grateful that in her last months she knew she could count on me and I would be there 24/7 for whatever she needed," said Garber.

"I think she'd be very proud of where I am today."

Where to get help

If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance addiction, here's a link to resources across the country.