health

'I work with women who want to quit drinking. Their stories all have a common theme.'

Sarah Rusbatch knows what it's like for alcohol to consume your life. Since her teens, Sarah had been a heavy drinker. But it wasn't until she was a mum that wine became a crutch

"I was counting down until 5pm each day so I could open a bottle of wine because 'I deserved it'," she shared with Mamamia.

"I quickly discovered 'Mummy wine culture' - myself and so many women I knew were desperately craving that late afternoon wine to 'take the edge off' after a full-on day with the kids."

It was at this point that Sarah realised she was a 'grey area drinker' - somewhere between rock bottom and only drinking every now and again. But she could see the impact alcohol was having on her life, her loved ones and herself. So she decided to quit drinking completely.

And ever since, she has been helping thousands of women across the country quit drinking too by sharing her story and expertise as an accredited Grey Area Drinking Coach.

Last year, Sarah shared her story with Mamamia. And after that article went viral, 8000 women reached out to her for help with their drinking. Because that's what one woman's story can do - change lives.

Watch: Fiona O'Loughlin on the impact of alcoholism. Post continues below.


Video via Network 10.

Now Sarah's passion is working with women who need help with their grey area drinking. Because as Sarah knows all too well, there's a gap in support systems available. Especially for mothers. 

"No one really prepares you when you have kids. Going from complete independence to then - in my experience - not going to work, having people depend on you and the monotony of home life, it's challenging. And that's where 'mummy wine culture' begins for so many," Sarah explained. 

"The message so many mums get in popular culture and anecdotally is 'mum deserves a wine' or 'you need a drink to take the edge off parenting'. And I fell for that. And big alcohol companies have relied on that - deliberately targeting women, especially mums, which was eye-opening for me."

For women that Sarah has worked with, their stories all share a common theme - shame, perfectionism and pressure, which isn't a great trio.

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"Perfectionism can be the precursor to alcoholism. The women I work with, they feel isolated - many have kids, struggle to find time for themselves, and turn to a glass of wine as a form of self-care. But then that one glass turns into a few. And then those few glasses turn into a bottle," Sarah said.

As one of Sarah's clients explained to her, the pressure she feels with being a mum is overwhelming. Are you cooking from scratch every night? Do you make perfect lunch boxes for the kid's school lunches? Are you making great Book Week Parade outfits for the kids? Are you holding down a successful career? Do you still have time to see your friends and look after your parents, manage to go on weekly date nights with your partner and continue to have the best sex of your life?

It's a lot for someone to have on their shoulders.

"There's so much expectation. And I think on the outside, everyone pretends like they're handling it so well. And that's why on the inside, so many of them are drinking really secretly to the point where no one actually knows that they've got the problem that they have," Sarah said.

Sarah today. Image: Supplied. And at the root of excessive drinking is also the fact many use alcohol as a means to cope. A "switch-off" of sorts - particularly for the women Sarah mentors, who are juggling various demands and pressures left, right and centre.

"Nothing truly prepares you for the sheer amount of stress and overwhelm that comes with being a woman. For so many of these ladies, wine is a way to numb the busy mind - but it creates more problems, and that's the vicious circle," she said to Mamamia.

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And for Sarah, it wasn't until she took a step back and broke the cycle that she realised the impact alcohol was having. 

"One of my clients said to me the other day that maybe her drinking 'wasn't that bad'. But it was a bottle of wine a night. And that's a lot. Even when I was drinking at my heaviest point, a bottle of wine didn't hit the mark which is confronting," Sarah shared.

But that's the insidious nature of drinking. It creeps up on you.

"Before you know it, it's not one glass that takes the edge off - it's two, three or more. And the more you drink, the more self-loathing can occur. And when you feel rubbish about yourself, some turn to drink to stop feeling that way."

It's for this reason why grey area drinking is important to talk about. Because if we can help women before they get to rock bottom or identifying as an alcoholic - and the serious health issues that come with that - then lives can be saved.

Because there's no shame in not being able to moderate an addictive substance like alcohol.

As one of Sarah's clients, Wendy said, quitting drinking has been the best decision she's ever made.

"I was in a vulnerable place in my life. Now I no longer feel alone, and I have never experienced such an enormous outpouring of support by sharing elements of my story," Wendy said. "It has opened the doors to endless possibilities and opportunities. I used to be terrified of jumping on the journey train, and now I can't wait for the next stop."

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So what can women struggling with their drinking do to cope with it all?

For Sarah, it started with a break from alcohol. And that break led to complete sobriety. 

"Some of the ladies I've spoken to reach this tipping point in their drinking. They see 'Dry July' or any alcohol-free challenge as a great way to give alcohol-free living a go. And for myself, it wasn't until I had that first break that I was able to build a toolkit of other things I could turn to for stress relief, rather than alcohol."

Listen to No Filter: The day Shanna realised she was an alcoholic. Post continues after audio.


The program that Sarah runs has led to thousands of women coming together, sharing their stories and realising they're not alone. Because the power of empathy, as opposed to shame, is pretty powerful. 

And that's what Sarah loves most about her job.

"I have women who say 'I've been trying for years and years to stop drinking. And this is the first time that it's worked for me.' And seeing these women have their life back - women of all ages including in their 70s - say that is special."

Another big aspect of sobriety is that those around sober people can sometimes have an outdated perception that without drinking, a person can no longer be fun or 'life of the party'. And that's a sentiment Sarah is working towards changing. 

"We're so conditioned to think that life without alcohol is boring or we're never going to have fun again. That's BS. When these women remove alcohol from their life, they realise they still are fun, wonderful people to be around. And coaching them through that phase is really important. Because so many aspects of your life become better when you let go of 'mummy wine culture'."

Simply put, life doesn't end when you stop drinking. And for Sarah, it was only the beginning. 

"One of my ladies sent me an email and what she said has stuck with me ever since. She wrote - 'I feel like I've gone from living in black and white to living in colour.' And that's how I want other women to feel."

You can join Sarah's Facebook community here or contact Sarah regarding grey area drinking here

If this post brought up any issues for you, you can also contact Drug Aware, Australia's 24hr alcohol and drug support line. You can reach them on (08) 9442 5000 or 1800 198 024.

Image: Supplied.

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