Now and then I come across an interesting story of someone in recovery doing it differently than the mainstream of Alcoholics Anonymous, residential treatment etc. I believe it is important to look outside of what makes us comfortable and the recovery road society tells us we should take. There are many different paths. Here is the path of Tawny Lara, whose recovery journey has been out of the mainstream but inspiring and may particularly interest the millennial demographic of our profession. This of course, may not be the appropriate path for you. I’m not sure it would have worked for me, but when I began my journey in 2007, her path was not an option regardless. Times change. It’s a big recovery world in 2018. Tawny’s unique journey is part of it.
By Brian Cuban
“The traditional support group model never spoke to me. Perhaps because I’m rebellious by nature. I convinced myself that I didn’t drink like those people so I don’t belong in those groups. Like me, my sobriety journey can be described as non-traditional. I got sober – and stay sober – without AA or working the 12 Steps. I’ve never been anonymous. In fact, I’m quite the opposite. My sobriety began as a year-long *public* social experiment.
I’ve flirted with sobriety on and off for years. A week here. A month there – just to prove to myself that I could do it. I just went a whole month without alcohol! I definitely don’t have a drinking problem. Let’s celebrate with shots of whiskey! That exhausting form of mental gymnastics kept me busy for years. As a bartender in Waco, Texas, partying was the only thing I knew. If there were other opportunities to socialize I didn’t care to learn about them. When I wasn’t behind the bar serving drinks, I was on the other side of the bar, chugging drinks. Each night wasn’t a question of “Should we go out?”, it was a question of “Where are we going tonight?”.
This was my lifestyle for 12 years – from age 17 to 29. At age 29 I moved to New York City to pursue my passion for music journalism. I arrived with two suitcases and a head full of hot pink curls. I was ready to take on Manhattan and find a way to write for my dream publication, Rolling Stone magazine. Within weeks I’d made new friends. Writer friends. Writer friends who knew how to socialize without getting wasted. We’d go out for a drink or two and that was enough for them. When I was ready to order shots, they were ready to go home. This whole “drinking responsibly” thing was new for me and it freaked me out. It made me question my own relationship to alcohol. Why are they ready to go home and I’m just getting started? How did they learn how to stop after one or two drinks? Can I drink like this, too?
If my new friends didn’t drink much, then I wouldn’t drink much. I watched them live their lives with balance while accomplishing their goals. Alcohol was a small part of their exciting, New York City writer lives. I wanted that, too. While drinking until I blacked out was happening less frequently, it still happened occasionally. Around this time, my pink hair had transitioned from hot pink into blue and purple. As my external appearance changed, something shifted internally. I started to realize I wasn’t one of those people who could have a beer and walk away. My all or nothing mentality was subconsciously ready to see what nothing was all about.
The thought of giving up alcohol for the rest of my life scared the hell out of me. So I started flirting again. One week turned into two. Two weeks turned into a month. Then I realized my thirtieth birthday was coming up. What if I don’t drink for my entire 30th year and I blog about the experience? So that’s exactly what I did. I bought sobrieteaparty.com and created social media handles for @sobrieteaparty. The rest is, I guess you can say…millennial history.
After my first blog post and Instagram post, people started reaching out to me. Friends from back home in Texas. New friends I’d made in New York City. Strangers from the overwhelmingly supportive sober internet space. I received messages and comments from people telling me that being open about my relationship to alcohol has inspired them to think about their own relationship to alcohol or empathize with a family member who struggles with addiction.
I was blogging a few times a month and posting on Instagram several times a week. My intention was just to share my story and learn about myself over a 365 day time span. I truly didn’t think anyone other than my close friends and family would care to follow my journey. I found an incredibly loyal, supportive community of people who truly cared about sobriety – all by accident. Looking back I can see that I had found online what most people find in traditional support groups, accountability and peer support.
Eventually my blog got press. People reached out requesting podcast interviews and quotes for sobriety-related articles. Huffington Post reached out to ask if they could share one of my blog posts that went viral. Then that article went viral and was published in several languages.
As my 30th year came to an end, the thought of picking up a drink didn’t even cross my mind. I found what I came to New York in search of: my voice as a writer. I can now see how alcohol was an unnecessary roadblock that prevented me from living my best life and tapping into my creativity on a deeper level.
That year-long social experiment evolved into my lifestyle. I still haven’t been published in Rolling Stone, but other groovy things have happened. Sobrieteaparty.com is now an organization led by a team of strong women in recovery. I still blog occasionally but we are more focused on creating spaces for people to connect IRL. We host two types of events: SobrieTea Parties and Readings on Recovery. These events hold space for people to meet like-minded individuals and share their recovery stories OUT LOUD and PROUD. I’ve collaborated with my friend, B. Rae, to make an award-winning documentary about our recovery called Fixed Up. I’ve adapted my poetry into song lyrics and recorded a song at the legendary Power Station recording studio thanks to Road Recovery. I’ve started a podcast with Lisa Smith called Recovery Rocks. I’ve spoken at conferences and other events, sharing my story. I’ve spent a month in Bali getting certified to teach yoga and meditation.
These accomplishments show how productive my life has been since I ditched booze and did it my way. Staying true to myself is proven to work. If I listened to people who told me, “Unless you admit that you’re an alcoholic and you attend meetings, you’re going to relapse”, who knows what my recovery would look like. Now me and my natural brown hair and I feel grounded in sobriety. I’ve found what works for me: weekly talk therapy, music therapy based support groups, writing, and yoga. I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how those people drink.
Author’s note: Tawny Lara is an entrepreneur, writer, and public speaker. She’s the founder of SobrieTea Party and Readings on Recovery, co-host of Recovery Rocks podcast, and an award-winning filmmaker of her recovery documentary, Fixed Up. When she’s not working on all of the things, she’s doing yoga or eating tacos – sometimes simultaneously. Follow her at @tawnymlara. For more info on her NYC sober events, follow @sobrieteaparty.
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