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The cut, the cut, cut, cut, cut, the cut. The cut. I used to think that I wasn't that into drinking, I could kind of take or leave it because I like people and I like to go out.
And so I just thought having some drinks was a function of that. But then it started during the pandemic where suddenly it didn't really feel like it was over until I had poured myself of her mouth and Campari or a glass of wine or a whiskey on the rocks. And suddenly I was like, where am I more into drinking than I thought or my drinking? Because that's kind of the only thing to do and everyone is doing it. Really drinking beer, that's just like this is what quarantine culture has been banned to drink, just like Bobtown.
There's that SNL sketch, this new Anne Hathaway movie called In Lockdown is Lockdown, David has been drinking so much more.
Yes. David, isn't it wonderful? And this is all pretty hard to laugh through.
If you have a history with addiction, like writer Emily McComb's and the early days, I had to stop going on social media because everyone was just showing their wine stockpiles and pouring their cocktails. Happy hour. Get together, everybody have a drink on Zoome. Emily thought this will surely get old and I thought so too. I mean I assumed this episode would be timed with dry January.
I saw a lot of like OK, dry Januaries canceled. You know, like no we're we're, we're sipping tequila because life is stressful, which I understand. You know, not everybody's an alcoholic, but, you know, like I was that like a Zoome comedy show at one point during the pandemic. And the host was getting really aggressive about, like, everybody drink your drinks and if you don't have a drink, you're a loser. You know, that kind of tone.
And I actually, like, emailed the hosts afterward and was like, you know, like some people are struggling. And during the pandemic, some people are really struggling and like that made me feel bad.
Emily had spent nine years sober and then three years ago, she suffered from a relapse.
I found that it was a lot harder the second time around to get sober. And I went to an inpatient facility in Pennsylvania.
And by the time she came out, Emily really didn't have a lot of time to get her bearings before lockdown happened.
When it hit, I just lost access to a lot of the resources that were helping to keep me sober. I mean, I say it like it takes a village to keep me sober, like I need a therapist, I need meetings, I need the gym. So, you know, those things either went virtual or they disappeared altogether.
This experience of sobriety was so, so different from Emily's first time going sober for a number of reasons. And like not only are there fewer resources, there are also way higher stakes.
I think with alcohol and covid times, the big thing would just be like losing your inhibitions. And after a few drinks, who's thinking about a mask?
You know, so Emily is using all the virtual resources she can and layering them on top of each other.
I am in a virtual outpatient program. I also started taking Naltrexone, which is a medication that both blocks the euphoria that you get from alcohol and opiates and also is known to reduce cravings. These kinds of drugs are called opiate antagonists, but that's not you know, I never had to access that before.
I've never had to I never had to know about these medications. You know, I never had it. It wasn't that difficult the first time around.
Addiction can be complicated to acknowledge. Under normal circumstances, isolation only complicates it more. You can't smell the vodka on your co-workers breath. You know, you can't you don't know what time people might start drinking and you lose track of what is considered normal or healthy or acceptable. I mean, I'm embarrassed to say that when I helplessly watched the insurrectionist seized the capital on January six, I immediately poured myself a glass of whiskey and then I poured myself another.
And it was four 4pm.
I don't really recognize myself in this behavior, but I also weirdly know that I wasn't alone, something to take the edge off sounds pretty good to a lot of people right now, you know, so I think a lot of people are looking at their drinking habits, whether they have a history of addiction or not.
So Emily is on one end of the spectrum of addiction where she found the pandemic extra difficult to navigate. But some folks have used the pandemic as a moment to actually detox like my friend Alex.
Is this actually something I want or is this just something that I'm used to having in this kind of scenario?
Writer and producer Alex de Jong Loflin doesn't have a history of addiction, but now that she's not socializing as much or really at all, Alex can look back at her drinking habits and examine how much of it was for her and how much of it was for other people.
OK, when you're living the life that I lived in New York before all of this. You're like boppin from breakfast, date with friends to work to happy hour to, you know, the way the alcohol just sort of pops into your life is like very matter of fact. It's just sort of part of the wallpaper of your life.
