I’m showing up to the keyboard not sure what’ll end up here.
That’s not typical.
I have a very well-developed muscle for churning out thousands of words and knowing precisely what I plan to say, even if I’m not entirely certain how I’ll say it.
And on this topic in particular, I have a folder on my computer stocked with files I’ve created in the past year.
* One, from the earliest days of having chosen sobriety, filled with curiosity about how long it would take for “the new normal” to kick in.
* Another, a catchy book title for and a few chapters of all the various (and ridiculous) things people say to a person when they learn she’s now sober.
* A list of sober role models. When Keith and I chose to get married, we made a list of healthy couples in the entertainment industry and invited them to surround us as we exchanged vows in a private, spur-of-the-moment, informal ceremony. When I chose to get sober, I made a list of people in the entertainment industry who wear their sobriety in ways that inspire me. People who prove it can be done and not be torture. Fun people. Healthy people. Normal people with lives and problems… but with drinking not being one of them.
* The outline for a sober coaching program I developed, with the plan to launch it on my first sober anniversary. A way for me to support those who might want to try a different relationship with themselves at long last. Something for high-achieving could’ve-gotten-away-with-drinking-forever powerchicks like me who’d decided moderation was just not gonna work.
* A letter to my past self, thanking her for finally making such a brave choice.
* A letter to my husband, thanking him for teaching me unconditional love through his choice to see me through sobriety and every day prior to October 16, 2016, when I certainly made it tougher for him to choose to love me than it must be now.
Of course, when you no longer have your biggest excuse for everything that’s wrong with you or hard to take about you or stressful about being in love with you, it makes the things that are *actually* wrong with you or hard to take about you or stressful about being in love with you come into focus, and that’s when the healing really gets serious.
When you lose the easiest thing to blame for everything “wrong,” actual breakthroughs happen. And at warp-speed.
Vodka was my co-pilot for a long time. A very long time. I didn’t actually learn that vodka was my lover ’til I sat with a group of actors in a market research group for which we were each paid $125 to participate, testing out different vodkas and marketing slogans for them. It was 1999 and I desperately wanted to maintain my “actor weight,” something I fought very hard to attain and didn’t want to slip through my fingertips.
One of my fellow actors in this market research group mentioned that vodka was the lowest-calorie option for drinking. Club soda, never tonic. Slice of lime. 90 calories… and you can go all night.
That was when I made margaritas, champagne, and hard apple cider “treats” while vodka became my daily attitude adjustment about how much I hated my body. My cure for writer’s block once I left acting behind. My post-exercise hydration once I became a plus-sized athlete.
So efficient, that vodka.
When I think back on my relationship with drinking, starting in earnest 30 years before it ended, it’s the two years before I chose sobriety that contain any regret.
And I mean that.
I didn’t spend a lifetime pickled and wishing I weren’t.
I didn’t spend decades sadly drinking alone.
I didn’t ruin my life, cause chaos, or get sick.
I built an empire, conquered fears, and changed lives… I just wasn’t all that present sometimes.
But in those last two years before choosing sobriety, I did a lot of negotiating with myself. I drew up a graphic in which I designated certain behaviors and endeavored to stick to “the good quadrant” when I couldn’t live in “the best quadrant.” And every time I slipped into “the bad quadrants,” I knew my system wasn’t working.
I knew I could solve every problem presented to me in my business and in the rest of my life… but not this one.
Moderation was not an option.
It never was.
But I loved behaving as if it could be, if I just… worked harder at it, wanted it to work more, tried more mindfulness, loved myself more, talked about it more realistically in therapy, something.
This isn’t the story of those two years of negotiating. It’s not the story of my rock bottom. It’s certainly not the story of near-misses before October 16, 2016, that absolutely could’ve been “rock bottom” enough to make a change. And it’s definitely not the story of three decades in which booze was a constant option for dealing with just about anything.
This isn’t a post about how I pre-paved for success with sobriety with my mindset and bodywork, about how I learned at long last that abstinence and sobriety are NOT the same thing, about the folks who shone like lighthouses for me when I needed to find a safe shore from out in some really deep and dark waters, or about the course I never finished creating to support those who could benefit from learning exactly how I turned my life around.
I told you up top, I’m not sure what I’m gonna write here.
I do want to share that I spent the earliest days and weeks of sobriety like we spent the earliest days and weeks of our marriage — not telling anybody.
This was challenging for a couple o’ reasons.
One: Everyone still wanted to go out drinking with me, and expected that I would accept all invitations to do this. Saying NO and trusting that the word NO — alone — is a complete sentence takes practice when you’re a chronic overexplainer.
