Last winter, I experienced the worst anxiety I’ve ever had — and that’s saying a lot since I’ve always been a fairly anxious person.
Each night, as the sun went down, I’d be overcome with the sense that something awful was going to happen. At this point, I would have to hand my four-month-old daughter to my husband and do the only thing I’d discovered could ease my existential dread: watch Netflix’s Queer Eye in bed until I fell asleep.
I had enjoyed the Netflix revival of Queer Eye pretty much since it aired in early 2018. True, I was a little skeptical of their over-the-top positivity and enthusiasm schtick, but each episode left me teeming with a renewed sense of hope for the world which, for me, had been in steady decline since November 2016. I was hesitant of Antoni’s love of Greek yogurt but, otherwise, I was all in with the Fab 5: Antoni, Jonathan, Tan, Karamo and Bobby, who worked as a team to help makeover the lives of people (who they refer to as “heroes”) when they needed a boost.
But my love for Queer Eye reached new levels after my daughter was born five weeks premature in August 2018. This resulted in a two-month hospital stay for her and severe postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and PTSD for me.
I hadn’t realized quite how awful I could feel but it seemed to just get worse. In those months following her birth and even after we brought her home in October, I struggled just to get out of bed in the morning. I felt like I was drowning, and my nightly wine drinking was only making things worse. My drinking had been an issue before I got pregnant and I knew now that I didn’t stand a chance as a moderate drinker; I knew sobriety was inevitable, and it was a question of when, not if. So, on Christmas 2018, I decided to quit drinking.
Holly Whitaker, founder of Tempest* , said something once about how early sobriety feels like walking around without your skin on and I find this to be one of the most apt descriptions out there. I also describe it as a steady dull ache radiating from somewhere deep inside that nothing can alleviate. The only way I was able to find some comfort in those early (and difficult) months of sobriety was by increasing my sugar intake, sleeping as much as I could, and watching Queer Eye.
The only way I was able to find some comfort in those early (and difficult) months of sobriety was by increasing my sugar intake, sleeping as much as I could, and watching Queer Eye.
What did I like about Queer Eye?
Well, it would be easier to tell you what I didn’t like, which was nothing. The low-stakes niceness was exactly what I needed in my life. Plus, I loved the sweet way the Fab 5 swept into people’s lives when they needed it most and treated them with such dignity.
Take an episode that aired last spring, called “Lost Boy”. This episode featured a man named Joey who had struggled with addiction to alcohol and, though he had managed to get sober, he still had a hard time caring for himself in the most basic ways like showering and brushing his teeth. The Fab 5 showed Joey so much kindness and helped him to create a grooming and wellness routine, as well as home he could be proud of (he had been living out of an old RV).
I related to this episode in so many ways because I understood Joey’s struggle, his feelings of helplessness as he lost control of alcohol in his life and it began to control him — this was my story, too.
I understood Joey’s struggle, his feelings of helplessness as he lost control of alcohol in his life and it began to control him — this was my story, too.
I don’t believe that we are genetically predestined to struggle with our substance use. There is surely a genetic component to addiction, but the truth is that anyone stands the chance of becoming addicted when they are using an addictive substance like alcohol.
Not to mention that we live in a culture obsessed with alcohol.
In my experience, people are far more accepting of those who drink a little too much than those who abstain entirely. And it’s hard not to feel the inherent judgement in that, like there is something wrong with us if we struggle to control our drinking and want to cut alcohol out of our lives entirely. I loved the fact that the Fab 5 didn’t label Joey as an addict or an alcoholic, they treated him only as a human who had gotten stuck in life, as we all have before.
What I loved even more was that Joey’s story began a conversation. After opening up about his drinking problem, Antoni (the food and wine expert on the show) shared that he too had a “very intimate relationship with addiction.” I was stunned by this admission. First, I’d assumed that the show’s wine expert, you know, drank wine… but also, I thought to myself “huh, I never would have known that he struggled with addiction.” I appreciated his honesty because he’s defying the stereotype of what a person with substance use issues looks like and reminding us that any one of us could be struggling.
More recently, Jonathan Van Ness (the show’s exuberant grooming expert) opened up in his new book, Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love, and in a very personal interview with The New York Times about his own struggles with addiction and his status as HIV positive.
When he was a young hairstylist, Jonathan became addicted to meth. He even had to go to rehab twice for his addiction. While he isn’t “sober” per se since he still drinks alcohol and smokes marijuana, he has been off of hard drugs for years. Jonathan is full of so much genuine positivity that I’m sure many were shocked to hear that he had struggled with meth addiction.
The most recent season of Queer Eye aired in July and I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed and a little emotional as I watched because of how dramatically different my life looked at that point than it had when I’d clung to Queer Eye to preserve my sanity last winter.
I was lucky to have the full support of most of my friends and family after getting sober last Christmas. I was also lucky to find a recovery program, Tempest Sobriety School*, that worked for me. After a few months of working my program, my anxiety dramatically decreased to the point that I could stop taking the anxiety medication I had been on. I also realized, at some point, that I no longer *had* to watch Queer Eye every night just to quell my discomfort enough to sleep, though that didn’t stop me from falling asleep to it occasionally just because it calmed me.
I also realized, at some point, that I no longer *had* to watch Queer Eye every night just to quell my discomfort enough to sleep.
Though none of them are aware of it, the Fab 5 swooped in when I was at my lowest and helped me begin the process of making my life into something I could be proud of, much like they’ve done for the heroes on their show. I’m more grateful to them than they will ever know; for helping me, but also for openly sharing their own struggles with addiction. With their honesty, they have humanized addiction — giving a voice and a face to those who struggle with or have even lost their lives to it.
I’m now nine months sober, my daughter is a happy and healthy one-year-old, I am working at a new job which can only be described as a dream, and the deep cynicism that used to define me has worn off.
In fact, I’ve discovered that I’m pretty bubbly and exuberant myself, not unlike Jonathan Van Ness. I think the world could use a little more low-stakes niceness, so I hope that Queer Eye and the Fab 5 stick around for a long time.
*Editor’s Note: Tempest is the parent company of The Temper. All opinions in this article are the writer’s own.