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OK so here’s a thing I’ve wanted to say for a long time, and which isn’t easy to say. Alcohol-free life is not just for the middle-class, middle-aged, yoga-doing, able-bodied cishet white professionals who dove a bit too deep into the G&T after work and wine with/for/after dinner topped off by a whiskey. In so much of the stuff I would see online in the days when I was “sober-curious” before knowing what that really meant, they were the only people I’d see in the marketing and the discussions. And maybe that’s because I’m on my way to becoming a middle-class, middle-aged, yoga-doing, mostly able-bodied white professional and the algorithms just thought that like would attract like, but it’s just not good enough.
Disclaimer: I KNOW how hard it can be for people from the above lives to explore sobriety. I KNOW how the marketing works, how the societal pressures work, how the "but it's tradition!" and "it's normal, have another!" and "beers + bants" work. And it is amazing the progress that so many people have made, the fights that they're continuing to fight. HOWEVER.
There is a severe lack of representation of sober stories from the BIPOC/BAME communities, from the disability communities, from the LGBTQIA+ communities. And I’m not saying this to fluff up my SJW feathers and pat myself on the back for being So Inclusive – I’m saying it because it’s true. Diversity matters, both in terms of marketing and in terms of the spaces provided for people exploring their sobriety / disordered consumption issues. I haven’t created my own Sobriety Space (yet!) so of course it’s easy for me to imagine that everything I do would be perfect, with everyone coming together in joyous harmony, sharing, respecting the mixing and separations when each was appropriate, learning from one another and helping to make our inner and external worlds the heavenly places we know we deserve to inhabit – I know that reality would likely be different, and of course it’s tricky and messy and not all black and white (pun not fucking intended thank you kindly).
I am trying to navigate my way around the line separating inclusion/support, and blackwashing/gawking. The accounts I am starting to follow on Instagram (Twitter is HARD, I don’t LIKE it, you can’t MAKE me), I’m trying to follow a variety of sources and people. Because it is so easy to just go along with what is suggested, which just happens to (tend to) be white middle-class, able-bodied, cishet people who are more familiar with their own abs than I could ever be - with theirs or my own. And those people are great! Some of my best friends are people like that! Seriously. I am incredibly grateful for those people who I have met who’ve held me and supported me and inspired me and encouraged me, who just so happen to also belong to that ‘standard of sobriety’. But I want more, as well.
I’ve wanted more for much of this nearly year-long journey. I started this journey by joining a community set up by a company who clearly knew who to target – those of us who forgot to sign out of Facebook before googling “how to get over a hangover quickly”, or “is it normal for my liver to hurt most mornings?”, or “alcohol consumption guidelines” or “does alcohol really affect your anxiety?” (yes, it does) or "surely everyone feels like this no? yes? please?". And I am so immensely grateful to the company for providing me with the space in which I could find my voice and my passions and my strength and my soul and my self and my potential and my friends and family and my fellow tribe members. And I always have been grateful, and always will be. And I also need to be more proactive in a way that can help to expand the joy of sobriety, or alcohol-free living, or being AFAF, or whatever you want to call it, in a way that fits in with MY values, which are very much about equity, justice, inclusivity and inclusion.
I’m here to listen to stories, and to tell mine. I can’t tell a story which I haven’t lived, or experienced at some point in my life. There will be people whose stories I can’t understand so easily, as there are people who struggle to understand mine. I can speak to my stories concerning my queerness, my transness, my Britishness in France, my Fake Frenchness, my fatness, my expatness, my anxiousness, and my othernesses. I can and will speak to all of those stories, and I want to hear others. I want to know and support other tellers of stories. Those who struggled, those who are flying through it. The way family and the various cultures we inhabit can affect our modes of consumption. The ways in which our lived experiences and the way the world has told us to shape ourselves and hold ourselves and *be* ourselves, how they can massively affect the way we then deal with what we put into or do with our bodies. The way the stories we have told for so long affect the stories we allow ourselves to tell now.
