Today’s guest, you may be familiar with. She’s a sober blogger, influencer, and recovery advocate and if you’re a fan you might know her from The Sobriety Collective, a blog that highlights creatives in recovery. Laura Silverman got sober when she was 24 and she’s been sober for 11 years. She joined us remotely last week to share about her experience being a young sober person, what it’s like maintaining a social life as well as a healthy recovery, and how she deals with imposter syndrome.
On Experiencing Imposter Syndrome
Skip to: 02:18
Something that I’ve been feeling is a touch of imposter syndrome. Some people are surprised to hear that since I have The Sobriety Collective which has been going up since April 2015. I’m super proud of what I’ve built and the community that I’ve created and [yet I] feel like I don’t belong on the stage of the recovery space and it all sort of boils down to a lot of past trauma. When I was bullied as a kid and as a teenager as well. So, I shared that in front of everyone [at She Recovers] and cried so hard. It was just a super powerful experience. All those women were coming together and supporting me even though I felt like they might be laughing at me.
Often when you’re going through a pretty major shift in your life a pretty big breakthrough, it doesn’t feel like sunshine and unicorns and puppies and roses and ice cream and all the good things. It feels like awful and just terrifying. It can feel that way.
Lindsey (LW): When did you take your first drink?
Skip to: 05:42
Laura (LS): Oh goodness I can actually remember the first time I took a sip of alcohol was in 8th grade. My friend had Coke in a water bottle. I didn’t realize why [at the time] it’s because she had mixed vodka or something. I took a sip and I spit it out immediately I was like, this is disgusting! [Laughs] I wasn’t ready then. Thankfully but I think the first time it really clicked for me. I was 17 and it was the summer before my senior year in high school. I was bullied constantly and so high school wasn’t always easy for me either. And so just kind of coming into that summer I had a lot of stuff that I didn’t really recognize or look out for. I had a lot of anxiety and some panic attacks that had started to happen again. I wasn’t really sure what that was but that was kind of like sort of setting the stage.
I was working as an intern that summer I was hanging out with all the kids that were popular from my school and from the American embassy. I had a beer and I felt like such a rebel goddess. Some of you may know some of you might not know but I have always had as far back as I can remember, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder OCD and generalized anxiety. And when I had that beer really it was like a beer and a half I felt so much more free in my brain. I felt less constricted by all the stuff that I had going on in my head. I felt that sort of loopy and tipsy. Like, [that] “I’ve arrived” feeling. It just felt right. And I had a really really low tolerance. So two beers got me pretty drunk. I remember feeling just amazing. For whatever reason though, I didn’t drink again until my high school graduation and I really picked up in college and beyond. It was a pretty short drinking trajectory. All said and done I drank for six years.
LW: So that’s typically the time where people are at the height of [their drinking] or that’s when they start…
Skip to: 08:55
Laura (LS): I know it’s crazy. And I’ve met some people that say they didn’t actually start drinking until they were like 25 or 26. And these people aren’t in recovery they’re just like regular people who don’t drink a ton but didn’t get into drinking for one reason or another until their mid to late 20s. Whereas I was very much done by the time I was just 24. So you know it has not always been easy especially as a young person in recovery and in sobriety. I certainly felt like I was the only person going through this and I didn’t see any others like me for quite some time.
Part of my story is having gone through the 12 steps and being part of a 12 step community at length for about two years. But when I was 24 and 25 and 26 like I kind of did things on my own for the most part. I hadn’t really met other people like me. I had friends who were supportive of me and cut back on their own drinking [and] definitely didn’t drink around me. My family as well of course. But I had a lot of drinking buddies that I realized were just that. Our friendships either fizzled out or I had to put a hard stop and boundaries on [those relationships]. “I can’t hang out with you again because I’m not drinking and you’re about influence on me.” It’s not their fault that I got drunk but it certainly did help the situation when I was hanging out with them. Social life as a young person recovery is not easy. It’s definitely doable.
