Alcohol-free, Specifically, Part 4: The Journey

In the beginning, not drinking was about supporting my partner, but it quickly became something I knew I had to do to heal myself and become the person I wanted to be. 

I am grateful for the choice he made, and he is grateful for the choice I made, but we made our choices independently. He had his reasons, and three months later, in May 2019, I had mine. That’s the way it has to be. You have to do it for yourself. Nonetheless, it’s what we are mutually most grateful for in our shared life. It’s brought us together in a way I’ve never been with anyone else, and it’s brought some wonderful people in to our orbit. Most of all, we are grateful that halfway through our lives we have the opportunity together to redefine what we want our lives to be. 

I have been fortunate to have a companion on this journey, but our paths with it have been different. Being a member of a twelve step fellowship has been the best thing to ever happen to him, providing him with emotional tools he will use for the rest of his life along with a wealth of new friends. I, on the other hand, struggle with a lot of twelve step program language. It feels outdated and sexist, and it's often too extreme for me to find relatable, all of which leaves me wishing there was another support group out there that would be a better match for me. Something for those of us in that gray area between not wanting to drink, our lives being effected by drinkers, and the challenges of navigating a new social landscape as a result of opting out of wet culture. As far as I know that doesn’t exist yet.

There are, however, starting to be alternatives to twelve step programs. I haven’t yet read much of the bourgeoning canon of “Quit Lit,” but I was engrossed for most of January with Holly Whitaker’s book, Quit Like A Woman, in which she not only posits that twelve step programs aren't the only way but also offers an alternative solution. Through her own journey with sobriety, she discovered that much of twelve step language didn’t work for her, so she developed Tempest (formerly Hip Sobriety), an “online sobriety school” recovery program for women and other marginalized demographics. Her theory, which has been quite controversial, is that Alcoholics Anonymous, the original twelve step program from which all others were derived, was designed by men for men and that women have already spent their lives painfully aware of their powerlessness and apologizing for all their character defects. Starting with research about the drastic increase in alcohol related deaths and alcohol dependency in women in the last decade due to marketing initiatives (wine = mommy juice, for example), Holly offers an alternative approach to sobriety and recovery going so far as to say that she doesn’t believe in alcoholism. I don’t bring this up to debate that term, but rather to illustrate that the conversation around the role of alcohol in our culture and the expected course of recovery is finally seeing some alternate viewpoints.

At first, I thought I would stop drinking and everything else would stay the same, but that didn’t turn out to be true. To borrow a concept from yoga, what I did when I made the choice to give something up was make space in my life for new habits and new relationships. Furthermore, I provided myself with a turning point, one from which I could make new choices in light of new priorities. 

There was a time when my business wasn’t doing so well. When you’ve been in business for almost 20 years, as I have, there are bound to be bad years. Sometimes they compound, it all goes downhill for a while, and it’s hard to turn things around. You make bad decisions, do business with the wrong people. They sense your weakness, and they take advantage of it. During my extended depression in my thirties, it seemed I was doing this across all areas of my life – business, friendship, and romance. I was hungry in all ways, so I sacrificed myself. 

At one point, I nearly lost everything. The scrabble to recover over the last four years is as much a testament to my unwillingness to give up as it is proof that I was stuck in a conditioned pattern of behavior.

Since I stopped drinking, all of that has ended. Last year turned out to be my best year in business ever, so good, in fact, that I doubled my revenue for 2019 in the last two months of the year, paid off $25k of debt, started a second brand, signed a new licensing deal, and put some money in an interest earning savings account for the first time in my life. The increased visibility of my business led to unexpected connections, and I entered 2020 with several new friendships that have made this winter feel all sorts of warm and cozy, even as I’ve mourned the loss of old relationships.

With my judgment clear, distractions removed, and a newfound confidence in myself thanks to making one really good decision that led to less bad decisions, I was able to move forward with a singular focus: success on all levels.

Giving up drinking has given me a strength I never had before. It’s taught me that I have the choice about what I do and don’t want to partake in. It’s taught me that I can, in fact, opt out any time I feel something isn’t serving me. It’s taught me that to be a good person doesn’t have to mean sacrificing what’s good for me, notwithstanding that some people might get bent out of shape as a result. It’s taught me that anyone who wants what’s best for me will support my decisions and anyone who doesn’t, well, fuck ‘em, right? Why would I want people in my life who don’t want what’s best for me? That’s a very good question, and it took me all these years to ask it.

The only thing that matters now is that I’m making the best choices for myself. Otherwise, how else could I be the best person I want to be for the people for whom I want to be there? 

But here’s the tricky part – none of this is easy. Opting out of anything is always hard. Scrubbing your life clean of damaging relationships inevitably means a period of social deficit. It’s like when a big wave pulls back from the beach. It sucks out the water and all the life and debris in it. The exposed sand is sparkly as little bubbles pop in the sunshine, but it’s empty and vulnerable and there’s a brief moment where it’s not certain the ocean is coming back. Whatever little creatures are left in the sand squirm in the awkwardness of exposure, naked in between waves and the comfort of returning water.

There’s a temptation to go back to old ways, to say forget it, change is too hard, I might get stranded out here in the sand if I don’t swim with the receding water. But if the ocean has taught me anything, it’s that what goes out always comes back in again, and if you let the old wash away, what returns will be full of fresh life.  


*** Note: If you’re questioning your relationship with alcohol and need someone to talk to, click here to connect 

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