The average age of menopause is 51. I was 43 when I experienced my first perimenopause sign but didn’t know that’s what it was because I was menopause-clueless. This post is about my experience with menopause and alcohol and my opinion of why the two don't mix. This is not medical advice; please do your research and listen to your body above all else.
Also, please don’t be scared of what I’m going to share. We all experience the change of life differently, let this post inspire you to be aware of your drinking as you age.
I’m a gal who went through eight years of perimenopause and quit drinking at the age of forty-five because my body could no longer take the torture of over-drinking. I started drinking at fourteen; this was no easy task. I began to track my signs of the change in a journal which led me to realize that I had no business drinking anymore.
Menopause is one day, after this day you are post-menopausal which is what I am. This one celebratory day falls one year after the date of your last period. Perimenopause is the time in which you will experience the feelings of change and may have some of the most common symptoms such as irregular periods, headaches, moodiness (aka bitchy rage,) and hot flashes. Perimenopause can last anywhere from 5-15 years and start as early as 35 years old.
At 43, I went from regular 28-day cycles that started at age 11 to erratic, shorter cycles that had me feeling like what the fuck is happening. I had just lost my mom to cancer the year before, so I didn’t have her to ask. I did, however, remember her saying that menopause was no big deal and she didn’t experience anything out of the ordinary.
My mom was a champ, and she probably wouldn’t have told me if she had gone through the perimenopause ringer as to not scare the shit out of my sister and me.
During my first cycle change, I was also feeling, how should I say, crazy, out of my mind, completely out of sorts. I didn’t necessarily grieve right away after my mom passed, so I thought that was what was happening, but it was beyond mourning. I had a rage about me that came out very intensely when I was drinking more so than ever before.
You see, I took my first drink at age 14 in an attempt to be social and confident because I was shy and anxious in social settings. I went to a party in my most excellent 80’s fashion and discovered a real love for pink champagne. From that moment forward, alcohol became my saving grace. I drank through everything in my life that was social and even times that weren’t, including my mom’s final days.
For two years, I questioned my drinking and made justifications and rules to abide (that I always broke), so I could go on drinking for the rest of my life. The problem was my body was rejecting my plan daily and could no longer tolerate the love affair I had created with alcohol.
I was taking out my moods and dread on those around me that I loved, mainly my husband. No matter what I did, I couldn’t hold it together. My wine induced outbursts and screaming became routine after only ½ a bottle of wine. I knew that I could no longer wear the badge of party girl because I was becoming a lightweight and a drunk in the middle of life.
I used to brag about being able to drink a lot and never get hungover. As perimenopause approached, complaining of two-day hangovers took the place of my badge of honor. I felt like I had aged ten years in one night after a Chardonnay bender when I woke the next morning to my jowls sagging down past my chin.
I cried, and I worried, and I felt like my life was over before it began. I researched how to stop aging with food and exercise, even though I didn’t eat healthy or workout at the time. I wanted a solution without giving up my precious alcohol. I danced around the circle of Chardonnay for as long as I could before I broke down.
I remember the morning I was in my bedroom with severe cramps and bloating and my size 16 pants were too tight. I sat on my bed in disgust and anger and said out loud to my body I’m not going to fight you anymore. It was an aha moment that made me realize; I can’t rewind the aging process, so I have to embrace it and change my behaviors.
I continued to drink, but I also became acutely aware of all of the aches and pains and perimenopause experiences that were becoming more and more difficult to handle. I started to cut back on certain foods and exercise by walking and doing The Biggest Loser workouts from home, but it wasn’t enough. I was still using alcohol to “fix” my problems and numb out which led to more hangovers, and a heightened level of anxiety.
Between the anxiety, heart palpitations, cramps and bloating, aging skin and the mood swings that had me lashing out for no reason, I came to the realization that pouring wine over any stage of menopause do not mix. I decided my only option was to quit drinking. I got real with myself and asked myself the following questions:
Can you moderate? No.
Do you want to learn to moderate? No. (one glass of wine is 5 oz. hello, no thank you!)
Can you picture yourself in 10 years from now stuck where you are now? No, that scares the shit out of me.
What will you do to quit and not go back? I don’t know, but I can’t stay here anymore. I have to try something else.
I didn’t make a grand plan for myself beyond the 24-hours in front of me. If I envisioned the future me, I would get too overwhelmed with the fact (or so I believed) that I can’t stay sober for a year, there is absolutely no way that is possible.
I’ve put in a lot of work on myself since the day I quit drinking. If someone had asked me on that life-changing night if I was willing to spend the next couple of years in sobriety taking care of myself as I had never done before to quit drinking, I would have said no. I can’t, that’s way too long to work on myself.
Never give up on a dream because of the time it will take to accomplish it. That time will pass anyway. Earl Nightengale
My dream to break-free from alcohol and get as healthy as possible before I hit 50 started two years after I got sober. I reached that goal and passed it (which blew my mind) and felt better than I did in my 20’s as I turned 50. I wouldn't have come close to that goal if I hadn't quit drinking.
I’m grateful beyond measure for perimenopause because it changed my life in so many different ways. It is called the change of life for a reason. If you are in the throws of perimenopause and you are over-drinking and wasting your precious time in hangovers and anxiety; please stop avoiding the signs that it may be time to quit drinking.
Please use my story to decide for yourself if alcohol and menopause don't mix, and become your own health advocate.
It is written by Lori Massicot, co-founder of Real Aligned Women, sober mom, wife, and LOVER of all things midlife.
To learn more about alcohol and menopause, please visit The North American Menopause Society.
Also, check out Shirley Weirs Ted Talk: Menopause is Misunderstood.
Listen to the Real Aligned Women Podcast #24: When Perimenopause and Alcohol Collide to learn more about my journey to sobriety.