Ed. note – We originally ran this piece for Sober October, but the tips are great for any of you embarking on Dry January this month, so take a gander below!
Molly Ruggere is a friend of mine who, as of nearly three years ago, began embracing a sober lifestyle. She’s been documenting her journey pretty much the entire time via her IG account, @noglitterinthegutter, and she’s also started Counterculture Club, a social group that hosts a variety of fun, alcohol-free events that are open to all. (These have mostly moved online due to the pandemic, but the silver lining is that they’ve been able to broaden their geographic community as a result.)
Since many are doing (or at least considering doing) Sober October (which I prefer to call SoberTober, but TO EACH THEIR OWN), I figured there was no better person than Molly to reach out to to find out how people can motivate themselves to stay the course (especially during a pandemic in an election year), what to do if/when slip-ups happen, what some of the misconceptions about sobriety are and more. Internet eavesdrop on our full Q+A below, and be sure to follow @noglitterinthegutter, as well as @countercultureclub.
Obviously I know you personally, but tell everybody a little bit about your sobriety journey (whatever you feel comfortable sharing about is fine!) and who you are.
I started my sobriety journey in January 2018. At that time I was still reeling from a bad breakup and in a high-stress, chaotic job I hated. It was the thick of winter in Brooklyn—you know when you feel like you’re in a constant snow-wind tunnel and the dirty snow is piled up everywhere—and every night I’d walk home from work, scoop up a bottle of wine (or two) and drink alone in my room either crying on the phone to my mom or watching TV on my laptop in bed until I fell asleep.
I knew alcohol was causing problems for me, but at the time it felt like my only real source of comfort, so I wasn’t willing to let it go. Eventually my parents caught on to how much I was drinking and told me they were worried for my health. It was the first real time someone pointed out to me that my drinking was a problem and that made it feel a lot harder to stay in denial. They suggested I move home to Charlotte, and I was so desperate to escape my reality that I agreed. I left my job, apartment, friends—basically the whole life I had spent six years building in NYC—packed everything I owned into my dad’s car and drove back to North Carolina. I still didn’t want to quit drinking, though, because I thought my problem was situational, but by then it was my only coping mechanism, so I drank a couple more times in Charlotte. I quickly realized it just wasn’t going to be fun anymore and the only way to get my life back together was to give it up completely.
I tried AA at the beginning because I knew I needed some kind of support system. It helped to hold me accountable and I met a lot of fantastic people, but I don’t identify as an alcoholic and don’t believe you have to identify with that label to get help, so it never felt comfortable or right to me.
I’m a huge reader and writer, so I started exploring other resources like books, podcasts and online recovery communities outside of the traditional recovery modalities. I found people in the sobriety space that told me I didn’t have to label myself as an alcoholic to recognize it doesn’t serve me. I learned that sobriety is an empowering choice; it’s a superpower that enables me to operate at my highest ability uninhibited by hangovers. I started learning more about addiction and realized that I wasn’t broken—I was simply using a highly addictive substance to cope, so I needed to write over those pathways in my brain that led me to alcohol by reaching for healthy coping mechanisms and finding things I liked more than drinking instead. It was hard to find many of those activities at the beginning, but after awhile it got to the point where I didn’t understand how I had TIME to spend my entire weekends hopping from bar to bar in a black out. I built up self-esteem I never thought I was capable of having so I no longer felt like I needed drinking to fuel my confidence like I used to.
Tell us a little bit about about Counterculture Club (and about @noglitterinthegutter); can social media be a useful tactic to stay on track, establishing community, etc.?
When I was a few months sober, I decided I wanted to write every day until I hit my first year of sobriety. I created an Instagram account solely for this documentation called @noglitterinthegutter. I shared my story day-by-day and started connecting online to lots of other people in sobriety and found so many amazing people on the same journey. I learned there is a whole world of resources and others out there recovering in different ways that work for them.
Last year, I realized while I loved my online community, most of my IRL friends drank, and while I don’t mind being around alcohol at all, sometimes it can feel isolating to be the only one not drinking. I figured if I felt this way, other people in my city probably did too. I reached out to my friend Nicole with the idea and told her I wanted to create a community for alcohol-free events called Counterculture Club, and she was totally into it, so we started hosting events — coffee meetups, book clubs, etc. We’re not a “recovery” group, so no one that joins our events has to be a non-drinker to attend, but we’ve found that lots of people are looking for a break from the bar scene / drinking at every social event.
Since the pandemic, most of our events have become virtual. While we miss the regular in-person connection, it’s been a great opportunity to bring people from other cities into the community and have an even larger network of people that are looking for alcohol-free connection. For example, we’re doing a virtual 30-day #MindfulMovementChallenge this October and we have people from all over the US, including California, Kansas, Oklahoma and New Hampshire participating. We’ll be doing another challenge in the next few months and hope to continue these as it’s a great way to connect, have accountability, make new friends and work towards a personal goal together.
Do you have any tips for staying the course this Sober October? Any activities, mocktails, mantras etc. you’ve found personally helpful?
