On Staying Sober in Mad Men, Quitting Your Job, and Living Life on Roller Skates

Dear Laura,

I have been addicted (ironically) to our Home Podcast for a month now and have been binge listening from episode 1 and just got thru 15 today and then just skipped ahead to the most recent one (65) and I just have to say how inspiring you are as I feel like we are so very much the same people just in that I can relate to so much of what you share, from work, to love to addiction etc.. 

I love hearing that you love life and your work and life NOW! So amazing! I too have been in the marketing corporate design and UX world for the last 15+ years of my life, (3 kegs on tap at all times, men-centric environment, you get the gist..) and feel like a zombie in my own life.

I have 2 kiddos, a husband, and I run my photography business which I love and would love to do solely along with the health and wellness passion I have, but feel it is all falling apart cause I'm so exhausted and I'm just so drawn to how you talk about finding your flow and I'm searching for all the answers and your podcast grounds me, but also gives me anxiety in that I tend to think that maybe it should start with drinking. Maybe THEN will I find the clarity!? I didn't mean for this to be a therapy session but I just felt the urge to write you and perhaps even reach out for a bit of advice if you have it. How did you quit your job? How did you stay sober in an environment where it's so normal? So much about it scares me but makes me feel like I'm not alone too! So thank you!

Sincerely, 

Jane


Jane,

In my early 20’s, I worked at an insurance company in Boston. I was on the Corporate Communications team and despite being a dry subject, it was a pretty great gig. One day at work someone said something to me I’ll never forget. I had rushed back to my desk between meetings to grab something and a colleague took the opportunity to ask me a question. She interrupted my train of thought and I forgot what I’d come back to my desk for. I got exceedingly frustrated. I remember my body getting hot. I probably brought my hands to my head in some dramatic manner. I was definitely hungover.

While I was trying to pull myself together a small voice rose from the corner of our little area. It was Jen, one of our graphic designers. In her kind, soft spoken voice she said, “Girl, it’s like you’ve always got roller skates on.” She didn’t even look up from her computer as she said it.

There is a breathless quality to your letter that reminds me of that moment. Yes, I was in my early 20’s then and basically, everything about adult life was overwhelming, but that roller skates thing was how I lived until I stopped drinking. It only got crazier as I got older because I took on more, and the stakes got higher. Like you, even with alcohol in my life, I could make a lot of things happen. I got married. I got an MBA. I had a kid. I bought a condo. I got promoted. My life had momentum. I did things. But it lacked a quality of presence, or flow, as you called it—I was always either skidding off to the next thing or crashing into a pile of exhaustion.

You’re raising two kids with your husband. You’ve got a full-time job/career in corporate marketing. You’ve got a photography business on the side. Presumably, you have friends and family who you offer attention and time. You’ve got a passion for health and wellness. You’ve got bills and taxes and groceries and doctor’s appointments and playdates and dirty bathrooms and laundry and God knows what else. Then, you mention, as though it’s not a central character in your story, you battle with addiction and need to address the drinking. 

And, to boot, you’re letter is cheery! With exclamation points!

Of course you are exhausted. 

Just reading your letter made me exhausted.

You’re going through life on roller skates.


Recovering from an addiction isn’t like other task or goal-oriented activities. At least it wasn’t for me or anyone else I know. Yes, there are practical things you learn that start to weave new patterns into your life, but it’s so much bigger than that. The thing that stands out to me the most in your letter is the part about wondering if you should tackle the drinking first. I mean, the obvious answer is yes, but the way it’s asked makes me question whether you get the gravity of it. If you are suffering from an alcohol addiction*, it will impede the rest of your life or worse, forever and ever amen, until you die. It will do this in ways you can see and ways you cannot see, because you don’t know what would unfold in your life if you weren’t doing it. I had absolutely no idea how much energy drinking, not drinking, thinking about drinking, recovering from drinking, was taking from me. I knew it was a lot—but it was more than that.

I want to underscore the bigness of it not to scare you, but to impress upon you the idea that you cannot possibly know how much your life will change, or how. Your inner life, especially, which is where all the real shifts come from.

For my entire life, I had this ache in my heart to write, to teach, but most of what I wanted was unnameable—I just knew I wasn’t doing it. And I didn't know how to get there. It was only after I stopped drinking that a path started to form—both because I had more time, space, energy—but also, and more importantly, because my soul could finally breathe. Without the blunting effect of alcohol, I could finally tap into the energy I’d been dimming out for two decades. I could feel God, my creativity, faith, guidance, intuition, my highest and wisest self—drinking cut off my access to all that. And that is the place from which I was able to steer the ship. It was less that I tasked and managed my way into it, and more that without the resistance my addiction created, I could finally hear the way my life was speaking to me. It is the place from which you will be able to do the same.

