Ray of Light Interview No. 26 :: Leigh Cox McAfee

Every Friday for the entire 2017 calendar year, I will release a new interview + accompanying artwork 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.

Leigh Cox McAfee
Holistic Spa Coordinator + Stylist + Dreamer
Instagram: @leighcoxmcafee

What is your sobriety date? May 10, 2016

Do you count days, months or years connected to your sobriety?
Well I just had my one year soberversary, so I was definitely counting days and months up until then. Going forward I think I’ll just keep track of the big anniversaries (1.5, 2, 2.5, etc). But I do use the Nomo sobriety app I’ll look at from time-to-time and it has everything down to minutes!

What recovery modality do you use in your recovery from alcohol?
Online recovery in the form of blogs, Facebook and Instagram, which has a huge recovery community, too. Running and yoga are also huge for me. Getting back into running was paramount in finally getting and staying sober. I also read a ton of recovery/self-help related books and I practice self-care methods such as getting regular massages, essential oil therapy, staying on a routine and getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night.

Do you identify yourself as an alcoholic?
I don’t have a problem identifying as a recovering alcoholic, but I just describe myself as someone who doesn’t drink or who no longer drinks. I’m pretty open about why if someone asks or I’ll make a joke like “I ran out of drinks to drink”, but usually people get the point when you tell them that you don’t drink. 

What are the top tools in your sobriety toolbox?

  1. Running and yoga
  2. Being part of a recovery community
  3. Developing an understanding and interpretation of God that made sense to me and daily prayer
  4. Practicing extreme self-care

Why or how did you know or decide that you had to quit drinking?
At first it was not my decision to quit drinking. My husband witnessed a dangerous situation I put myself and him in and he told me I had to get help. I was in denial, as most of us are, for a very long time. I didn’t yet understand the concept of “high bottom.” I had no arrests or any alcohol related health issues or hospital stays, but I did get myself into many, many dangerous, risky and self destructive situations when I was drinking. For a year and a half I fought to get and stay sober, and to convince myself that alcohol had no place in my life. During that time it became quite clear that moderation was not an option and I needed to stop drinking completely. The lengths I would go to to sneak drinking and keep alcohol in my life were absolutely ridiculous. I just finally got tired of it all and I surrendered and gave up the fight, one day at a time.

Do you feel you are more or less creative since you have stopped drinking?
Sobriety has definitely opened up the creative side of my mind. All of my life, and especially while I was drinking, I had resolved that I was just not a creative person. But over the past year, I have allowed my mind to wander and consider the possibilities of what I can become and create. I definitely have more work to do in exploring my creative side, and I’m not an artist, but I do love words and writing, and I’ve started to write more and have been reading like crazy.

Do you feel you are more productive since you have stopped drinking? 
Yes and no, actually. I was a high-functioning alcoholic with a stressful corporate job and an active social calendar. I was fucking productive as hell. I held myself to this ridiculous standard of doing everything and doing it perfectly. My self worth was tied up in what I could accomplish. When I didn’t get everything crossed off my to-do list, I felt like a failure and would drink more to cope with those feelings. So when I was getting sober, I had to first learn that perfectionism is a lie and that if I didn’t get everything done, the world wasn’t going to end and I was not a failure. I had to take care of myself first and not put too much on my plate. Which means that a lot of the time I do less, but the quality of the work is better and cleaner. It has taken a long time to find that balance, but establishing and sticking to a realistic schedule and routine is key. I still make my lists, but I manage it much better and am more productive because of it.   

What has delighted you most since you quit drinking alcohol?
I learned how to become a person who fully participates in this world, rather than a shell of a person who merely existed, barely getting by until my next drink or drug. I also learned to become authentic in my relationships with others. I have learned boundaries and how to say no and to honor myself and needs instead of pleasing others.

