I knew that alcohol was keeping me from showing up for the people I value the most, including myself, and from feeling my best. And yet, one of the main reasons I delayed sobriety beyond the point where I knew it was a poison, was this: based on the evidence before me, people who don’t drink are about as fun as a traditional church sermon. And I may be allergic to alcohol, but I am DEFINITELY allergic to uptight, boring, conformity, rigidity, [apparently senseless] rules. As far as I knew, people who didn’t drink fit into one of three camps. They were either 1) uptight, boring, conformists, rigid, the opposite of curious, not interested in taking risks (ie the opposite of interesting and exciting); or 2) train wrecks since adolescence, making one terrible decision after the other, and basically coming to the realization (or imposed by a legal or medical or social intervention) that they needed to sober up; or 3) they were fun, adventurous, curious, wild, interesting, risk-taking, and similar to #2, came to the realization (freely or forced) that they needed to sober up – and were now living an uptight, boring, conforming, rigid life. I did not relate to #1 or #2, and I did not want to be a reformed fun girl (#3).
Now, 2.5 years after I started my “break” from alcohol, I realize how skewed my perspective had been. I think it’s understandable, because the stigma and tradition of anonymity in the recovery world meant that all I saw were examples of the three “types” I listed above. I had no evidence of someone living their recovery out loud in a way that showed how fun and exciting sobriety can be. In my journey since Dec. 6, 2015, diving into my own stuff as well as what has become a professional journey in the area of recovery, I have learned that living without the poison of alcohol (I heard recently that if alcohol were invented today, the FDA would never approve it) actually does NOT have to mean that we may as well become boring losers. Of course, there are many times that we may decide to skip certain events, occasions, trips and people because if we really think about it, we feel more connected and at peace in another environment – home in PJ’s with a cup of tea, or in a room with a bunch of other people who don’t drink, or sweating it out at the gym. But that is a choice we are now making freely, based on a desire to practice and prioritize self-care, not because it is what is expected of us, or because we are operating automatically and out of habit.
Recently, a sober friend of mine remarked that people in recovery are more fun to her than people who never really drank or used drugs. I found that an interesting thought, as it echoed an impression I had had when I first “took a break” and then started connecting with others in the sober world, online and in person. I found that people in this space were intriguing to me. They were more curious, awake, and authentic, than I had found in other milieu. And I have wondered, what is it about mind-altering substances and behaviors that attracts the type of person I best connect with – the high-achievers, the creatives, the super-curious, the boundless? Is it that our current lifestyle and culture, with its rigid rules that begin when we start school (or daycare) and end on our deathbed, pushes us to seek relief from boredom and restlessness?
Shortly after I initiated my “break,” I wrote a blog about the vacuum. When we give up a habit, we need to fill the vacuum with other activities, because Mother Nature hates vacuums (I don’t blame Mother Nature, nor does my dog-she hates it when I vacuum). You can read what I wrote here: http://www.therebootcoach.net/blog/get-rid-of-the-vacuum . Substance misuse disorder treatment professionals and self-help groups prioritize helping people create a structure in life that fills the vacuum with activities, a network, goals, etc. This seems like a pain in the ass, and there is always the “I don’t have time, I need to work/feed my kids/water my plants…” and especially for non-comformists who like to fly by the seat of their pants and go with the flow, structure and what seems like selfishness (but is really self-care) can be a tough pill to swallow (pardon the pun). I get it. Especially when a lot of this stuff seems soooooooo boring.
My kids are teens now, an age that many people fear and dread, but I actually could not wait for this phase of parenting. Babies are cute but boring, toddlers are cute but I can’t reason with them, and then kids (to me) become more interesting as I can talk with them and ride bikes and play Frisbee. When they are teens, I relate to them. I relate to their curiosity, their desire to explore, challenge, question, to rock the boat. That is my language!
I moved to the U.S. from Mexico when I was entering my 12th grade of high school, and was rather shocked and dismayed by what to me seemed like a very bored teenage population, whose main outlet was alcohol and promiscuity. It was clear to me that they were acting this way because these were their options for having fun: 1. Play sports 2. Play music 3. Be in the school play 4. Eat at Friendly’s (the more interesting restaurant, Bennigans, required you to be 21 to eat there after 8:00pm) 5. Go to the YMCA and workout. Oh, and 6. Find out whose parents were going to be away and go to that house and binge drink and hook up. I came from a vibrant, cosmopolitan city (Mexico City) that did not have many rules (many were ignored or you could bribe your way out of them), had plenty of things to do (social connection was such a cultural priority that many of us didn’t even have time for afterschool sports), and there was this expectation, culturally and from most of my peers, that you were to stay classy. I remember going to Acapulco with my family dozens of times, returning even after we moved to the U.S., and noting that the classy nightclubs were where the Mexicans hung out, while the Americans and Canadians went to the cheesy, trashy bars and clubs where there was no cover and girls drank for free (excess was the name of the game). Totally different vibe.
