Ray of Light Interview No. 43 :: Kirsten Zell

Every Friday for the entire 2017 calendar year, I release a new interview + a newly created mixed media piece of art as part of my weekly Ray of Light Interview Series: Women in Recovery. This series features brave, kickass, beautiful women who have chosen to embrace an alcohol-free lifestyle. The light was dimmed for these women when they were struggling with alcohol (either a little or a lot).  I wish to honor them for their brave choice to ditch alcohol, rediscover themselves through sobriety + shine bright in the process.  You can access links to the entire series by clicking here.

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Kirsten Zell
Paycheck work: Business Litigation Paralegal
Heart work: Health & Recovery Coach-in-Training + Yogini + Baseball Mom + Sunshine Enthusiast
Instagram: @kirsten.zell

What is your sobriety date? October 1, 2015

Do you count days, months or years connected to your sobriety?
At first, I counted days/months. After my 1 year soberversary, I pay attention to milestones, like 18 months and my 2 year soberversary. My sobriety is just who I am now, not something I consciously keep track of.

Do you use an app or some other method to do this counting? If so, please share.
The Nomo app.

What recovery modality do you use in your recovery from alcohol?
I created my own holistic recovery by figuring out what works for me and building it into my daily life. When I quit alcohol, I immersed myself in all things recovery and self-growth, which was both amazing and overwhelming. Information overload. Over time, I was able to weed out what actually worked for my body/mind/spirit, and I only do those things. I don’t bother with shoulds anymore.

Do you identify yourself as an alcoholic? No.

If you do not identify with the word alcoholic, what do you identify with?
I say I’m sober or I don’t drink alcohol. In early sobriety, I used the word ‘recovery’ more often but, really, I’m not attempting to recover who I was before I spiraled with alcohol (or all the stuff that came before alcohol). I see my sober life as more of an evolution than a recovery.

What are your top three tools in your sobriety toolbox?

  1. Meditation/breath/yoga/prayer
  2. Moving my body (preferably outdoors, in the sun)

  3. Whole, clean food

Why or how did you know or decide that you had to quit drinking?
I’ve had a long, disordered love/hate relationship with alcohol. As a young girl, I hated what alcohol did to my family, and I witnessed how destructive it could be. The way I drank the first time I tried alcohol, I knew it would be a problem for me. I spent the next 18 years hyper-aware of my relationship with alcohol and walking on eggshells around it. It was a cycle of bingeing, abstaining, moderating/controlling, bingeing.

Fast forward to 33: I felt like I was one person living two separate lives. I was a divorced, single mom with a full-time, demanding job who had real, big responsibilities. I coped with that life on my kid-free weeks by means of men and booze. On the outside everything looked great - I got raises and big bonuses; I was independent, self-sufficient, and didn’t need a man; I cheered at every one of my boys’ baseball games; I was ‘the cool girl’; I wore a size zero; I was the ‘healthy one’ at work who brought homemade salads for lunch every day; and I was always smiling. I was trying to do all the things. Underneath it all, I was secretly struggling with a dangerous dependence on alcohol that scared the shit out of me. I had lost my integrity, I did not recognize the person I had become, and I was terrified I would never change.

On October 1, 2015, I was not planning to stop drinking. I woke up late for work (as per usual) and dragged myself to the bathroom, hungover from a blackout drunk date-night. I stared at myself in my bathroom mirror. My eyes were dead. There was an empty wine glass on my bathroom counter. This was my life now. This would be my life forever. It was never going to change. Even if I made one more promise to myself. Fuck this, I was done. I literally threw up my hands and shouted, “I’m done. I am so fucking done. You win.” Alcohol beat me and I didn’t care. In that moment, I was aware that my entire life had changed course. Just like that. God removed the burden of alcohol from my shoulders, and I have never had a serious desire for a drink since. I consider it my biggest God moment – God gave me that moment. I took it and ran.

Do you feel you are more or less creative since you have stopped drinking? 
More, but in different ways. I’ve always had small, creative (artistic) side-projects. Alcohol definitely stifled that. When I quit alcohol I had to re-build my creative muscle, but it’s taken a different shape. For example, I taught myself how to crochet because I wanted to make a meditation mat. Another example, I decided to make food-prep and cooking ‘creative.’ I’m the type of person who loves homemade meals, but dreads prepping/cooking. So, I flipped the thought from: “I don’t feel like cooking and it’s wasting my time” to “cooking is where I express my creativity.” It’s not like I’m doing anything extravagant in the kitchen - my meals are very simple. It’s just a shift in thinking. It makes me more present and appreciate the effort of creating a whole, healthy meal for myself and my boys, not just cooking dinner.

Do you feel you are more productive since you have stopped drinking? If yes, how so?
Actually, I’m trying to give myself a break. I am a recovering perfectionist, so productivity was never an issue for me, drinking or not. I still have a lot going on in my life, I just manage it differently. I have routines, I plan/prepare ahead of time, I keep things simple, I say no, I accept that my weeks with my boys look very different than my weeks without them, etc. All that said, I get a shit ton more (meaningful) stuff done sober.

What has delighted you most since you quit drinking alcohol?
Finding freedom. Freedom from the constraint of alcohol, freedom from anxiety and depression, freedom from living for others, freedom to be me, freedom to feel, freedom of presence and awareness; freedom to open my heart and love big. So much freedom.

Do you have any advice for those in still suffering or those in early recovery?
For those still suffering: Your life is not going to change unless you make the choice to change it. Change is hard and you can do hard things – you just don’t know it yet. Make the choice and commit. Then, be open to the people, places, and things that will make you never doubt that choosing to remove alcohol from your life was the best choice you’ve ever made for yourself.

Can you recommend three books, bloggers or teachers that have helped you on this path to sobriety?

  1. Tara Brach

  2. Brené Brown

  3. The Great Work of Your Life by Stephen Cope

  4. Specifically related to alcohol - Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol by Ann Dowsett Johnston

Are you part of a tribe or a recovery community that supports your sobriety?  If so, how did you figure out how to find that tribe/community.  What was your path to discovering it?
In early recovery, I was fairly active in the online recovery community. I’m part of the She Recovers Facebook groups because I attended retreats in Mexico and Bali. And I’m part of the She Recovers Coach Designation Program group. I also have a few in-real-life sober friends who I connect with regularly.

I recently became active in the Refuge Recovery online community and am in the process of starting a Refuge Recovery meeting in my local community. I was missing in-real-life connection with like-minded people. I also signed up for my first silent meditation retreat with Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society (founded by Noah Levine, who founded Refuge Recovery).

What are you most proud of now that you live an alcohol-free life?
I’m most proud of finding and growing pause – to be able to live my life responding, not reacting.