It’s not that you don’t have the clarity in you, you just can’t access it and you never will be able to, so long as you’re employed by an addiction.


You asked how I quit my job, and how I stayed sober in an environment where it’s so normalized. 

I’ll answer the second part first. I just did. I just didn’t fucking drink anymore. I stopped going to happy hours and events and I left early when the beer cart came around every Thursday afternoon on the dot at 3:30. When I traveled, I bowed out of the group dinners completely, even if I really should've been there. I stopped caring what that meant for my career or my work relationships and for a while that sucked, and it hurt, and I felt left out and like life was unfair and poor me. But then I realized, as my life started to take a different shape, that I wasn’t missing out on anything—not anything that really mattered. The discomfort was always short lived; the drinking night always passed; the keg always tapped out eventually, to be replaced by a new one.

Yeah, there were some mornings when people would come in giddy and tired, sharing stories from the night before, or the party and I’d have a pang of wistful nostalgia for that camaraderie. I even went to a few happy hours thinking I could socialize and drink soda water and lime and get the same buzzy, free-flowing, fun feeling I did while drinking, but it only made me feel anxious and awkward. I don’t belong in bars for happy hours. I like to drink. A lot. I found other ways to get that buzzy feeling and I hung with myself through the thin times when nothing worked, and I was lonely, and life felt colorless.

I started to realize I could either keep joining and stay on the treadmill for a few hours of relief and “fun,” or I could push through the discomfort and keep my sobriety intact for another day. It's not that I stopped wanting the things I associated with drinking, I just wanted other things more.

I traded quick hits of pleasure for more sustaining joy.

Eventually, my perspective totally changed. I didn't see the Mad Men like environment of advertising the way I used to: wild, rich , and exciting. I instead saw it as flat, shallow, and a hustle I didn't want to do anymore.


As for how I quit my job. Honestly, my job eventually quit me. I just didn’t belong there anymore, if I ever did. For the last several months, every time I walked into the building, I would have this strange, dislocated feeling. Almost like an out of body experience or a David Byrne moment, How did I get here? 

But, I arrived at that point after pouring every ounce of energy and time I could into the other things for almost two years: building HOME with Holly, writing on my blog, submitting articles to publications, creating and teaching my first workshop. I did those things with no promise of a specific outcome. I did those things because they filled me up and they kept me sober. But even up until a week before I quit, I didn’t know how it would come together. The universe conspired on my behalf at exactly the right time. Pieces came together that made it possible in ways I could not have dreamt up, even if I’d tried (I did, incessantly). I think even a few months before I left I was talking to Holly, feeling totally defeated and like I just couldn’t keep it all up for much longer, and I told her the only way this would ever happen was if I married someone with money. Uh-huh. That's what I saw as my only option. That was the limit of my ability to reason it into reality.

Ahem.


If I drew you a diagram of the path that led to the morning I walked in and told my boss I was leaving, it would just look like a big swirl of overlapping circles with a few connected lines here and there. I can’t tell you how, but I can tell you that if you follow the voice that’s telling you to get sober, more will be revealed. I can tell you that you absolutely must address the drinking, regardless of the plans or hopes you have for your career. I can tell you that as big as you might think it is (the drinking, the addiction you mention), it is bigger. It has far more impact than you know.

You can totally upgrade your life. You can get into the flow. You can do photography, or whatever else you want, full-time. You just (just) have to do the hard work of answering the bigger yes, and you have to answer it over, and over, and over again.

Start by taking off the roller skates.


*If you’re wondering if “addiction” is to severe a word, I would proffer that if you put it into a letter to me, it is not—even if it doesn’t look so bad on the outside. Anything you are powerless to stop despite the consequences is an addiction. Another story I tell often is that Wayne Dyer used to have 3-4 beers a night, regularly. He was already a spiritual teacher, the author of many books, he ran 8-10 miles a day and had a healthy, growing family. But he also, always, had the beers. He claims he never got drunk, but he also wouldn't go without them. At some point, a teacher told him that if he ever wanted to achieve what he could with his life alcohol had no place in it. The message is so much bigger than I can express. Here's a short video where he explains it.