Lucy Rocca’s support website for women reliant on alcohol has seen an upsurge in members and enquiries in Dry January. Richard Blackledge speaks to her.
January is a busy month for Lucy Rocca. The Sheffield mother-of-two runs the website Soberistas, a support network that she launched to help women reliant on alcohol after realising her own drinking had become a worrying habit. The new year, it seems, is a time of reckoning for many following the festive season, when the acceptability of uncorking a bottle every day can mask deeper issues.
An upsurge in members is partly an effect of the Dry January public health campaign, which has continually grown in prominence, but Lucy thinks there is a greater awareness of the harmful impact of drinking more generally in society. “It’s becoming more acceptable as a health choice to become a non-drinker or to cut back.
“It’s not something the people I speak to feel embarrassed about, a lot of the people on Soberistas are really proud of that decision, in the same way you’d be proud to stop smoking or lose weight. “People are starting to realise now that there are health consequences at most levels of drinking.
“Instead of having to go to the doctor, or Alcoholics Anonymous, and confessing face to face to having a problem, it’s really easy and accessible for people to get online and Google ‘Am I drinking too much’ or ‘Can I get some help with alcohol’, and then they find sites like Soberistas.”
Launched in 2012, the online community now has more than 60,000 members, mostly women aged 45 to 60 with a wine habit that might have begun as a quick stress reliever but has gradually descended into binge drinking. One to two bottles of wine a night is the standard amount, Lucy says. “On Soberistas we don’t often get people who are physically addicted to alcohol, it’s definitely more a few glasses of wine after the kids have gone to bed - crutch drinking that becomes a really ingrained habit and then they find it difficult to stop.”
Lucy, 44, lives in Fulwood and went to school in well-off Dore - she had a ‘normal’ upbringing, she has said, and there was nothing in her young childhood that would have sowed the seeds of an alcohol problem in later life.
But her teenage years spanned a different era - “We seemed to be much more hedonistic at that age; everybody I knew at school smoked and drank, and lots of people took drugs” - and, later, divorce and the pressures of work and study meant that she began using wine as a tool to ‘self medicate’.
Much of her drinking was behind closed doors, but she found herself in risky situations publicly too - things came to a head when she woke up in hospital in 2011 with no idea how she had got there. “When I used to drink a lot, I’d often wake up in the morning and not be able to remember getting home,“ says Lucy.
“I’d put myself in really dangerous situations, like getting into taxis in the middle of the night on my own very drunk, losing my phone, losing my friends, meeting and talking to people I didn’t know at all.” Now Lucy does not touch a drop of alcohol. Many Soberistas members are past the point of being able to drink in moderation, she says.
Did she ever envisage her website striking such a chord? “Logic told me that I couldn’t be the only person struggling in the way that I was, but I don’t think I quite realised the extent of it. Drinking is so normalised, and glamourised, that you don’t often see the negative face of it. It’s something people tend to keep hidden...There were a lot of people who did have a problem, but you’d never have known.”
Soberistas is not just a British concern. It has gone global, and Lucy believes it has tapped into a universal difficulty encountered by a ‘certain type of person’. “That person is in America, Australia, Europe - all over the world. It’s the middle-aged, middle class woman, usually married with kids, who’s trying to juggle a busy life.”