Ray of Light Interview No. 22 :: Erin Louthen

Today's Ray of Light is Erin Louthen. I met Erin through the HOME podcast secret Facebook group and quickly learned that she was a librarian. A librarian! My spirit animal occupation. Librarians are my idols and in my next life, I want to come back as a librarian. I used to spend my summers waiting for the local library to open and spend the entire day there. One of my greatest treasures was my first library card and I'm pretty proud to say that my household boasts library cards for three different counties in Northern California. When I vacation with my family and we are staying in a place for more than a few days, I try to get the local library card and check out books to read during our stay. And, you know, add the library card to my collection.

Yeah, I'm that dorky. 

A few years back, one of my first creative forays was to design artwork and have bags made that said Library Junkie because, duh, I was one. I still have a few bins full of these bags in my garage. I'll try to list them for sale on my site later this summer.

Earlier this year, Erin was having a hard day and I thought I have to send her something in the mail (because that's what I do when someone is having a really hard day). I knew exactly what to send her. She was the absolute target market for my book bag and so I popped one in the mail and hoped it would make her book-loving soul a little happier.

I learned so much about her in this interview and she reminded me that there is not only one way to recover, there are many. I hope you enjoy meeting Erin, too.

Erin Louthen
Archivist + Librarian
Instagram: @erinmichellelouthen
Email: erin.louthen@sbcglobal.net

What is your sobriety date? June 10th, 2014.

Do you count days, months or years connected to your sobriety?
Absolutely. Counting is important to me. It shows me that I can make progress, even if it’s sometimes minute-by-minute. Also, my sobriety date is the anniversary of the founding of AA by Bill W. in 1935, so it’s not hard to remember!

Do you use an app or some other method to do this counting?
Yes. In my first year of recovery, sobriety apps were crucial. I would check them all the time! I used the 12 Steps AA Companion app most often. These days, I either use the calendar on my phone, or look up a sobriety counter online to see where I’m at.  

What recovery modality do you use in your recovery from alcohol?
I was lucky enough in my early sobriety to be introduced to both AA and Refuge Recovery almost simultaneously. For those who aren’t familiar with it, Refuge Recovery approaches recovery through the lens of Buddhism. Meetings are loosely structured like AA meetings, although you don’t need to identify yourself with anything other than your name. The lack of labels, the lack of the “God thing”, the meditation at the beginning of every meeting, and the idea of sangha (family) in RR meetings appealed to me in a way that AA did not. As I got a little time under my belt, I felt more drawn to AA, and attended more meetings there. Honestly, I tend to seesaw from AA to RR and vice versa, depending on my needs that day, month, etc. However, I consider both programs crucial to the foundation of my recovery. In addition, I fully embrace the idea that ALL modalities of recovery should be welcomed and encouraged. Just because I identify with AA and RR doesn’t mean that the next person will, and that’s totally okay. Recovery is intensely personal. If you find a modality that speaks to you, by all means, do it!

Do you identify yourself as an alcoholic?
Yes. To me, identifying as an alcoholic is not labeling. I used to think it was, but my views have changed over time. I think each person’s experience of this differs. For me, it was when I became really, REALLY honest with myself, and looked at not only my drinking behavior, but that of my family members as well, that picture was clear. I have alcoholism and drug addiction on both sides of my family going back generations. I always say, half-jokingly, that I got it honestly. “It” being alcoholism, of course. I believe that, in my particular situation, genetics HAS to play a part in why I identify as an alcoholic. I don’t consider it a shaming term. I consider it a way of trying to understand myself, and then jumping off from there to hopefully create a better life for me and my loved ones, to finally break that cycle. As in, shatter that mofo! Also, please don’t get me wrong! I do believe that, like Gabor Maté says, “Addiction is biopsychosocial.” There are so many factors that we need to take into consideration when looking at alcoholism and accompanying addictions. In my case, there was just no way I could ignore the genetics.

What are your top three tools in your sobriety toolbox?
Support, support, support! Which translates into so many things, but in my sobriety toolbox, support is the number one thing that has kept me sober. My sponsor, my support network with my AA colleague, my RR sangha, reaching out to all of these folks when I’m feeling like I’m on the edge of making that run to the liquor store (which thankfully doesn’t happen much anymore, but there are those days...), books about recovery, the 12 steps, the RR inventories, essential oils, meditation, deep breaths, to name a few.

Why or how did you know or decide that you had to quit drinking?  
It was something I had been ignoring, hiding, or denying for a long time. Toward the end, I had three things that hit home so hard I just couldn’t live in the dark like that anymore. The first was having several very close family members come to me individually to say they were concerned about my drinking. These were members of my immediate and extended family and it came as quite a blow that so many people were worried about me. In particular it was an aunt and uncle, who I love as dearly as if they were my own parents, expressing dismay and worry about me that really shook me to the core. The second was coming to the realization that if I didn’t stop drinking, I would lose the most important relationship I had in my life: that of my long time boyfriend (now husband). I couldn’t imagine my life without him, or if I did, I sure as shit didn’t want to drink the rest of my life away alone. The final straw was that I started falling a lot when I was drinking, like literally stumbling over my own feet. I escaped serious injury not once but three times over the space of a couple years. I knew that if I kept on going the way I was, one day I might not be so lucky. One day I might actually fall down those stairs, or hit my head, or any number of other scenarios. To put it bluntly, I might die. And I wasn’t ready to go yet, at least not that way.

