Stefanie Wilder-Taylor, DRUNK-ISH: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving Alcohol

Stefanie Wilder-Taylor, DRUNK-ISH: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving Alcohol

Stefanie Wilder-Taylor, author, TV personality, and co-host of the popular podcast For Crying Out Loud, speaks to Zibby about DRUNK-ISH, the hilariously candid and refreshingly honest account of her break-up with alcohol. Stefanie shares what it was like to quit drinking fourteen years ago, after the shock of putting her family in danger and immediately reevaluating her relationship with alcohol. She also talks about mommy wine culture, the use of humor in her writing as a way to navigate uncomfortable truths, and the positive impact her honesty and vulnerability have had.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Stefanie. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Drunk-ish: Loving and Leaving Alcohol.

Stefanie Wilder-Taylor: Thank you so much, Zibby. Thank you for having me. I think this is such an important podcast. It’s aimed at moms, which is my favorite target audience.

Zibby: I have to say — I already said this in the intro for your episode. I told you this as I accosted you at my bookstore. I have been reading your books forever. They have been such guiding lights for me as I’ve gone through motherhood myself with four kids. I actually found not one, but two copies of Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay in my library here. I try to save most of my books. I also have Naptime Is the New Happy Hour and Gummi Bears Should Not Be Organic. I guess I missed two. They came out after that. I guess I got too busy or something.

Stefanie: The other two books are out of the parenting genre.

Zibby: Maybe that’s why.

Stefanie: Which was misleading to people. They were memoirs about my twenties. Not the twenties, but my twenties. I think people got confused. They were like, wait, this doesn’t have anything to do with parenting.

Zibby: You went out of your normal line. You’re like Adam Sandler doing a drama or something.

Stefanie: Yes, that’s what I feel like. I think people were just like, I don’t know what this is, but I’ll pass.

Zibby: Drunk-ish was so good. The way you write and the openness with which you write and your sense of humor, I gobble it all up, really, which is fitting to have an olive on the cover. Although, I don’t really like olives. If I did, it would be fitting.

Stefanie: I don’t either. True story, I’ve never ever had a martini. Well, I haven’t had a regular martini. I’ve had flavored martinis.

Zibby: Where is the wine glass?

Stefanie: I know.

Zibby: It’s a cool cover, though.

Stefanie: They were being creative.

Zibby: I like it. It’s a great cover. It’s a very cool cover. In fact, my husband likes martinis, so maybe I could just leave this next to his bedside or something. He’d probably enjoy it. Although, it’s kind of counter to the message of the book, which is, of course — why don’t you tell listeners about Drunk-ish, what it’s about, why you decided to write it. We can dive into what’s inside.

Stefanie: Fourteen years ago, I made a big decision to quit drinking. It’ll be fifteen in May. Prior to that, as you know, I had written quite a few books and been a person who loved the whole mommy wine culture. It’s not that I was being fake. I really was thinking that it’s a great thing that moms have a way to sort of blow off steam and bond with each other. I thought the whole wine culture was fun. I really did. I stuck up for it in the way of, I don’t think moms need any more judgement. If a mom is having a glass of wine and having a playdate with their kids, why is that a bad thing? Dads can have a beer and watch the game, and nobody goes, aren’t your kids in the house? Somehow, it seemed a way to judge moms. I didn’t like that. My whole first book was really railing against the judgement of moms, especially considering the fact that when I had a baby, I felt anxious and scared and alone and inexperienced and all the insecurity.

I started blogging. A lot of the blogging culture was around drinking. We all thought that was really funny, including me. I say we. I thought it was hilarious. The first time I wrote a blog post, I was a couple of glasses of wine in when I started my blog. My baby was only a couple months old. I also have a stand-up comedy background, so a lot of it was exaggerated. I was being funny. I wasn’t really drinking alcoholically at that time. I didn’t feel I was. Come to find out that all that anxiety and all that insecurity and all of that loneliness and isolation was kind of a perfect storm, and I did start drinking a lot. I did start questioning my drinking. Then when my daughter was about two, I decided to quit drinking, but it didn’t stick because I ended up — I was totally sober, but six weeks later, I found out I was having twins. I was like, oh, my god. I didn’t drink through that whole pregnancy. I stayed sober. Then when I had my twins, I really and truly felt like, oh, I obviously don’t have a problem because now I’ve gone all these months without drinking. It wasn’t hard. I didn’t have any problem doing it. This is a weird thing that a lot of women, especially women that drink a lot and then they worry about, how am I going to stay sober during my pregnancy — a lot of women have no problem with it because all these hormones that go through our systems can sometimes make women feel, actually, calm. It’s tricky because then you’re not drinking. You’re pregnant. You’re like, look at me not drinking. Nothing to see here. Don’t worry about me.

