I grew up in Waco, Texas, where the food is deep-fried and the politics are deep red. Politics often makes for a confusing topic, regardless of where someone is raised. As a bisexual woman with gay family members, I’ve always been passionate about LGBTQ+ rights and women’s rights, but I didn’t see my fervor as political. I saw my longing for equality as simply wanting basic human rights. My callowness prevented my understanding that, unfortunately, equality is an ongoing, heavily-debated political fight.
Hearing racist and homophobic insults were a standard part of life in Waco. So common that I didn’t think much about it. I, too, even engaged in ignorant dialogue and derogatory slurs “as a joke.” Now I can see that the joke was on me.
You know how they say if you hang out in a bar long enough, you’ll end up ordering a drink? My version of that is: If you live in Texas long enough, you’ll end up voting Republican. I voted Republican in the 2008 election — despite my views on the aforementioned social issues. I found myself in a conservative echo chamber where it was “easier” to repeat talking points than to read about which candidate was aligned with my values. As I said, it was a confusing time.
You know how they say if you hang out in a bar long enough, you’ll end up ordering a drink? My version of that is: If you live in Texas long enough, you’ll end up voting Republican.
While this was all going on, I self-medicated regularly from ages 15 to age 29. Whether it was alcohol, drugs, sex, or calorie-counting, I taught myself how to use those self-destructive behaviors as tools to avoid my depression and anxiety. I didn’t care much about tomorrow, let alone engaging in constructive political discourse. Though I was a high-functioning substance abuser, the thought of fighting for social change never crossed my mind when I was actively trying to hide from reality.
At age 29 in 2015, I moved to the hyper-political New York City — right before the 2016 presidential election campaigns began. I also quit drinking just a few months after moving here. Suddenly, I was plugged into a reality where nearly everything seemed to be a political statement that I could no longer ignore. So I learned. A lot. It was easy to avoid politics back in Texas. In fact, it’s rude to discuss politics and religion there. Folks often view anything that challenged the status quo as inappropriate. Now, in New York City, it’s considered tone-deaf to ignore the patriarchy, privilege, and pillaging that have shaped our country.
It was easy to avoid politics back in Texas. Now, in New York City, it’s considered tone-deaf to ignore the patriarchy, privilege, and pillaging that have shaped our country.
While embarking on my political journey, I read books and watched political speeches and followed politicians on Twitter and streamed podcasts and did everything I could to catch up on what the fuck was happening and what had already happened. My head, no longer clouded by hangovers and regret, now had the space to become politically aware. My sobriety and my political activism now seem inextricably linked.
This was also around the same time when celebrities were expected to take a vocal stance on politics. The Party Girl version of me wanted comedians to tell jokes, not tell us who to vote for. Then I watched Chelsea Handler’s talk show evolve from a gossip bench on E! to a nuanced space for celebrities to use their platforms to educate fans and for politicians to have down-to-earth conversations about their agenda. Chelsea’s humor helped me digest difficult conversations, like feminism and white privilege, that I may not have paid much attention to otherwise. I felt inspired when Chelsea left her top-rated Netflix show to focus on getting more women elected into public office.
This type of feminism was my gateway drug into the political world. While I knew what the word “feminist” meant, I fought to identify with the label. My ignorance led me to believe that feminists were angry, man-hating women with long armpit hair. While there are some elements of those stereotypes that can be true, my assumptions lacked nuance. Now I understand that feminism — intersectional feminism, that is — means equality for all.
My head, no longer clouded by hangovers and regret, now had the space to become politically aware. My sobriety and my political activism now seem inextricably linked.
I was just under one year sober when I voted in the 2016 election. My world changed immensely in those 365 days as a new New Yorker coming to terms with my sexuality and the political conversations that I avoided for much of my life. The political landscape had changed in those 365 days as well. Headlines ranged from Brexit to Pulse Nightclub Shooting to Brock Turner to Philando Castile to “Grab ‘Em By the Pussy” — to name a few. It was a lot to process while also trying to navigate early sobriety.
I also began to understand that sobriety is inherently political because, often, people use substances to self-medicate through their traumas. Chris Marshall, a writer and entrepreneur, is vocal about how racism is repeated trauma that perpetuated his substance abuse and impacted his recovery. He’s also vocal about how AA, a program that was originally designed for straight, cisgender, white men, is not always inclusive for folks who look differently. “I didn’t feel comfortable talking about racial issues, like not being able to find a job because of the color of my skin, while in a predominantly white sober support group,” Marshall said in a recent episode of the podcast I co-host with Lisa Smith called Recovery Rocks.
I had no plan to wake up politically; my plan was just to wake up so I could meet the version of me that didn’t need to hide behind the booze. However, political awareness is a much-welcomed side effect of ditching the bottle.
I’m now part of the world from which I spent 14 years hiding. I continue to learn that politics is everywhere whether we’re tuned into it or not. From the conversations we can freely have with others to the rights that we are at risk of losing to the hands that we can now legally hold in public. I had to be brutally honest with myself to acknowledge that alcohol had a stranglehold on the trajectory of my life. Sobriety gave me the wherewithal to apply that same level of honesty to learning about my privileges and how to use my voice to advocate for justice.