Do you feel you are more or less creative since you have stopped drinking?
Without a doubt! One of the blessings of sobriety is that the fog FINALLY clears, and you can start doing things that maybe you used to do, but then drinking got in the way of that. Drinking eventually gets in the way of everything, you know. As my mind began to clear, I started going back to hobbies I used to enjoy, like reading and crafts. It sounds so sedate! But I’ll tell you, in the past three years, I’ve read approximately 50 books, I’ve finished some embroidery projects that I had abandoned years ago, and I’m thinking of taking up the violin again. So yes, it’s pretty amazing what you can do when you’re not a drunk! 

Do you feel you are more productive since you have stopped drinking?
I do and I don’t. I do because I’m literally more awake in the past few years than I have been in a long, long time. I don’t when I realize just how tired I am after all those years of beating my body up. Sometimes I feel like I could sleep for a lifetime and still not be rested. But on the whole, yes, I am more productive, in that sometimes I can almost feel the synapses connecting in ways they haven’t or just couldn’t when I was in my drinking days.

What has delighted you most since you quit drinking alcohol?
NO HANGOVERS!! Seriously, this is THE BEST GIFT I could’ve given myself!!

Do you have any advice for those in still suffering or those in early recovery?
For those who are still suffering: Sweethearts, THERE IS A WAY OUT. There really is. If you feel you might have a problem, if you’re scared or stressed or worried about your drinking or drug use, REACH OUT. Call or talk to your best friend, or a family member, or your pastor, or your yoga buddy, or whomever it is that you can trust. If those avenues aren’t available to you, call an AA hotline, or attend a meeting, or go online and see what kind of addiction services are available in your area. And please remember: there IS help! You just have to make the call. One step at a time, right?

For those in early recovery: My loves, it keeps getting BETTER. It really does. Even on your shittiest day, or the worst week ever, or in the midst of grief, you can look life right in the eye and say out loud that you’re doing the best you can, and you’re doing it sober, for f&*ks sake! It takes balls to get sober and stay sober. Give yourself some credit for doing some hard shit and coming out the other side! And please remember: self-care is not only okay, it’s a necessity. As my sponsor says, if you can’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anyone else. And it’s true. Give yourself permission to take care of YOU. 

Can you recommend three books, bloggers or teachers that have helped you on this path to sobriety?
Oh man, where do I start? Books, bloggers and teachers are the foundation of my sobriety! The books that helped me tremendously in the first year of recovery are the Big Book of AA, Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path to Recovering from Addiction by Noah Levine, and Night Light: A Book of Nighttime Meditations by Amy E. Dean from Hazelden Press. I could list about 20 more, but those are probably my top three for early recovery. In terms of bloggers, I follow Hip Sobriety, Laura McKowen, Brené Brown and Elizabeth Gilbert on a regular basis. Likewise, my top three teachers are Holly Whitaker, Laura McKowen, and, going back to the beginning, the team at Kaiser’s Chemical Dependency Rehabilitation Program (CDRP), who helped me from Day 1 to get my ass in gear and get sober.

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 belong to several online sober communities, as well as my IRL AA fellowship and the RR sangha. The HOME podcast secret FB group, started by Holly and Laura, has been my anchor, my lifeline, my place to breathe and a safe space to land and be my authentic self since its inception. In addition, I listen to the HOME podcast, which always helps to ground me and remind me why I got sober in the first place. Because it sucks living life as though you’re already dead. Sorry to be morose, but there it is. Life is SO MUCH better now.

What are you most proud of now that you live an alcohol-free life?
That I can be in the present moment, no matter what, and no matter how hard that present moment may be. That my capacity to be loved and give love seems to be growing exponentially. And, that I don’t have to drink today, even if I want to.

It is essential to me to give a shout out to Holly Whitaker, who I have known since our UCSC days in the early 2000s. Holly lived in the apartment above me, and we partied plenty together. I mean, PLENTY. I felt a natural affinity with her from the start. One of my favorite memories of those days is me listening for her high-heeled shoes on the concrete stairs in the wee hours of weekend mornings, just to make sure she was home. Holly and her shoes! I adored her then and I adore her today. And she is one of the biggest reasons I got sober. When she came out a little over four years ago with a blog post that was so honest and raw about her own addictions to alcohol and pot and her struggle with bulimia, and how she thought there might be a different way to live, it made me think, “If she can do it, maybe I can too.” It took three tries, but on the third phone call to CDRP, I got myself admitted into a program where I had to start looking at myself without the numbing effects of booze. It was tough as f*&k, but the rewards have been monumental. So thank you, Holly, my beautiful, badass warrior. I love you to the moon and back.

Thank you so much, Erin. I love the Holly connection and how you do what works best for you with no apologies. You are showing up for yourself and by sharing all of this with my readers, you are also helping other women to see that they can also shine bright in recovery. You are coming up on your three year sobriety date next weekend and I'm honored to walk this path with you. Well done, my friend.

Selfie with the sun shining a light on my procrastination!

Selfie with the sun shining a light on my procrastination!

I'm still struggling to carve out proper time for this interview series. The month of May seemed to swallow me up whole and while I started off strong at the beginning of the month in terms of productivity, I ended the month waiting until the very last minute to finish Erin's artwork and write the intro and closing notes for this interview. 

Balancing my studio time and self-imposed creative assignments is very much a practice for me. I'm learning a lot about my procrastination and working super hard to flip that script. When I procrastinate, I feel like I used to feel when I tried to moderate my drinking. Obviously, that feels awful and so I know I must address it head-on. I'm trying to shine a light on my bad habit by outing myself here and hoping that it keeps me accountable.

Next week's interview is already lined up and partially edited. I've vowed to start her artwork by this Sunday. 

Stay tuned...