I wanted to take a minute to talk about mental health because I know that’s kind of your domain and especially right now with it being national OCD Awareness Week. You were telling me about an interview that you’ve just done with Club Mental on Instagram. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
Skip to: 10:52
Laura (LS): Yeah absolutely. So Amy Keller Laird is the former editor of Women’s Health Magazine I actually met her at [the] Mental Health America conference a couple of years ago. She was on a panel and she was amazing and I was like wow. Here’s this editor of Women’s Health which is a magazine that I read and she was talking about her experience with OCD and it was just so inspirational to see someone who I thought was cool and empowering and sharp to be so public about something that I have always had a lot of shame about. I can’t remember how we got to talking but we had followed each other on Twitter and a few months ago she said I’m starting this new mental health community on Instagram called Club Mental, you know make sure to call me.
And so in my talking about OCD just over the years, [Amy] asked me if I would be a part of this interview series her national OCD Awareness Week where she interviews people who are outspoken advocates of mental health. I highly encourage everyone to check it out. They can find it either on Club Mental’s Instagram or on mine at @wearesober. It’s about 10 slides and you can read about how OCD manifests in my life, how it’s related to my sobriety, when did I first notice that I had it, what are my struggles with it, have I had any sort of triumphs and successes with things that worked for me. Moral of the story is that it’s something that I still struggle with. It sometimes goes into hiding and then sometimes comes back and it’s always there. I just have to be very vigilant about my mental health and well-being.
View this post on Instagram
Yeah, there’s a day and a week for everything…but this is an important one. Actually, an important two. October 7-13 is both Mental Illness Awareness Week and International OCD Awareness Week. 💛 So each weekday this week, I’ll be posting the story of a different person who has OCD, so we can all gain more empathy, more understanding, and less stigma. 💛 Kicking off this initiative is what I’m now terming the @club_mental “Insta-view” (Instagram interview)—today featuring Laura Silverman, director of community relations for an adolescent treatment center in the DC area and founder of The Sobriety Collective @wearesober, a digital recovery hub. 💛 She’s smart and insightful, and what she says on slide 3 about being hyper aware, well, I’ll just drop that as a little Instagram clickbait. 💛 Show her some LOVIN’ for sharing and speaking out! 👊💛 #ocdweek #ocd #ocdawareness #ocdproblems #miaw #mentalhealthawareness #mentalillnessawareness #curestigma #nosuchnormal #breakthestigma #nostigma #thingspeoplesaidaboutmymentalillness #recoveryquotes #soberoctober #instaview #thefutureisstigmafree
Another thing that I would mention is that I get really annoyed when I see brands and people that just poke fun OCD. I’m so OCD about this or whatever. What they mean is that they’re a little particular and anal about certain things and that’s okay to be. But I would highly encourage them to not use language like that because there are some of us who actually, I think 2% of the population which translates to about 1 in 50 people have obsessive-compulsive disorder. And it’s real and it’s oftentimes debilitating and a lot of people don’t realize what it actually is and what it means to be afflicted by it. There are people who can fully recover and I’m working on being one of those people but I’m 35 years old and I’ve had it since I was 6. It’s just the thing that’s part of part of my life right now.
LW: You’ve been sober for 11 years. How do you do it?
Skip to: 14:30
Laura (LS): Well there are a lot of things that I learned from my time in Alcoholics Anonymous even while the ideology and the people and their own ideologies didn’t always work for me. There are a lot of sort of program tenets that stuck with me. And one of the things is one day at a time. Now I don’t say every morning when I wake up, Today I won’t drink. Let’s just see how things go tomorrow or whatever. It’s more like you can only live one day at a time. So you know just be present in your day to day life and you know make the commitment even if you don’t do it in words. I’m past the point of like making a daily commitment to stay sober. It’s part of me. It’s my default now but this whole thing about one day at a time really applies to my mental health and my just state of being. And there is something to be said about that ism.
So you take taking things one day at a time finding something that works for you. And I had to do a lot of trial and error. Also as you get to the point of being in long-term recovery you’ll find that there are different things that work for you in different phases of your recovery. In the beginning, I was just getting my feet wet with what it meant to not be drinking and not be a shit show and train wreck in my own life. And once I got some solid standing and footing with my sobriety then it was like OK what kind of social support can I seek out? And I did go to AA as I said for a while. You know I found a therapist I found a psychiatrist. I was a very avid reader at the beginning of my sobriety and read everything that I could get my hands on.
Having an open mind and flexibility about what is working for you at any given point in time and not beating yourself up. If something did work for you before [and] isn’t now just being a seeker and finding what fits. So I would say that that’s really important.
