Ray of Light No. 50 :: Aidan Donnelley Rowley

Each 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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Aidan Donnelley Rowley
Author, mother of three girls, #thedrylife enthusiast
Instagram: @adonnrowley, @drybeclub
Website: aidandonnelleyrowley.com
Twitter: @adonnrowley
Co-host of the EDIT Podcast: Editing Our Drinking + Our Lives

Do you remember how we first met or came to know one another?
Yes, but only vaguely! I believe we were first in touch over email when I began blogging about my Year Without Wine in 2012.

What is your sobriety date?
I had my last drink on July 25, 2016. Haven’t looked back.

Do you count days, months or years connected to your sobriety?
Less and less. In the beginning, I kept closer track because I liked the tangibility, but now I just have an app on my phone called NOMO which I check periodically to see where I am. I hit my One Year this past summer and that felt big because I’d already done a year before, so I was entering new territory. On day 500, I set my iPhone timer to snap this ridiculous photo of me jumping for joy in front of our massive Christmas tree. The picture is blurry but I cherish it and the stark silliness of this moment; such silliness eluded me when I was drinking and I’m grateful for it.

What recovery modality do you use in your recovery from alcohol?
I’m not even sure what recovery modality means which I admit says something. And I don’t use the word recovery. I am someone who realized - over the course of many years - that alcohol just doesn’t fit with the life I want. It took me some real time, some frustrating fits and starts, but I ultimately arrived at the choice to stop. I do write about #thedrylife, as I call it, primarily on my @drybeclub Instagram and I do talk about it on EDIT Podcast which I co-host with my friend Jolene Park and these two things - writing and talking - have been meaningful as they have allowed me to continually process and excavate my decision to not drink in a drink-soaked culture. Also important: IG and the podcast have allowed me to connect with others who have made, or are curious about making, a similar choice.

Do you identify yourself as an alcoholic? I don’t.

If you do not identify with the word alcoholic, what do you identify with?
I identify as being a former Gray Area drinker, as having made something of an Early Exit from the drinking life, as someone who is simply better off without it. I struggled with drinking, but was never physically addicted and was always able to stop. But this one thing caused me tremendous, if subtle, heartache which I often kept private and hidden from the world, and though there were no horrific outward consequences of my drinking, no proverbial rock bottom, I knew I wanted and needed to stop. The more I talk and write about this middle place of struggling but not being “that bad,” the more I realize how many of us are in this underexplored category.

What are your top three tools in your sobriety toolbox?
I have never claimed to have a Sobriety Toolbox, but I suppose I have replaced drinking with certain things.

One: The writing life. Writing is my passion. Being lost in the fictional world of a work-in-progress is a pure privilege and joy and offers an escape from the chaos and details of my real life, an escape that is far healthier for me than the escape I once sought by drinking wine. When I was drinking and struggling with drinking, my writing suffered and this caused me additional pain. When I have a good day of writing (or even a hard one), I know that I’m able to do the work because I’ve cleared the deck of booze.

Two: Books. I’ve probably read more books since I stopped drinking than I read in the full decade before. That says something. Any day can be brightened in my estimation with a trip to the bookstore.

Three: Connection and conversation with others. This includes connecting with others who are asking similar questions about alcohol and also with those who are not. This includes connecting face-to-face over a cup of coffee or delicious meal and connecting with kindred souls in the strange but magical ether of Instagram. I’ve encountered so many incredible and inspiring people - including you, Tammi! - thanks to the online world.

Why or how did you know or decide that you had to quit drinking?  
It was a decision I came to again and again over time. Looking back, I can see that my drinking took a turn after twin losses: a miscarriage in 2005 and my dad’s death in 2008. Grief put a new gloss on my life and changed me and I begin to drink sometimes to obliterate the pain I felt in the wake of my losses. Also, once I became a mother, I began to realize, again only over time, that drinking was taking me away from my daughters in subtle and less-subtle ways. These strong and smart girls are growing like weeds before my very eyes and deserve all of me. They remain my three biggest reasons to keep going with #thedrylife.