Then you go back to drinking with a vengeance because now the hormones all drop out. You feel like shit. You’re back to how you were before, but worse. Then you’re like, well, thank god I can drink. That’s how I was. Then because I do believe now that I have alcoholic tendencies and I have — we can call it a substance use disorder. We can call it whatever we want. Alcohol has always been a way that I solve problems. It got bad pretty quickly. Then I got sober when my twins were eighteen months old, and that was it. Every time I talk about addiction on my podcast for “Crying Out Loud,” which has basically raised my kids on that podcast, people always seemed to respond when I would talk openly about my issues with alcohol and my issues with all addiction. Because it would get so much response, I sort of felt like — after a certain amount of time, I hadn’t really talked about it. I obviously hadn’t written a book about it. I’d been really honest on TV and in articles that I wrote. I thought, why not tell that story? I felt like that story needed to come out of me. I have a stand-up background and am a humor writer. I wanted to see if I could write a book about getting sober in a similar vein to Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay talked about being a mom, a really honest book. Most of the memoirs about addiction that I’ve read are really sad. People have low bottoms. I could be going on and on right now.

Zibby: I love it.

Stefanie: what’s in the book.

Zibby: This is great. I’m just watching your stand-up show from home. It’s wonderful, like a livestream or something. It’s great. You do write with the same voice because it’s your voice. It’s wonderful and funny and relatable. You have these throwaway lines. You have one part about when you did get sober, how all of a sudden, you didn’t want to have sex with your husband anymore and what happens when you were younger and your breast-reduction surgery. You didn’t care, but then when you were nursing, all of a sudden, it’s an issue. You had to deal with that. All these things, they could easily remain private. When you bring them to light, it makes people chuckle, whether it’s happened to them or not, or some piece of it or whatever.

Stefanie: You’re a writer, so I think you know this. I also teach writing. One of the things that I say to my students when we’re talking about writing about yourself and memoir writing is that if you aren’t feeling a bit uncomfortable with the things that you’re revealing, you’re not doing your job. I don’t read people’s memoirs to read their public thoughts. I read somebody’s memoir to hear what they’re really and truly thinking inside. I want to be a voyeur. I want to hear those things. That makes me feel closer to the person. I want people to feel like, oh, I want to be her friend because she keeps it real. A lot of those things, it’s not that easy to be that honest, but that’s how I know that I’m doing it right, is when I feel that icky feeling. Oh, should I really be saying this? Do people really want to hear? This is scary to feel that exposed.

Zibby: It’s true.

Stefanie: That’s kind of the point of it.

Zibby: Sometimes, though, it’s easier to have strangers read it than people you know a little bit. Do you feel like that?

Stefanie: Oh, yeah. My husband hasn’t read the whole book. When I was working on it, I would read him part of it. He doesn’t know half the stuff I said about him at this point. There is one thing I had to tell him because it happens early on, which I’ll remind you about. When we were dating — this is one of those things that when I wrote it, I was like, oh, my god. Sometimes I would get drunk on a date back when we were single and hadn’t been together that long. I once — you know where I’m going.

Zibby: I know what you’re going to say, yes.

Stefanie: I fell asleep mid-blowjob.

Zibby: You had a funny term for it, though.

Stefanie: Yes, we called it a cock nap. I didn’t remember the next day. He’s like, “You took a cock nap.” I was humiliated briefly, but it was so funny that he said that. Then that became a running joke of ours. Of course, years and years later, I’m writing the book, that comes back with a cringe factor. I thought, you know, it’s the truth. I’m going to put it in there. I had to tell him it was in there. I was thinking about his sister reading it, my sister-in-law. I was like, “Maybe you should know this is in there.” He was like, “It is?” Sorry.

