Practicing The Pause

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Yesterday, after returning home from a work trip, I was running errands with my son. Leaving the gas station, I noticed he had my two-year medallion, and was flipping it, like a heads or tails.

“Be careful with that buddy,” I said. “It represents the most important thing that I have.”

We’d eaten pumpkin pancakes that morning, and taken our new puppy for walks in the fall leaves. I also took a walk by myself, a long one. Walking on the sidewalk in my neighborhood, the day after another senseless act of violence tore apart another community, I prayed:

“What do You want me to do? What is my place in all of this?”

Three years ago when I started getting sober, I didn’t really practice discernment. OK, I hardly ever did. But it’s a gift I’ve thankfully come to know, and want to know more of. In the past few weeks I’ve been praying for discernment about the work that I’m doing through Tell Better Stories, and have come to the decision to take a break. This doesn’t mean that I won’t be writing about these issues again, but for now I’m not going to be updating the Instagram, or creating new content tied to this project.

Why? Many reasons. Mostly I just need a break. Running Tell Better Stories the way that I have been takes a bandwidth I don’t have right now. Also, honestly, I’m practicing this thing called discernment, sitting still with the question of how do I want to use my voice in this space now? And beyond this space, what about my own community?

When I started this account 10 months ago, it was to collect and surface the incredible volume of cultural messages we see daily regarding women and alcohol, particularly in lifestyle media. I did it mostly on Instagram to keep it separate from my personal feed, and because I believe that looking at the cultural narratives around alcohol are bigger than any one person. Also, while my recovery and sobriety is the cornerstone of my life, it’s not everything I do or work on. It is the cornerstone, and the portal through which I walked through and live my life.

Anyhow, I wasn’t sure if anyone would really care, but I couldn’t not not do it, so I did it. It turns out people really did care, and I received thoughtful submissions and notes from around the world. I believe I accomplished what I set out to do, which was to create a space where I could examine the drumbeat messaging we receive: that alcohol is an essential part of a woman’s life, that it goes hand-in-hand with everything from PTO meetings to yoga classes, and to do it while holding up the very real struggle of dependence and addiction in the U.S.

A beautiful thing happened in the process: I heard from many women who said things like, “Thank you for giving me the words to talk about these things. I thought I was the only one who was uncomfortable” or “I didn’t know why I felt so ‘off’ when I hear jokes about alcohol. Thanks for helping me understand.”

I also heard from many, many women who shared that they wanted to stop drinking but didn’t know how, or that they had been sober for years and thought something was wrong with them for being bothered by the alcohol messages (there’s not), and women on day one and beyond saying, “How did you do it?” and “Thank you for helping me feel less alone.”

Friends, I have done nothing new. This is what people in recovery have done forever. I’ve just done it through the lens of being an editor, one who has lived in the lifestyle media world and in the recovery world and who gives context to messages. I share what others have taught me.

One of the most important lessons I’ve been taught is that whatever I put before my sobriety I will lose. Today I have the privilege to have a fantastic life in recovery, and that life is calling me to go deeper into it.

I’m calling this a break, not a goodbye. I’ll leave @tellbetterstories2018 IG up, and hope the resources I’ve created will be helpful, but won’t be checking messages/responding to comments, at least for now. I acknowledge the beautiful community that has grown here and encourage each of you to continue to do the work in your own lives, communities, and in the world, as well as supporting other folks who are speaking and writing about sobriety and recovery beautifully. (Our numbers have grown so much this year!)

Finally, I feel something big happening in 2019. I’m particularly heartened by work by people who are part of the solution to the deep underlying problems that fuel our quest to numb our feelings. I want to go deeper too, both in my personal journey and in the way I engage with the world.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the course of this year, it’s that the better story that we tell always starts with ourselves. I believe there’s going to be a day where we take alcohol as the serious public health issue that it is. Until then, we must decide for ourselves how we relate to it and what stories we tell about it, and everything underneath.

I believe that one person can make a change, be it writing a letter to an editor, or speaking to a fitness instructor, or choosing not to joke about alcohol. I believe you don’t have to be sober to be smart and thoughtful, to consider how badly we are suffering as a nation, to have empathy. I believe real change starts with the individual and spreads outward, with courageous souls who choose to show up for this life every single day.

I’m so thankful for everyone who has read and contributed to this project, and hope we can continue to have a conversation however that may look in the future. Thanks for helping me Tell Better Stories.

Love,

Erin

Erin Street