Recovery doesn't have age restrictions.
Original Source: chicagotribune.com
When Sammi Shay stopped drinking at age 25, her friends were puzzled.
“You didn’t have a problem,” they would say.
Shay hadn’t been drinking more than her peers or doing anything unusual under the influence of alcohol. Maybe she’d send a text she wouldn’t otherwise have sent, she said, or tell the same story twice. But while her friends could laugh off such gaffes, Shay, who is prone to anxiety, would often end up feeling panicky and ashamed. Drinking wasn’t working for her, so two years ago, she simply stopped.
“It feels great,” said Shay, a graduate student who lives in Logan Square.
“I have so much clarity, and I feel like when I connect with people, it’s honest and it’s real. And I have the confidence in myself that I’m always going to remember what I said, and that what I’m feeling in the moment is true.”
Shay, now 27, is part of a growing group of “sober curious” Americans, many of them women influenced by health and wellness concerns, who are experimenting with alcohol-free living. The sober curious often cut out alcohol entirely or drastically reduce consumption, but in contrast to those who enroll in traditional 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, they don’t typically identify as addicts or insist on total, lifelong abstinence.
The movement, marked by buzzwords such as “mindful drinking,” is difficult to track, but social events have begun popping up in New York and Chicago, where a year-old Sober Curious Meetup group for women in their 20s and early 30s has more than 200 members.
“I’ve seen the trend really blossom over the past three years or so,” said journalist Ruby Warrington, author of the new book “Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol.”
“It just feels like there’s been a really profound shift in the way people are thinking about drinking.”
Chicagoan Hailey Shannon quit drinking almost three years ago during a period of self-improvement when she was taking classes in mindfulness and personal growth: “I was really just challenged to look at my drinking and my beliefs about drinking.” She began to suspect that she was using alcohol to numb her to emotions, and she didn’t like the way she sometimes blacked out, or lost periods of memory, during a night of social drinking.
“I kind of woke up (one) Sunday morning, and I was like, ‘I can’t be a woman that I respect, has a career I respect, potentially a family, marriage, children, and keep drinking. It just isn’t going to work anymore,’” said Shannon, 26, who works in sales and business development at a technology consulting firm.
When she took up yoga eight months after she stopped drinking, she teared up at every class. Without alcohol, she was finally able to slow down and be fully present, she said, and it felt great.
What didn’t feel good was being alcohol-free in a culture that embraces alcohol as essential to bonding, celebrating and socializing, Shannon said. Friday nights were lonely because many of her friends were out drinking. But then, inspired by the sober community on Instagram, she decided to start the Meetup she was looking for: one for sober curious women in their 20s and early 30s. About eight people came to the first meeting, and a core group of eight to 10 people emerged over time.
No alcohol is allowed at the Chicago Meetups, but in the spirit of sober curiosity, the group welcomes drinkers who are seriously considering getting sober.
The meetings are held once a month over dinner at Whole Foods in Lincoln Park. Members talk about sobriety, as well as general topics such as dating, jobs, books and restaurants. New members keep finding the group, Shannon said, and close friendships have formed.
Addiction researcher Katie Witkiewitz said the sober curious movement is a great alternative to more traditional approaches to sobriety.
“I think it’s really good for kind of stripping away some of these societal and AA-based perceptions that abstinence is the only way to go, versus just seeing how alcohol is fitting into your life,” said Witkiewitz, a professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico.
“If we think of any other health behavior — exercise or eating fried food — we wouldn’t take such a righteous tact. We would look at the behavior: Is it something that I want? Is it making me feel good, or is it making me feel bad?”
Witkiewitz said asking such questions is part of a mindfulness-based treatment she helped develop at the University of Washington. In a 2014 study published in JAMA Psychiatry, she and her co-authors found that the University of Washington’s mindfulness-based treatment was more effective in preventing relapse in drug and alcohol abusers than a traditional AA-style approach.
Among those who joined Shannon’s Meetup is Shay, who said she had tried joining AA, just to make sober friends, but didn’t feel comfortable there because she doesn’t consider herself an alcoholic.
The sober curious Meetup helped her gain confidence in her decision to forgo alcohol, she said. Today she can turn down drinks with ease and dance sober at weddings. She has nondrinking friends she can text if she wants to go see a movie or hang out and watch TV. Her anxiety has improved tremendously.
“It’s been like night and day,” she said. When alcohol was removed from the equation, she had the space and the vulnerability to start getting to know herself again: What did she really like to do? What qualities did she value in others? What qualities did she value in herself? Addressing those questions helped her work through a lot of her anxiety, she said.
“My sleep cycle is so consistent and so good now, and the way I feel,” she said of life without alcohol. “My skin’s better. There’s just been this long-term positive response.”