Ray of Light No. 52 :: Erin Shaw Street

Every Friday for the entire 2017 calendar year, I have released a new interview + a one-of-a-kind mixed media piece of art as part of my weekly Ray of Light Interview Series: Women in Recovery. Today is the last Friday of this year-long project and I couldn't be more proud of it.

This series has featured 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 wished 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.

And, thank you for following along, leaving comments, sharing on your own social media feeds and witnessing each woman's story and allowing them to be both seen and heard.

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Erin Shaw Street
Writer, Editor + Consultant
Instagram: @erinshawstreet
Twitter: @erinshawstreet
Website: www.erinshawstreet.com

Do you remember how we first met or came to know one another?
Yep, via Sondra Primeaux, who came to my aide in person in Austin, Texas on my last day one (God willing).

What is your sobriety date? March 13, 2016

Do you count days, months or years connected to your sobriety?
I count major milestones.

Do you use an app or some other method to do this counting? 
I use the I Am Sober App when I was first counting, but don’t look at it frequently now.

What recovery modality do you use in your recovery from alcohol?
I use a multi-modality approach to recovery. This includes a 12 step fellowship and a tool kit including prayer, meditation, Pilates, and about a million things related to self-care, community, and service.

Do you identify yourself as an alcoholic?
It depends on the context. At first I strongly identified with the term -- it gave me a reference point I could understand. However, now I generally only identify as such within my 12 step fellowship. Here it provides a shorthand that says “me too.” But I don’t necessarily walk around thinking of myself as an alcoholic. I’m a person who drank alcoholically and became addicted. I am a person who is sober has built a life around an active program of recovery.

If you do not identify with the word alcoholic, what do you identify with?
In addition to being sober, I identify with being: a feminist, a believer, a mom, a wife, a daughter, and a person restored. I’m human, having a very human experience. I have evolved and am evolving.

What are your top three tools in your sobriety toolbox?

  1. Prayer of many kinds;
  2. Community of many kinds; and
  3. Writing of many kinds.

Why or how did you know or decide that you had to quit drinking?  
It’s a common story: I didn’t like the way that I felt, the way I treated people, or who I had become. I was tired of waking up sick and tired and walking through life in a haze. I knew it would be the hardest thing that I had ever done but that life was waiting on the other side, if I could ever scale what once seemed an impassable mountain. Also I thought I might die if I didn’t stop, if not physically than spiritually. The darkness had overtaken me, and I desperately wanted to live in the light.

Do you feel you are more or less creative since you have stopped drinking? If yes, please expound on this and cite examples for my readers.
I think my creativity was always in me (and in all of us) -- I just dulled it a lot when I was drinking. To clarify -- I still could access my ability to create, and had to because it was my job as a writer and editor. I’m a performer, and spent a lifetime creating to please others. But at what cost? My former self learned how to create for commerce, but in the process, I wasn’t drawing on the deeper well of creativity. Chardonnay didn’t help either. (The whole “write drunk edit sober” line is BS, by the way.)

Now the sharper version of my creativity is back, though it’s taken and taking some time to regain it. For me creativity in recovery includes giving myself the chance to explore other, non-writing projects, like how I style the vintage clothes I collect, or learning to play ukulele with my son or or the Dia De Los Muertos George Michael altar I made this fall. Those things have helped me express myself in a judgement-free zone (including my own judgement).

Writing, which has been my life and livelihood, is more complicated. But people tell me I’m a much better writer now. This is particularly meaningful when it’s said by people who have read my work for many years.

Do you feel you are more productive since you have stopped drinking? If yes, how so?
Like many, before I developed a drinking problem I had long established perfectionism and need for external validation. “Do more and get the gold star” was the long internalized message I lived by. I read a million personal development books about improving productivity all while I was poisoning my body with a substance that kills productivity. So, in recovery, productivity has taken on less of a lauded value for me.

That said, on a whole I’m more productive -- of course gained back all those hours nursing a wine glass or cleaning up my messes the next day as well as the huge psychic drain of my drinking. I’m able to take care of tasks at home and generally handle the day to day that comes with running a family and a professional life.

But it hasn’t always been a linear progression. I also have chronic pain and a condition called dysautonomia, and as result I still struggle with fatigue. That said, I treasure the hours that I have and am much more in alignment with my purpose and values. And sometimes that means taking a long nap because my body says so. That feels productive now.

What has delighted you most since you quit drinking alcohol?
Where to even begin? Being attuned to the life that God had planned for me all along, and the one He was preparing before I was able to get sober. This may sound strange, but years ago I visited with a man named Max who has the gift of prophecy. He told me that at the time I was deep in a storm, a fight for my life, but I would come through that and everything I lost would be restored and then some. That I’d have a life beyond what I could imagine. And that is the case.