Two: It felt like — by not talking about not drinking — I was hiding something because I was ashamed of it (I wasn’t), because I was afraid I would fail at it (I wasn’t), or because I didn’t trust others to understand (ooh… I didn’t).
The reality of the feeling that I possibly surrounded myself with people who needed me to drink or to at least BE a drinker was not a fun one to play with. And let’s be clear — in early sobriety, you have a LOT of time to play with the ideas that float in.
Early sobriety was very lonely.
But in a way, that was good. It was right.
As I’ve said at other times in life when I made big decisions, I would remind myself, “This is between God and me.” And even though Keith sat in on some of our therapy sessions, and even though my early sobriety had room for him to participate peripherally, I began to look at early sobriety like early pregnancy.
And that’s when the not telling people thing made perfect sense.
You’ve got this precious new life growing precariously in your belly and you’re praying every day that it’s healthy… but you decide “we’re not telling people” until some magic moment at which you can’t NOT share the good news — and at that point it’s good news for everyone who hears about it. The new life is healthy enough that there’s now very little that could happen to derail the pregnancy. Everyone can SEE there’s a baby on the way. This thing is happening; no turning back. All that early private work got you to the point at which there’s lower risk about some uncomfortable convo to come about how you lost the fetus.
You’re knocked up, but good. You’re sober, baby.
Throughout this year, I learned something was very different from what I had perceived for years before, here in Hollywood.
Here, I’d never seen non-drinkers out in the world. There were those who could handle drinking in moderation. There were those who would drink now and then. And there were those — like me — who would never leave a drop in a glass before leaving the table. Who knew when it comes to wine, an open bottle is an empty bottle. Who put the local liquor store’s owner’s kid through college.
In my first year of sobriety, however, non-drinkers have come out of the woodwork. Hell, they were all around me, all along. Actors I’ve cast. Producers who’ve hired me. Acting coaches with whom I share clients. Students of mine. Agents I negotiate with. Old friends. New friends. Decades of sobriety between them… lined up as if to prove to me it can be done.
And it can be done beautifully, in integrity, authentically, in full alignment with one’s highest self, without stress or strain… simply.
Sobriety is easy. The two years before choosing sobriety were hard.
When I think about the pain of some of those pre-sobriety moments spent negotiating moderation, Googling anything to try and land on a recipe for a healthy relationship with alcohol, breaking promises made to myself for a better tomorrow, and all the wondering why this had to be so damn hard, I’m a little fascinated by how binary choosing to become sober ended up being.
And as I’ve gone about this year reclaiming places that used to have attachments I thought would be challenging to rework — everything from going sober to my favorite boozy restaurant (Craig’s) and ordering club soda with my decadent dinner to going back to my favorite boozy city (New York, where I decided my drinking years were over) and finding gyms at which to work out rather than bars at which to drink — I’ve learned there’s a lot that’s not as I thought it was.
There are things I used to blame drinking for (forgetting things, wanting to be antisocial at times, being an asshole about certain topics) that it turns out drinking has nothing to do with (I sometimes forget things despite an eidetic memory, I sometimes want to play “inside cat” when I’ve overcommitted, and I definitely am sometimes just an asshole about stuff).
Sobriety redefines our relationships, including those we thought we had but never did. There are friendships that couldn’t endure this version of me: committed first and foremost to herself, walling off self-care like it’s her job, unwilling to be treated poorly.
There are books I once read and songs I once listened to that I thought were screaming, “Gillespie! Please! Treat yourself BETTER. Choose yourself FIRST. Commit to yourself and SHOW UP consistently. LOVE yourself more than anything or anyone else,” that — upon reading and listening again — I realize have no heavy-handed overtones.
The words, the sounds were coming from within.
Dear GAWD, as I write this, I’m reminded of my senior quote, from the “Outstanding Seniors” section of my North Springs High School yearbook.
For a moment I was taken in. They were in my body; there were under my skin. ’til I heard a voice crying, “Set me free.” And I realized that it was me. — Nik Kershaw
I guess what this has turned out to say is this: I’m sober.
I choose sobriety. I chose it once and continue to choose it every moment of every day.
October 16, 2016, was a really cool day for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that it’s when I started on a journey that has already done more for me and through me than I ever imagined something so damn simple as no longer consuming something that my body treats as poison could do.
I’ve always felt like a Libra. 😉
Happy birthday to me!
In case you want to choose sobriety and have landed here after a good Google (man, I *so* remember those places I landed after Googling all the things that might somehow magically unlock the secret to a healthy drinking-in-moderation life for me), here are my top takeaways that may be nice for you to read today.
