New Orleans has an undeniable reputation for being a party city. I lived there for almost ten years and I swear I tried to give up drinking just as many times, but it never stuck. While we weren’t exactly drinking Hurricanes at work or stumbling along Bourbon Street every night, the city does revel in — and revolve around — cocktail culture.
I moved away last year and now, living in San Diego, I’m happy to report I’ve been sober since November 2018. While I’d like to think I could have come this far without leaving New Orleans, there’s something transformative about living somewhere completely new, where I can shed my old patterns and touchpoints and reinvent myself as I please.
As I’ve progressed through early sobriety, I kept thinking about the sober women I know back in New Orleans. I was really curious if they’d had similar stories to mine, so I reached out to ask them about their experiences: Why did these women decide to quit drinking? Was it harder to quit in one of the most indulgent cities in the world? And how have their lives changed since going sober?
The answers I heard moved me, and I saw myself reflected in them. I’m honored to present the stories of six badass, creative, entrepreneurial women who are all sober and based in New Orleans. Here’s are some of the major benefits these women experienced when they quit alcohol:
1. Improved Health
Deborah Anderson, a 3D artist and animation educator who is passionate about increasing diversity in the animation industry, has been sober since 2008. She points to not drinking as the reason she’s able to look ten years younger than she actually is (Writer’s note: I can vouch for this!) and for her good health. Outside of her full-time job, Deborah is also the president of the Urban League of Louisiana Young Professionals (NOLAYP), which means she’s incredibly busy, and she credits not drinking with being able to maintain her health despite not always having time to exercise
Kathleen Currie is a breathwork teacher, craniosacral practitioner, and owner of Smoke Perfume. She experimented with sobriety off and on throughout her adult life, but couldn’t make it last until she made the connection between her chronic pain and her drinking. “Every time I drank, my pain would flare so badly that sometimes I’d be bedridden with severe joint pain and inflammation during the entire hangover. The weekend I finally quit, I couldn’t even walk after a night of ‘normal’ social drinking.”
The physical pain was on top of the anxiety, depression, and shame Kathleen felt as a direct result of drinking. In the two years since she’s quit, she’s been amazed at how much of her pain resolved and the ways she’s been able to heal her overtaxed nervous system.
Midori, owner of Midori Makeup Artistry, has also seen chronic health issues get resolved when she quit drinking. Before this, Midori was an occasional binge drinker who turned to drinking to relieve stress over the years. Like me, she is Asian and probably allergic to alcohol; as such, she could never predict alcohol’s effects. Sometimes three drinks could lead to a blackout, while other nights she could drink up to ten and feel fine.
Because the people around Midori drank heavily, no one ever thought she had an issue — but she started to wonder if drinking was holding her back. Six and a half years ago, she gave herself “one last Mardi Gras” and then decided to see how long she could go without alcohol. The health effects she experienced solidified her decision to keep going.
“When your body isn’t fighting off toxins and trying to repair itself daily, it can rebuild itself more efficiently,” she says. Her allergies have resolved; where she used to take two daily medications, now she takes none. She also lost thirty pounds and trained for a triathlon.
2. A New Sense of Empowerment
One thing I heard over and over was that being sober has allowed women to reclaim control over their lives. I see this in my own life — I can now sign up for a workout class in the morning and know without a doubt that I won’t be too hungover to make it. I can take the time to notice when negative emotions come up surrounding certain people and explore whether or not they’re the best influence on me. I have started to tell the truth about my life and, though it’s scary, it’s also exhilarating. As Deborah explains, “I feel like I lack control in so many areas of life, I don’t want to purposely be out of control in any way, so I like the benefit of always being aware.”
Lena Kolb is an artist, teacher, and jewelry maker who stopped drinking two and a half years ago. Sobriety has led her to become quite happy and productive, more comfortable with who she is, and a more confident communicator. She feels funnier and smarter than she did in her drinking days, as well as more in touch with herself and the world around her. “Being sober has been very empowering,” she elaborates. “I feel more in touch with who I am. I am more emotionally aware, and I have less anxiety and more clarity than I’ve had in a really long time. I feel mentally strong, like I can take anything on. I know now that when I was drinking, I was not living my fullest life.”