Do you feel you are more or less creative since you have stopped drinking? 
I’m more creative, but this is a tricky one because I think so many of us buy into the fiction that drinking frees us to be more wild and bold in our artistic endeavors. I know I subscribed to this nonsense, and it’s hard to shed these beliefs full-stop. It is taking time to truly see and accept that I’m more creative and consistent than I ever was while I was drinking.

Do you feel you are more productive since you have stopped drinking?
I’m far more productive. I just get more done each day and I’m more efficient. This doesn’t surprise me. I feel better physically and mentally and my head is clearer. I’m no longer handicapping myself with hangovers or indulging in the time-sucking debate of whether I should drink or not.

What has delighted you most since you quit drinking alcohol?
Everyday joy and presence with my favorite people. I am able now to see the small, sparkly bits of each day and to savor them a bit more. When I’m with my girls or my handsome man or my mom or my sisters of friends, I feel like I’m really with them, and connecting. My phone and social media remain my biggest distraction and crutch; I’m a scroller and a swiper and I know I must work on this, but baby steps, right?

Do you have any advice for those in still suffering or those in early recovery?
Forgive yourself. Tomorrow is a new day. You can always begin again. You can begin as many times as you must. Progress can be messy. It is never linear and black and white. Be kind with yourself and know you are capable of big, life-affirming change. We all are. Oh: and you are far from alone. Whether you are in the Gray Area or beyond, there are so many of us who are struggling and striving alongside you who care. We are in this together.

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

There are so many books I’ve read, bloggers I’ve connected with, and everyone I interact with about and around this question is a teacher to me. Small moments and conversations teach me. I love the work that my friends Laura McKowen and Holly Whitaker are doing and that you are doing, Tammi. I love that we are all contributing to this conversation in singular, creative ways.

I loved Drinking: A Love Story by Carolyn Knapp and Dry by Augusten Burroughs and Blackout by Sarah Hepola and Girl Walks Out of a Bar by my friend Lisa Smith - even though I didn’t totally see myself in these tales of more proper addiction and recovery.

Two books that have been game-changers for me, which seem on the surface to have little to nothing to do with drinking: QUIET by Susan Cain and THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING UP by Marie Kondo. Cain woke me up, made me realize that I’d been drinking for almost two decades at least in part to be more extroverted in this Extrovert World of ours. What I realized is that I’m at heart more introverted than I thought and that this is okay. My hunch is that many of us who struggle with drinking are unwittingly closeted introverts. And Kondo (which has now become a verb in our home, as in, “Mom Kondo-ed my dinosaur statue!”) implores us to keep only the things that spark joy in us. Drinking no longer sparked joy in me so I gave it up, decluttering heart and head and home.

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?
If I have a tribe, it’s really my Drybe (dry + tribe - @drybeclub on IG). I also talk frequently with Jolene Park, my wonderful EDIT Podcast co-host. And I love my sober book club here in New York City which my friend @thesoberglow started. Oh as well worth mentioning: I’m also a member of two “secret” FB groups where real people post in real-time about all of this stuff and I’m grateful for these groups even if I don’t actively participate in them all that much; they make me feel surrounded, less alone. I think these groups can be very helpful for accountability and community, particularly in the early days.

What are you most proud of now that you live an alcohol-free life?
I’m proud to be living a life that feels honest and clear and I’m proud to be offering an example of a different way of living in this booze-soaked world of ours. I’m proud of showing my girls that life can be fun and silly and purposeful and meaningful without alcohol. And, finally, I’m proud and just plain happy to be the voice I was so desperately seeking in my hardest drinking moments, the voice that says, proudly and loudly, “You do not have to be that bad to stop. You can walk away now. There is clarity and joy and laughter on the other side. Trust me.”

Thank you, Tammi, for having me in your amazing series. You have inspired me and so many and I’m so lucky to count you as a friend and cohort in #thedrylife.