I’ve avoided sitting down to write this for at least three months. And here it is, the day before we launch, and I’m sitting in my home office with a cup of lukewarm coffee still wanting to do anything but this; last night’s mascara keeps making my right eye stick closed. My dad is sick—we’re estranged—and it’s been a surprise to find out that I actually feel something more than sociopathic indifference toward him, as I’ve felt all these years. I can’t stop crying or listening to the fucking Bridges of Madison County soundtrack.
I wouldn’t have it any other way; it wouldn’t be true to be writing this ahead of deadline or coming to you as a showered, well-manicured, emotionally stable version of myself. This letter will be good because true to form, everything is falling apart, life is a mess, and still here I am—doing my work.
Our society—and the institutions and systems that uphold and define it—is what makes us sick.
When I left my job in 2014 to start Hip Sobriety—less than a year sober—I knew a few things for sure. First, that alcohol would follow the trajectory of cigarettes; that at some point in my life we would come to see alcohol not as something we just do because we are supposed to and everyone does, but rather something we do only *after* bypassing a thousand red flags, health warnings, and PSAs. Second, I knew that people needed more options to recover from addiction—not just the one that was created pre-World War II by and for white, privileged, upper-middle-class men. Third, I knew that what was on the other side of direct engagement with our addictions and mental health issues wasn’t more of the same nightmare; it was the beginning of everything.
I wouldn’t have called myself a feminist back then. I wasn’t a feminist back then. That only came online as I started to question why I was so afraid to trust myself on my path to recovery, or why our stories were buried so deep, or why anonymity reigned king. I would say “feminist me” came to be somewhere in late 2014, when I realized that our patriarchal society might have something to do with why I shook when I told people I was doing things my own way.
In 2015, I read Chasing the Scream and learned about Billie Holiday and the racist agenda of the War on Drugs. What I remember most back then was that I was more willing to believe that the story of Billie Holiday—who was effectively murdered by what we know now as the DEA—was more of a conspiracy theory than a truth because I was so detached, so protected and removed, so oblivious to the way the world actually works. But I couldn’t stop digging, and what I uncovered was something wide and deep and choking: Our society—and the institutions and systems that uphold and define it—is what makes us sick.
The War on Drugs, the criminalization of addiction, the prison industrial complex, the messages of media and advertising especially around alcohol, who benefits from that advertising and who loses, capitalism, the moralistic and victim-blaming approaches to recovery, the patriarchy, white supremacy, racism, ableism, sexism, classism, homophobia, access to healthcare, treatment programs that withhold care and the rehab industry in general—I could go on and on—it is all fucking connected.
The second I started to talk about Black lives, or women of color, or racism, I was told I had strayed from my mission in sobriety.
In 2016, I finally identified as an intersectional feminist—a term developed by Kimberlé Crenshaw, which acknowledges that womxn have multi-layered experiences; a Black woman or a queer womxn moving through this world has a different experience than a white woman of oppression, different experiences of oppression. I also became extremely aware of white privilege—I knew in my work I could only talk about the experience of white straight cis women in recovery and “get away with it,” be rewarded for it even. When I started to expand my conversation on my own social media feed to acknowledge the Black Lives Matter movement or racism or white privilege (which was not that long ago) and tie it back into the web that is addiction and recovery in our culture, a lot of white women were pissed.
I could talk about my outfits or my vagina or my shitty sex life and white women were all “I’m here for this!” but the second I started to talk about Black lives, or women of color, or racism, I was told I had strayed from my mission in sobriety. Suddenly, I was being political. One white woman told me she had been following my work (on Instagram) to be “lifted up,” and that it really depressed her to see things about racism in a sobriety feed. She thought racism had nothing to do with sobriety and addiction recovery; which means, she thought sobriety and addiction recovery was only something that affected women that looked like her. She couldn’t imagine that a Black woman who faces racism and its micro- and macro-aggressions every day of her life might be drinking and trying to recover from that.
This is my long and windy way of telling you a few things.
All are invited; you don’t have to be woke to be here. You just have to be kind and willing to listen.
