Every Friday for the entire 2017 calendar year, I will 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 will feature 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.
Vegan. Sober. Feminist. Minimalist. Killjoy.
Do you remember how we first met or came to know one another?
We were lucky enough to be in the first cohort invited to join the secret HOME podcast Facebook group. There are so many wonderful women in that group but there are probably 20 or so to whom I always pay special attention. You are one of them. I love your artwork, especially your gratitude lists. I also love your glasses and the fact that you’re growing out your grey hair!
What is your sobriety date? 24 November 2014
Do you count days, months or years connected to your sobriety?
At this stage I count years. Most months, the 24th goes by without me noticing now. Having said that, I recently celebrated 1,000 days in August so I have been more aware of day-counting lately.
Do you use an app or some other method to do this counting? If so, please share.
I use CleanTime Counter. It makes me laugh because it says “Hi! My name is Anna and I am an alcoholic!” on the home screen. The exclamation marks make it sound like it should be read in a really excitable voice.
What recovery modality do you use in your recovery from alcohol?
I don’t use a specific modality. I have been to AA meetings and have nothing against the programme (in fact I may go back at some point) but I didn’t get sober in the rooms.
Connection with other sober women has been my main source of inspiration and fortitude. I feel like radical self-care is becoming a bit of a cliché but it is very important. For me that includes eating well, drinking lots of water, getting at least eight hours sleep every night, staying away from stressful situations and drama, and saying no to social engagements without feeling guilty. I don’t compromise on those things now.
However, it is very much a work in progress and there are still many things I would like to build into a daily practice as part of my recovery: exercise, meditation, reading, writing and reducing my phone use are the main ones.
Do you identify yourself as an alcoholic?
Yes. I know many people don’t like the label, and of course I’m conscious of the stigma that comes along with it, but most people’s idea of what an alcoholic is are woefully inaccurate and I think an openness to using the label is no bad thing. That’s not to say that I introduce myself that way - I just say I don’t drink - but I accept it as part of my identity and am content with that for the time being, although I’m open to it changing over time. I also identify with lots of other labels such as addict, sober, teetotaler, in recovery, etc.
What are your top three tools in your sobriety toolbox?
- Therapy. It’s been key to understanding who I am and why for a long time I couldn’t stand to be with myself without some form of numbing agent.
- Connection with other people in recovery. One of your other Rays of Light, Sandy Ford, said something in the HOME podcast Facebook group which I screenshot and look at often. I’m paraphrasing but essentially she said: We all want to be understood but, when it comes to drinking, don’t look to normies for that understanding. No matter how close people have been to addiction or how much they’ve studied it, unless they’ve experienced it themselves they don’t get it, and looking to them for validation of your experience will always leave you disappointed. You have to connect with people who understand.
- And a fun one: my unlimited cinema card. Drinking was all about escapism for me, and the cinema allows me to do that in a healthy way. I love films and usually go to the cinema around twice a week.
Why or how did you know or decide that you had to quit drinking?
My drinking was problematic from the day it began. I had an alcohol withdrawal seizure when I was 17 years old after drinking to excess one summer. I couldn’t moderate even then. I remember a close friend telling me that she thought I was an alcoholic when I was in my early twenties. I also have an eating disorder which started around the same time and my food and alcohol addictions grew together symbiotically throughout my life. I did all the usual things addicts do instead of facing their problems, like moving to different cities, changing jobs and partners, all the time wondering why nothing seemed to make me happy.
I was sober for 18 months in 2010-2011, but didn’t do any recovery work around it. And sure enough my addict brain decided that if I could go that long without drinking I definitely couldn’t be an alcoholic, right?! I was in Argentina and felt I was missing out on all the red wine (like I didn’t know what red wine tasted like) so I started drinking again. The first night was a few sips, maybe half a glass, but within 48 hours I was back to drinking alcoholically, trying to manage debilitating hangovers whilst traveling. I lived that way for the next three years. Towards the end, my life was complete chaos. I was struggling to show up for work and most of the people I cared about had either given up or been driven away. I could be a pretty obnoxious drunk person. My relationship had ended, I was living alone and I was putting myself in increasingly dangerous situations. I had no self respect and I didn’t care because I didn’t really want to be alive anymore. It had started to boil down to a choice of either get sober or jump off a bridge.
