Welcome to part two of Autostraddle’s Sober Series, a four-part candid conversation between members of the Autostraddle team on sobriety.
Dani Janae: What was your sober story? Did you have the traditional “rock bottom” moment?
Analyssa: Oh boy well, I wrote that essay about wanting to do Dry January after just being exhausted of my drinking, but yes there is a more definitive story.
In 2019 after a relationship had ended, I kind of was single and unattached for the first time in a long time and I thought, I can finally just let myself drink in the way I want to. And that really quickly (within the span of two months) became untenable. We broke up in October 2019 and alcohol had played a role in that for sure, and in December I had two huge moments that were like….oh I have to stop.
One was that I went to a work holiday party where I got pretty drunk on free wine (just openly taking advantage of executive’s corporate cards and not in a subtle way!), then drove to a bar by myself and continued to drink. I woke up the next day home in my bed, no idea how I’d gotten home or where my car was, an hour late for a job I had started THAT WEEK, and still drunk. I spent the whole day fighting my stomach, and that was when I started thinking about dry January.
But it probably wouldn’t have stuck if it hadn’t been for the week of Christmas when I was home in Kansas City and again still drinking pretty uncontrollably. And I got to the end of three solid days of being like, at minimum tipsy, and my body just shut down. I was so so sick, I couldn’t get off the bathroom floor, I was trembling and couldn’t eat anything. It was horrible and it was sort of one of those “if I survive I’ll never drink again” things, which sounds like a joke but genuinely it just sort of solidified some ideas I’d been kicking around about myself for a year or two at least, which was that my drinking had become unmanageable.
Tracy Levesque: I think it was a series of events vs. one bottom (it can always get worse, right?). I came to realize I am a terrible parent when I’m drunk. I lose my patience in five seconds. Also, alcohol pours gasoline on any bad situation. So something that may have been a small debate which may have lasted two minutes with my wife turned into me dramatically screaming. Then on Halloween night, I passed out, in front of my kid on the bathroom floor of our friend’s house. Like one minute I was standing and the next my wife was putting me in bed. I gave myself a black eye and a concussion. I was a grown-ass, 50-year-old woman and I scared my kid in this way. I could no longer not question it, drinking was not good for us.
There were other events like that. Like, we had a house fire and had to stay in a hotel for a few days and I got into a screaming fight with my wife in the hotel room in front of our kid. I realized, “Wow, I’m an asshole when I’m drunk. I don’t like this person.”
Also, I hated being in a perpetual state of hungoverness.
Analyssa: Yeah, like Tracy, there are so many events that all sort of added up to a bottom, and those two just happened to occur at the right time for me to finally acknowledge them and accept that I might need to change.
Dani Janae: That’s so scary Tracy.
Similar to Analyssa, I had just ended a relationship with a person who wanted me to quit drinking. They had an alcoholic father so they were mostly supportive of me getting sober but would do things like setting a bottle of whiskey in front of me to see if I’d reach for it.
After I ended it I tried being sober but eventually kept begging people to bring me alcohol. I had lost my job and wasn’t paying rent so I relied on other people to feed my addiction.
It’s very dramatic, but one day I just broke down in the shower drunk and crying because I couldn’t stop myself. I was so afraid for my life and also had no hope, so I called a friend and asked for help.
I came to realize I am a terrible parent when I’m drunk.
Analyssa: I could list like ten other times just off the top of my head that I could have been like….huh, this is not good for me.
Tracy Levesque: Same.
Analyssa: Oof Dani that partner thing.
Tracy Levesque: Yeah, that is messed up. I’m sorry that happened.
Dani Janae: Yeah they were not a good partner, but I also realize I wasn’t easy to be with in those days.
Analyssa: I mean, that sums up almost the whole of my experience with exes while I was drinking.
And luckily a lot of the work I’ve done in sobriety on myself and my thinking is like, being able to acknowledge that other people may have done things to me, but all I can control is my own behavior and my own reactions to those things.
Dani Janae: Omg yeah. I was just not very good to anyone back then. Like if I had to choose between that relationship or alcohol, I would have chosen booze no doubt. They had a special box of wine waiting for me at their house.
Tracy Levesque: I’ve been with my wife for almost 30 years, so we’ve been in this together for a long time. And she ultimately found the thing that got us to go alcohol-free. We both cut down and stopped at the same time.
Dani Janae: Tracy, that’s so cool.
Analyssa: And so many of my relationships where I thought drinking was just another part of it, were actually structurally built on drinking, either my own or the activity of drinking with that partner.
Tracy Levesque: I have friendships like that.
Analyssa: I mean once I realized I was an alcoholic, I truly realized I’d also always behaved alcoholically in relationships, if that makes sense. Either I felt the same way about a lot of those people as I did about alcohol OR I would have given them up totally for alcohol.
Dani Janae: Omg yes, when I got sober so many relationships just ended because I was like, oh we have nothing in common but we like to do drugs together.
Analyssa: 100% [of] my friendships changed, even with some of my closest friends who still are in my life there is a lot of work and conversation there.
Tracy Levesque: My friends are supportive, like no one pressures us to drink. But I can see the “Why would you do that?” look on their face when I tell them I stopped drinking.
And so many of my relationships where I thought drinking was just another part of it, were actually structurally built on drinking, either my own or the activity of drinking with that partner.
