Sobriety is a hot topic in Hollywood and with more people turning to alcohol for pandemic-related stress relief, stars like Chrissy Teigen are sharing their secret to abstinence: the book Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed With Alcohol by Holly Whitaker. "It's giving them a license to really consider how substances show up in their lives," Whitaker tells Yahoo Life. "And how they want to approach that versus how society tells them they should approach that."
Whitaker, who published her book in 2019, says the celebrity support for her movement shines a new light on what it means to be sober. In December, Teigen called Whitaker’s book “an incredible read" and the impetus for her sobriety. “I was done with making an ass of myself in front of people (I’m still embarrassed), tired of day drinking and feeling like shit by 6, not being able to sleep,” Teigen wrote on Instagram. And country singer Margo Price praised the book in a March essay for GQ writing, “For the first time in my life, I felt like I was being told the truth about alcohol.”
Whitaker herself was only 14 when she started drinking alcohol, embarking on a 17-year journey that forced the Brooklyn entrepreneur to confront the question: “Am I an alcoholic or am I not?”
There was no intuitive answer for Whitaker, who didn’t identify as an alcoholic per se, as her intake ebbed and flowed. “It showed up in my life in different ways at different times,” says Whitaker. “Sometimes I didn't need it at all, sometimes I drank excessively and sometimes I drank the same amount as my friends. And sometimes I was drinking in secret and drinking far more than I knew I should, but I always looked at it in this binary lens.”
Whitaker had to consider whether alcohol was a positive influence, full stop. “When I gave myself space to really look at it, the answer was, no, I don't want this in my life,” she admits. “So I made changes in order to remove it.”
In 2015, Whitaker started Hip Sobriety School, an eight-week online program offering resources and peer support, now rebranded as the digital recovery platform Tempest. “What Tempest really does is bring people into a process of recovery, without forcing abstinence, without saying you have to work steps or get a sponsor [or] do these specific linear things,” explains Whitaker. “Individuals get to really build something that is fashioned in their own needs.”
Tempest "brings individuals into a process of recovery where they get to really build something that is fashioned in their own needs." And Whitaker wants to erase the shame of alcoholism (“If you don't drink, it’s assumed you had a problem with it," she says) by removing emphasis from the individual and onto the billion-dollar alcohol industry. "There are individuals who find extreme benefit in calling themselves alcoholics," she says. "…We all have the choice of how we identify, but there is something that's really specific about the word alcoholic," she says, that ignores "the spectrum of addiction."
Alcohol use is rising — a February study conducted by the American Psychological Association found that 23 percent of adults have increased their stress-fueled alcohol intake (with a higher percentage among parents with children in elementary school) and a national survey by the non-profit research organization RAND found that women have increased their “heavy drinking episodes,” which the researchers defined as at least four drinks within a couple of hours, by 41 percent. “The pandemic has increased how we consume alcohol for a number of reasons from isolation to unrelenting stress and being sold this image that alcohol is how we make it through,” says Whitaker.
So what does a healthy relationship with alcohol look like? According to Whitaker, it's all about moderation. "It's the same as asking, do you think it's possible to have a healthy relationship with cigarettes? The answer is some people can use cigarettes in an extremely moderate way, [one] that doesn't ruin their lives or kill them," she says. "But anytime you're drinking, you're essentially tangling with a toxic carcinogenic addictive substance. It really is a matter of informed consent."
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