But the way Alex was drinking as an adult in New York felt like moderation compared to how she used to drink in college.
So I went to the University of Georgia and I was in a sorority. That's so funny. I know it's like not a thing that people expect of me at all.
And Alex will to this day truly defend her sorority. It meant a lot to her considering what her life was like before college.
I spent the majority of my childhood in Hawaii and in Hawaii. I was like part of a military family. And I looked a lot like my classmates because I was Asian and mixed.
But then Alex moved around a lot as a kid, and she never really found another community of people who looked like her.
And the last move we made was to Georgia, my sophomore year of high school, which was just a massive culture shift for me. And I was really scared to talk to people, didn't really know how to present myself or to make friends or anything. And I remember my senior year in homeroom, someone was passing something out and they said, Alex Loflin, who's that?
Oh, and I had been in that homeroom class for three years.
And so when Alex went to UGA and a sorority accepted her, it was like magical. It meant a lot. It was so fully part of your identity. And for me, I, I had struggled with my identity for so long that it felt it was so enticing to have something so simple and tidy to represent who I was.
But of course, a massive part of Greek culture, especially at a southern state school, is the drinking. And in this cruel twist of fate, when Alex would drink to fit in, that was exactly the thing that would make her stand out.
I don't remember the first time someone pointed out that I was red, but like.
I could feel I could always feel my face getting hotter because it wasn't just that I would turn red, but like my whole face would kind of get puffy a little bit and looks real bad. It does not look healthy. It looks like a rash.
Alex would always joke about her Asian glow quickly before anyone else could. As you can imagine, the Greek system at Georgia in 2010 was not incredibly diverse. Like when I think back, I can think of like maybe four Asian people that I knew of. I would like see them across the beer pong table. And I'd be like, oh, my God, you're a pig.
I'm pig. It was very obvious that she couldn't drink like all the white people around her, and only later did she learn the science. Why the alcohol intolerance that most East Asians have that contributes to the Asian glow comes from the fact that our bodies lack this one enzyme, this enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase to breaks down toxins in alcohol.
So my body doesn't have that, which means that when alcohol comes into my system, it stays toxic until i.p it out, basically.
So Alex knew this. She felt it in her body, but she didn't really feel like she could stop drinking without changing her whole friend group.
So Alex mostly just ignored her body.
I found myself straddling these two worlds of they're not drinkers. And the drinkers were like, I drank more than the not drinkers, but I didn't drink as much or go as hard as the the drinkers did.
And that sort of sobriety or nothing binary just followed Alex through her 20s in her body.
Drinking felt really, really bad. But it also seemed like quitting or even slowing down just wasn't an option. And so it wasn't until the pandemic that Alex was like, huh? How do I fit into this? I started Googling around alcohol intolerance, quitting drinking because of alcohol intolerance, things like that, and I couldn't find anything. I found a lot about stopping drinking. And there was a lot of like, if you need help, like call this phone number, you know, we think about problem drinking and very clearly defined black and white terms.
Ruby Werrington is somebody that I came across on the Internet.
I don't think I'm an alcoholic. And yet I don't identify as like what I think a sober person is, because then I thought, well, if you're sober, it means you're in AA and you're working the steps and you're an alcoholic. And I didn't see myself there.
I thought, well, maybe I'm sober curious. Like, I'm really curious about what it would be like to live a sober life. And yet I don't identify as like what I think a sober person is.
She's finding that there are a lot of people on the spectrum of addiction.
And she wrote this book called Sober Curious.
And the way that I define it now, to be sober, curious means literally to question, be curious about every impulse, every instinct, every craving, every expectation and every situation in which you're expected to drink. And before just kind of engaging blindly without question or because it's what's expected, really do some inner inquiry around, like why am I having this drink? How is it really going to make me feel? It's so funny because alcohol seems to be the one thing that's like, oh, I live a super healthy lifestyle.