* In a year of not drinking, I’ve saved approximately five thousand dollars. Yup. A $5K/yr. raise just for keeping Ketel One out of the house, no longer inviting Kim Crawford to dinner, and swapping to sparkling water with lime while out on the town (looks just like my old vodka soda, in fact — which in some social situations is quite handy).
* Whole30 played a major role in my awareness of how very poisonous alcohol is in my system. Something about running clean for 30 straight days is incredibly clarifying when it comes to how very selective we can get about the fuel we’ll choose to ingest vs. throwing crap down our throat as if we’re filling a dumpster.
* Sobriety is an intimate journey. Fact. No matter how many people surround you, support you, go through it alongside you, or feel for you in all the right ways, at the end of the day, you’re facing things for which the answer may have always been “have a drink!” and that’s a really efficient answer sometimes! Sitting quietly with the alternative is private. If you don’t like yourself very much, this can be confronting work.
* Rituals are powerful things. Reclaiming the ritualized behaviors of everything from “OMG, a jackass predator nightmare of a narcissist just got elected” requiring shots to a “Hey! We just grew our business like never before” calling for champagne as well as the experience of sitting in the hospital while your partner undergoes emergency surgeries and you’re not sure if you’re about to be alone in the realest sense becoming something you just get to sit through, journal through, and FEEL… these things are important to prepare for. I recommend lots of water, naps, bubble baths, journaling, bookmarked inspirational talks, a solid online support system, and most of all the constant reminder that every moment is a CHOICE.
* That I have — in this year — gotten through some of THE most challenging things I’ve ever faced… and done so sober… has gone from being a frustrating struggle to being something that makes me feel more like a badass than I ever imagined possible. “And I’m weathering this sober,” is a very cool thing to say to myself when I feel spikes of emotion for things I cannot control. The pride I feel is inexplicable.
* Most conversations out in the world are vapid as fuck. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard my pole sisters discuss eyelash extensions but it sure feels way more tedious now than when I knew I could leave class and have a stiff drink afterwards. I’ve had to do a little adjusting for quality control in my friendships. Upgrades. And that also means losing some people I thought were ride-or-die FOR LIFE. Mourning the loss of besties is at times challenging, but realizing your bond was your brokenness? That’s a biggie and it’s a breakthrough worth having. Never again will my damage be what keeps a friendship solid. What a gift that is!
* Sitting in a place of no judgment is challenging — especially when shitty parents of unruly, whiny children seem to be everywhere — but it’s essential. Because once I’m judging anyone about how they’re out there navigating their lives, I’m less sober than I was the moment before. I spend a lot of time in dispassionate observation, gratitude journaling, obsessive exercising, and deep breathing. And when none of that works: naps.
* I’m not triggered by others’ drinking. Not even Keith’s hosting of writers group with free-flowing “write drunk; edit sober” tequila shots. But I never was. Drinking was never about anyone but me and what I wanted to do to feel good, to feel better, or to feel numb. Having to feel my feelings now is sometimes confronting, but it’s also really nice to get to know myself at long last. I’m pretty fucking spectacular! Who knew?!?
* Similar to the pride thing, above, learning I’m stronger than I ever had imagined is pretty dang powerful. I never gave myself credit for being able to handle so many things that now I just soar right through, effortlessly at times. I *thought* I needed a drink to get through so much stuff I’d faced in life. Nope. That was just a choice I made at the time. Nothing more than that. No judgment. It’s where I was at the time. Now I’m somewhere different. I’m sober.
* Not only was early sobriety like early pregnancy in the concept of the “not telling people” thing I’ve already shared, but also in the “OMG, I want to talk about this with EVERYBODY” phase that kicks in once you’re ready. Followed soon by, “Holy crap, can we STOP talking about this all the time? It’s just a thing. It’s just life now.” Also, the measuring the life of sobriety in days, then weeks, then months, and joyfully now being able to do it in years… it really is like a newborn going into toddlerhood at some point. You stop measuring in those tiny increments that used to make a big difference. Every moment continues to make a difference, but now there are enough moments of sober momentum built up to celebrate the benchmarks differently. To lead by doing things like posting this bit of writing, for example. To finish the sober coaching course someday soon. To be a lighthouse.
* Sober role models are great to reach out to — when it comes to needing to share a story or feel connected — but it is no one else’s business to say, “This is how it’s done.” Amazing people all over the world have left the door open for me to reach out, go to a meeting, have a tough convo, share some laughs, try new sober activities, and all the other things that make a community so important in my life. What is clear though is that everyone who’s been through this knows it’s an intimate journey. They know there’s only so much they can say about “how it is” because it’s different for everyone. But just saying, “I’m here if you need me” — which so many of my sober role models did and still do — is sometimes everything.