Zibby: Do you tell him when it’s already at the printer or when you can do something about it?

Stefanie: Don’t ask for permission. Ask for forgiveness.

Zibby: He also plays into your moment where you were hitting bottom. I don’t know what you want to call it, but the moment where you really decided to change your ways. You felt you had put your kids in danger. That was the final straw for you. Do you want to talk about that moment?

Stefanie: Sure. Prior to this, I don’t think that — this is one of the reasons I wrote the book. I don’t think that my bottom looks like a lot of people’s, looks like you would imagine. I wasn’t drinking in the morning. I wasn’t sneaking drinks in the shower. I wasn’t hiding from my husband. In my mind, in the way I rationalized it, even though I would have wine before my husband got home from work — then when he got home, I’d be like, let’s open a bottle of wine. There were those things. I’m not trying to make myself sound like, what? I had two glasses of wine a night. I was problem drinking, but most of it, my husband was aware of. I think he thought I was just very stressed out. I had baby twins and basically, a very young child. My older daughter, when all this happened, she was four, and they were eighteen months. She was four and a half. They were eighteen months. My husband made a lot of excuses for me as well. One of the things that I think really bothered him was — this had happened earlier before the kids came along. I would go out. Let’s say, as a stand-up comic, I would go to the improv and have some drinks. I would drive home. My husband would always be like, “Are you okay to drive? Are you sure?”

The thing about me and my drinking is I always felt fine to drive. It’s a thing that my chemistry — some people can smoke pot and feel fine to drive. If I had one hit of pot, I’d be like, I can’t drive. I was one of those clichés where I was like, I’m a better driver after I’ve had a couple drinks. I’m more relaxed. It all seems a little bit funny now. Obviously, it wasn’t funny. The thing was my husband didn’t like it when I would sort of disappear at night when I would drink and then not respond to his phone calls or texts. On this occasion, I had taken two of my kids with me to a playdate at a woman’s house who had kids and a nanny watching the kids. It was a nice evening. She was serving drinks. It was kind of a drinking crowd, for lack of a better word. Everybody was having some drinks. In my mind at that time, the way I saw other people’s drinking was, oh, everybody drinks this much. Now I can tell you that even my mom friends that act like they love to drink will usually have a glass of wine and be like, I’m good. I just wasn’t seeing it that way at the time. Anyway, I had some drinks. Then I had some more drinks. Then I was feeling really good. What tends to happen with me is if I’ve had a couple drinks and I’m feeling relaxed and happy and like all is right with the world, I want to keep that going. I want to keep that feeling going. It’s very selfish. I stop being aware of what the amount is that I’ve had and what the rules are about drinking. I feel like, I want to feel this way. I need one more drink to feel this way. I’m not hurting anybody.

My husband had been trying to call me. I was resentful because I was like, why is he trying to call me? He was home with one of my twins. I was with my other twins and the older one. I was thinking, this guy’s on a freaking Hawaiian vacation right now with one baby. I’ve got two of them with me. Stop calling me. That was my attitude. Why are you bothering me? Eventually, he called my friend who I was with and was like, “What is going on? Where is Stefanie? Why isn’t she answering my calls?” She told me, “Hey, Jon’s trying to get ahold of you.” All I remember, really, is being like, “Fine. I guess it’s time to go.” Put the kids in the car. I drove home. I did not crash the car. Nothing happened. When I got home, my husband was in the driveway waiting for me. He was furious. He knew that I was drunk. He basically confronted me right there. He said, “You’re drunk.” I was genuinely mad, appalled. How dare you? I can’t believe you’re accusing me of this. What kind of a person do you think I am? I went in the house. I slept on the couch fully dressed. I woke up the next day, and it just hit me. I was like, oh, my god. I had a brutal hangover. It was so obvious that I had been drunk. I remembered him being mad at me. I knew I was on the couch. I knew we were in a fight.

