Monday, May 6, 2013

Take THAT, Stigma

Something happened this past weekend that would have been utterly unimaginable when I was drinking.

I got together with a group of women (with an awesome visit from a couple of men, too!) who are all members of a fantastic online group called the "BFB" - it stands for the Booze Free Brigade.

I love that it's called a Brigade, because that's what we are - we're warriors.  Some people in this group are still drinking, or struggling to put more than a few days together, but that doesn't matter.  What matters is that we're all in this together - rooting each other on through our triumphs and tribulations with compassion, love and support.

When I was drinking my life got progressively smaller and darker.  By the end, I was so utterly lost and alone and full of shame, that the notion that a group of women could get together without alcohol and laugh until we were holding our sides and tears streamed down our faces was incomprehensible.  The idea that we could cry freely and without shame, that we could pour out our fears and vulnerabilities and fall back into such loving, compassionate arms, would have sent me running in the other direction.

When I was drinking, I lost the ability to feel, to show up in my own life.  I handled all emotions by going around them, losing myself in what I thought were the soothing effects of alcohol.  All I was doing was numbing out, hiding from playing the starring role in my own existence.

It's hard to find words to describe how this past weekend felt.  Every conversation was soulful, real.  We connected on a visceral level, these women who I had mostly previously only known through the pixelated world of my computer screen. 

As I drove to our rented house outside of Boston, I prayed that these people would be who I thought they were... it's the internet, after all.  Even though I felt such a strong connection to them, there is always the underlying fear that maybe I'm reading more into it than I should.  You can present any version of yourself you want over the internet, after all.   Going to spend three days and two nights with them felt exciting and a little risky.

But, when it comes down to it, we can present any version of ourselves we want to in real life, too, can't we?  In fact, we frequently do.  Don't you have several versions of yourself?  We are very, very rarely able to be completely ourselves.  Part of this is out of necessity, of course.  You aren't going to present the vulnerable, fearful version of yourself at work.  Or at a PTA meeting, or on the sidelines of a soccer game. Even among good friends, I know that I hold back often - although in sobriety I don't really shape shift much, anymore - but it's still rare that I can be my wholehearted self in my day-to-day life.

We went into Fanueil Hall, a huge marketplace in the heart of Boston.  Trying to get 16 women to come up with a plan of action - even to walk from one side of the marketplace to the other - was next to impossible.  Why?  Because we were lost in conversations with each other, one-on-one or in smaller groups, basking in simply being around each other.   It was like a drug, really, the feeling of connectedness I felt.

When I was drinking I was so careful to look put together.  I never showed my vulnerabilities, for fear you'd know that I was deeply flawed in some fundamental way.   I didn't understand the disease of alcoholism, I thought it was all about drinking.  I didn't realize the other aspects - how the chasm between our insides and how our outsides look gets wider and wider until our self-esteem, confidence and love for ourselves falls right in, deep down to the bottom of a bottle.

The idea that I could be so open, so trusting, so real - without a drop of alcohol in my system - was totally incomprehensible when I was drinking.  With recovering women I simply am.   We are drawn together because of our vulnerabilities, not in spite of them.  There isn't any one-upping each other.  This group represents all ages and stages of life. Recovery time ranges from days to years - and who knows?  Maybe even hours.  We are all alcoholics, after all.  It's possible there could have been people still struggling.  But it doesn't matter.

The important thing is that we're there for each other, because we're all the same.  Our adversities bind us together in ways that I just don't find in my day-to-day life.

That's what I didn't understand, before I got sober.  How grateful I'd be that I'm an alcoholic in recovery, because I would get the gift of me

We recorded a Bubble Hour episode Friday night, about negative self-talk, thinking patterns, and the tools we use to break self-destructive thought patterns.   There we were, a group of women, talking openly and without fear about our innermost thoughts.  We come together to share our experience, strength and hope to help ourselves first, and to help anyone else out there still struggling understand just how rich life can be on the other side of drinking.  Not perfect. Not easy. But oh so very rich.

I got to wrap my arms around these women who support me in more ways than I can articulate. I can't count how many times I said "I love you", without embarrassment and straight from my heart.  It doesn't matter that I'd never met them in person before.  They are woven into my life, into my spirit, in ways that defy explanation.

And one of the biggest gifts?  Meeting Lisa - one of the three Bubble Hour co-hosts (and co-moderator of Crying Out Now, too).

Ellie, Lisa and Amanda

Lisa, Amanda and I had never met - all three of us - in person before.  It felt like we had known each our whole lives (in Amanda's case, I have known her almost all my life, over 30 years, and what a blessing to share the gift of sobriety with my best friend - and former drinking buddy).

Now? It's hard to imagine my life without these women.

We recorded a video while we were there - our version of the Harlem Shake.  I won't share it in order to protect the anonymity of the women there, but I had a moment while we were filming it.  Dancing around with stuff on our heads (bowls, hats, magazines, towels - you name it) to the Harlem Shake... stone cold sober.  I thought to myself:  take that, stigma.   When people picture alcoholics, I don't think we're quite at the place where they see vibrant, funny, intelligent and compassionate women dancing and enjoying life to its fullest.  But we're working on that.  Together.

If you're still struggling, take heart.  Keep talking.  Keep showing up.  Get honest with yourself first, and please know that there are SO many people out there who understand, who know exactly how you feel.

You are NOT alone.

We're here.  And we will welcome you with open arms.


  1. I love that you got together with so many sober friends. That is something I would love to do someday.

    Maybe the next time you plan one I can drive up from Baltimore and join you all?

    1. Sunday - there are meet-ups all over the country! Send me an email to if you want to learn more!!


  2. Oh Ellie, this made my heart so heavy (in a good way) and made me teary. This is something so magical about sharing "this thing of ours", our sober, peaceful, joyous la cosa nostra. Leaving is so hard. But what comforts me is to hear all of us talking about "the next time", whenever and wherever that may be. We KNOW it will happen again, that we will be together again, many familiar faces and hopefully, many new ones who are looking to believe that living sober can be beautiful.

    I never did -this- kind of thing while I was drinking. Sure, I did group trips, but it was always saturated with alcohol and false or facilitated intimacy. Meeting up with and spending time with my fellow recovering alcoholics is such a huge part of this big, beautiful sober life. The freedom to be real, with or without fear (my choice), and to be reminded I am never alone, even across the country.

    I left a piece of my heart in Boston. I'll be back for it again. xoxo

    1. Thank you, Lisa, my friend. You left a part of your heart with me, too, and I'm not giving it back. :)


    2. Please do. I brought a piece of you home with me and I keep hearing your words of wisdom, enlightenment, and honesty in relation to the things I'm dealing with. It's beautiful. : )

  3. I love this post.

    I don't think that being afraid to be oneself is limited to just alcoholics though, I think many of us struggle with this in some way, hiding behind any number of things, not just booze. I found myself nodding in agreement to much of this post.

    Sounds like a great time and a great group.

  4. Wow I am so happy that you all met and had such a moving experience. I LOVE the bubble hour and the work you do is saving lives,keeping sanity intact, including mine. So, thank you, thank you, and thank God you liked each other!
    You ladies rock!

  5. Awesome, Ellie! So fun to see a picture of all three of you together! Love what you gals are doing! I just nominated you for a "Shine On" award! To accept and participate go here: Thanks for all you do and for being such an inspiration!

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