Ray of Light Interview No. 6 :: Sara Dammann

I'm so pleased to introduce you to this week's Ray of Light, Sara Dammann. I came to know Sara through a secret FB group, associated with the HOME podcast, that we are both a part of. When Sara posted a picture of her first home purchase on Instagram, I immediately knew I wanted to pop a little something in the mail to her to mark the special occasion. My son wrote and then typeset a poem titled HOME and it seemed fitting to send one her way in light of her new purchase and the group that introduced us to one another.

Last year, shortly after I started a daily gratitude circle with a small group of women in recovery, one of the gals in that group, Lara Frazier (ROL interview No. 2), ended up moving in with Sara. We then added Sara into the circle and I appreciate her thoughtful lists, as well as her friendship with Lara. I could see what a good person Sara was through our daily exchanges and felt lucky that Lara had such a safe and warm place to call home and a good friend to share it with.

Sara's heart seemed big and I liked that about her. I hope you enjoy her story of recovery and find inspiration in the way she has navigated her road to living a life she is proud of that doesn't include drinking alcohol.

mixed media :: b/w image, prisma colored pencils, acrylic medium on 5" x 5" hardwood panel

mixed media :: b/w image, prisma colored pencils, acrylic medium on 5" x 5" hardwood panel

Sara Dammann
Academic Advisor and Therapist
Instagram handle: @saralices

What is your sobriety date? October 14, 2015

Do you count days, months or years connected to your sobriety?  
I do. In early sobriety I counted days, then weeks, then months. Once I hit a year, I do not notice it as much as I used to. I always seem take note of the 14th of the month and that another sober month has passed, but it now passes with content smile rather than a "Holy shit!" I think this is because not drinking has just become more and more integrated into my being. It feels like my sweatpants rather than something brand new that I'm trying to fit into.

Do you use an app to do this counting?  
I use the I Am Sober app. I like it because it sends little inspiring quotes every day and reminds you of big milestones.

What recovery modality do you use in your recovery from alcohol?
I am totally non-traditional. I use many, many things: yoga, blogs/online groups, books, poetry, walking, writing, spirituality, gratitude practice, cooking, gardening, connection with others, playing with my pets, and lots and lots of quiet time. Probably the biggest thing I do is that I don't participate in things that I do not want to; I do not twist myself into shapes or put myself in situations that are detrimental or incongruent. I have revived the joy of being a toddler; my favorite word is, "No."

Do you identify yourself as an alcoholic?
No, I do not. I find it to be a label that is dis-empowering, and my experience has been extremely empowering. I absolutely understand the value of adopting the label of an alcoholic for those who have denied a drinking problem and the value of surrendering to reality. However, I think words (especially labels) have great power, and I believe that the idea of continuing to call yourself an alcoholic long into sobriety is limiting and can keep you in fear and diminish your ability to trust yourself. I think recovery is a process of finding your authentic self, learning to listen to your guiding voice (intuition) that has been drowned out for so long, rising in your power, and arriving at a place of being able to trust yourself and your instincts. This can mean knowing deep in your core that you can never drink again, but the label "alcoholic" does carry a lot of stigma and shame, and I believe these are things you get to let go of through recovery. Also, just to get the semantics of it: can someone who does not drink be an alcoholic? In the newest version of the DSM, it is now termed "Alcohol Use Disorder," and I think this is much more accurate as it covers a spectrum of problematic drinking, rather than the black and white idea that you are an alcoholic (and will be forever more), or you are not (and are a "normal" drinker). This black and white labeling/thinking has kept many folks from recognizing problematic drinking in themselves by wanting to avoid the label of lifetime alcoholic.

If you do not identify yourself as an alcoholic, do you use any other word to identify yourself as a person who no longer drinks?  Please share your word and why it works for you.
Gosh. When asked, I usually just say, "I don't drink." So, I guess my word would be "non-drinker"? It works for me because it seems to be the most honest: I don't drink. I've also found that with a certain kind of delivery, this response does not elicit questions. I've honed the delivery over the past year, so when I do get questions, they generally seem to be sincere and not salacious-detail seeking. I am much more than the fact that I don't drink, so I don't want to define/label myself by this one (albeit big) facet. My favorite word that I identify myself with personally is "teetotaler," but I don't often introduce myself as such since many folks don't know what it means.

What are some of the most valuable tools in your sobriety toolbox?
1. Routine. This is lots of things: going to bed when I'm tired, waking up around the same time, hot tea in the evenings, reading before bed, keeping my house clean, walking the dogs, doing laundry, regular meditation/prayer, feeding myself and my critters, yoga practice, picking out my clothes for the next day, etc. Basically, tending to my life in a consistent, peaceful way that keeps me grounded.

2. Gratitude. Bearing witness to all that I have to be thankful for, honoring it, protecting it, focusing on all the gifts I have rather than what I do not have. Knowing that it is more than enough.

3. Connection, love, and my tribe of folks.

4. Delicious non-alcoholic beverages.I have discovered SO many fantastic non-alcoholic things to drink: ginger beer, teas, fizzy waters, artisan sodas, who knew? And in early sobriety, I believe this is super important. Nothing makes you feel more left out than drinking boring ice water at a party or gathering.  

