On New Year’s Day in years past, I had a long-standing tradition of hosting an open-house backyard-bonfire party, welcoming the whole world with black-eyed peas, collard greens, cornbread, and bourbon, always the bourbon. Today, New Year’s Day 2020, I’m happily celebrating 96 consecutive alcohol-free days, alone, drinking herbal tea, in my pajamas. I’m proud of myself and content in my choice, a choice that feels vital and life-affirming.
Quitting drinking is something that I couldn’t have imagined for myself 10 years ago, so deeply was my identity intertwined with the gritty, work-hard-play-hard ethos of the service industry and the ideal of graciousness and generosity upheld by Southern female hospitality culture. But at some point, while still not understanding how it could be a reality for me, sobriety became a secret dream, one I worked towards surreptitiously for many years: stalking sober instagram, reading blogs and articles and books on sobriety, grilling any of my friends and acquaintances who were public about quitting. My journals, especially in the last 5 years, are filled with new moon rituals and intentions to quit, and over the years I managed to string together weeks and even months of abstinence, always in secret, always reserving the right to go back to drinking when the lights were too bright and I needed to fade away.
Every time I went back to drinking it felt the same. I was right back where I started: tired, irritable, anxious, worried about what I might have said or done the night before, even if I had just had a few glasses of wine at home. But still I kept pointing myself towards it, kept reading and re-training my brain, until eventually I felt that sobriety was my destiny. Finally in September, I enrolled in an online sobriety school called Tempest founded by Holly Whitaker (whose book, Quit Like a Woman, just came out on 12/31/19), and started working my way through the program. I had my last drink on September 28th.
This is not the coming-out-sober story where I’m going to tell you about how fucked up my life became because of alcohol. For one, that’s not really true. My life is pretty great. Despite (or perhaps as a result of) surviving some absolutely devastating losses over the past decade, my heart is full and my head is clear and my feet are on solid ground. That’s not to say I haven’t had some harrowing lows, or that alcohol hasn’t taken its toll; I have, it has. But I’m not going to share those stories here, because I don’t want you to compare how fucked up you think you are to how fucked up you think I am, and use my story to decide you do or don’t “have a problem.” You don’t have to ruin your life or your health to qualify for re-thinking your relationship to alcohol, and you don’t have to justify wanting to quit drinking. One of the best things about being sober, for me, is being free from the constant inner dialogue that used to loop in my head: what time of day is it ok to open the wine? How much can I have and still drive? How many drinks to avoid being hungover at work? Maybe if I don’t drink on the weeknights…
The truth is, for me, quitting drinking is a result of a larger commitment I have made to my emotional healing. Sobriety is boundary work. Quitting drinking is about keeping promises to myself, standing beside myself and having my own back. I have been a pathological people-pleaser for most of my life, and I have been shocked to discover how much of my drinking was tied to not wanting to disappoint other people. I have used alcohol to override my own boundaries, silence the parts of me that are shy or introverted (or just wanted to go to sleep or read a book), and keep things lively and everyone entertained. Like other forms of boundaries, healing, and self-care, sobriety requires saying “no” to more people and things and giving myself plenty of time to rest and metabolize my experiences. I’m learning to disappoint people. I’m learning that people-pleasing is a subtle form of control. And that ultimately, people-pleasing betrays a belief that we must earn love: that we must charm and cajole people into loving us and sticking around, rather than the truth: we are each innately lovable, and we don’t have to do anything to earn love.
I highly recommend Tempest Sobriety School for anyone questioning their drinking, or folks looking to deepen their sobriety journey. It is femme-oriented and open to all genders, and combines an emphasis on meditation, yoga, neuroscience, therapy and trauma, nutrition, and sleep hygiene, with an astute political analysis that recognizes that substance use is a feminist issue, that Big Alcohol (like Big Tobacco) has manufactured our consent to pay to kill ourselves by the millions, and that harm reduction, not shame or punishment, is the most humane and logical response to addiction. Tempest doesn’t focus on “day counts” or even whether you are sober at all, but rather focuses on building a life that you don’t feel you need to escape from, on building a practice of self-care and self-love. But beyond any and all of these aspects of Tempest, it’s the community of warrior badasses that I have met through this process that have impacted me the most. My gratitude to my Tempest community is unending.
I’m sharing, even though it is scary, because there are many of you who have been vulnerable in sharing about your journey with sobriety in the past, who may not have known how impactful your story has been on me. Thank you for blazing the trail. And if anyone out there is considering quitting, wants more info, or just wants to talk, I’m here.
And if you’re not considering quitting drinking at all, or if you quit and started back, hell, if I start back, that’s OK too. Because it turns out we don’t have to do anything to earn our right to unconditional love and acceptance, including quitting drinking.
Maybe, when I’ve had more practice at being at parties sober, I’ll throw another New Year’s Day party. Or maybe I’ll just make a new tradition of drinking tea in my pajamas. Happy New Year, my friends. Onward in love.