I'm going to exercise a lot, I'll be vegetarian, I'll be gluten free, I'll be dairy free, whatever. But it's like alcohol is still the asterisk that I feel like is most on people's lists. What's the deal with that? Why does why why is that a thing so interesting?
And I think that says so much about how much we rely on this substance as a crutch for our emotional well-being. The thought of taking away alcohol for people, why is that so? Why is it so frightening to people? Why are people so beholden to this substance the way everybody sees it?
Yes, there are some people who are predisposed to addiction. But the real problem is that our culture is addicted to alcohol. It's such a social drug that it's hard to listen to your own internal barometer.
Yeah, I mean, something I love in her book is that she says at one point, yeah, I drink sometimes. How much do I drink? I'm not going to tell you because you're going to read that and try to use that as a gauge to judge whether your drinking is acceptable or not. And that's not the point of this. The point of this is for the amount that you drink to be in alignment with what you know, to be right for you.
When we talk about being comfortable not drinking, it's learning how to be comfortable with your thoughts and your insecurities and the news.
Everything about alcohol hides really well. Early sobriety, I've said before, feels like being a baby with no skin. Emily McComb's again, everything is just like scraping against you. You're so raw. Emotions are coming up just sort of willy nilly because you've been numbing them for however long. And like I think this like a lot of people feel that way right now without having an issue with drugs and alcohol, you know, like we're all feeling that way.
So, like, I don't know. Do you have any advice? Like, what do you do?
And your capital is being taken by a bunch of insurrectionist and you're upset.
I mean, look, like I'll be honest, I have a lot of coping mechanisms. None of them work as quickly or as efficiently as a substance used to, you know, but they're what I have available to me. So I meditate. I call a friend. I go to a meeting. I talk about it with my outpatient group. I take a walk around the block, get some exercise.
I'm in nature like all these things help, like with exercise or like my writing practice or even meditation. I've just had a lot of time to think and to like, look myself in the I guess, OK, can I push back on you a little bit?
Because I think it's amazing and beautiful, but this is also wholesome.
It totally I mean. I feel you like I am not I'm not advocating for anybody to stop drinking.
Alex has only stopped drinking in the sense that she doesn't have a full glass of wine at the end of every workday. So take a sip of beer or whiskey or pour a tiny amount into a glass, but for some reason abstaining from social drinking. Just saying no thanks when offered a glass of wine just paints you like a goody two shoes. Stick in the mud. Fun sucker.
How do you communicate to the people in your life, particularly your drinking friends, that you want to make this change in? And how do you do it in a way that doesn't, I don't know, make you seem geggie or holier than thou to them? This is such a tricky one.
It's really hard to come across as completely nonjudgmental because chances are some judgments will crop up. You might find yourself hanging out with some of your drinking friends when you're not drinking and finding and being a bit like, wow, you're kind of being an idiot right now. And I think I came up with the thing which is like don't judge your judgement, just allow it to be there again, as with everything else. And it's so the curious path might be the observer of that.
Why am I so judgmental? What am I judging about them? What are they judging about me?
I don't want anybody to hear me and be like that bitch thinks I shouldn't have wine because, like, I definitely am not that bitch. And I want wine too.
But it's just like, you know, the way I'm thinking about it is like lactose intolerant people.
Like if you're lactose intolerant, maybe you still have pizza every once in a while. But like, you decide when you're going to have pizza.
I mean, no, it's true.
But even if I was with someone who was lactose intolerant and I was like, hey, let's get some pizza.
And they were like, I'm good. Actually, I'd be like, well, I don't know if I should have pizza. Like, it just makes you feel it makes you feel weird. And like, honestly, you know, when you and Ruby are talking about how to not judge people and Ruby is like, don't judge your judgement, which I think is fascinating. And I've been thinking about a lot like actually that seems hard.
And Ruby actually seems a little judging.
I'll be honest and say that I haven't had any real social engagements in that sense of formal. I mean, I haven't had any hangs with friends where, like, people were getting drunk and I wasn't. So I haven't had that experience and I don't know how I'm going to respond to that.