I want to tell my story. I’m starting to tell it. My story is one that began just under a year ago, and has been written for the last 36 years at least. It is different from anyone else’s, and also exactly the same. There are certain plot twists not everyone will get, and some details that would be swapped around, but it’s a story of finding myself through the freedom of no longer having to drink alcohol, and no longer wanting to hide in it.
It was all I knew. Sad? Drink! Scared? Drink! Excited? Drink! In love? Drink! Hungry? Drink! Nervous? Drink! Hungover? Drink! Drunk? Drink! Overworked? Drink! Underpaid? Drink! Triggered? Drink! Angry? Drink! Tired? Drink! Stressed? Drink! At a party? Drink! Alone? Drink! Alive? Drink! I didn’t know that I was allowed to be any other way. I didn’t know that I was able and allowed to find the answers to the questions I drank to avoid. I didn’t know that I was not only capable of surviving and living in uncomfortable moments, but that they would be the ones that would stretch and teach me the most.
For me, my journey with sobriety has never been about getting ready to run a marathon, or finding long-lost abs. In the last year of not drinking, I’ve quit a nearly 20-year fairly heavy smoking habit, and survived a battle with long COVID-19 as well as confinement, and my weight and fitness levels have fluctuated in consequence of that. I occasionally have to remind myself of my rule that my body is my temple no matter what it’s built with – if that’s pizza boxes and ice cream pots, or carrot peelings and chick peas (it’s a combination of both, tbh) – then it’s still my body which still deserves my love, because it’s still got me inside. I still catch myself having fatphobic thoughts to myself and others. I still need to remind myself on a VERY regular basis that I do not need to shrink myself down for ANYONE. I don’t owe anyone a single ab in my ‘after’ pictures, because despite the outer changes, the inner ones have been phenomenal (and are still coming!). One of the benefits of not drinking alcohol is that I am now more aware of what my body needs. If I’m craving a fry-up, it could be because my iron levels are down, or my body needs some extra fat (cos it doesn’t yet know how to get it from my thighs), or just that I want some fried comfort – and THAT’S OK. Being able to hear my body’s needs and wants better, because they’re not being gasped out through a brutal hangover, means I can (work to) throw off old, remembered guilty feelings around pleasure. I deserve this. You do, too. I deserve treats – not only because I’m sober, but because I’m trying.
So here are new uncomfortable moments for me. Reaching out, saying: I want more, please. I want different. I want to play a part in opening this up. Sobriety or recovery or AF living shouldn’t only be for heroin addicts who hit rock bottom or yuppy professionals who “went a bit too far”. I want to listen to and be part of the conversations surrounding alcohol and drug abuse / overuse / self-medicating within the LGBTQIA+ communities, and its links with mental (and physical) health. I want to find fat sober people to explore and share in the joy of food and drink without alcohol in it. I want to know how to use my privilege as a white person to better support, amplify and celebrate the stories from the BIPOC/BAME communities and their work and thoughts on sober living. I’m looking for book recommendations, podcast recommendations, accounts to follow, people to get in touch with. I’m looking to chat, in DMs or in comments or by email or by PHONE. I am looking to build on my connections, to contribute what I can, and to work on that intersectionality that is so fucking important in ALL areas of life. If I’d seen a nonbinary fairly political chubby trans femme in their 30s living their best sober life on Insta a few years ago? Well … it might not have changed all that much, especially not if I wasn’t ready... But I’m ready now, to see and be seen.
I do recognise that I’m coming at this from a position of privilege. I have had the opportunity to learn a FUCK TONNE over the last year, listening to and learning from hundreds and thousands of different people’s stories. And before that, I was in the privileged position of being able to take a year off work and train as a professional and life coach. I have coached, and continue to work with people on their sobriety or problematic relationships to alcohol or other substances. It is part of my job, and I’m OK with it – I have bills to pay, too, and if I can do good in the world and make money from elements of that at the same time? Yes please, hello ikigai. I’m not into exploiting vulnerable people, nor am I into being exploited – the happy medium, as always, lies somewhere along that fuzzy, not always comfortable line.
This long-winded (who, me?!) post is mostly to say: I see you. You who don’t necessarily see yourself in the adverts or in the groups or in the tribes or in the books or in the future … I see you. Come sit with me, let’s see what we can see together.