Alcohol is a huge part of the Australian way of life – we use it to pep up, to wind down, to de-stress and to celebrate. Williamstown resident Emma Gilmour certainly did. Until the day her kids made her take a long hard look in the mirror.
Just one of thousands of people who grabbed on to the ‘free-passes’ of Febfast, Dry July and Ocsober, to quietly explore her drinking, Emma realised it was time to get real about what was going on in her life.
To get real about the unrelenting pressure of modern womanhood.
Born in the UK, Emma grew up in Africa with parents who drank, but “no more than any of their friends did”, and grandparents who started each day with a Gin and Cinzano.
“Back then, a lot of parents seemed to think, ‘if we let them drink with us then they’ll be used to alcohol and better able to manage themselves’. Well, take it from one who started drinking at 13, maybe even younger – that approach doesn’t work!”
With a career in corporate marketing on the rise, Emma made the move to London, and shifted her party animal lifestyle up a gear.
“It was Soho in the 90s – I was working hard, and boy was I playing hard. I met my husband, we kept partying and then we moved to Australia and had kids.”
But family life didn’t put paid to the parties. Instead, Emma found herself working at the same feverish rate in her professional career, while trying to raise a family – and using alcohol to let off steam.
Being tipsy in charge of her kids, and boozily falling asleep in the garden when people came over, didn’t raise any red flags for Emma, or for any of her circle.
“It’s normalised behaviour. You have a few glasses of wine at night – enough that you can’t drive your kids if they have an accident or are unwell – and nobody blinks. I certainly didn’t.”
“Falling asleep in taxis after a night out and toppling head-first into the garden were ridiculous anecdotes. A bit embarrassing, but nothing that made me stop and think.”
Until, that was, her kids spoke up.
“I’d always tried to be a great example of what a mum could be. I worked so very hard, I was juggling like a maniac to be this loving, engaged mum, committed wife, motivated and high-achieving professional, fun friend – the list goes on.”
“But this one weekend when, as usual, we had loads of people round, I went to put my kids to bed. My eldest was 11 at this stage, and said to me, ‘mum, can you leave the wine glass out of the bedroom? It makes me feel anxious’.”
“That was a real body-blow. I thought, how did I miss this? How did I not realise that my kids aren’t seeing a well-rounded person, they’re seeing who I really am – a woman on the edge.”
It was time for a big change.
“This time, instead of starting by ‘stopping’, I started by exploring.”
Emma began to read, listen to podcasts and engage with the ‘sober curious’ movement, to understand the real reasons why she drank and the stories she told herself to justify it.
“Curiosity is the cornerstone of wellbeing; understanding why we might want to do life differently, rather than just telling ourselves to ‘do better’. Which is what women always do – we beat ourselves up for never being ‘enough’, for never getting things quite ‘right’. We’re utterly unforgiving.”
“But when the crutches we’re using to hold everything together are standing in the way of real contentment, we have to take a step back and look at our choices from a different angle.”
“For example, you might have this view that alcohol makes you fun. But, when you reflect on a night out or an event, you might realise that it makes you lose, in a way you’re not entirely comfortable with. It might cause you to make decisions you regret, or feel sick or a bit embarrassed for days. Even that nightly glass of wine might mean you’re ditching a bedtime cuddle and an opportunity to connect, and regretting it afterwards. Suddenly, the sum doesn’t seem quite so appealing, and you’re left asking yourself, is this actually ‘fun’?!”
“There’s a sense, certainly with women, that we’re not enough and we’re looking outside ourselves for something to make it better.”
Fast forward a few years, and Emma is now a qualified Counsellor and Psychotherapist and a certified This Naked Mind, Gray Area Drinking & Tuning in to Teens™ – emotionally intelligent parenting coach for parents who want to model a healthy relationship with alcohol for their kids.
“Life can be hard, the key is finding the tools to survive and to thrive, and ditching those quick ‘fixes’ that cost us more in the long-term.”
“I’m so thrilled that my story helps me to support other women through this journey.”
You can follow Emma’s journey on Instagram – @hoperisingcoaching. Or say ‘hi’ down Willy beach where she swims with the Jellyfish swimming group most mornings.