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Sober Mom Squad offers alternative to mommy wine culture

"I thought I was a social drinker, but now I'm home and I'm drinking all the time.'"

If social media is any guide, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided an excuse to stock the liquor cabinet and hunker down at home with a drink — or several.

After all, in the age of shutdowns and social distancing, what else was there to do?

But last spring, Emily Lynn Paulson, a recovery coach and author of "Highlight Real: Finding Honesty & Recovery Beyond the Filtered Life," started to get panicky phone calls and messages.

"I had women reaching out to me and saying gosh, I thought I was a social drinker, but now I'm home and I'm drinking all the time," Paulson told TODAY Parents. "And their kids are home, and they're witnessing their drinking."

In March 2020, Paulson and four other women created the Sober Mom Squad, a virtual support group for moms trying to maintain their sobriety during the pandemic and those who are just starting down the road to sobriety. And recently she expanded the group to include a paid, membership-based program, which offers more virtual meetings, a private forum, discounted coaching sessions and more.

Sober Mom Squad, Emily Lynn Paulson
Emily Lynn Paulson is the founder of the Sober Mom Squad. "We want to raise our kids in a wine meme-free world," she said of the women in the group.Courtesy of Emily Lynn Paulson

Becca Heary, a mom in Sarasota, Florida, found drinking culture among moms only bolstered an existing problem.

"I taught yoga for 12 years and I would do yoga-and-wine night for school fundraisers," she said. "It's so pervasive, in terms of acceptance of alcohol, the inevitability of alcohol use. The (messaging of) 'drink the mom stress away,' 'I need the downtime.' It was my reward."

The women she met through the Sober Mom Squad had stories like hers — about morning mimosas at play dates, beers while waiting for their kids to finish up a soccer game and a seemingly endless supply of wine, everywhere they turned.

Heary had tried Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, but when the pandemic started, she felt "lost" and needed more support. She found Paulson and ended up hiring her as her recovery coach.

"It felt more comfortable," she said. "Here was someone my age with a story very similar to my story."

Substance abuse is a real problem during the pandemic. Alcohol sales skyrocketed last March and April, according to Nielsen, a global marketing research firm. A report in JAMA Network Open showed that people reported drinking 14% more last spring as compared to the previous spring. Drug overdoses have also reached a record high.

Paulson has documented her own path to sobriety, both in her book and on social media, where she often speaks up against so-called "mommy wine culture" — the kitschy coffee mugs, tank tops and memes that she believes can be toxic for moms. In 2019 she wrote an essay for the TODAY Parenting Team about the problem with glorifying alcohol and the "dangerous" message that sends to children.

Yet Paulson also wants people to know that she's not a prohibitionist.

"My husband isn't sober — he has a beer once in a while," she said. "I don't think alcohol should be illegal. I just think we need more education around it."

While the Sober Mom Squad makes clear that it is not a recovery program, many moms relate to this subtler approach to recovery, where the focus is less on sobriety itself, but more on what life could be like if alcohol wasn't the main focus.

"It doesn't need to be about some big label," said Amanda Lynch, a mom in British Columbia who spoke to TODAY when she had been sober for just over three months. "It's basically anyone who is just choosing not to use alcohol constantly, and as a coping mechanism, and trying to lead healthy lives."