It's harder than it should be to just draw your own boundaries, especially now. After the break, Alex talks to someone who experienced some real fallout. Every family knows that mornings can get a little chaotic from competing breakfast opinions to making sure everyone is on the right video call at the right time. Sometimes it can feel like there isn't room for anything else. But what about a little more brightness? Every glass of Tropicana pure premium orange juice is filled with a million little sips of sunshine and 100 percent of your daily value of vitamin C, which doesn't just taste delicious.
It also helps support a healthy immune system. And we've all got room in our mornings for that visit. Tropicana Dotcom. For more information on making mornings brighter, Tropicana, sip your sunshine.
I just like I tasted my husband's beer and I was like, that is really good. I would like a little bit of it please. And we bought a little bit and it was the perfect amount. And I drank it for like an hour. Like, it took me just as long to treat that as it would, like, take you to drink an actual beer. But I had like a fraction of what would be in a can. I mean, when you think about taking this behavior, this is like, sorry, fucking adorable behavior in the real world.
Do you worry that that will be looked upon little strangely?
You know, I worry about it a little bit, but like, that's the great thing about your late 20s and early 30s is you start to care a lot less and I care a lot less.
But still, no matter how much confidence you gather in your life, it can be daunting to set a boundary and risk alienating your friends. That can be real stakes, which is what Alex learned when she spoke to Anya.
Anya is somebody I talked to. Who? I just like so envy the way that she thought about alcohol in school.
She's somebody who I wish I could have had as a friend at that time because I just I felt so like heavily influenced by everybody.
I always just saw, like, the popular cheerleaders and jocks and people that I like was not in their group at all. I saw them engaging in it. And in my mind, I was like, I'm just never going to do this.
Well, she's Muslim and she grew up being told that, like, we don't drink. And I imagine that having that message your entire life is pretty fortifying.
My mother was like, you can do anything, but just like I beg of you not to drink.
So Onea followed this rule all through high school. And like even until she turned 21, she was like, yeah, it's fine. I don't drink whatever.
As I grew older, I realized, oh, like, people do this much more casually as well. And it's not always just like hard partying thing. And I think that's when my interest really piqued. I was like, OK, like, I kind of want to see what the effect of this is. And I was just really interested to see, like, how wine tasted.
So I made this plan. She's going to like, go buy a bottle of wine and then meet her friends and then they were going to drink it. And so she went to a grocery store, went to the wine aisle and was like, what do I get?
And I remember I stood there for like a good 15, 20 minutes, like deciding whether I wanted to do it or not, because I knew I think in the back of my mind, I knew there's going to be a life like before and after.
And I was like, OK, you could do this now or you could just never do it and you wouldn't know. And I kept telling myself, I remember standing there in the convenience store and I was like, you can't miss something you haven't had.
But also, like, you can't have a good time with it either. And she knew that people were enjoying this thing. And she was like, I still want to try it. And it was a totally chill and normal experience because she was twenty one.
And yeah, after that, like the rest, is history. Obviously she graduated college and moved to New York and had a really similar experience as I did, where alcohol is like pretty ubiquitous. If you allow it to be waking up.
Feeling sick was the norm for me. Like I would just wake up every single day feeling incredibly sick. I would go to work sometimes I'd get 30 minutes late. And I just thought, like, oh, that's a part of living. Like that's the New York experience.
And then she, like the pandemic happened and she moved back home and life got so much quieter and she was looking for ways to cope. And she had this friend that she would go over to her house a lot.
And every time I'd hang out, I would bring over a bottle of wine and we would literally finish the bottle of wine and sometimes get into a second bottle.
That became like pretty frequent. But it was like you couldn't do anything else. So she was drinking with her friend. That was like all she had. And then she started sneaking wine into her house.
Obviously, it's like a Muslim household. You can't have alcohol in a Muslim household. So it's like canned wine and stuff. And I would just think, like, oh, this is me relaxing. Just lately, like I think three months ago, I was at a friend's birthday dinner in her apartment and her brother, who's a friend of mine, said, you know, I'm not drinking anymore. I'm just going to have some tea, go home and read a book.
