Welcome to part one of Autostraddle’s Sober Series, a four-part candid conversation between members of the Autostraddle team on sobriety.
Dani Janae: So my first question is very easy: How long have you been sober?
Analyssa: A little over 18 months! My sobriety date is November 21, 2020.
Tracy Levesque: 6 months alcohol-free, but I’ve had around a dozen drinks since over a year ago.
So I’ve consciously cut down for over a year.
I’m a basic New Year’s Resolution. Jan 1 is my date.
Analyssa: My sobriety counter says 1 year, 7 months and 13 days but I rarely check my day count.
Dani Janae: Totally, that’s so dope, congrats to both of you! I’ve been sober for four years and some change. I don’t remember when my last drink was but I made a decision to stop on February 28, 2018.
Do y’all remember when you had your first drink?
Tracy Levesque: Not clearly, but it must have been in high school.
Analyssa: I love a soft release of drinking tbh, before my official sobriety date I was basically not drinking from Jan 1 2020 but then from Jan to November was still having sips of things? I know that isn’t the common narrative so I like hearing others who have a date that matters to them without the hardness of cold turkey, if that makes sense.
I very much remember my first drink, it was my sophomore year of high school and I was spending the night with my cool friend Melanie.
The whole point of the night was that I was gonna drink for the first time!
I had 8 shots of vodka and smoked weed for the first time that night so needless to say a) not a great experience and b) I had moderation troubles from the jump.
Dani Janae: Ooo love cool Melanie lol.
I also remember mine very clearly. It was thanksgiving and I was 11. I was sneaking into the kitchen to eat the stuffing out of the turkey and I grabbed a cup of what I thought was egg nog and it was Bailey’s lol.
I kept sneaking back in and taking sips after that. I was like oh okay, so this is better than anything I’ve ever had before.
Tracy Levesque: Oops
Dani Janae: Did drinking become regular for y’all after the first time?
Analyssa: Hmmm, that’s complicated! I made a real mess of that first night (texting people I shouldn’t, puking, blacking out, all the messy milestones) and my persona at school and with my friends was always very overachieving. So from the start, I knew those two couldn’t really coexist.
This meant that after that first night I drank more than I had before (I was desperate to drink nearly any chance I got) but because I knew I couldn’t control it, I put myself through long periods of not drinking, to stay in control.
I’d say I drank maybe a handful more times each semester of high school because I knew pretty immediately that it was all or nothing for me, in terms of drunkenness – and all the times in between I was very much Not Drinking.
Tracy Levesque: I was a very take-it-or-leave it drinker for a long time. My mom is allergic and didn’t drink at all and my dad only drank occasionally. It wasn’t a big deal in our family when it came to events. Then in college, everyone around me drank a lot but I only did it on the weekends and not a ton. As an adult, I didn’t keep it in the house or anything, but then my wife’s family had more of a drinking culture and brought that into my life. Not in a to-excess way, but they had a “cocktail hour” every day when they all got together. But then it started to evolve that my wife did not have a good relationship with alcohol. She was the kind of drinker who would reach a certain point and a switch would flip. It took us a long time to realize that was happening. For me, I remained a pretty take-it or leave-it drinker until one day a client stopped by the office and gave us a bottle of bourbon as a gift. I had never been a brown liquor drinker before then. I tried the bourbon and liked it and started my drinking career.
Working in the tech community there is such a culture of drinking and I got absolutely swept up into that.
You’d go to conferences and big tech companies would be buying rounds of drinks for everyone.
I’d estimate this at 12-13 years ago. So I was not the typical story.
Dani Janae: Oh I feel that Analyssa! I also had moderation problems from the jump. I also really liked feeling like an adult, so I would go downstairs when everyone else was sleeping and drink my parents’ alcohol from these collectible Disney glasses. I was going through a lot and was very sad so I let myself get lost in it almost daily.
I’m high school I tried to turn it around because I wanted to be pre-med in college but I’d say I drank all through middle school, stopped for most of high school, then began again in college.
Omg Tracy brown liquor was my favorite haha
Tracy Levesque: :)
Working in the tech community there is such a culture of drinking and I got absolutely swept up into that.
