What is ‘gray area’ drinking?

by Kari Schwear

As a former gray area drinker, I found myself living a double life appearing to have it all together, but wrestling with my wine addiction in secrecy. In this story, I explain how I ended up in that place. 

The Beginning

When I was just seven years old, I asked–“Is this all there is to life?” I wondered if life was really so lonely and empty–a profound thought for a 7-year-old.

As time went on, I never seemed to feel any excitement for life. Some special moments stood out, but for the most part, I dreaded school and everything to do with extracurricular activities. Not because I wasn’t interested, but because I felt as though I wasn’t welcomed. I had zero self-love or self-acceptance. That would stay with me for several years and I experienced bouts of abuse during my teenage years, leaving me feeling deeply saddened with a negative self-image. 

The Cycle Begins

After marrying at age 22, I went on to have two amazing sons and I was settling into being a wife and mother. My life improved, for a while. I started a new career in the restaurant business, first as a bartender and server before accepting the role of the Food & Beverage Manager at a country club. My love for fine exquisite wine fast became an obsession. This was the beginning of my addiction, the answer to my feeling mediocre in the world.

When my husband commented on my daily ritual of one glass of wine with dinner, I snapped back with, “Everyone drinks in Europe so it’s fine!” My quick temper in defending this daily habit slid under the radar for a few years after I left the restaurant business for a life in the medical field.

After moving to another state in early 2011, that wine habit had grown to more than just a glass or two every night. The stress of the move, the new job, the new city, all took a toll. I was happy to have another fresh start but found life wouldn’t be perfect in another town like I had hoped. 

I was still searching for the next best thing

The wine was my coping strategy for managing anxiety. I kept how much I drank a secret. Nothing was satisfying to my soul. Despite that, there was a lot of beautiful things in my life (husband, kids, health, family). At my core, I felt empty.

After several more years, I finally reached my “enough.” I was tired of being tired. Done with the lying, the hiding, the scheming, the planning, and the energy it was requiring to deny and keep my heavy drinking habit a secret. I never experienced a rock bottom, DUI, or any loss due to my heavy drinking. I didn’t think I was a problem drinker or an alcoholic but knew I thought I needed to do something. 

The only recourse I was familiar with was the 12-step program. So, I went to the meetings, got a sponsor, read the big book, and did the steps. It worked until it no longer worked. I felt as though I wasn’t true to myself when I was urged to say, “Hi, I’m Kari, and I’m an alcoholic.” Those words were not edifying to my soul. It didn’t define the kind of drinker I was and those words felt false.

I identified more with being a “gray area drinker,” which is not an alcoholic, but more than a social drinker. I left the traditional program and set out to find something that suited me better. 

The Discovery

Instead of being obsessed with all things wine, I became obsessed with all things self-improvement–spirituality, and the study of neuroscience. I felt uplifted, energized, and was now asking, “What more of life can I discover?” For the first time, I was excited about life. This was a breakthrough.

The transformation happened when I decided to work with a life coach which was a pivotal change for me; so much so that I became a certified life coach to provide the same life-transforming expertise to others. I trained in two methodologies: one in which focuses on those with addictions. 

I now teach women how to get honest with their drinking patterns and stop pretending to have it all together, so they can have a life full of balance and joy while feeling like a million bucks and kicking butt while doing it!

I support the non-drinker, sober-curious, and mindful drinkers with my private Facebook group, Question the Drink℠. 

I have a dream of creating a line of drinks called GrayTonic, which will be a reality within the next year. I have intentions of writing a book, creating sober events nationwide and uniting the sober movement to influence restaurants and our culture. I want to raise awareness and acceptance of those choosing not to drink. 

As one mom stated, “It’s the only drug that we have to apologize for not taking.”

For more information on Kari, GrayTonic or the Question the Drink℠ movement you can find me here:

Kari Schwear is the founder of GrayTonic, a safe place to find answers regarding your relationship with alcohol. She is an expert on Gray Area Drinking, a leader in the sober movement, and a public speaker. She offers 3 and 6-month coaching programs in addition to workshops, seminars, and lunch-n-learns to corporations. 

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