It’s hard not to notice something of a worrying trend on social media lately.
Lots of memes, funny videos, t-shirts, and more talking about how “Mommy needs her wine…”
That sort of mommy culture, a shorthand that mothers can use to connect with one another and relate.
And on the one hand — funny! Sure...I get it. Maybe you’ve been there. It wasn’t that long ago for me when the thought of a glass of wine after putting the kid(s) to bed kept us going through the witching hour.
But when is it just good fun, and when does it become… something else?
Ever since I landed the plane on understanding that the Imposter Complex has three main objectives — it wants to keep us out of action, alone and isolated and doubting our capacity — I’ve been thinking about what OTHER factors play out the same way.
And when I hear folx talk about alcohol misuse — welp, it sure sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
So I had to ask myself, when is the Imposter Complex to blame, and when is it alcohol misuse?
(For clarity, we will use the terms alcohol abuse and misuse interchangeably here, though they may have different connotations in different settings, especially in clinical definitions.)
To dig deeper into this discernment, I knew I wanted to speak to my friend, bestselling author and coach, Andrea Owen.
I was in a mastermind with Andrea when she stopped drinking.
From the outside, even as I was on the inside, it seemed like it was a non-event. A decision made, like starting a running regimen. She had a relatively “high bottom” as she describes it in our podcast interview, so there was no public drama to wonder about. I had no idea what was actually going on for her and likely lacked the skills, tools and maturity to ask. I was fiercely proud of her, celebrated her and that was about it.
If I’m being truly honest, I suspect I had no idea because I didn’t want to look deeper.
Looking deeper in her process may have asked me to look deeper at my own relationship to alcohol.
But now I’m ready enough to look deeper and start to tease out the nuances and intersections between the Imposter Complex and alcohol abuse.
Alcohol and feminism
“The giant elephant in the room,” Andrea said in our podcast conversation, is that “women are marketed to, in terms of alcohol, differently than men are. Especially mothers.
“Just pay attention when you are out and about. The jokes for instance. I think the one that really chaps my hide and makes me mad is the mug that says ‘there might be wine in this.’ Because that was me, that was me wanting to drink wine at 2, 3 o'clock in the afternoon.
“It's ‘rosé all day,’ and there's a lot of — I'm going to say it — there are a lot of white men sitting in board rooms, who are making a lot of money off of women numbing out, and losing themselves.”
That has everything to do with feminism.
And the Imposter Complex is also directly related to the patriarchy. It’s trying to keep us out of action.
Both are trying to keep women and gender non-binary folx small and quiet, doubting themselves, out of action.
And facing either head-on is a revolutionary act.
It works until it doesn’t
As Andrea explains it on the podcast, alcohol abuse is part of a much larger cycle:
“Someone who engages in perfectionism and people pleasing, there are feelings around that. We want to fit in, we feel lonely, we feel like crap because we're essentially going against our values. You can have a value around giving back and being of service, but it crosses the line into leaky boundaries, and just getting taken advantage of and feeling like a doormat and feeling resentful.
You have all these feelings. Not very many of us are well versed in actually processing those feelings, or reaching out for help, or even naming them. We don't even know what they are. We didn't come from families, and this is not to blame and shame our parents, it's just not what was taught.
And then, in order to feel relief from that — I'm so stressed out, I'm so overwhelmed, not really being able to pinpoint, oh that's perfectionism, and all of these things — I just need a drink. I need to ‘take the edge off.’
What I've always said, what dawned on me several years ago was, maybe I need to actually turn my head towards that edge. What is this "edge" that I keep talking about, that I need to keep taking off, what is that?
Maybe that is the root of the problem. So, if I looked at that with open eyes and open heart and open mind, instead of pouring wine all over it, maybe that might solve the problem. Or at least make me feel better and have more awareness, so I can get to the woman that I really, truly want to be.”
It’s a common refrain of 12 step programs that “it works until it doesn’t” — and that could refer to alcohol or any of the behaviours of the Imposter Complex.
It works… until it doesn’t.
And when it doesn’t, that’s when we start to wonder if we can “turn our head toward the edge” as Andrea so brilliantly puts it, and feel those feelings, get curious about the root causes, and actually make some progress instead of staying stuck and numb.
Speaking your shame
Lie No. 5 of the Imposter Complex is “You must not tell anyone about this.” That Imposter Complex pays you hush money to keep you quiet about whatever it is, keep you alone and isolated.
Andrea is not playing that game when it comes to recovery.
“The misuse of alcohol and drugs is still so stigmatized that we're taught to stay quiet about it, even if we are people in long term recovery. And I personally will not stand for that. That's why I've always been: this is what an alcoholic looks like. And people were surprised by that.”
There’s power in speaking the shame that’s held us back, and Andrea is leaning into that power, trying to take some of the anonymity out of recovery.
“For so long, Alcoholics Anonymous has been the gold standard for recovery and there's anonymity in that, and I can understand that, yes. But, his whole point is, if you take the 20 plus million people, just in the United States, who are in long term recovery, ask them to speak out about this and normalize addiction, then we can change this problem that we have.”
The same thing is true about the Imposter Complex; many if not all of its lies don’t stand up when you shine a bright light on them. They thrive in darkness, in silence, and in shame. And, like recovery, we can be stronger together when we speak our shame, share our struggles, and demonstrate that we have survived and come out the other side.
“Do I have a problem?”
So finally, we come to the crux of the issue: when does alcohol become a problem?
“If you're asking the question, how do people know if it's Imposter Complex, or alcohol? I feel like it doesn't matter,” Andrea says. “Don't let that stop you. It's called over identification, the psychological term is called over identification. I have clients that do this — love them! — but they just want to get out their label makers and say, this is perfectionism, this is this, that is that.
“It's like, at the end of the day, it doesn't fucking matter. If it feels like crap and it's keeping you small, and it's keeping you from setting boundaries, and it's keeping you quiet, then we need to identify what's underneath it. That's where your work comes in.”
If you’re wondering if you might have an alcohol problem, Andrea encourages you to Google the term “gray area drinking;” it will point you to other podcasts, articles, and resources for people who may not self-identify as an alcoholic, but who find their own relationship to alcohol problematic.
To hear my entire conversation with Andrea — which is well worth a listen — click here or subscribe to the Ready Enough podcast wherever you like to listen.
Ready to name your Imposter Complex and Step Into Your Starring Role?
Enter your information here to receive the (mostly) weekly Friday Finale from me in your inbox, and my gift to you, Imposter Complex 101: Four short videos to prompt you to think more deeply and clearly about how the Imposter Complex wants to keep you playing small—and how you can fight back.