And I think that was the real changing point for me, because the next morning I woke up feeling like shit and I remembered him and I was like, oh, my God, he's probably Clear-headed. You probably got to wake up and like, go take a walk and see his friends and didn't have to waste two days recovering. And that, like, literally after that day it was like, I am not going to do this anymore because I tell myself I'm not going to do it, but I'm actually not going to do it anymore.
And if I can't hang out with people because the only way we could hang out with each other was alcohol, then so be it. I'll make new friends.
I was going to ask you if you worry about seeming judgmental to like your friends who are still drinking.
Yeah, I think I worry about that sometimes. There's this one friend who actually I'm not friends with anymore because as soon as I told her, I was like, yeah, you know, I'm not drinking anymore. Let's just like, get coffee. She literally stopped responding to my texts because she's I just don't think she knew how to hang out with the person without doing that.
So that's like kind of awful and. Worst case scenario, I feel like like you just, you know, you worry that a friend would just, like, sort of cut someone out of their life because they don't drink.
So a lot of this conversation so far has been about losing and what you give up and not really about what you gain because everybody goes through a period like this. Whether it's with a different kind of substance or different kind of change in lifestyle, it's just the in time there come these thresholds where you have to decide which friends are going to come along with you. So I think any of the things that are difficult, any of the things that you feel like are purging out of your life, any of the people you may feel estranged from or isolated from just realize it's like making room for newer and better things that are more aligned with the values that you have now.
Have you heard about this concept of spiritual fitness? No.
Emily brought it up with a certain amount of sobriety and sort of spiritual fitness. People can do anything, go to a bar or go to a party or whatever without having to drink alcohol. And that term spiritual fitness. Did you make that up? Is that a thing? Oh, God, no. No, that's that's a 12 step thing. It basically just if you're doing the things that you need to do to keep yourself in a good place because you can not take a drink and be a horrible person, you can not take a drink and be white knuckling it.
You can not take a drink, but act out with sex and money and food and every other thing, you know, to fill that hole. So the idea of like we are not running from anything, we're not naming anything, but we're sitting in the present and dealing with our shit.
I think that's kind of being spiritually fit now that you've had this weird, you know, moment in time to develop your spiritual fitness, how do you feel about taking that back out into the world?
Oh, I'm kind of scared. I, I am scared that once all of the loudness of the world resumes.
Like, I won't be able to hear myself again. I don't know if when the world opens up, I will meet friends and drink wine at a bar, I probably will and I'm OK with that.
I think it's just like I want to just constantly be in conversation with myself, because honestly, that that's like one of the things I'd miss the most being in a little New York bar. I miss that so much. Sitting with a book, waiting for your friend to meet you. Yeah.
Oh, and would you feel OK in that situation, being like one water, please?
Oh, God. Sea water feels so boring. What would you say?
OK, so like you and I are going to get drinks. I'm a little late. What do you say to the waiter?
I would be like, hello. I would love a cocktail. Would you mind making me one without alcohol? And my hope is that this imaginary bartender will be like, yeah, let me let me play with some some ingredients here.
Let me shake this thing up. Let me charge you 15 dollars for it anyway, and it'll be great. Oh yeah. Nothing is missing from the experience. It's. Yeah. Get the whole experience.
If you think you might need help, you can call 866 to help. That's four three five seven.
The hotline is open twenty four hours of the day, seven days a week. This episode was produced by Alex, John Loughlin and me, along with the mighty cut team.
Dieser Parker and Allison Barrenger are executive producers are Stella Buckbee, Hanna Rosin and The Shot grow up. This episode was mixed and scored by the wonderful Joel Robbie were made possible by the team at New York Magazine. Subscribe today to support their work at the cut dotcom slash subscribe.
I'm Avery Friedman. Thanks for listening.
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Tropicana, sip your sunshine.