Dani Janae: For me, I found that being in college and turning 21 fast-tracked my drinking. Once I was able to buy it on my own I wasn’t beholden to relying on older friends or fearing getting caught it was over. I remember on my 21st birthday I bought three bottles of wine and was gifted a couple of bottles of liquor and I drank it all alone over the next couple of days. Didn’t share a drop.
Tracy Levesque: Parenthood and the pandemic fast-tracked both my and my wife’s drinking.
Dani Janae: Yeah I always say I’m grateful I got sober before all [the pandemic] happened because I would have been an even bigger mess.
Analyssa: I think mine really accelerated after college in my first job. The entertainment industry is set up so you start working with a cohort of mostly people fresh out of undergrad and the culture is very drinking and drugs heavy.
I also started dating a girl whose friends were big partiers which helped me feel like what I was doing was cool and normal.
Tracy Levesque: I feel society is set up to feel like drinking while anything is cool and normal and that is part of the problem. Like with parenting, there is such a culture of “Mommy needs her special juice” and “I drink because you cry” t-shirts.
Analyssa: In college, I really kept up the same system of like, going way too hard and then taking a long break and then snowballing into going way too hard again. But I think since it wasn’t consistent, no one ever thought it was concerning except for as isolated incidents (including me!). But yknow I was like, taken to the hospital for drinking in college, I got a concussion while drinking, I’d wake up in mysterious beds or with mysterious bruises like I was truly just never a “normal” drinker.
Yes Tracy! And corporate culture too is all of the “we have to have drinks after work to survive the grind.”
Tracy Levesque: Omg I gave myself a black eye and a concussion while drinking.
Analyssa: We had Tequila Thursdays at my first office.
Dani Janae: Oh Jesus.
Tracy Levesque: I could talk for hours about this. Cocktail carts in offices, beer on tap at co-working spaces…
Analyssa: Champagne or wine for people’s birthdays.
Dani Janae: When I started working at a large corporation here I was like “alright where’s everyone hiding the booze!”
Analyssa: I could really get a buzz going from a coworker’s birthday. And then I remember I switched jobs to an office that didn’t do booze for birthdays and I was like….why? What’s the point?
Tracy Levesque: The thing that makes me so angry is I contributed to this. We had a cocktail cart in the office. We’d take the office out to lunch and it was okay to drink. Needless to say, the cart is gone now. But I’m so angry at myself for participating in it.
Analyssa: It’s funny, much like coming out, I always look back on these moments and think “Ah that’s when I should have known I had a problem.”
In the way that I look back on how I used to feel about other girls or whatever and am like “Ohhhh that was queer.”
Dani Janae: Yes I have those moments too Analyssa!
Tracy Levesque: Same.
Analyssa: But also Tracy all that office stuff is framed as like, community and culture building? Even at the boozeless birthday office, I tried to get people to do champagne for birthdays because I was like “this is how we bond!” It’s so insidious that it becomes easy to think you’re contributing positively to the vibe by encouraging a drinking culture.
Tracy Levesque: So true.
Analyssa: I did a lot of that in college too, like in the student groups I was in, pushing a lot of drinking on the group activities. And like, some of that was certainly to mask my own level of drinking but also I genuinely thought I was creating more fun where there hadn’t been before! That’s been a huge awakening for me in the last 18 months like, no maybe it wasn’t actually fun for everyone and I wasn’t just this positive joyous carefree spirit I thought I was being.
Tracy Levesque: Insidious is the perfect word. Drinking permeates everything and behavior or consequences you would normally be alarmed by, is fine because “Omg I’m so sick today and can’t remember what happened last night either, isn’t that hilarious?!”
Analyssa, that is exactly what led me to stop. Realizing drinking is not actually fun.
Dani Janae: One thing I always found with my drinking was I intentionally built community around it. I wouldn’t hang out with “lightweights” or people that would try to get me to slow down. I wanted everyone to be as drunk or drunker than I was, but I also prided myself on being able to drink A LOT and not really get drunk.
Analyssa: Totally Dani! I think that’s where my college community groups and definitely the friend group of the girl I was dating my first year out of undergrad came in.
Tracy Levesque: Totally, a high tolerance is a badge of honor. Looking at this now, that is really messed up.
Analyssa: Being around others who were at my level allowed me to go for a lot longer, and I totally shut down anyone who implied I couldn’t handle my alcohol or that I should consider slowing down.
Hilariously the guy I am dating now, I also dated in college, and he was the first person to ever say to me that I might have a problem and that was kind of the beginning of the end of our college relationship in my head.