* That’s also why I shelved the course I was creating on sobriety (for now). Of course, in my life, I turn everything into a teaching moment. I am a human science experiment and everything I go through, I learn from, I conquer, I debug, I figure out, I want to share. And definitely, some of my private coaching has turned to both informal fitness-wellness-Whole30 coaching (I KNOW!!!!! CRAZY, RIGHT?!?) and sobriety support, but to formalize it into a program still feels premature. I need more road between my first sober day and the day on which I formalize an offering like that before I can throw too much more energy into supporting others when they’re feeling their brokenest. It’s big work. I need to be sure my big work is protected first. #BoundariesLikeAMotherFucker
* It’s not the not drinking that’s challenging. That’s easy. It’s the “pop up therapy” element. You’re signing up for 24/7 on-the-ready status to need to deal with issues you didn’t know were issues because now they pop up and you can’t throw booze at them if the timing is inconvenient. That’s something that really surprised me, but as I write this I can’t imagine why that should’ve felt surprising at all. It makes perfect sense. To handle this, I prepared Keith that I might appear bipolar for a time — he, in his unconditional love, assured me I could express all the emotions I needed to and he’d be there, he’d go away, he’d support in whatever way I needed support to show up at the moment — and I never was more than an inch away from my journal, my sober coach, my workout, my adaptogens, my essential oils, my day spa, and most importantly MY BED. Again, when in doubt: naps.
* I am really glad that I got down with rewarding myself daily for early sobriety. I was “rewarding” myself daily with booze for years sometimes, so continuing the stream of positive reinforcement for the new good habit I chose became a priority. It also shifted what I teach in Self-Management for Actors. Extreme self-care is now such a large portion of the work I bring to creatives and it’s rocking folks to the core with its value. No surprise there, other than how resistant we can sometimes be to the simple act of treating ourselves well. Now that I have a year of first-hand experience for how good things get when we’re good to ourselves FIRST, I’m getting really bossy about how important self-care MUST be for anyone coming to me for advice on how to improve *any* condition in their lives.
* Bubble baths, walks, naps, massages, journaling, pole fitness, mindless entertainment, couples therapy, adult coloring books, float tanks, long talks with the hubs, lumo-therapy, meditation, ThetaHealing, adaptogens, Pilates, sober role models within reach, aromatherapy, impeccable nutrition, an online support system, sober coaching, and boundaries like a mother fucker… all while allowing myself the reality that — just like I say to someone when a loved one dies, “Everything you’re feeling is correct.” These are the things that made a difference. That, and never apologizing for the journey that came before this.
I know for 12-steppers, apologizing is big. I’m not a 12-stepper (and no shade on that choice; it works for so many people out there). I have nothing to apologize for because my life is my life and these lessons were required to get me to where I am today (and OMG, I soooooooooo love where I am today).
So, this is the post. It’s the one I’ll point people toward when they ask about my sobriety. It’s the one I’ll share with those who want to join me on this journey. It’s the one you may land on as you Google “drinking in moderation” or “better relationship with alcohol” or “how to get sober” after another rough run of it.
Yeah. Been there.
Here’s what I know FOR SURE: Choosing sobriety is active. It requires constant choosing. Just like being in a successful relationship (Keith and I choose each other every day), just like crushing it in business (I choose to invest in my empire and the people it serves every day), just like having the bod of your dreams (I choose to fuel myself with healthful foods and lots of fun exercise every day), sobriety is an active choice.
Amazingly, it’s a STUPID easy choice.
The years leading up to October 16, 2016, were when it felt hard to choose. Because I was looking for ways to negotiate moderation. I’m not a moderate person. Ever. I love hard, I go all-in, I commit beyond belief… so there’s not a lot that’s not binary in my life. Couldn’t see that for a long while. I see it now. It’s what makes everything really simple now.
Simple and gorgeous and healthy and 55 pounds lighter and fit and strong and prosperous and successful and happy and in love and glowing and aging backward and intuitive and brilliant and a secret weapon for all who tap into her wisdom… and sober. All of this bountiful bliss and I’m fully present for every fucking second of it.
Man, that’s good.
Choosing sobriety was the right thing for me. Every day of this sober year has been confirmation of that truth.
Thank you for letting me share this with you.
If you have anything you’d like to share, comments are open below. I’m here for you. You deserve the best your life has to offer, whatever shape that takes for you today.