I have so many tools I use on a daily basis to help me stay the course. I have a morning routine of drinking hot lemon water, journaling for 10 minutes, doing a meditation when I remember (slacking on this lately, but it helps!) and finding some kind of exercising/movement in my day. Seriously, going outside and getting fresh air during this pandemic is what keeps me sane (and staying sober helps too, obviously). Also, channel your inner child! What did you love to do as a kid before you relied on alcohol as entertainment? Coloring? Board games? Apple picking? When did we all decide sitting on a wooden bench at a brewery for five hours is the only way to have fun? I recently wrote an article for The Temper about alcohol-free friend dates for Fall and it got me so excited for this season.
One thing I will add is that not drinking when others are can be really hard, but I’ve found that if I just bring my own fun drink and have something in my hand, I feel totally normal and not like I’m missing out on anything. It’s a placebo effect and I love it. I’m a big Kombucha fan, so I’ll drink that at parties; many breweries make their own or have it on tap now. I also like seltzer with a splash of some kind of juice, apple cider…etc. There are also SO many non-alcoholic beers out there now, like Athletic Brewing. So if drinking NA beer isn’t triggering for you, try that! They make IPAs, stouts, etc. They’re super flavorful, and no hangover the next day!
What do you find to be some misconceptions about sobriety?
I primarily used alcohol to cope with social anxiety and to give me confidence, so I thought the end of my drinking was the end of my social life; the end of fun; the end of “my youth.” I mourned alcohol like a death, but I’m delighted to say that giving up alcohol is actually the opposite of all those things. I sound like a sobriety evangelist saying this, but sobriety is freedom for me. I have my curiosity back, I’ve re-discovered old passions and found new ones; I’ve strengthened my relationships with friends that were supportive of my sobriety and made tons of fantastic new friends. I no longer have to go on Sunday morning apology tours for things I may have said the night before, I don’t wake up to a mystery pizza or burrito half eaten in my bed….and I’m not constantly full of shame and regret.
Is there anything you wish you’d known off the bat going into sobriety?
You don’t have to label yourself as an alcoholic to recognize alcohol is something that isn’t serving you. I think I would’ve tried to give alcohol up a LOT sooner if I didn’t feel like it was some kind of ostracizing fail / scarlet letter I’d have to carry for the rest of my life. Alcohol is an addictive, toxic substance that really doesn’t do anything positive for us, regardless of whether or not we have a “problem.” I don’t judge anyone for their decision to drink at ALL, but I do believe in informed consent. Alcohol isn’t only damaging for some people that can’t “handle it.” We all know it’s not good for any of us, especially in high amounts. I didn’t understand or recognize this when I was still drinking, which is why I kept trying to “make it work.”
What should people do if they slip up?
Just keep going! Feel how you feel, but don’t linger on it or beat yourself up. There’s this whole idea that you “lose it all” if you slip and have to go back to day 1, but I just don’t buy that. You don’t lose all of the growth you’ve accomplished because of one mistake. I think that’s what causes a lot of people to say “fuck it” and just keep drinking since they already “messed up.” We are human beings. We make mistakes. I always think of it this way — if a vegan eats a burger one day, they don’t have to go back to day 1 of being a vegan or learn how to be one all over again or tell everyone and their mother they ate a burger. They just move on. If you slip up, see it as a learning opportunity; see it as life! No one is perfect and living alcohol-free in our culture isn’t easy.
This has obviously been an incredibly stressful year, from the pandemic to the upcoming election. Do you have any coping mechanisms to share?
This is a TOUGH one because we’re all going through this hellscape for the first time and learning how to navigate it as we go. I can honestly say, though, I’ve never been more grateful for my sobriety than I have been in this pandemic. All the coping mechanisms I’ve used to get sober are what I’ve used to stay sane over the last seven months. I can tell you the biggest thing that’s worked for me — getting outside. I started with walking, but then I just felt this animalistic urge to RUN, I guess to feel in control since there were so few places I could go, but I quickly started really enjoying it and you can’t beat the endorphins (sometimes I am still shocked at the stuff that comes out of my mouth now that I’m sober). I also recommend paying attention to your breathing and trying calming breaths like 4-7-8 breathing. Take a nap. Give yourself grace. Oh and take a break from the news and social media. Seriously. Put your phone in another room and read a book or watch a new Netflix show or something. Bake! I don’t bake but maybe you can! Call a friend and ask how they’re doing; not so you can vent to them, but so you can actually step outside of yourself and your own problems. Do something for someone else. It takes the focus off your own internal strife and it will making you feel better while also helping someone else. Most importantly, realize getting drunk or using drugs may feel like it helps in the short term, or provides that sense of escape you’re longing for, but you’re buying those “good feelings” on credit. I can promise it will only compound the anxiety and depression you might be feeling.
Anything else you think might be hepful?
If any of your readers are looking for an alcohol-free community and / or want tips on how to navigate a sober lifestyle in our boozy culture, they can follow me at @noglitterinthegutter and Counterculture Club @counterculture_club. Counterculture Club will be doing a lot of cool virtual events and challenges in the next few months, which will be a great way for people who are sober curious to dip their toe in the alcohol-free world and make new friendships with like-minded people!