What is teetotaling?
I like to use the word teetotaling as the overarching term to describe my sober lifestyle, because it seems like when people hear the the word “sobriety,” they tend to either shut down or layer a sh*t-ton of their own emotional associations over whatever is being said. (P.S. In case you were wondering, “sober” ≠ “somber,” because sober folks are super f*cking fun, y’all.)
Anyway, my own personal definition of teetotaling is living a life free from the influence of alcohol. In other words, being committed to living a life OVER the influence rather than under it. This makes sense for me, since alcohol has been something of a sticking point for me over the years. (Which is a total understatement, okay?)
Now some people go even further and extend the teetotaling definition, pledging to total abstinence from all intoxicating substances, in some cases even including abstaining from caffeine in their teetotalism. (Knowing myself, I’m not sure I could commit myself to no caffeine at this point in my life, honestly.)
But no matter what your personal teetotalism or sobriety goal looks like, or even if you’re just sober-curious, I believe we all have the right to embrace a sober / teetotaling life, without getting f*cked with by others for making that choice. And that includes not getting f*cked with for stumbling along the path.
Because living a sober lifestyle is a strong, bad-ass journey, and it just makes sense that any journey that requires strength and bad-assery also takes practice to get right. I mean, god knows it took me a f*ck-ton of tries to get to where I am, and I’m still learning new things every day that I walk this path.
This is why the phrase “exercising sobriety” has an honest, solid ring to it, for me.
Because if you are at ANY point along the sobriety continuum — and that includes falling flat on your face after getting a few days, weeks, months, or even years under your belt — then YOU ARE DOING THE DAMN THING, y’all. You’re doing it! You are exercising sobriety.
Sometimes it doesn’t look pretty, no doubt. But when it comes to doing hard things, failure is absolutely 100% a building block toward success, if you let it be.
How my alcohol story began
I’ve been living a sober lifestyle for almost a year now (as of the writing of this article), but I was drinking for a good 20 years before that, so I’ve got lots of experience with alcohol’s many faces — definitely enough to know that alcohol never did me any favors. But it’s a tricky mistress, alcohol. When it’s got you in its grips, it makes you believe things about yourself (and about it) that aren’t necessarily true.
For instance, the first time I got drunk, it was a conscious choice, oddly enough (I do all kinds of oddball things, though… so… spoiler alert on that). I had been a straight-laced, nerdy, highly unpopular kid all through high school, and my first year of college I decided to change that by getting good and sh*tfaced with some so-called “friends.” And lo and behold, sh*tfaced me felt like FUN ME! I finally felt like one of the popular party girls. I finally felt UN-shy!
And I was hooked from that moment, I think. Not chemically or physiologically hooked (thankfully I never got to that point), but hooked on that feeling of being a funner, cooler, more popular version of myself.
The lies alcohol tries to sell us
Funny thing is, though I didn’t realize it at the time, that’s one of the big lies that alcohol tries to sell us. We don’t get better. We get sloppier and sh*ttier and less emotionally intelligent, we become more easily manipulated and taken advantage of, and we devolve and become less capable at life in general, both during and after drinking binges, because the hangover backlash is just as bad as the sh*tfaced-ness of the drinking itself. But we’re usually surrounded by other equally sh*tfaced souls when we’re in the thick of it, so it’s hard to tell.
And I didn’t look back or re-examine my relationship with alcohol for years. I should have. Alcohol gave me TONS of signs that it was an abusive lover, but I ignored them all. I let my mind gloss over that time in my 20s when alcohol let someone take advantage of my body without my consent (to this day, I still have trouble labeling what happened, because of my sense of culpability in “letting” something happen to me by getting that drunk). I conveniently forgot most of what happened on that lonely Valentine’s Day long ago, when alcohol spun me out on a maudlin emotional roller coaster and made me act like a crying, drunken fool in the middle of a packed dance club.
To be honest, I did try a few periods of alcohol abstinence in my 20s and 30s, mostly knee-jerk reactions to some embarrassing drunken incidents, periods of abstinence which began with me promising myself to never let that happen again and ended with me thinking, “I’ve got this, I’m totally under control now.” I really wasn’t in control, of course. It was a lie I was telling myself.
The problem with functional alcohol abuse
But for a long time, I was never out-of-control enough to reach the critical pain point that ultimately made me change my life (and I think that point is different for everyone). I mean, I had my work life and my social life in order for the most part, at least on the surface of things. I wasn’t out getting DUIs or drinking at the office or anything like that. I was developing my career and building a business — a business that, ironically, involved supporting clients in their recovery efforts at both in-patient and outpatient substance abuse rehabilitation facilities.
And I couldn’t even tell you exactly when I realized with 100% certainty that something had to change for me with alcohol. But I can tell you this: It was years from the time I had that realization until I was actually able to successfully cut alcohol out of my life.
I mean, all I really knew was that I was tired of scouring my phone for drunken texts that I may have sent the previous evening. And that I was scared of waking up one more time in the middle of the night with the beginnings of a hangover so bad I literally felt like I was about to die. And that I was ashamed of feeling like a hypocrite at work, giving advice to clients in recovery that I wasn’t taking myself.
There are no quick-fix sobriety solutions
So I spent several years trying everything I could think of to quick-fix my way out of the psychological addiction to alcohol, including going to yoga retreats, participating in juice cleanses and water fasts, and even spending time in an ashram basically trying to chant away my problems.