Now, as someone who is parenting teens, as well as working in the recovery space, I constantly think about all of this, especially because my main interest has always been in prevention. How do we prevent problems from happening, especially today, when the stakes just seem so much higher? How do we go about creating a home, school, lifestyle, society where kids, and adults who relate to kids (impulsive, risk-takers, intense, adventurous, curious, etc) feel accepted, challenged, engaged, connected? My kids are super cool (I know, I am their mom, but still). They are fun, curious, love to dance (as in, with a DJ, not in a class), have good grades, go on adventures. But we often scratch our heads, because it feels like our culture (U.S.) is not really set up for a child to be well-rounded and live a wholehearted life. It seems that that is not really encouraged or supported until they fuck up (and then suddenly, if the kid is lucky, adults realize the child needs to be connected physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually). I often think of the movie The Breakfast Club, with the stereotypes. The jock, the goody-two-shoes rich girl, the nerd, etc. My kids don’t fit any of those stereotypes. They want to go out and have fun, dance, connect, be creative, be challenged intellectually, do sports. They don’t want to specialize in the way that our culture requires, which basically is telling kids, shoot for varsity sports, AP madness, join band, and there is not much room for rest, for doing things just for fun, for dabbling (not to be confused with dabbing). Oh, and the cool kids don’t do church stuff, that’s the socially awkward kids, and if you want to socialize and you’re not on a team (where you have to be good enough to make the team), you have to go to parties where responsible adults are not present. Yikes. And then we wonder why all these kids are suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, vaping. My unscientific, anecdotally-based theory, is that this is a way for our teens to express their desire to be risk-taking, curious, non-conformists. To satisfy their desire to be part of something bigger – which they seem to be getting via the vaping craze and the Fortnight obsession. Of course, we as adults know how ill-founded the vaping thing is because of the health risks, and the fact that they are actually conforming (to wanting to be like their peers). Oh wait – aren’t we doing that too, by buying the Mommy Timeout wine and wearing the Rosé All Day t-shirt? Hmmmm…..
As I have often said, our children are the canaries in the coal mine. We need to pay attention to what they are telling us, and listen, rather than react with punishment. They are mirroring our own hang-ups, issues, sources of anxiety, choices. What does this say about our parenting, teaching, coaching? About how we are structuring our priorities, from the individual, family, and community point of view? And with this question and the gut feelings it evokes, how can I be the change I wish to see in the world?
So, how do I, as a teenager-at-heart proceed in this world, now that I have chosen not to alter my brain chemistry and pickle my liver? How do I continue to feed my need to be fun, adventurous, non-conformist, wild, curious, risk-taking? First of all, at some point I realized that everyone and their grandmother is drinking booze, so the most non-conformist, counter-cultural, badass thing I could do was to say, to hell with booze. Then, I realized that being sober actually feeds my innate need to connect deeply with others, because in my personal and professional connections in the recovery space, I am, on a daily basis, having real conversations and impact, which is far more fulfilling to me than any conversation that could happen in an ethanol-induced cloud. I have continued to do my athletic stuff (teaching Yoga4Sobriety, running/triathlon stuff), which deepens my connection with others in a way that involves my physical senses, and deepens my gratitude for my health and resiliency. It is also a way to satisfy the part of me that longs for intense sensual connection, involving physical movement and challenge, and discomfort. I believe that the recovery world today needs to provide more opportunities to connect this way, and that treatment programs and centers need to focus on this more (ie move away from accepting that recovery entails tons of cigarettes and instead, guide sober people into mindful sweat-and-adrenaline-boosting movement). The possibility of creating a Meet & Run or Meet & Ride group (a group run or bike ride immediately following a 12 step or other self-help group) is fun to me, certainly more interesting than the typical paradigm of a running group that then goes out for beer (canceling many of the running benefits including calorie-burning). Sweat-out trumps blackout.
I do not know how to make this a better place to nurture teenagers, but I figure that if I give myself what I need, and keep showing up in the way that feels right, and authentic, to me, then perhaps things can fall into place on a grander scale. I hope.
Sober really is the new badass.
Motivational coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.