The benefits of quitting alcohol are undeniable — even to women in America’s most notoriously indulgent city. But what comes after you’ve made up your mind to stop drinking? Let’s say you know you want to access the improved health, better relationships, thriving businesses — but you don’t even know where to start.
How will you cope with your triggers? What potential pitfalls do you need to plan for? How can you keep yourself safe and cared for as new, unexpected feelings arise?
These are all great questions, and there’s no one better to learn from than those who have been through it firsthand. These incredible women, all of whom got sober in New Orleans, have a few tips to share.
Explore New Ways to Cope with Emotions and Heal Yourself
One of the most surprising things for me about sobriety was that by simply not drinking, I opened up a world of space in my life — but it wasn’t all good. Now, if a “bad” feeling floated up, I couldn’t run away: I had to deal with it. At first, I didn’t know what to do with that, and my anxiety worsened. Gradually, however, I’m coming to see how powerful it is to discover real ways to cope with triggers and emotions.
The sober women in New Orleans I talked to understood this. Kathleen Currie, a breathwork teacher and owner of Smoke Perfume, notes that it’s been a steep learning curve adjusting to certain social situations without drinking. Being sober has unearthed a lot of triggers and wounds that she’s had to work through. She feels that while all the healing has ultimately been a blessing, “there have been lots of lonely moments as I learn and move forward.” Artist and small business owner Lena Kolb has also been acutely aware of the way she feels, which is new to her. Not drinking has forced her to look at her life in a way that is, on one hand, really positive and powerful, but is also very difficult and emotional — because, as she put it, “dealing with your shit is hard.”
New Orleans native Lady Walker elaborates, “That’s the key. Getting sober takes work. Not just work to not pick up a drink, but work on the reasons you drank to begin with. You have to learn new ways to deal with and interact with the world.” Lady is a photographer who describes herself as “relentlessly creative.” Early sobriety found herself deep in her art (she chronicled her journey and art projects with Sobriety Stitches), journaling, going to bed earlier, being more active, and letting go of codependent relationships.
“Getting sober takes work. Not just work to not pick up a drink, but work on the reasons you drank to begin with. You have to learn new ways to deal with and interact with the world.”
Midori Tajiri, an artist and performer, was psychologically addicted to needing a crutch to soothe her when she was stressed. She funneled her anxiety into physical form by joining a gym and training hard for a triathlon. That rewarded her with stress and serotonin production, which were invaluable in staying on track for the beginning stages of her sobriety. Now that she’s further along in her journey, she recognizes that she needs to be more calm and zen in order to achieve inner peace.
When things get really stressful again, Midori misses how easy it was to numb those feelings or use alcohol to dissociate — but she also remembers the allergies, the poor health, and the sickness that would follow drinking. “When I realize I feel the need to numb, I know I need to address my stress levels in a healthier way.”
Every woman is different when it comes to what aids in her healing process. For me, the modalities change day to day and consist of a mix of meditation, journaling, talk therapy (to friends and trained professionals), exercise, sunshine, baths, acupuncture, saying yes to new things, and more. A huge lesson for me has been to give myself the grace to choose something new each day based on my needs at the moment. I’m a dynamic, complex human, and I need to allow for that. It’s not always easy, but I’m learning every day.
Seek Out Events That are Aligned with Your Interests
There’s no doubt New Orleans heavily caters to drinking culture. Deborah Anderson is a 3D artist and animation educator; she says she’s been to several networking events where there wasn’t even bottled water available. Sometimes, it can feel like the only way to network and meet people is to attend happy hours, which are obviously alcohol-centric.
As someone trying to grow her business and meet like-minded professionals, the lack of options can be frustrating. She explains, “I’m definitely able to go to happy hours and not drink, but sometimes you want to attend events with more depth. Luckily, I have found organizations that provide that depth for me.”
“The more you put your sobriety out there, the more you’ll see it reflected back to you.”
If you’re having a hard time finding events or people that you’re interested in, try a quick internet search. When Deborah first moved to New Orleans, she Googled “young professionals” and stumbled upon the Urban League of Young Professionals. She checked them out, liked what she saw, and got so involved that she’s now the president of the New Orleans chapter. She also recommends checking EventBrite and Meetup.com for a wide range of different interest groups.
Not finding anything you like? Consider making a bold move and starting your own organization. There could be other people out there in your exact situation looking to connect. As designer Sigourney Morrison put it, “The more you put your sobriety out there, the more you’ll see it reflected back to you.”
