I’m almost two years sober, and those two years have been truly glorious ones. I’ve learned so much about writing and sobriety.
I’ve learned more about myself as a person than I ever thought possible. I’ve repaired my most important relationships and let go of the ones that don’t matter. I’m a better mama, I have finally realized my decade-old dream of living abroad, and I just like life – and myself – more.
But perhaps my favorite revelation is how dang compatible writing and sobriety can be. Yes, they are a match made in heaven, and I have been delighted to discover just how matchy-matchy they can be.
I thought I would share a little bit of that knowledge here, with my five favorite lessons I’ve learned about writing and sobriety. Whether you’re sober or not, alcoholic or not, a writer or not, perhaps you can glean a little bit out of this post. And if … not … well, see No. 3.
“One day at a time” is a popular mantra in Alcoholics Anonymous, the reasoning being if you have to think beyond one day you’ll just shrug and start drinking again. After the insane urges of those first few months pass, though, we alcoholics practicing recovery find ourselves in a novel place: not wanting to drink or act out, but all the same, not really sure how to live life.
That’s where “one day at a time” comes back in. Unsure how to deal with your mom? One day at a time. Don’t know how you’ll ever lose that weight? One day at a time. Aren’t sure how to finish that novel that’s been dragging for a year? One day at a time.
We writers dream so big. Then, when the reality of the daily grind seems like it’s going to crush us, those dreams shrivel up into hard little nuggets of perceived failure and we poof, there goes the motivation.
Friend, you don’t have to have it all figured out. So you want to write a book now. Do it! So you want to start a copywriting or editing business. Okay! So you want to be a freelance journalist. Go you. Getting started without a clear path of how you’ll finish (because will you ever?) is all right. It’s all right to take your dream seriously and to start now.
That doesn’t mean writers/alcoholics find it easy to continue down the paths they have chosen. Often, that’s the hardest thing in the world. The “secret” is, in both situations, the secret we learn from writing and sobriety is to just keep going. If you believe in a path, then take the next right step at each part of your journey, and you’ll be okay. You’ll right words you can be proud of, or you’ll stay sober – or in my case, both.
Not every plan works out the way you want it to, and you have to adjust. Unfortunately, “pivoting” has become both hyped and stigmatized. It’s one of those phrases that’s been loved to death in the entrepreneurial world, but it has simultaneously taken on a stale flavor of “oh, you failed again, did you? Changing your plan again, are you?” … ness.
Eff that. Pivoting is great. The whole nature of pivoting is that you get to keep going down your path, but you use better tools to get there. I don’t know, like a better walking stick or something. This metaphor got stupid.
Case in point: I’m launching a new book soon, and previously I had been collaborating with some other authors who agreed to review each other’s books. But today, one of those authors broke her promise to me and said she wouldn’t review the book in the way I had asked. I had to jump through a bunch of hoops to meet her demands, even though I had done her annoying review perfectly cheerfully a few months before.
And you know what? I didn’t say anything. I didn’t complain. I just walked away. And I realized,
“I’m not going to work with other authors anymore unless I come to their work organically. That way, all my reviews will be genuine, and so will theirs.”
It felt amazing. I’ve had such realizations in sobriety too, about who I wanted to hang out with, who I needed to let go, how I should get from hour to hour and day to day without engaging in this or that terrible behavior. It’s all about the pivot, my friends. Whether you want to break a bad habit or stop drinking or start a successful writing biz, the pivot rocks.
(PS If you’re here for the writing biz side of things, then the Free Resource Library is here for YOU. Check it out below.)
You know what got me in trouble with drinking in the first place? Caring what people think. When we’re teenagers, we want to join the crowd so bad that we’ll drink, even when we’re too young or feel unsafe or don’t like the taste. I’m not saying everyone had crippling first experiences with alcohol or that everyone is an alcoholic. I am saying that peer pressure can lead to bad and unhealthy behavior, even in our 30s (at which time I was still drinking to fit in with people I was losing, or who were cooler than me, or who expected me to).
The same is true of writing. We learn from writing and sobriety, What they think doesn’t matter. I’ve made the mistake of working for clients I don’t like, or writing pieces I’m not proud of, to fit in. But you know what? I don’t have to, and neither do you. No matter what you write, or why or when or how, it doesn’t matter what anyone but you thinks. As long as you’re not spewing hate speech or telling someone else’s secrets, you’re okay.
If you think about it, I’m sure you’ll realize this is true. It doesn’t take some grand revelation about writing and sobriety to know that people you loooooaaaaaaathe can teach you wonderful, amazing, useful things. (Looking at you, Mr. McClanahan. You’re a dick.)
As high schoolers, we assume we’ll grow out of being forced to learn at the knees of assholes, but ‘tisn’t so. Instead, we keep right on a-learnin’ from people we just. don’t. like. And you know what’s so great about Alcoholics Anonymous? They totally spin this and make it a good thing! Annoying, I know.
Our saying is “principles, not personalities.” In a nutshell, this translates to “If you’re in a meeting and you just want to kill that one guy in the face like always, try to look past the heinousness of him and find the message he is speaking that you need to hear.” It’s a pretty beautiful sentiment if you think about it, and it applies well beyond writing and sobriety, and the rooms of AA.
Every time someone sends you a nasty email impugning your character for absolutely no reason, look for a message. Every time someone takes a crap on a blog post or email newsletter you put a lot of thought into, ask yourself: Why? What can I learn? Every time you embarrass yourself or expose yourself or even, heck, get a compliment from someone you don’t like and you feel weird about it, look at it.
There’s always a message. Sometimes the message is that you should just keep moving, such as with writing and sobriety. But sometimes there’s more to it. When you’re gifted with information about yourself or others, don’t be too quick to dismiss it.
Chances are you’re not in recovery, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn a thing or two from those of us who are. (Wink, wink.)
But seriously, I think writing is an amazing way to “stay sober.” Alcoholics in recovery eventually discover, quickly or slowly, that sobriety is much, much more than simply not drinking. It is a way of life that advocates a measured approach to your feelings, compassion for your fellow humans, and appreciation for hard work of any kind, not just that which is glamorous or first-rate or desirable.
It helps you put down thoughts that don’t seem to make sense while floating around in your head, or even once you speak them. Writing, on the other hand, turns them into something real – and something worthwhile.
You can use writing as a tool to understand yourself, no matter who you are. You can use it as a means of expressing feelings, or helping other people express their own feelings and messages – which I do every day as a copywriter. Words are, quite simply, one of the best tools we humans have at our disposal. If you love working with them, then alcoholic or not, you should give yourself the chance and become a writer today.
Want some help? That’s what the Free Resource Library is here for, so feel free to click that image below. And please, if you are suffering from alcoholism, feel FREE to get in touch. 🙂
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