3. Better Relationships — With Others and Self
Kathleen was in a relationship when she gave up drinking and worried about how quitting alcohol would affect it. Like many couples in New Orleans, Kathleen and her partner often drank together; it was a huge cornerstone of their social life, both in the city and while traveling. She was scared that sober, her partner would see start to see her as “boring” or drift apart from her.
Instead, Kathleen found that she became happier and more present in her life, which extended outward to her relationship. “We have established healthier independence because I’m only doing things I want to do now, and that means he often has more space or freedom to go out with his friends. Our time together is more quality than before.”
She points again to the accelerated impact sobriety has on both physical and emotional healing: “Issues I’d tried to heal for years just magically resolved once I eliminated the violence of regular binge drinking from my life. I have finally been able to heal from a lifetime of self-hatred, which was such an unexpected blessing!”
Holly Williams also found that sobriety improved her dating life. When she was drinking heavily, she attracted mostly barflies and professional partiers — after she quit drinking, she started to make better choices when it came to dating and found she attracted men who had their shit more together, so to speak.
Holly is happy to report that she’s now in her healthiest relationship to date: “My partner chose to get sober with me. Our quit dates are staggered by the better part of a year, but we managed to stick with it and not kill one another. And we still like each other. A lot. We both had new demons to wrestle with once you took the booze away from us; you’re forced to deal with them when you’re sober. I think this type of introspection and self-awareness is something so few people have worked through. To have two flawed people with the same wellness goal, so exposed and honest in a relationship together, makes for something so unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before — in the best way possible.”
4. Thriving Businesses and Increased Productivity
Holly runs her own jewelry line, Small Change Finery, in addition to acting as founding director of Trampled Rose Rescue & Rehab, a rehab facility for orphaned, abandoned, or injured wildlife. She’s clearly juggling a lot and she credits her sobriety with being able to make it all work. “Before, I was either drunk, buzzed, or hungover at any given time of the day. Hard to make good business decisions with a cloudy head. I’ve even turned my farm into a non-profit animal rescue with all my free time. Now that takes up all my free time but there’s nothing I’d rather be doing!”
Now that Holly is sober, new ideas and inspiration just flow. Instead of looking for the quickest way to get from Point A to Point B like she did when she was drinking and foggy-headed, now she’s able to thoughtfully expand her skillset, learning new techniques and willingly taking on challenges. And as an added bonus, she can buy cool equipment instead of putting that money down on her bar tabs.
In Lena’s case, leaving drinking behind set off some big changes; she quit her teaching job and decided to finally pursue her dream of being an artist. She wonders sometimes if on a subconscious level, she was aware that drinking would get in the way of opening her weaving studio. Being sober has allowed her to thrive as a self-employed artist and she feels she has more focus and energy to do all the things she wants to do.
Sigourney Morrison, who runs her own custom chain stitch embroidery business, agrees with Lena. She stopped drinking in January of this year and her anxiety is greatly reduced without alcohol in the picture, which allows her to be more productive. Since she stopped drinking, she’s also able to work longer hours because she naturally wakes up earlier with no pesky hangovers.
5. Sobriety as a Non-Binary Undertaking
Though Kathleen has been sober for two and a half years, she admits to having moments of relapse — or “reminders” as she likes to think of them — along the way. Just like me, she’s had a hard time with traditional recovery models and feels strongly that her sobriety is the most non-binary thing she’s ever done: “It’s something that doesn’t work in a black-and-white mindset.”
Because sobriety is so complex and multi-faceted, Kathleen doesn’t believe that women should let setbacks along the way negate the hard work it takes to be sober. As she puts it, “Sobriety is one of the more radical acts of healing and liberation we can do, and I’m proud of the work I’ve put in!”
“If You Can Make It Here, You Can Make It Anywhere.” These words are from Sigourney, and the other women agreed with this sentiment.
Kathleen, for one, always knew that if she could quit in New Orleans, her sobriety could survive truly anywhere. While many people currently trapped in a problematic drinking cycle can hypothesize they’d be able to quit if they moved somewhere else, she’s proud she was able to stay in New Orleans and still commit to sobriety.