How did you know or decide that you had to quit drinking?
Hoo boy. Well, I would say that it was a slow dawning. I had more than a few wake-up calls of doing things out of character, browning-out, hangovers that lasted for days, and so on that started to become more of the norm. No one in my life was ready to stage an intervention or even voiced concerns. I was super high-functioning and adept at appearing like I had it under control. When I really started to become concerned is when my drinking alone increased. My best friend died suddenly while I was in grad school for counseling. So, I was deeply grieving, and at the same time started to see counseling clients without the tools yet in my belt to filter what was mine and what I was bringing home from sessions. It started with a glass or two of wine to "unwind" in the evening, then it became more and more to numb and to escape my feelings, all of my feelings. A glass or two became a bottle or two, I would take tumbles in the house (I live alone), and I constantly felt like shit. I remember one spring morning as I was getting ready, realizing that I smelled bad, like I didn't smell like myself even though I had just showered, my skin looked awful, I was bloated, and I was constantly exhausted. I think it's important for me to say that my life was not falling apart around me, but I wasn't healthy, and I knew it wasn't going in a good direction.  After a particularly bad lost weekend, and coming upon a super-hectic time at work, I decided to take a six week break from drinking "just to see." Those six weeks were a revelation. I returned to myself, felt better than I had in years, had energy, and this darkness that I had been carrying around started to lift. What I saw and realized in those six  weeks was ultimately that alcohol was in the way of the life I wanted. Once I knew that, I couldn't not know it. After the six weeks had passed, I decided to try moderation (don't we all?), with the typical results of not being able to moderate. So, I decided that after my 40th birthday, I would not drink for a year and, again, "see what happened" because forever just seemed like too big of a thing to commit to. What happened was a bigger, honest, beautiful, authentic, meaningful, present, and challenging life. I could write a book on how my life and my relationships have changed in the best ways, and I feel it ALL.

Do you feel you are more or less creative since you have stopped drinking?
Definitely more creative. I cannot say that I am necessarily writing or creating more (yet), but I view my world, solutions to problems, professional goals, seeking answers, relationships, options, old stories, opinions, situations, questions, dreams, hopes, fears, MUCH more creatively. It is an openness to possibility. One creative thing I have done that I am super proud of was to enroll in a burlesque program and perform in front of a not-small audience of people (including my mom and stepdad!). It was so terrifying, liberating, empowering, and FUN! I got to create my burlesque persona, choose my music, design and create my costume, and choreograph my routine. I discovered I have an inner diva that adores feather boas, sparkles, and ruffled panties. I've always been a very "natural" kind of gal, so this was such an opportunity to find a glamorous part of myself, strut, flirt, tease, embrace my body just as it is, and get literally naked in front of others. I found courage and acceptance within myself that I didn't know I had and amazing connections with the other women in my group. I learned to see myself in a different way, apply false eyelashes, and that toupee tape is the best way to attach pasties. ;)  I grew up taking ballet classes, so burlesque was also a way to reconnect with my love of dance as well.

Burlesque Photo Shoot of Sara (November 2016) Photo credit: Dee Hill Photography, Dallas, TX 

Burlesque Photo Shoot of Sara (November 2016)
Photo credit: Dee Hill Photography, Dallas, TX 

Do you feel you are more or less productive since you have stopped drinking?  
More productive for sure. There is so much time to get stuff done now that I'm not drinking, planning on drinking, recovering from drinking, thinking about drinking or not drinking, how to arrange transportation to get safely from drinking place to home, etc...I had no idea what a time-suck drinking was! This is not to say that I don't still spend days in sloth-mode, but it's by choice, not by hangover. I have learned to pay attention to my needs, and as an introvert, this includes a great deal of down time. I'm just kinda lazy, no shame about it.  

What has delighted you most since you quit drinking alcohol?
Mornings! I had always loathed mornings and thought that early-risers were insane people. Now, I love mornings, especially ones where I don't have to be anywhere, and I can putter around the house with my coffee in the quiet. Also, NO HANGOVERS. I swear, this will never get old. Most importantly: clarity.

Can you recommend any books, bloggers or teachers that have helped with your path to sobriety?

1. Holly Glenn Whitaker, Hip Sobriety. I found Holly while I was still drinking, and I read one of her blogs every night as I contemplated getting sober (doled each one out to make them last). Her vision of sobriety and recovery was exactly what I was looking for. Her work empowered me, made sobriety a thing of joy, and showed me that I was not alone. I can never express how grateful I am for her and her work. I also have the biggest girl-crush on her ever. :)

2. Felicia Tomasko, yoga teacher. I found Felicia on YogaGlo, and she is amazing. She teaches primarily yin and hatha yoga (yin is my favorite), and does Ayurvedic work/lectures as well. She is by far my favorite yoga teacher, has brought me to the wisdom of the body, exudes kindness and humor, and has taught me how to sit in discomfort and listen to what it has to teach you.

3. Sarah Hepola, author of Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget. Sarah's book floored me. I related SO much to her story; parts of it could've been my own. I love her voice and humor. Another writer who showed me I was not alone.

4. Lisa Carmen, my burlesque teacher, friend, and an amazing body love coach. She is the founder of Sacred Sexy U here in Dallas, TX and just a beautiful soul that truly owns her power and inspires women to do the same.

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?
Yes, I am part of an online secret sober women's recovery group and a daily gratitude email circle. I found the online group through Holly's Hip Sobriety blog, and the gratitude circle through the amazing women I made connections with in the group.

What are you most proud of now that you live a life without the veneer of alcohol?
My courage. I had no idea how brave and strong I am. I am living an undiluted life. It isn't always rainbows and kittens, but I am fully HERE and feeling it all.

Thank you for so many helpful pearls of wisdom, Sara. Your foray into burlesque is truly inspiring! I love how living a sober life is revealing so much more of your strength and beauty. I think you made a great call by removing alcohol and showing up in your life.

Sarah Hepola's book also confirmed for me what I had been unwilling to admit all along about my own drinking, so I totally relate to that book recommendation. For those of you reading who love Sara's shirt "feminist, sober, killjoy" you can purchase one the HOME podcast store by clicking here.

Keep shining bright in recovery, Sara, I know you will. And, that AS IS tattoo you're sporting? Pretty badass. Just like you.