1. We’re all on a path here.
We are where we are; we have the beliefs and ideas we have; we know what we know. We aren’t all at the exact same place in our recovery, politics, beliefs, ideas. We are all over the map. This place is as much for people who are drinking casually or in active addiction or who never had a problem with alcohol or who don’t know if they have a problem with alcohol (or any drug or behavior, really) as much as this is for people who are sober and well into recovery. This place is for those of you who want to run away from the word racism as much as it is for those of you who are suffering its injustices daily. This is a place where we get to meet ourselves where we are, and where you are believed to be good at your core no matter what you’ve done, no matter what you’re doing now. This is a place where you’ll be reminded that you are okay, right here, right now—no matter what.
Recovery is an invitation to grow into who we were always meant to be. It is a place of love and acceptance and inclusion. All are invited; you don’t have to be woke to be here. You just have to be kind and willing to listen.
2. Our movement is informed by the voices we hear.
In February of this year, I put a list together of the not-white not-cis not-hetero leaders in this space. I came up with Jocellyn Harvey, Africa Brooke, Tracy Murphy, Shari Hampton, Vimalasara Mason-John, and… and… that was it. I knew there were more, but also, I knew some other things. First, there’s a lot more to lose for any already marginalized person to speak up about sobriety and addiction (few stigmatized oppressed people want to claim another stigmatizing, oppressive identity or experience). Second, our society programs white women to elevate the voices of other white women; this leads white women to live in an echo-chamber of their own experiences, allows racism and sexism and classism and ableism and homophobia to be reduced to “just politics,” rather than confronting it as lived violence against real people.
Our society centers white and male experiences, examines life through those lenses, and anyone else is thrown to the side. It isn’t enough that women are talking about sobriety and leading the way; it has to be womxn, it has to be people of color, it has to be queer and inclusive of every single voice that we press to the margins and leave out of the conversation. The conversation has to inherently include all of us; it has to become our nature to look around spaces and make sure they represent who is actually bleeding, and the perspectives of all who are here.
3. Recovery doesn’t happen in a bubble.
We can’t just talk about addiction and recovery and sobriety in a bubble, like all that matters is that we meditate and drink lots of fizzy water and write gratitude lists. Fuck that shit. Recovery is something that yes, starts out with very simple things, like just not drinking or just not sticking your finger down your throat or just being able to brush your teeth every day. But it touches every area of our existence. How we eat, who we eat with, who we fuck and how we fuck and what we ask for when we fuck, where we shop, what we do on the weekends, what it’s like to go to weddings, what it’s like to date or divorce or separate or fight, how we save money, how we spend money, how we fall asleep, how we wake up. It isn’t just “how do I not drink” or “how do I not do this drug,” it’s: “How do I move through this world that assumes I drink, that assumes I haven’t been through what I have, that wants to separate me from the thing that made me who I am and bury it from public view.” It’s: “How do I incorporate all of me into this world and stop compartmentalizing myself.”
We shouldn’t have to fucking numb out to make it through our life— alcohol is a tool of the patriarchy.
As of this writing, we have about 75 contributors. Our inaugural publication debuts with fourteen life-changing articles. Dr. Sara Gottfried reveals the ten most substantial harms alcohol does to women; Africa Brooke talks about reclaiming her sexuality in sobriety; Tracy Murphy explains what it is like to come out as a lesbian, as sober, as gender-queer; Sonja Herbert writes about escaping the white gaze and the importance of Black spaces; Jocellyn Harvey reimagines what it means to surrender in recovery; and Irina Gonzalez talks about recovery as a Latina; and so much more.
I hope this publication gives you so much. I hope it reflects back to you the stories you need to read that validate your existence or your anger or your grief. I hope it makes you feel less alone, more proud, more connected, more loved. I hope it challenges you in ways you didn’t expect and pisses you off in ways you didn’t see coming and I hope it holds your hand and accepts you and loves you as you do. I hope it becomes a powerful force that champions the radical ideas that we shouldn’t have to fucking numb out to make it through our life and that alcohol is a tool of the patriarchy—a tool that is wielded to keep us sick and stuck and out of our true power.
Mostly, I hope this gives you what we all deserve in this world: a seat at the fucking table.