I just woke up. I just woke up to the idea that — I would’ve judged the crap out of another mom if I heard that story and I knew that a mom drove home. Even in that situation, if I had heard another mom was at that gathering and drove her kids home practically in a blackout, I’d be like, wow, that woman has a problem. All of a sudden, it was me. I couldn’t escape the idea that, no, I did that. I made this decision that I would never make. I would never make a decision sober that would put my kids in danger. Never. That’s not the kind of parent I am. I think I was an overly conscientious parent. I may let my kids eat a gumball off the floor of the mall, but I’m not going to actually put their lives in danger. I actually had to go convince my husband that I had a problem. I just knew that my husband is very forgiving. He’s very easygoing. I knew he was mad, but I knew that if I told him — my husband doesn’t think I’m a bad person. He didn’t think that I had a drinking problem. That’s the thing. We didn’t get in fights about my drinking, ever. It wasn’t a thing. My husband has never, one time, said, I think you drink too much. My husband always made excuses for me. Well, it’s hard for you to gauge how much you’ve had to drink. If we’re at a party and you have a wine glass and people keep pouring you more wine, it’s hard for you to tell. We would do these little games where he’d say, “I’ll let you know if you’re starting to seem tipsy.” Then we’d go to do that, and I’d be like, “Stop trying to police my drinking.” He’d leave me alone.

When I went to him that morning, I knew that I could convince him that I didn’t have a problem. He would forgive me. I could say, I’m going to be so careful from now on. I knew that if I’d done this, it could happen again because I didn’t think I would do that. Do you know what I mean? The sober me wouldn’t have done that. I knew without a doubt in my mind that when I drink, I don’t know how much I’ve had. I’m unpredictable. If I’m unpredictable, then that follows that I shouldn’t drink because I’m not safe drinking. That knowledge made me go, if that’s the case, then really — I’ve tried many times to cut down. If you read the book, toward that happening, I had really been trying to manage and control my drinking, and it was not working. I had decided, I’m just going to drink every single day, every night, but only have a couple glasses. I’m just never going to drive. Then I drove. I was like, I have to do whatever it takes to just not drink again. I did not think at that time that it could be classified as alcoholism. All I knew was, I don’t want to drink anymore.

Zibby: Wow. When you say it, though, and even what you said earlier about the hormones and pregnancy and everything, do you look back ever — I don’t want to minimize alcoholism or any of it or whatever it is. There are so many factors at work. For the mom culture in general, and flashing back to my own habits, particularly when my twins were young as well, it’s so stressful. There are so few breaks because it’s nonstop. A glass of wine is something that can take you out of it a little bit. It’s almost like medication, in a way. Maybe when you don’t — well, I don’t know. What happened then? Did you feel like you needed a different type of medication afterwards?

Stefanie: I want to go back to something that you just said that I think is really important. I think that many moms misuse alcohol when their kids are young and may notice themselves drinking more or using it to self-medicate, like you said. A lot of times, once you have a baby, your anxiety goes through the roof. Let’s face it, a lot of moms are the default parent and feel — I wrote about this feeling in Sippy Cups where it was like, we are aware of where the kids are at all times. I used to get furious that my husband would — let’s say we’re sitting on the couch, and we’ve got the baby. I was so annoyed at the idea that my husband could just get up off the couch and go take a shower. Oh, must be nice. You can just go take a shower. The planning that goes into taking a shower when you have a newborn baby, you can’t just take a shower. You have to put the car seat right next to the shower, wait until they’re asleep. Then even if they’re asleep, you have to bring the freaking monitor in with you. Husbands, they just don’t have that or really understand that, unless they’re a single dad of a newborn, which you don’t hear about that much, but I can imagine that. My point is, I think that a lot of people use alcohol. Why? Because it works. It does make you feel relaxed. It does decrease your anxiety at first. If you’re drinking too much, it can also have a rebound effect and make you more anxious. Alcohol is a depressant, but we don’t necessarily realize that. My point here is that that doesn’t mean that all moms become alcoholics either. There’s a whole bunch of other factors.