And though some of these teetotaling attempts stuck with me for a few months, none of them worked in the long-term, because life was always there waiting for me when I got back to it, you know? And I hadn’t dealt with any of the underlying reasons I was drinking. And really, there is no quick-fix substitute for something that you’ve used as a quick-fix solution for almost everything that life has thrown at you for all of your adult life.
The only way out of the alcohol trap is by going through all of the things that you used alcohol to avoid before — by learning to stay with discomfort rather than running from it, by learning to feel all the feels, by learning to love yourself even when you’ve been taught your whole life that you’re not enough or that you need to be more or better to be worthy of love, by learning healthier coping mechanisms.
Finding your teetotaling community
So there was a point along my teetotaling path when I did what a lot of people in similar situations do and tried Alcoholics Anonymous, since it seemed to work for so many people. And the enthusiastic acceptance and support and sharing that I found there was a breath of fresh air for sure, but there were a lot of other aspects of AA that weren’t quite a good fit for me.
For one, I never got on board with the idea of labeling myself an alcoholic. I’ve never been a fan of labels in general, but the “alcoholic” label in particular strikes me as an incredibly stigmatizing label to slap onto a bunch of people who are already going through a tough time. And I was really not on board with the idea of accepting that I was powerless over alcohol, which is basically one of the underlying assumptions that AA is built on. I mean, call me crazy, but I kinda believe that making HUGE changes in your life requires a sense of empowerment and agency, not the opposite.
Anyway, AA seems to work well for a lot of folks, and that’s awesome, so I’m not knocking it, but it just wasn’t the right recovery community for me. So I puttered around on the internet for a while (I’m talking years, you guys), researching various alternative recovery groups.
And there are a bunch of alternatives out there, but the problem I ran into was that a lot of the group listings I found were old and outdated, listing meetings that were no longer taking place or regional groups that no longer existed or meetings that were so small it was impossible to attend without feeling singled-out or spotlighted. At one point, I even thought about trying to find an inpatient program somewhere that I could afford (a tall order in itself), but then I realized that would put me right back into the quick-fix cycle I’d been in before, because my life would STILL be waiting for me when I got out.
The perfect storm
But persistence pays off, because one day fate (and Google) finally steered me in the direction of the Tempest Sobriety School (which was then called the Hip Sobriety School), and I signed up for the summer 2018 session, and it was one of the best things I ever did for myself, because it’s where I found a community of people who just felt like my people, if you know what I mean.
People were sharing stories that I could relate to. People were offering words of support that sounded like they could have come from my own head. And there was no shaming and no blaming and there was no prescribed schedule for doing anything and there were no prescribed “steps” that needed to be taken in any particular order or even at all.
There was just a lot of love, and a lot of tips and tools and stories to learn from, and a lot of really great folks. It was a perfect storm of collaboration that came together in a way that spoke straight to my battered but hopeful soul. And it was the community that stood with me as I walked out of the fire and into the light of a teetotaling lifestyle.
Embracing all parts of yourself
But Tempest wasn’t the be-all and end-all for me, to be sure. With the growth and opportunities I gained from that incredibly valuable experience, with my newfound ability to embrace more of a real sense of myself and who I actually AM in the world… I’ve continued to grow, and branch out, and make new connections, and become even more of an independent thinker (is that even possible?!)… and I have actually begun to move away from some of the philosophies and thoughts I originally learned as a part of that community, and to make my recovery process more individualized and specific to me, and to my needs.
And that’s not a bad thing, I think.
Worst behaviors, best intentions
Here’s the thing. I believe that all behaviors, even the worst-seeming ones, like alcohol overuse, have a positive intention at their root. For instance, sometimes a behavior is attempting to protect you from something, like a painful feeling or a hard truth. Or sometimes a behavior arises because part of you knows that you really need a break but you’re not allowing yourself a moment to rest.
Ultimately, what this meant for me was discovering that overcoming alcohol was not about disowning or divorcing myself from a part of myself (which was what I had been trying to do for years unsuccessfully), but embracing that part of myself instead, getting curious about what it was really trying to accomplish for me, and looking for healthy solutions to meet those needs. This was not a quick-fix process, and it’s ongoing really, as I will always have new things to learn about myself, and spiritual growth is a lifelong process.
Anyway, all of this has led me to believe that being fully present in your body, your mind, and your spirit — being fully present in your LIFE, in essence — means acknowledging, caring for, and exercising ALL of the different parts of yourself, even the messy, emotional AF, reckless, sh*t-stirring parts of yourself, so that all of these parts get healthier and become part of a healthier whole self.
Like… you know how the Autobot Transformers can unite into one super-badass hunk of highly functioning machinery?
Yeah. Kinda like that. Like an ass-kicking Teetotaling Bot.
So I’m gonna write a TON more about this stuff, but I think that’s enough for right now.
Check out the article index, the category listings, and the search bar on the right if you’d like to tool around on the site and read more about becoming teetotally awesome. 🙂
P.S. Check out my teetotaler tattoo (part of an awesome movement aimed at re-branding the concept of living alcohol-free from one of restriction to one of freedom… and well… it also has a bit of a more personal meaning specific to me that I’ll keep to myself, at least for now)! Squee! Teetotaling rocks!