I was like well this will never go anywhere if he’s already trying to limit me.
It’s funny, much like coming out, I always look back on these moments and think “Ah that’s when I should have known I had a problem.”
Analyssa: And yes I LOVED showing off how much I could drink. Was slapping the bag (Franzia) a thing in either of your lives? That was my big party trick.
Dani Janae: Lol yes unfortunately.
Tracy Levesque: lol, I didn’t know that was a thing.
Analyssa: At my college you would slap the bag and chug from the spout and people would count (like a keg stand) and when they got to 7, they would just keep repeating 7, 7, 7, 7.
Dani Janae: I believe the last drinks I had were an old bag of Franzia and some leftovers in a flask.
Analyssa: I thank everything in the universe that I can’t remember it now, but I used to know what my record was and try to beat it at truly every party.
Tracy Levesque: My drinking career really ramped up in my forties, so it was more like fancy cocktails at professional events. Going out to have drinks with colleagues. Which may sound more sophisticated, but it’s the same stupid result.
Dani Janae: I had a few friends that worked in the service industry so I would hang at their bars where the cocktails were $20 but then cross the street to my fav bar with $4 cocktails and fill up for the night. I remember thinking I was so sophisticated.
Tracy Levesque: During the pandemic when I was stuck at home alcohol became the working off switch for me. I really need the transition of leaving work and coming home for my brain to get out of work mode, but at home, I would look up and it would be 9 pm and I’d still be working. So drinks became the way to transition. And it was the pandemic everything sucked anyway so it’s okay to drink every day. Then my tolerance started to match my wife’s and we were a drinking pair.
Analyssa: Yeah I had decided at the end of 2019 that I would stop drinking in 2020, and I’m so thankful that I wasn’t drinking in the lockdown portion of the pandemic.
Thank you all so much for sharing this part of your lives! I’m excited to read the rest of the series.
Thank you for sharing everyone. The section about drinking normalized in the workplace hit for me, as a young person in the service industry, having a “team builder” round of shots in the middle or at the end of a shift is 100% normalized, to the point where people give you a hard time if you go for water or diet coke during it. I only recently started being able to legally drink so it was new to me (working in a bar after working in a coffee shop). I’m not sure how I feel about all of it.
Thank you all for sharing this. Your reflections on office drinking culture gave me a lot to chew on in particular – my partner doesn’t drink, so we’ve talked about how that affects my partner in work social settings, but this hit a little different. I’m newly moving into a manager role (definitely feel how much drinking is huge part of social rituals in the tech sphere) and although I’ve been careful to pick places with good non-alocoholic options when planning happy hour events, I’m feeling a bit extra reflective on how much of the work happy hour is a constructed social ritual which we fall back on because it’s easy to put together and “agreed on” as fun vs how much it is actually a positive and safe bonding experience for teammates.
I’ve planned a lot of tech events, and even before I stopped drinking I tried to help create events where the focus was not solely on free booze. We had parties in places like museums or bowling alleys where folks could do a fun activity vs. just stand around and drink. It’s also more friendly for folks who don’t like a lot of noise — they could hang in a quiet spot in a museum. There’s also stuff like axe throwing, mini golf, escape rooms, etc. As folks in positions of power, we have to set an example, and if people want to drink that is their choice, but making it expected or shaming people if they don’t drink is just not cool.
Thank you all for sharing these parts of yourselves – this was so affirming for me to read as a sober person.
I stopped drinking in October 2021, after reflecting on how my drinking was changing during the isolation of the pandemic and how it was impacting my mental health. What has really given me pause is realizing, after further reflection, is how often I used drinking as a reward/motivation to get me through something I didn’t really want to do, for years before the pandemic. This series is so wonderful and needed – thank you.
As others have said, thank you for this discussion, and I am so here for sober content. Sober x almost 5 years- I think its important to explore the intersectionality between being queer and drinking- for me, I lied about being queer from age 5 (when I realized) to age 24 (out to family friends, everyone)- lied to myself and everyone I knew, which established a real comfort and ability to lie (especially to myself) and need to numb out to keep the secret. I definitely tie this to my out of control drinking later in life, though its not, of course, the only contributing factor. Its fun and refreshing and needed to read about sobriety and drinking culture in Autostraddle- thanks!