For me, I turned to drinking, but I’d always used something. Once I had been sober for a while and I could really start looking at my life and get out of that denial of, this came out of nowhere, how did I just suddenly become somebody who can’t — no. I’d been drinking since I was fourteen. I’d regularly had blackouts. I just started looking at my drinking honestly. My biological father was a pill addict. He was an addict most of his life. I always separated that from me. He didn’t even raise me. I didn’t see a lot of the genetic component, the childhood chaos, the doing stand-up comedy and always drinking before — I’d always used alcohol. For a lot of women, I think if they have certain factors from their childhood, in their genetic makeup, it can wake up that alcoholic tendency in them. For other people, they can go through a little period of using alcohol too much and then go, you know what? This isn’t healthy. I’m going to start going to the gym. I’m going to get into wellness. I’m not going to do that. They’re able to not do that. I don’t want anybody to hear this as some indictment of moms and drinking. We’re all human. We all turn to things that make us feel better. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s only if you notice that now your kids are getting a little older, and you’re still in that bad habit. What I needed was understanding. That became my drug. Other moms not drinking with me, people to talk to, people to hang out with, I needed something, like a salve for the loneliness and isolation that I still felt. I needed more help. I needed my husband to pitch in more. I started going to recovery meetings. I definitely got a lot out of that, mostly, company and the feeling I wasn’t alone. I binged on a lot of sugar that first year.

Zibby: I get that. I had this moment which I’m sort of ashamed to even say out loud. I’m not even sure I’ve told this story. Maybe I have. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. We were living in a temporary apartment as we moved from one place to the other. Everything was just totally disorienting. I barely knew where we were living. I didn’t have my stuff. I would push the double stroller down the street in New York. It would be Shabbat or something. I’m like, oh, I’ve got to get more wine. It’s okay. I can go and get more wine. It’s Shabbat. I would try to squeeze this double stroller into the wine store and down the two steps that they had there. I remember my kids, at one point — they were three or four. “Mommy, I don’t want to go to the wine store.” I was like, this is so embarrassing.

Stefanie: Mommy, why do you buy so many bottles of wine?

Zibby: I know. I was like, outed. The people in the store looking at me. It’s all good. It’s Shabbat. I’m buying five bottles.

Stefanie: Did you find yourself having to come up with a little excuse in your head? Oh, that last time was just for a party we were having.

Zibby: Always something. What you went through was farther in the past that you sort of drudged up — not drudged up. That sounds negative, but started writing about now for this book. Why go into this now? What did it feel like to look back on a time — it sounds like you have a lot more compassion for yourself than you did when you were going through it.

Stefanie: I think it was too raw for a few years. The thing is the drinking and driving was humiliating. It was so hard to talk about. For a long time, I only talked about it with people in my meetings, people that I knew would understand. My closest friends knew. My brother and sister-in-law knew. It’s just not something that I regularly talked about. I would go on TV. It seems weird to say that I went on TV. Because I had written that book, Sippy Cups, it got out that I got sober. Then all of these outlets were wanting me to talk about it. I got interviewed for The New York Times. I was on the cover of Sunday Style section. I was only sober four months. They had done an interview with me. Listen, looking back, I feel like it’s a little bit weird that I did that. Knowing what I know now fourteen years later, it’s weird that at four months I had anything to say about sobriety. I did know that I didn’t have anything to say. When I first was approached by Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil, I was like, no, absolutely not. I don’t want to talk about it. This reporter from The New York Times wanted me to be interviewed. It’s a long story. It’s in the book. I had been outed by a parenting writer from The New York Times. I was upset. I was very shocked. I was very upset. I had originally just told my small blog readership, which was only a few hundred people that were reading that blog. She had basically announced it in her column in The New York Times without any heads-up. I had no idea. She didn’t ask me for a comment. She just talked about me. A lot of people, apparently, read The New York Times. Who knew?

