The Recovery Evolution

The Recovery Evolution

2019-12-23 10:51:22

Every year is a year of change. We have no choice. We can push and pull and hold on for dear life, but it won’t matter. The Universe always has other plans for us. Try as we might, change happens. It’s impossible for change to be positive all the time, and change itself is a traumatic event – even the good kind. We must grieve for choices we didn’t make, things that didn’t happen, and of course, things that didn’t go our way or the way that we planned. 

Just as every year, 2019 was a year of tremendous change for me. Perhaps the biggest change was my career path. It was an evolution of sorts. I wasn’t the only one going through an evolution this year, though. As I’m sure you’ve seen – sobriety is having a moment, and a big one at that! This year sobriety blew up. It made it into countless mainstream media outlets. Sober curious became a thing. Friends of mine are releasing their books about sobriety into the world. I’ve seen more sobriety-based instagram accounts, websites, and blogs, and recovery coaching offers. I saw people literally fighting on the internet about whether being sober curious is ok, or not! 

All this is to say – the paradigm is shifting. We are in the midst of the Recovery Evolution. We are all moving, some quicker than others, towards a new world. And those who don’t will be left behind, with their antiquated and prejudiced views of what recovery actually is. 

I will tell this how it is from my own personal perspective, as I do most things. When I got sober in 2013, there was almost nothing on the internet about getting sober. There weren’t sober instagrams, or blogs (or very few), or online offerings to help you quit drinking, or different philosophies on why or how someone should or shouldn’t consume alcohol. Sobriety was a binary. You were either sober, or you weren’t. You were either an alcoholic, or you weren’t. You either had a drinking problem, or you didn’t. You either went to AA, or you weren’t in “recovery.” And to fit in this binary, you needed to hit “rock bottom.” You needed to go to treatment or meetings. You needed to admit your deepest darkest secrets, your character defects, and change everything, in order to enjoy a whole new way of living. 

Obviously, this was terrifying. Not to mention conforming to this binary has kept many people stuck because they don’t fit into the boxes. What the Recovery Evolution finally figured out this year was that there is a whole middle piece to the addiction spectrum that was being left untreated, unnoticed, and unbothered. The reality is taking a short break from booze has countless benefits even for moderate drinkers – better sleep, weight loss, healthier livers, improved insulin sensitivity, and improved blood pressure – just to name a few. There are literally no downsides to taking a break or quitting drinking. But the conversation around this – taking a break or quitting – has been largely dominated by the addiction recovery space. Even with strides made, the stigma attached to these words still runs deep. 

And as with so many things in this world, the efficacy of people becoming alcohol-free is all about how you market it. While harm reduction is not a new concept, it has largely pertained to drug users who deserve compassion and clean resources, but we often forget that harm reduction can also apply to drinking alcohol.

I’ll be the first one to admit when I got sober, I loathed people who said they were sober “sometimes,” or were “taking a break.” I never truly identified with being an alcoholic, and didn’t want to call myself that, yet when I entered the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous a year and a half into my sobriety, I did it to conform, and I felt like I belonged. I even wrote blogs using the word “alcoholic,” which seeing today makes me cringe. When I got sober, there was a thing you had to do. You had to get sober. You also had to stay sober. You counted days and celebrated milestones, but what the Recovery Evolution has taught me is that today we are living in a very different world.

We are truly moving into an ‘all pathways to recovery’ conversation and that includes people who don’t feel comfortable saying they are in recovery, or even, *gasp* – one of my favorite words – sober! For many, this distinction is everything. We are now living in a society where people may identify as alcohol-free, or even as a mindful drinker. Alcohol-free spirits and beer are a common and budding industry, when just a few years ago, I received quite the backlash for saying I indulged in the occasional NA beer. My friends at Club Soda UK are even hosting a Mindful Drinking Festival to showcase these new and amazing booze-free drinks. These non-alcoholic substitutes have saved people’s lives. They have replaced unhealthy relationships with alcohol and allowed people to continue on socializing and interacting without a second thought.

This year my own language surrounding recovery has changed, mostly because of my job with This Naked Mind and how much I truly believe in this evolution. I still say that I am in recovery. I still say that I’m sober. I still like to count my days. But now I am fully aware that not everybody does, and there are a lot of people who don’t. I no longer assume everyone is “in recovery.” I no longer assume people call themselves “sober.” I no longer think of sobriety as a binary. I run a She Recovers Sharing Circle here in Southwest Florida that is a homebase for women, some of whom still drink! I never thought that I would be ok with that. I thought the ultimate goal for everyone was to be 100% sober, 100% of the time. I used to believe people who taught or talked about “moderation,” were dangerous.

Now I see that each person truly must pick their own path and that as long they are changing their relationship with alcohol – whether it’s quitting, cutting back, taking a break, or even just becoming more mindful about why they drink and their beliefs about this substance – that is a success story. 

My ultimate personal message is still that everyone should know that they don’t need to have alcohol to have an amazing, exciting life. For me there is no point in going back to that substance and there won’t be. But this year and my work, has taught me that sober curious is the way we move forward as a society. It’s a way we become healthier as a planet. It’s the way become more mindful and more inclusive. 

In 2013 I dreamed of the things that are happening now. Sober bars! Sober parties and festivals! Cocktails that don’t have alcohol in them! Other cool alcohol-free people convincing the world we aren’t shackled to booze and life is amazing when lived awake! Holy crap. We’ve truly been a part of this massive change. 

I’m so excited that secret basement meetings where you must adhere to the Big Book and all its rules isn’t the only way. There are other places you can go and be yourself. No more conforming. Experiment with what works best for you. Find the communities that make you feel seen and heard and supported. 

Pretty soon, people will look at us like we’re just a part of the norm. We won’t be poisoning ourselves because it’s no longer cool.“Not drinking,” will no longer bring alien stares. It will be as normal as a keg stand is today. And because of that we’ll be more mindful as a society and as a people. 

To me, this isn’t a revolution like it started out to be. It’s an evolution. This is an unfolding of humans taking their power back. This process might seem slow, but it knows where it’s going.

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