Do you feel you are more or less creative since you have stopped drinking?
If you’d have asked me this question before I started listening to The Unruffled Podcast, I would have said that I’m not creative at all and never have been. I cannot draw, paint or sew. However, I look for creativity in other forms now, such as the way I decorate my home. I appreciate interior design and furniture. I also like photography as a medium and enjoy making pictures for Instagram, although I’m aware that the cemeteries and brutalist architecture I like to photograph is not everyone’s cup of tea!
Do you feel you are more productive since you have stopped drinking? If yes, how so?
Yes and no. Because my life is a lot less chaotic now I enjoy having everything in order. Bills are paid on time, my car is serviced, I go to the anxiety carwash regularly, I never run out of toilet paper. However, I also spend quite a lot of time at the cinema, in the bath, or on the sofa watching Netflix.
I guess I’ve engineered a life that is easy to manage due to organisation and routine. That means I have lots of downtime, so it sometimes feels like I’m not overly productive because I’m not always on-the-go, but that’s the way I like it. I’ve created room in my life for more productivity should I want it in the future.
What has delighted you most since you quit drinking alcohol?
The fact that I can be content with a really simple life. As well as drinking, I was also addicted to a load of other things: food, shopping, smoking, caffeine. I still struggle with my disordered eating as the behaviour is so ingrained but a plant-based diet is helping with that, slowly. As part of my recovery I embraced minimalism. I got rid of probably 75% of my belongings and now only own things that I either really need or really love. Some people assume that removing things from your life somehow leaves you lonely or joyless but in my experience the opposite is true. It’s very freeing.
Do you have any advice for those in still suffering or those in early recovery?
For people still suffering I would say: It’s not your fault but it is your responsibility, if you don’t know where to start then try AA first and if it’s not for you try other groups, talk to other alcoholics, ask for what you need, and don’t give up. I would also point people to useful websites such as Laura McKowen and Hip Sobriety.
For people in early recovery I would say: keep a routine, remind yourself that you can do more-or-less anything in the world apart from drink or take drugs, stay connected to other sober people, practice self-care, sleep when you need to which will probably be a lot, say no often, set clear boundaries, and treat yourself with the money that you would have spent on alcohol. Oh, and most importantly, don’t EVER feel guilty for protecting your sobriety.
Can you recommend three books, bloggers or teachers that have helped you on this path to sobriety?
- Laura McKowen and Holly Whitaker from HOME podcast. These fierce women are changing lives. Finding them was a gift and their blogs and podcast have helped me a lot.
- The Rich Roll podcast. This is a bit of a cheat as you also get all the amazing teachers he talks to. He is a brilliant interviewer, has a fascinating recovery story and is leading the way in plant-based living.
- Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story. This is one of those books where you start off highlighting salient points and the whole books ends up bright pink. A brilliantly-written story of addiction and recovery.
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?
HOME is my tribe. I’ve always been a loner and I approached getting sober like I approach most things: on my own. I found HOME when I was in a deep depression around one year into sobriety and you ladies shone your rays of light into my life through my laptop. I am going to have to do a tour of the U.S. one day to visit you all!
I’m trying to cultivate an in real life tribe, too, but it’s more challenging. Finding a group of vegan, feminist, sober killjoys to have meet-ups within a small UK city is not easy, especially when you’re not naturally outgoing. That’s one of the reasons I may go back to AA one day.
What are you most proud of now that you live an alcohol-free life?
I’ve spent a lot of my life avoiding the truth: trying to be a party girl when really I’m an introvert, calling myself an animal lover whilst wearing makeup tested on animals, denying my queerness, pretending to be happy whilst drinking to blackout most nights.
I’m most proud of the fact that, since I got sober, I have faced many truths despite them being painful at times, and now try my best to live an authentic life in line with my ethics and values.