Hi. I’m Tawny. And I’m not an alcoholic. I’m not powerless over alcohol. I don’t have an incurable disease. I don’t subscribe to any of society’s blanket labels for people who choose to live a sober lifestyle. So if I’m not those things…what am I? Well, like I said. I’m Tawny. I’m powerFULL. I’m a writer. I love music and tattoos and boys and political discussions that ruffle feathers. I used to abuse substances to avoid dealing with reality. I was a party girl who danced on bars, driving (and living) recklessly. I didn’t think much about anything; I just did everything. At age 29, I realized that I wasn’t living up to my full potential. Alcohol was wasting my time and money. So, I’m Tawny…and I’m sober.
Saying that I abused substances, but I’m not an alcoholic is not an argument of semantics. There’s a whole movement of strong sober folks that feel this way, too. Holly Glenn Whitaker of HipSobriety wrote this excellent piece about why she’s not an alcoholic. Kelly Fitzgerald of Sober Senorita recently wrote this vulnerable piece about leaving AA. Annie Grace wrote a book called This Naked Mind that uses scientific data to question what society’s conditioned us to believe about alcoholism and the word “alcoholic”.
I went to one AA meeting when I was 3 months sober. Sitting in a circle where people talked about being powerless over alcohol just didn’t feel right. Saying “I’m powerless” is not, well…empowering to me. When it was my turn to speak (if I wanted to), I said it. “I’m Tawny and I’m an alcoholic”. Those three words left a horrible taste in my mouth. They tasted so badly that I never spoke them again.
There’s a significant part of the recovery community that went to/goes to AA and they speak highly of it. I’ve seen first hand just how important the program is and how wonderful the participants can be. What’s so beautiful is that we live in a time where there are myriad options for people who are seeking out sobriety. For example, Ruby Warrington of Club Soda hosts parties in NYC and London for people who are sober, “sober curious”, or simply wanting to change their relationship with alcohol.
Early in my recovery someone in AA told me, “Attempting sobriety without AA is incredibly dangerous. You’re setting yourself up to fail.” He also told me that “refusing to admit I was an alcoholic was like fighting an uphill battle.” People who go to AA and identify as an alcoholic aren’t wrong. People who don’t go to AA or identify as an alcoholic aren’t wrong. There are multiple paths to take. The recovery world is evolving at a rapid pace.
Though I don’t credit AA for my recovery, there are some fundamental AA principles that have really come to help me. Truly grasping the practice of acceptance has been a significant part of my personal growth. And of course the whole “One day at a time” thing is genius. Some days it’s one hour or even one minute at a time. And that’s OK; that’s just part of the journey.
If I’m powerless over anything it’s my anxiety that leads to horrendous depressive episodes which essentially led to my incessant need for instantly gratuitous booze binges. And to be honest, said episodes still lead to unhealthy binges on food and shopping and social media-ing. But I’m not perfect. I’m far from it. I’m just taking it one day at a time.
Photographer: Paul Undersinger
Photo Location: Flat Iron District, Manhattan