Mind and Body/Opinion

The bright side of sobriety

Introducing a new column to celebrate the sober life

Image courtesy of Katherine Linwood

Katherine Linwood, author of a new column in ConvergenceRI on sobriety.

By Katherine Linwood
Posted 7/17/23
Katherine Linwood is launching a monthly column, "The Bright Side" on sobriety in ConvergenceRI, creating a much-needed space in the innovation ecosystem.
Why does alcohol keep getting left out of the conversations in developing recovery programs and treatments for substance use and behavioral health interventions? What is the proper response when you encounter a family relation who exhibits a drinking problem? How can alcohol abuse exacerbate domestic violence and gun violence? How can recovery programs focused on substance use recognize that the policies and strategies need to reflect the different needs of men and women, particularly women with young children? What would be an effective billboard campaign by a health insurer to promote sobriety, based on positive vibrations, not fear?
The way in which social media influencers have changed our worldview around how we see ourselves in public has dramatically changed perceptions around images. When I recently visited Walker’s Farm Stand in Little Compton, the young woman working behind the counter graciously asked me if I needed assistance with getting my bags of fresh produce to my car – four ears of corn, three tomatoes, two cucumbers, and two fresh heads of romaine lettuce.
She was wearing a Taylor Swift t-shirt, and when I asked, she said that she had recently attended the “Eras” tour when it came through Gillette Stadium. She described herself as a big fan, and I was struck by the power of Swift to influence a generation of young women in a positive way – how they felt about themselves, how they voiced their anxieties, and how they celebrated the positive parts of their lives.
And, for me, disabled, impressed by the graciousness displayed in helping me get my fresh produce back to my car. I began to imagine a billboard and what it would look like, along Route 195 in Fall River, about fresh farm produce from a local farm, carried to a car by a Taylor Swift fan, as a positive message about liking yourself enough not to drink.

PROVIDENCE – Hello there. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Katy, and here are a few things to know about me:

• I’m a Harvard graduate.

• I have a deeply meaningful career at a leading child advocacy organization.

• I’m a wonderful mother of a treasure of a child.

• I’m a loyal friend and a fiercely protective loved one.

• I am a homeowner. I am a blonde, white woman who fits into the basic clichés of Starbucks, athleisure, and sparkling manicures.

• And, I am also unable to ever have another sip of alcohol again.

Images can be deceiving.

Ten years of sobriety
It will be 10 years without alcohol in November. I am one of the faces of sobriety and addiction, and I might not be what you expected. So, why share my story here?

My primary motivation is to counter shame. I want to connect with folks who may identify with addiction, and I want to deconstruct the baggage that comes along with it. Addiction is a wrecking ball that often isn't discussed on a personal level, and I know what it feels like to struggle in silence.

We live in a culture that glorifies alcohol, and to abstain from it can make you feel like a failure. I want to be a gentle voice humanizing addiction, sobriety, and what life without substances can look like.

Besides, airbrushed images of perfection are completely uninteresting. They lack depth. We all have truths that we shy away from. Real connection blossoms when we share the very thing we’re most reluctant to talk about.

We don’t need to dwell on heartache or loss, but a huge piece of the human experience is missing if we only try to show the highlights.

The art of healing is so individual, and yet some of the themes that addiction touches on – loss, grief, determination, love, joy – are so universal.

Please take note: The privilege that comes with being able to talk openly about addiction is something that I fully recognize. Assumptions tend to be positive about me – and my story, before anyone has ever actually heard it. This reflects the systems that we live within, and the random lottery of birth.

I also firmly believe that others’ opinions of me are not my business. I just don’t care what people think about my addiction issues.

A little background
I am proudly of Irish descent. With the joy and irreverence in my lineage also comes the generational curse of addiction. I believe that alcohol hits my brain in a way that it simply doesn’t hit others. The feeling of alcohol activates an obsessive focus on consumption that I have never experienced before or since. It’s a tempting siren’s song.

Once upon a time, I was a perfectionist. Being impulsive or easygoing just didn’t come naturally to me. I favored the familiar over freedom, accolades over acting out. I placed enough pressure on myself that my mother regularly reminded me that it was OK to simply be.

But, alcohol? Well, this was something new. Drinks threw me headfirst into a space where I didn’t think so much about what was next and how to do it well. I felt carefree. I felt fun. And, I wanted more of it. Always more.

Binge drinking
It wasn’t that I drank every day. It was that I couldn’t stop drinking once I started. I was always a binge drinker. I went days, or weeks without alcohol. But when I did partake, controlling the consumption was always out of reach. The drinks themselves weren’t as important to me as the feeling of invincibility that strengthened with each sip. Living in the moment never felt so dizzyingly real until the blackout descended.

I started trying to moderate the amount I drank. Just two drinks tonight, I’d promise myself; or no hard alcohol – “rules” which I would quickly ignore once the drinks started flowing.

[Hint: making rules about drinking, and then breaking said rules every time, is a red flag.]

Alcohol was a temporary escape – a buzzy, bright pause button found at the bottom of my wine glass – that only resulted in heightened anxiety and jangled nerves the morning after.

The optimism I had for alcohol never seemed to fade though. I’d conveniently tuck away the regret of the mornings after, and instead hold onto the bubbly anticipation that washed over me when drinks were poured for the first time.

The merry-go-round life
I think back on my drinking as a merry-go-round. I wanted to get off but wasn’t sure how. And so, around and around and around I went. Dizzier with time, but desperately holding on.

If I couldn’t partake in what society tells us is meant for celebrations, for comfort, for the ups and the downs; for the big moments and the quiet stretches in between – then what does that say about me? It says that I’m built differently and the meaning I place on alcohol is exactly what I give it. That’s all.

If you’re struggling with addiction issues…
First thing I’d want you to know that it isn’t too late; it’s never too late to stop. We all have struggles, and this one is tough, but it won’t define you forever if you don’t let it. You are more resilient than you realize. There is a lot of help available if you are willing to reach out for it.

And, having fun after quitting is entirely possible, I promise. It’s far less exhausting to simply live life without the specter of “Questions Healthy Drinkers Never Actually Ask,” such as:

• “Is it bad if I drink on a Tuesday? Don’t people in Europe drink every day, anyway? Did I drink too much last time? How many is too much? Wine can’t be that bad for me, can it?” – on repeat, on a loop, in the background.

When you hear that tiny voice asking you if things aren’t right, listen to it. I’m so glad I quit at a young age, but I can’t help but reflect on the cost of the years I spent drinking --and what could have happened if I didn’t stop.

Connecting through vulnerability
For what it’s worth, there is so much reward in being honest about your struggles. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve connected with simply because of my willingness to be open about sobriety.

Vulnerability doesn’t fit into the carefully curated images we often see in advertising and on social media, but that’s all smoke and mirrors anyway. We all have these dark spaces and places. The empathy for others that sobriety has given me is the richest gift of all.

The very thing that scares you the most may be the very thing you must do – and that could help someone else just like you. Until you have the courage to face it and let it go, you won’t know how resilient you are and how your own bravery and voice can be inspiring. Embracing sobriety and saying the quiet things out loud has been the most enriching – and humbling – experience.

And, if my openness about my struggle with alcohol helps even one person, it’s all worth it. I’ll see you back here in a month.

Katherine Linwood will be writing a monthly column on sobriety for ConvergenceRI. Connect with her on IG@katherine.linwood

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