That’s when all these publications started reaching out to me and asking me to be on TV. I was like, absolutely not. Eventually, when I was in The New York Times after by this woman who interviewed me, I started getting people reaching out to me on Facebook or whatever kind of asking me for help. I was like, wow, okay, maybe I’m in sort of a unique position to tell the truth about what’s going on with me, so I agreed to do a couple of shows. I did not ever mention that I drove drunk. That was not part of the story at the time. I had a lot of rationalization for that. Number one, I was embarrassed. I was like, I’m already being judged. Already, without even knowing that piece of it, some of the comments I was getting were like, you shouldn’t be a mom. You shouldn’t be allowed to have kids. You should have your kids taken away from you. CPS should read this and come and get your kids. Just knowing that I had admitted to drinking too much. I was like, what is going to happen? The feds are going to show up at my door if I say that I drove drunk. I was scared. Also, the way I rationalized it, too, was, yeah, it’s the truth, but if I say that, it’s going to make a lot of women not relate to my story. It’s going to give women a reason to go, well, I would never do that; therefore, I don’t have to look at my drinking. In my mind, I’m like, they don’t need to know that. I’ll keep that part to myself.

That went on for years. I did many TV shows and did not tell the full truth about my situation. It was when I was on Katie Couric four years later — now I’m going to have this mom show. I had a TV show for a while called Parental Discretion with Stefanie Wilder-Taylor. It was a comedic mom show. It was fun. It was a talk show for moms. I was asked to do Katie Couric not as a big exposé on my drinking, but to talk about the mommy wine culture. My plan was to come on the show and say, I still don’t think that moms need to be judged for drinking wine. We don’t have to come down on — that was my position. Katie Couric’s producer had discovered a place where I talked about drinking and driving. It was something that I had no idea was out there. It was something that was on YouTube. They asked me if they could ask me about it. I said no. I said, “I won’t even come to the show if you’re going to ask me about it.” They were like, “Okay, no problem. We won’t.” Then Katie Couric asked me about it. We were taping the segment. The cat was out of the bag, as they say. I don’t know why that’s a saying, but it is. I just rolled with it. Once I told that piece of it, I expected the sky to fall. Nothing happened. Nobody was like, what? You did what? Same thing happened after that show that always happened, which is, women were like, oh, my gosh, I think I have a problem too. What do I do? That’s when I realized my story is going to help people, and the whole story.

It was another ten years before I wrote this book. I just decided, why not? I felt that Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonay helped moms because I didn’t know that you’re not supposed to tell the whole truth about how we feel as new moms. Nobody told me, you’re not supposed to talk about that breastfeeding sucks. It’s awful. It hurts. For some people. Not all. Not all moms. For me, it was a terrible experience. Not everybody talks about, I didn’t love my baby at first sight. I was sort of breaking down these myths of, you need to have this certain kind of stroller. You’re a bad mom if you don’t do this. You need to have a parenting philosophy. All these things that were big at the time. My daughter is nineteen now, so this was a while ago. I didn’t know that you’re not supposed to — it’s taboo to go, I didn’t love my baby at first sight. I hated being pregnant. I was on the fence about being a mom in general. I love it. Of course, I love it now. Saying all those things, there was backlash. If you look at the Amazon reviews for that book, there are people that absolutely love it. Thank you for saying everything you said. You made me laugh. There are people that, you should never have had kids.

Zibby: There are haters all the time.

Stefanie: The book was polarizing, is my point. I felt like there weren’t a lot of books at that time where people were willing to tell the truth. Telling the truth for me is kind of like a chronic illness. I can’t help it. It’s never going away. It’s just how I communicate. I’m just honest. I don’t know what you’re not supposed to say unless you tell me you’re not supposed to say it. My editor of that book was a young gay man who just thought I was funny and was like, go for it. He had no idea. My agent was a gay man with no kids. The two of them together were just like, oh, my god, mention it all.

Zibby: Look, as someone who read it and loved it, thank you. Drunk-ish is great. Your whole series, your whole voice, all the things you do, I’m just a fan. I’m along for the ride. This has gone totally long, which I don’t think I’ve ever done. I literally could just sit here and listen to you forever. Thank you, Stefanie.

Stefanie: Moms don’t have time to read, and they also don’t have time to listen to really long podcasts.

Zibby: That’s true. Congratulations.

Stefanie: Thank you for having me.

Zibby: Thanks for coming on.

Stefanie: Bye.

Zibby: Bye.

DRUNK-ISH: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving Alcohol by Stefanie Wilder-Taylor

Purchase your copy on Bookshop!

Share, rate, & review the podcast, and follow Zibby on Instagram @zibbyowens