Speak Up on Social Media
Monica Rose Kelly, an artist, encourages you to not be afraid to speak up on social media. When she made her first post after ten months of not drinking, she was overwhelmed by the encouragement and support, as well as the people coming out of the woodworks telling her they didn’t drink, either. She also saw that her journey inspired those around her to cut back on drinking. “We can all influence those who love us to love themselves better as well,” she says.
Lady agrees and felt that talking about being sober was much like “coming out” for her. After 90 days of sobriety, she went public about it to find her community and she too discovered that a lot of her friends were sober. She explains, “It did take effort. I had to reach out to people I knew were sober and ask for coffee dates, invest the time. There’s this feeling of shame in early sobriety — I was wrestling with all of the dumb and shitty drunk things I had done, all of the ways I had defended and protected my poor relationship with alcohol. So it can be hard to go public about it, but when I did, I was met with overwhelming positivity and support.”
“We can all influence those who love us to love themselves better as well.”
There are also a ton of Instagram accounts dedicated to sobriety that can help you learn about other people’s journeys and be validating and helpful.
Try a Structured Program
Lady started going to AA meetings after almost two months of being sober. While the program ultimately wasn’t for her, it did teach her how to set boundaries, deal with conflict, let go of control, and find healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with stress and pain. AA was key in helping her discover a network of sober people; as she puts it, “There’s no easier way to find sober people than to go to a place specifically for sober people.” It was also encouraging for her to see people picking up their chips with years of sobriety under their belts — proof that this lifestyle was sustainable long-term.
Find a Support Network — And Be Prepared For Friendships to Change
I’ve been relieved to find that my closest friendships have been able to evolve even as I’ve decided not to include alcohol in my life. As for making friends, I worried that I would never be able to meet people in a new city if I wasn’t interested in bottomless mimosas or curated cocktails, but I’ve found lots of women in the last few months who are open to doing much more than grabbing drinks as we get to know each other. We’ve gone hiking, explored the beaches, danced, tried a kombucha, and more — and it’s been a lot of fun.
That’s not to say it hasn’t been hard to navigate relationships that don’t seem to change with me. Holly Williams, a former bartender who is now a wildlife rescuer and jewelry maker, understands this all too well. Though she now has a “super solid network of sober friends,” the hardest part was changing her lifestyle and losing touch with a vast majority of her network. As Deborah put it, we aren’t seen as being “fun” like we used to be.
“When I first quit drinking, we constantly talked about how we were feeling, and it was really helpful to have the perspective of someone who’d gone through the same thing.”
Lena says quitting alcohol has made her feel more like an outsider, “like people don’t know what to do with me.” She feels less connected to her friends who have remained steady drinkers and has found it hard to be social like she was before. She is currently figuring out how to connect with people in new ways and says her goal right now is to find more sober friends. In the meantime, she’s leaning heavily on the support of her boyfriend and the fact that he’s also sober. She says, “When I first quit drinking, we constantly talked about how we were feeling, and it was really helpful to have the perspective of someone who’d gone through the same thing.”
Initially, Kate Rouchell — who is President of Operations at the amazing Ashley Longshore gallery — had a very similar experience to Lena. When she and her husband decided to quit drinking almost eight years ago, they would stay home to avoid anything that had to do with drinking culture — which felt like everything. Today, they’ve found their balance and enjoy experimenting with mocktails and hanging out with people that know about and support their sobriety but back in those days, they relied heavily on each other.
Contemplating Sobriety? Start Small
If you’re curious about giving up alcohol, Kate recommends starting first with a detox. “Be kind to your body and give it a month without alcohol and see how you feel. If you like the way you feel, ditch the booze! Everyone’s journey is so different. For me, living a sober life just works. Also, what a time to be alive — you can legitimately have just as much fun with ginger-based alcohol-free drinks!”
It’s not easy to start for some people, though. Additional support can be found through an in-person or sober community. The other challenge? If you’re surrounded by friends who still drink, you might feel like you’re the only one.
Though you might feel alone, try not to get discouraged. Monica says, “There are a ton of people in New Orleans who don’t drink. You might not realize when you see us in bars with mocktails in hand. But I wouldn’t trade this new life for anything. I enjoy clarity, I have more money to travel, and I participate in activities that really feed my soul. I have become a support for people who are trying to let go of drinking and enjoy sharing my experiences with them. Life becomes so colorful when you wake up.”
Finally, Midori believes it’s never too late — or too early — to start. “It’s your journey, to do your own way. If you stumble or backtrack or feel like you don’t measure up, don’t worry. There’s no single right way. Just keep doing it your way and keep reaching upwards. Whatever your reasons are for choosing a method of unhealthy stress release, just know that you deserve better and can do better for yourself. Treat yourself with love.”