One thing that I can struggle with and also believe is the most important things in a healthy recovery is having self-compassion and forgiveness. I’m actually working on some things with an amazing coach and spiritual teacher, Beverly Sartain. She’s just a phenomenal woman. And you know I’m at the point where I recognized I want a coach. I also want a new therapist. And I want to be able to work on things in my life. So being open to what you need is really crucial in recovery.
I don’t drink I stay away from situations that could be dangerous obviously. A dangerous thing for me would be to go to like a rager or an all-night party or something. A more subtle thing that you can absolutely say no to if you don’t want to go is a happy hour for a colleague or a friend’s goodbye or something. You may want to see that person but if you are still early on in your recovery and you don’t feel comfortable being around alcohol, it’s okay to say no. So learning to say no. Learning to set boundaries for yourself.
Finding a community and that also means your family, be it family of origin, a family of choice, or a combination of the two. So finding people that you can have on your side who support you.
Whenever you go to a social situation where you may encounter strangers or people you don’t know very well having someone there who knows you [who] you can tell you’re not drinking. It’s not about babysitting or even being accountable for your actions but it’s so that you have someone that you can sort of share the burden with. As you get further along into your recovery, you can make those decisions as you see fit. I don’t always tell people if I’m going to a networking thing that I’m sober and I’m not drinking. But if someone offers me a drink I’ll say, I don’t drink. Or I’ll make a joke, I don’t drink – anymore. Maybe I’ll say I’m allergic to alcohol, I could break out in handcuffs.
I think I was a little lucky that my foray into sobriety stopped when it did. I feel very fortunate that in my story I haven’t had relapses or lapses or recurrences of use. But I do think that if someone does have a lapse, they don’t negate any progress that they’ve made just by “falling into their old habits.” There are just so many things that go into it.
You can’t replicate what works for me for everyone else. But the key is to find something that that does work for you. Be open-minded and always seek new knowledge. Be gentle with yourself, too, and [don’t] isolate.
LW: I think a lot of people when they are considering going sober have that thought, “Oh but my life will be so boring. How am I going to have fun?” Did you ever have that thought and how did you get over it? How do you have fun without booze?
Skip to: 20:42
Laura (LS): Oh my gosh all the time. To put it plainly before I was drinking, I was someone who judged people for drinking. When I was drinking, I judged people for not drinking. And now that I’m not drinking I’m not judging people for drinking but I highly encourage them to look at why they’re doing it and make sure that they’re in it for themselves. I had a lot of trouble in the beginning. And I had become that popular party girl. I know Kelly of the Sober Senorita talks a lot about how she used to be a party girl and that was sort of her identity and in college that was my identity too. And so shedding that I was honestly fearful that I would become that dorky nerdy bullied girl again. So, in the beginning, my focus wasn’t so much on how do I have fun but how do I stay healthy and how can I support my burgeoning recovery journey.
So a lot of the things I did was cancel on social situations and social outings. I didn’t go to a bar I think for the first like five or six months. I read and I watched movies. I hung out with my family a lot and some close friends. Then as I started to get a little more comfortable in being sober I could find activities and groups of people that didn’t necessarily center around alcohol. I think something that can be really helpful for people and it helped me is Meetup.com. You can find so many different types of groups out there and some of them are are revolving around drinking but there are just as many that are centered around healthy living [activities] like hiking. And if you’re into crafting there are embroidery circles and if you’re into reading there are book clubs that aren’t booze driven. I’ve been in a booze-driven book club and we didn’t really talk about the book a whole lot. I joined a karaoke group a few years ago and I may have been one of the only sober people. But it was something that I enjoyed doing and I could do it without drinking and without worrying about people pressuring me to drink.
Sobriety is sort of becoming like this thing to be. Well, not just the thing to be celebrated but like Drink Revolution the sort of offshoot of IOGT International, a Swedish based NGO that does just amazing work on education and policy around alcohol. This thing they started, Drink Revolution, really encourages people to try on sobriety and see what that’s like and, seek out activities that don’t revolve around drinking.
There are definitely ways to socialize without drinking and ways to have fun without drinking just got to be a little creative sometimes. And if you don’t see a community out there start one because I guarantee you that someone else is looking to connect.