The latest episode of the "Sex and the City" reboot "And Just Like That..." left a lot of moms identifying with character Miranda Hobbs (Cynthia Nixon), especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
"I am drinking too much, yes. We all were in the pandemic, and... I guess I Just kept going," Miranda finally admitted to friend Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) in the latest episode of "And Just Like That...". Her admission came after Miranda failed to adequately care for Carrie post-hip surgery, forcing Miranda to reveal that she is unhappy and, as a result, is imbibing too frequently.
In previous episodes, viewers have watched Miranda enjoy "purse wine" during a child's piano performance, drink before going to class, and rely on a heavy pour before eulogizing Mr. Big. Charlotte York (Kristin Davis) had started to suspect Miranda has a drinking problem, and is believed to have sent Miranda a book on how to quit drinking.
"But I don’t have a problem and I don’t need a book from Charlotte," Miranda insists. "I know me, Carrie. If I really thought I had a problem I would quit instantly." As the episode ends, viewers learn that Miranda had drunkenly ordered the book for herself — she just didn't remember.
"The pre-funeral speech bourbon. The purse wine at the piano recital. The empty bottles that Charlotte found in Miranda's backpack. All of that stuff, I did," Amy Liz Harrison, 45, tells TODAY Parents. "At the end of the day, I know that those behaviors did not serve me well and they kept getting worse. And increasing. So I think it'll be interesting to watch the show unfold, and see how Miranda's journey opens up."
Harrison, a mom of eight children ages 20 to 4, never overly-imbibed in high school and college, but increased her drinking significantly after the birth of her first child. "Motherhood just knocked me over. It was such a huge change for me," she explains. "So learning how to be a mom and find my own path and not comparing it to everybody else was really tough for me. To me, it looked like everybody else had the manual for motherhood and I didn't and here I was with this baby not knowing what to do."
Harrison joined a book club with other moms, and the group would usually drink during meetings. Steadily, Harrison's drinking increased, causing concern among her husband, family members, and friends. After a failed attempt at rehab in 2010, Harrison was arrested for driving under the influence with four of her children in the car in 2011 — a wake up call she says she desperately needed.
"That night that I spent in King County Jail was when I really surrendered," Harrison explains. "I went back to rehab and at that point I knew I needed to figure out how at least try to get and stay sober, not just for my family but for me. Now I've been sober for 10 and a half years."
A reported one in 10 children live with a parent who has a substance abuse problem, according to The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA). While alcohol and substance abuse have long existed, the problem has been exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — especially among working mothers. Women with children under five reported a 323% increase in drinking during the pandemic, according to one recent study.
"When we are stressed or struggling with a lot of feelings, like grief or sadness, sometimes we turn to coping skills that we know have 'worked' for us in the past — that are quick, easy, and help us not to feel the big feelings we are experiencing 20+ months into a pandemic," Dr. Jessi Gold, a psychiatrist and assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis, tells TODAY. "Many people even joked about it over memes at the beginning of the pandemic — it was trendy to do it! But one drink after work for 20 months is a lot of drinks, or then one drink is no longer cutting it and you need two or more, or you start earlier in the day... and it becomes more of a problem than you realized."
Greer Flanagan, 31, noticed an increase in her drinking six months into the continuing pandemic. "I found myself yelling so much. Just standing in the middle of my living room and just screaming at everyone," Flanagan tells TODAY. "My child, my dogs, the objects I was frequently tripping over. I just started to feel so angry and unlike myself. My days felt incredibly exhausting and heavy."
Flanagan turned to what she refers to as "Quit Lit," reading every book on quitting drinking she could find. "Funny enough, the first book I read was 'Quit Like a Woman' by Holly Whitaker," she says, referring to the book Miranda buys herself in the show.
"I haven’t had a drink in one year, three months, and 25 days," she adds. "Four-hundred and eighty one days. I’m still totally flabbergasted by that number."
Flanagan says it's important that people see the realities of motherhood and drinking represented in television and movies, especially as the pandemic continues.
"I am bombarded with mommy drinking ads multiple times a day on social media, the TV, and in magazines. Why is that? Something is wrong there," she says. "Women are under immense pressure to live up to standards that no one can meet. The idea that we can be everything for ourselves as well as the others around us. It is impossible. That’s why so many moms drink. Her cup is empty and instead of filling it with rest and relaxation, she’s filling it with wine."
In the show, Miranda blames her drinking on her unhappiness — she isn't fulfilled in her marriage, is transitioning out of a job, and wants more out of life. That loss of self and identity is something Harrison relates to — a feeling, she says, that is all too common among moms and can lead to over-drinking and substance abuse.
Harrison, the mom who started drinking heavily after her first child, says she felt disconnected from everything.
"I felt like I had no idea who I was anymore. I wasn't going off to work...I was no longer getting any kind of accolades. I was just at home with this drippy, goopy mess and I didn't have a clue what I was doing and I was sleep deprived and all of that," Harrison explains. "It just crushed my self esteem slowly over time."
Gold says motherhood in and of itself can be a trigger for or cause of substance abuse, especially when people lack access to structural support, like mandatory paid family leave, affordable child care, access to mental health care, and equal pay for equal work.
"There are so many responsibilities that fall onto your shoulders — from work to motherhood to other caregiving — that you are last on your list, always, and it feels like there is never enough time in a day for everything that needs to get done," Gold explains. "Sleep is a rarity, and your shoulders are regularly burdened with everyone’s everything. Your feelings and needs are then isolating because who can you share those with if you are so concerned and focused on everyone else? Where does the time and energy for you come in?"
Realizing that drinking has become a problem is the first step in rectifying the situation — something Miranda seems hesitant to do entirely. While she admits she drinks too much, she also insists she can stop immediately if she wants and needs to.
Surrounding yourself with support is also crucial. Harrison says she had to mobilize quickly on the onset of the pandemic in order to maintain her sobriety.
"I had to figure out what being stuck at home would look like," she adds. "How am I going to stay sane, so that I can be present for everybody else by taking care of myself first? That was tough. And for me it, was just a matter of having a lot of conversations with my husband and with my family and making sure everybody kind of knew what their system and routine was going to be."
In addition to attending online Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step meetings and Zooming with her sponsor, Harrison also took up writing, recently publishing her first book, "Externally Expecting: A mother of eight gets sober and gives birth to a whole new life... her own."
"When we experience transitions, especially with the pandemic, there's a level of fear and discouragement and that feeling of not knowing who we are and how we're going to do this, and it leads us once again to feel like we're alone," Harrison says. "Instead, I needed to reach out to people. I needed to know that it's going to be uncomfortable, and that's going to be OK. Now, I just need to keep doing what I'm doing and talking about it. I'm not going to be able to go around it, over it, or under it — I have to go through it. And whatever that looks like on the other side is going to work out.
"And I think that's going to be true for Miranda as her evolution unfolds, too."