I’m a 41-year old woman who is truly present for the first time in her body and in her life. So I enjoy the hell out of it. Everything I do and feel is amplified, so I really enjoy food (I edit a food blog) and travel and design -- all the things I loved before but were muffled. I delight in dance parties, I delight in bold colors, I delight in being the wacky aunt who doesn’t care what people think. Gah, that’s so good.

I delight in my reporting, writing and editing. I delight in storytelling and building brands that make a difference. I delight in being of sound mind when someone asks me for help. Working with other women and lighting a candle so they can find their path in sobriety: that is my heart.

I delight in adventure knowing that I’m fully held by the universe. And also just sitting on the couch with my people. My 11-year old son and my husband and my aged pug and my whole family -- I delight in their company.

Do you have any advice for those in still suffering or those in early recovery?
For those still suffering: what does alcohol bring to your life? What does it take away? How is it serving you? Or are you serving it?

For those who have made the decision: congratulations -- you have just said “yes” to life. Give your recovery the attention you gave drinking, including reaching out to people who have gone before you. Recovery is not a one-size fits all process, and there are so many tools and resources (including many free ones). Talk to people who have gotten sober -- we’re not just hiding in church basements now (though some of my favorite rooms are in church basements). Fight for your sobriety. Fight like it’s for your life, because it is. Tell someone: there is power in giving words to this. Ask for help. And if you don’t get the help you need, ask again and again,

In regards to early sobriety, I like what Laura McKowen calls “The Pregnancy Principle.” Treat yourself as you would if you were pregnant: lots of rest, grace, and careful attention to your body. Give it time and don’t judge yourself how you feel weeks or months in. Your body, mind, and spirit are healing. It takes time. It is worth it. It get better and becomes joyous, but the time table is different for all of us. As they say in the rooms, stick around for the miracle.

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

Holly Whitaker with Hip Sobriety helped save my life and opened my eyes to the fact that a) There are many ways to recover and b) Sobriety is just the first step to an amazing, awake life. c) We’re not losing anything when we get sober. We are waking up, committing a radical act, choosing ourselves and gaining power. She’s taught me that addiction doesn’t happen in a vacuum -- it’s an issue woven into our culture and those of us lucky enough to change the narrative have the chance to be leaders in this movement. It’s feminist AF. The revolution is here, and Holly has helped me challenge the system that teaches women we are “different” if we opt out of a substance that is addictive and deadly.

Mary Karr is a huge role model as a writer and person in recovery. “LIt” was one of the first memoirs I read in which I saw myself -- and saw there was hope. Also she’s Catholic (as I am), so I feel like we could hang out at Mass together. Also, in general she’s such a powerful writer and leader in memoir and nonfiction, opening the doors for an entire new generation of truth tellers. My dream is to have coffee with her.

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s not perfect and is far from it. It’s not Gospel. It was written by men in a very different time. But the principles give me a design for living, and helped me begin the process of inquiry that made me realize I might not be the center of the universe. There’s always a lot of discussion about the 12 Steps and their efficacy and the patriarchal nature of book and the fellowship. Rob Bell says that the people who question institutions and organizations are the ones who help them evolve, and I believe that’s what’s happening now as AA evolves. Of course there will be people who shoot daggers in my direction for even mentioning this but I don’t care. I’m here to be part of a smart conversation.

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?
Lots of them, including one that you co-created, Tammi (shout out to The Unruffled Podcast!). Online groups have been pivotal in my recovery. I really discovered my tribe through the HOME Podcast secret Facebook group, and then a secret Facebook group associated with Hip Sobriety School. I credit peer support through these groups and that found in 12 Step rooms as being essential to my recovery. Let me put it another way: I don’t think I’d be sober today without these tribes of women who have shown me the way, held me up, and encouraged me every step of the way. It made all of the difference.

I discovered all of this from Googling. And in the time span that I started Googling “How To Get Sober,” (2013? 2014?) the online recovery community has blossomed. And it’s easy to find local resources for 12 Step and other modalities -- just ask Siri!

What are you most proud of now that you live an alcohol-free life?
Being a sober mom. Showing up for my boy fully present. And showing him that it’s not how we fall down (which in my case was literal) but how we get up again. That the fight is worth it. That we’re not the sum of our pasts, and that God has a purpose in all of our lives -- no matter what we do.

There’s that line in Hamilton’s “Wait For It” --  “If there’s a reason I’m still alive when so many have died -- I’m willing to wait for it.” It gives me chills every time I listen. So many of us are dying from dependence and addiction. Every time we lose another life, whatever the drug, I think, “That could be me.” That could still be me, but I don’t live in fear about it. Instead I take steps to keep staying alive and to flourish. In the process, I try my best to live with joy and gratitude for this great gift. People think sobriety and recovery are a gloomy kind of life. But it’s a badass one, filled with a joy of which I could have never imagined.

If you want to hear more of Erin's story, please listen to Episode 18 of The Unruffled Podcast which aired earlier this year.