Do you have any advice for those in still suffering or those in early recovery?
The biggest piece of advice I have for those still suffering in addiction is that you can’t quit drinking or drugs by yourself. And also, no one can make you quit drinking and using drugs except you. It’s a mind fuck and it’s so hard to start, but life doesn’t have to be this way. I would say start by finding a recovery meeting like AA because it is so accessible. Also check out Holly Whitaker’s site Hip Sobriety. Her take on recovery is revolutionary, really, and is what I subscribe to. But know that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to getting sober. Try everything until you find what works for you. But take action. Since risky drinking has been normalized in our society, we think we have to hit that “low bottom” before getting help and that couldn’t be further from the truth.

For those who are in early recovery, like me, it’s called recovery for a reason. Your body is recovering from years of literally ingesting poison. It’s important to honor and allow that time to rest and not create any expectations. It’s supposed to be this hard. I highly recommend doing some research on post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). This put all of my mood swings, low or no energy, irritability and crazy sleep schedule into perspective, knowing that what I was feeling was actually a real thing people experience. And just forget what you “should” be doing, how you “should” feel, what you “should” be able to do or not do. Quit should-ing all over yourself, as they say. This is especially hard for recovering perfectionists like myself, but if you stay in bed all day and do nothing else but not drink, you won that day.  

Also for anyone who is still suffering in addiction or in early recovery, I urge you to read Mary Oliver’s poem, The Journey. Life changing!

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

  1. I cannot say enough about Laura McKowen and Holly Whitaker aka Hip Sobriety. These ladies are woke. What they write and create is exactly what the recovery space needs and is the future of recovery. They have created a sober village that I’m so proud to be part of.
  2. This Naked Mind by Annie Grace. This book was the catalyst to putting together quantifiable sober time for me. I think it’s the most important book you can read on controlling alcohol.
  3. I have to add Glennon Doyle Melton here too. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her work. Start with her book, Carry On Warrior. Also, follow her on Instagram!

Are you part of a tribe or a recovery community that supports your sobriety?
Yes! I’m a member of the private all-female sobriety FB group for the HOME podcast, created by Laura McKowen and Holly Whitaker (mentioned above).

I was in AA for 7 months, had a sponsor, started to work the steps, the whole nine yards, but I struggled and could not stay sober while in the program. I will never forget and am forever grateful to the kindness I was shown while in the program, but had a hard time relating to others and had many issues with the politics and fundamentals of the program. I knew it wasn’t going to be the path that would ultimately get me sober, so I left and lost contact with most of my friends I met in the program. While I knew it was the right decision for me, I was very alone.

I found Laura McKowen’s blog first and instantly related to what she was going through and writing about. She was honest and real about how much getting sober sucks for people that don’t want to at first, and provided such a calm, cool relief of what it was like on the other side. I then found Holly Whitaker (Hip Sobriety) and literally spent hours reading her very real, hilarious and heart wrenching pieces on everything from sobriety from alcohol and drugs, to eating disorders, men and sex issues and recovery tools. These ladies started a podcast, HOME, in 2015, and it became my church. They also started a private FB group called HOME and that became my online, sober community of women I have come to love and have made incredible connections with. 

I have made more sober female friends in real life. Also, most of my friends I had while drinking have been very supportive and accepting of my new life as a sober person. I did have a couple of close friends and a few acquaintances who, once I became sober, decided not to be in my life anymore. That hurt me for a long time, and I had resentments, but through prayer and introspection of the true nature of those friendships, I’ve let go of those resentments. As Rob Bell says, “You no longer being caught up in the game that everybody is playing will be deeply troubling to those who are still playing the game.”

What are you most proud of now that you live an alcohol-free life?
My relationship with myself above all. It’s still a work in progress, but for the first time in my life, I like who I am and am secure in who I am. And this positive relationship with myself has allowed me to have deeper and healthier relationships with my husband, loved ones and friends. I have this deep respect for myself, which drinking had completely shattered. Sobriety is so much more than quitting drinking or drugs, it has allowed me to become who I was meant to be. This would not be possible if drinking were still part of my life.