Editor’s Note: This essay contains visual descriptions of drinking.
“So, what are you working on at the minute?”
This question, though innocent enough from friends and family who hadn’t seen me in a while, used to strike fear and dread in my heart.
On a good day, I could paste on a smile, reel off some recent news story, and pretend I was vaguely working on something related to that. I’d probably do that same thing on a bad day too, but I’d be a lot less convincing.
For four years before I got sober, I called myself a freelance writer but the truth was I hardly wrote anything at all. I’d get down on myself about not being able to write, belittle myself, drink to take the edge off, then start the cycle again the next day.
Some days, I’d buy wine and drink whilst writing and churn out utter garbage. I’d go to bed hating what I’d written and my chosen career and convince myself I was no good at it.
As a freelance writer, rejection is part and parcel of the job. Not every editor can accept every pitch, not everything works all the time. But drinking fuelled my self-hatred and, instead, I saw every “no” from an editor as them telling me I was a terrible writer. I couldn’t handle being turned down. Plus, I was terrified of being made to feel like a failure, yet made no effort to make my lazy pitches any better.
But drinking fuelled my self-hatred and, instead, I saw every “no” from an editor as them telling me I was a terrible writer.
Alcohol made me awfully paranoid, and I became convinced at one point that a group of editors who were friends were subtweeting about me together. In reality, they probably didn’t even know I existed. But one of them had turned down a pitch of mine the week before and the other two had ignored my emails, so I thought: How dare they?
I wouldn’t write for months on end and blame everything else on draining my energy and my passions away from me. Of course, it was actually the alcohol.
I fell out of love with writing, the one thing I had loved doing since I was seven years old. Telling stories, making sense of my life, and helping others… It all felt meaningless. The words wouldn’t come to me. I was a terrible writer. A fraud. The only thing that made me feel better was alcohol.
If a rejection came, I crumbled completely. Then I’d start again and the cycle continued.
I began to realize I had a problem in May 2019 and started “cutting down”, which didn’t work for me. Each time I’d stop for a few days, telling myself I was better without the booze. I’d find a burst of energy and inspiration, pitch up a storm, and maybe even be successful with a couple of story ideas. But then, inevitably, the wheels would fall off. It was the weekend and I deserved just one, I’d tell myself, since I’d been good all week. Or, worse, I needed a drink and couldn’t hold it off any longer.
Some nights I could control it and stop at one or two, so I would convince myself the problem had gone away, but the paranoia would still creep in. If I was lucky to have any stories I needed to write for editors, they would almost always be submitted late. I made horrible impressions. If I hadn’t had many replies in that particular week, the voice telling me I was a crap writer would get louder. If a rejection came, I’d crumble completely. Then I’d start again and the cycle continued.
In September 2019, I finally got sober for good, Slowly, I felt myself come back to life. I woke up ready for what the day would bring, instead of dreading the headache I always got from a hangover.
My motivation came back to every part of my daily life. I would happily be up and out the door at seven in the morning with my dachshund Rusty for walks, whereas before I would’ve been shouting at him and nursing a sore head. Being sober feels like living life in high definition; there’s no big gloomy shadow over everything.
Like many people, I built up my confidence through #sobergram, which gave me the push to get back into actual writing.
I slowly felt my passion and love of writing return; at first, with massive Instagram captions documenting my sober journey. Like many people, I built up my confidence through #sobergram, which gave me the push to get back into actual writing.
I was still anxious about pitching at first, I had previously been so noncommittal that I was worried I’d be thought of as a flake, but editors were pleased to hear from me. My past paranoia was completely unfounded and any fears that they’d think of me as a washed-up lush were all in my head. My editors probably didn’t even know about my struggles with alcohol.
Work started to trickle in again and I found that I was no longer feeling lackluster. Instead, I felt exhilarated to write articles. I was determined to write about important issues to help others. My motivation returned and I relished deadlines. I set up my little office in my bedroom, using my dressing table as a desk overlooking the street. My trusty pup assistant would perch himself next to my laptop and help/ snooze through my workday.
Starting again meant that I could experiment with different areas of writing and embrace failure. I discovered I was utterly crap at social media marketing. Ironically, it was through writing a caption about my passions for a friend’s coaching brand that I realized that it simply wasn’t my passion, but that I was passionate about spreading messages I believed in, opening up conversations about recovery, reproductive health, and mental illness.
When I regained my focus, I was able to branch out within my passions and work on more articles that dove into disability, reproductive health, mental illness, and social justice, and could bring issues that my community struggled with to the mainstream. It makes me swell with joy when people reach out to me because they sought help because of my articles or to tell me that one of my pieces allowed them to have an important conversation.
When I was deep in alcohol addiction, I used to dread people asking me, “So, what are you working on?” But now I relish the question. I love telling people about the exciting articles I’m working on and the amazing variety of topics I get to write about.
This month, I’ll have been sober for a whole year and I can finally call myself a freelance journalist. So far in 2020, I’ve had 36 pitches accepted; previously, in my whole 5-year career before I got sober, I only wrote 27.
I thought I drank because I couldn’t write but, after I got sober, I realized that I couldn’t write because I drank.