Analyssa: I mean we talked about how corporate and parent culture are built on drinking, like….socializing is so built that way. Going on a date? Drink. Game night? Drink. Movies? They sell beer there.
Dani Janae: Both of my best friends were very supportive. I think because I had taken so much from them when I was drinking. They both were like “okay, good. Finally.”
But yes, especially queer social life. In my city, it’s very heavily based on using drugs and alcohol.
Analyssa: So even with my most supportive friends there’s a layer there, you’re automatically set up to be outside of it.
But yes Dani most of my closest friends were more like “if this means less likelihood of you doing scary shit like disappearing for 12 hours ten miles away from home on a Saturday night, then please yes let’s do it.”
Tracy Levesque: YES! I thought about this a bunch knowing we’d have this conversation. We all think you can’t have fun without alcohol. Like, booze creates the fun. But the truth is, as adults we’ve stopped having the experience of socializing without alcohol. The first few events I attended alcohol-free I thought it would be weird and awkward, but I had a lot of fun. And I had even more fun knowing I’d be waking up fresh as a daisy the next morning.
Analyssa: One of the most fun nights I’ve had in my life to date I think was a wedding I went to totally sober last year, which like four years ago would have sounded like absolute torture to me.
Dani Janae: I remember I went to a birthday party newly sober and within the first five minutes of talking in this group, this woman was like “wow this is awkward, when does the bar open!” And I was like wow! We are so tricked into believing alcohol starts the party and makes us more interesting.
Tracy Levesque: I went to a friend’s karaoke birthday party with a full make-your-own Old Fashioned Bar set up. Sounds like a nightmare for a former Old Fashioned lover, but I had an absolute blast. And I was able to drive the equipment home safely.
Yes, Dani! Exactly
The first few events I attended alcohol-free I thought it would be weird and awkward, but I had a lot of fun. And I had even more fun knowing I’d be waking up fresh as a daisy the next morning.
Analyssa: And also! Something I’ve realized sober is like, sometimes a party or activity just isn’t fun for me! And that’s okay too, and I don’t have to push myself to do it.
But with drinking, I’d be like wow I’m not having fun and then I’d get drunk and never think about whether I was actually having fun, it was just that the feeling of discomfort had been blurred away by being drunk.
Dani Janae: Oh absolutely. Being drunk just made me not care about what was going on around me. The party could have sucked, and everyone could have hated me, but as long as I left drunk I did not care
Analyssa: EXACTLY THIS. And honestly, I know it has its faults but AA meetings were the first time I actually realized that. Until I went to a few, I actually genuinely believed that once I had two beers everything DID magically get more fun and everyone DID actually love me and I never paid any mind to whether that was uhhh true.
Hearing other people talk about the exact thing you just said Dani I was like oh, that IS how I behaved, I just didn’t know it.
Dani Janae: Yes totally. Finding a sober community was huge for me in understanding that 1. I definitely had a problem and 2. I was not as charming and fun as I thought I was. Like there is nothing more annoying than showing up to a party, drinking most of the booze, and then leaving without throwing away a cup or recycling a bottle. I was like oh! I was behaving badly!!
Analyssa: The “I’m the most charming person at the party” to “wait did I ever give a shit about a single other person at a party” pipeline lmao.
I used to be so smug about all the friends I could make at a party and then I realized like actually I couldn’t tell you one single thing about all those “friends.”
Tracy Levesque: Another thing that prompted me to change was the fact it was hard to not drink almost every day. Even though I would wake up at 3 am every night, feeling like shit and going over and over anything stupid or embarrassing I did the night before, vowing to never drink, when that feeling eventually faded it was like “Let’s have drinks” all over again. As Ryan O’Connell says, it’s the most boring Groundhog’s Day ever.
Dani Janae: Omg yes to both of those things. I chose my apartment because of its proximity to bars and liquor stores. The cycle of my life was just careening toward the moment I got to drink again after work. It was such a small and messy life.
Analyssa: Wow the repetition of all the dumb embarrassing things.
Just another small mercy of sobriety is that I so rarely am expending mental energy running over and over a night in my head.
It was like worrying a loose tooth! It hurt and was not fun and yet it was all I could do!
Tracy Levesque: Yeah, every regret, every embarrassing thing that has happened in my adult life involved alcohol. How is that fun?
Omg, Analyssa, yes! The freedom from worrying about what you said or did the night before is amazing.
Analyssa: And even when I embarrass myself sober, I have such a better handle on it? Like at least I know where things went left or I can laugh about it or whatever.
When it was drunk, it had this whole extra added layer of shame to it.
Tracy Levesque: Absolutely.
Dani Janae: Agreed.
Especially those moments of like oh no I blacked out last night, what did I say/do? That is just so scary, to be totally not there.
I used to be like “oh I’ve never blacked out!” But I’d wake up with bruises and random pictures on my phone and I was like hmmm.
Analyssa: Leslie Jamison has such a great bit about this in The Recovering, about letting people fill in the gaps of her blackouts for her.
I was really on that wave for a long time, letting people approach it for me instead of ever asking.
I had a general rule which was like “if someone brings it up to me as a joke, then I don’t have to be stressed about it, because they wouldn’t joke about it if they were mad at me or concerned for me.”
Dani Janae: That’s a book I need to read!
Analyssa: Oh I recommend it to everyone!!