Addiction affects a staggering number of lives in the United States; not just those who use substances, but family, friends, co-workers and society at large. According to Defining the Addiction Treatment Gap, a CATG review of the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and other national data sources, addiction continues to impact every segment of American society.
“Drug use is on the rise in this country and 23.5 million Americans are addicted to alcohol and drugs,” said Dr. Kima Joy Taylor, director of the CATG Initiative. “That’s approximately one in every 10 Americans over the age of 12 — roughly equal to the entire population of Texas. But only 11 percent of those with an addiction receive treatment. It is staggering and unacceptable that so many Americans are living with an untreated chronic disease and cannot access treatment.”
Laura McKowen, MBA, is a no-holds barred, calls it as she sees it (a.k.a. kick-ass) writer, speaker, podcast host, and former PR professional. Her life story is related in her book entitled We Are the Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life. It reads like it was written on one of those Viking ship gondola rides. The reader goes waaaay up and then waaaay down with her, holding on for dear life as if any minute they could be tossed off and into the abyss as she had been countless times.
Laura found alcohol to be, as is true for many in recovery, both friend and enemy. Saying farewell to it was not easy but lifesaving and soul nourishing. She pays forward the support she received to sustain her sobriety by writing about it and offering guidance in online and in-person platforms.
The book begins with the description of the experience of being lost in the fog of alcohol and black-out drunk at her brother’s wedding in 2013. By all appearances she had an enviable life as the mother of a delightful daughter named Alma, a large circle of friends, a successful career, a beautiful home, as well as substantial income that afforded her more than a comfortable lifestyle.
At the end of the book, she speaks of meeting with a friend from AA and they talk about the kind of life one can live, when alcohol is no longer at the center of their world. The woman told Laura that she has a “nice little life,” which initially dismayed her since she imagined it to be boring and limiting when compared to the high intensity, albeit unhealthy and dangerous one she had lived. She wanted an expansive existence, one filled with color and pizzazz.
I am sober by choice. I have a rich, full life and alcohol plays no part in it. Most of my friends either don’t drink, either because it doesn’t feel necessary, or because they are in recovery. Those who do, generally drink occasionally, and I have never seen them majorly intoxicated. I am also an addictions counselor and I choose to be in solidarity with those who refrain.
I had the opportunity to interview Laura and was delighted that she shared her journey, not just in her book, but beyond the pages.
What role did alcohol play in your life?
I started drinking when I was about sixteen. It played various roles in my life: an anesthetic for emotional pain, a social lubricant, and a way for me to be more comfortable in all kinds of situations, from romantic to work to family gatherings. I turned to alcohol for the reason most people do — it is accessible, acceptable, and powerful.What was the pain you were running from?Different pain and different points in my life. Early on, it allowed me to disconnect from the painful feelings I had about my body and my awkwardness with boys and my own sexuality. Later, it was about my lack of self-confidence and social anxiety. Then it becomes a vicious cycle; I was running from the shame of what I did while drinking. Underneath it all, I believe I was medicating a basic disconnection from myself.What was the pivotal moment when you knew that enough was enough?
I knew I had to face it when I had a painful incident happen with my daughter. I put her in real danger, and it was apparent that I had completely lost control.How did you learn to create a new life as you said goodbye to this substance that was both friend and enemy?
Slowly and piece by piece. I had to change everything from the way I socialized, to the people I surrounded myself with, to how I organized my time and what I turned to for emotional support. I learned a lot from other sober women — they really showed me the way. They showed me how to live life without drinking.For many, the idea of avoiding people, places, and things is even more challenging since so many in their lives drink. I know that your family indulged. How did you balance your relationships?
This was very difficult at first. It can be extremely lonely. But eventually, I stopped wishing my friends and family would understand what I was going through and I looked to other people — sober people — to do that. I really disconnected myself from anything that compromised my sobriety for a while, including family and friends, until I reached a new equilibrium. Today that’s not much of a problem but it took time and all of my relationships have changed — some for the better, some not.
Do you have a daily practice that keeps you balanced and sober?
I keep my life very simple. That more than anything is a daily practice. I’ve learned to say no a lot. I also have a few basic non-negotiables: 8 hours of sleep, moving my body, spending time outside, drinking a ton of water. I’ve also started to meditate regularly and really love that.
Laura closes the last chapter with these words that stick to my soul, “And this is the best way I can describe sobriety: a giving to, a giving in, a learning to dance with the Divine.”