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Womxn & Alcohol: Alana Nugent’s recovery journey is entirely her own  

Earlier this year, we began a Womxn & Alcohol Series that took an unplanned pause at the onset of the pandemic in order to juggle time-sensitive stories and kids at home. We, like so many businesses, went into a tailspin trying to figure out our new direction, and in our limited slices of time we focused our efforts on frantically pumping out Covid-related content. In doing so, certain stories got pushed to the side—but our recovery series should have always remained a priority.

At the expense of our society’s collective efforts to curb the virus, our mental health is suffering. Loneliness in isolation, juggling the impossible load of full-time childcare with work, anxiety of the unknown, and inescapable news headlines have created an environment so tense that escapism has never been so alluring! But it’s not going to help us. 

We’re going to bring back what we started, and continue to share a range of recovery stories so that folx can see themselves in other people’s journeys. 

Alana Nugent is the Marketing Director & Community Manager at bebo mia, an online education organization that provides training, community, and business mentorship to birth workers. Alana also helps facilitate a variety of workshops through bebo mia, including a Diverse Families course that supports practitioners in becoming an effective ally in order to create communities that welcome everyone. 

Alana is also a doting parent, loving partner, fierce intersectional feminist, loyal friend, and will be celebrating three years of sobriety this September. 

In the interview below, Alana courageously shares how she got sober and maps out how she manages life day to day. If you are struggling right now, we’re sure you will find insight and hope through her story. There are so many of us. You are not alone.

How did you stop drinking?

This is a question that I am still trying to answer to myself and to anyone that asks. It’s not a very cute or sexy story. The short version is that I got drunk at a friend’s party and picked a fight with my (now) fiancée when we got home. I said terrible things that I didn’t mean and behaved in a way that makes my insides hurt every time I think about that night. This was not the first, second, third, fourth or even fifth time something like this had happened in our relationship. Bianca (my fiancée) had been working really hard to open up dialogue between us regarding my toxic relationship to alcohol. I did what I could to please her and meet her needs while also keeping my relationship with alcohol. Spoiler alert: I couldn’t do both. So, after one of my most stellar (read: appalling) performances whilst drunk, Bianca gave me two choices: My family or my addiction. And I got to choose. I chose my family. Through shameful sobs I took myself to my first AA meeting on Sunday, September 24th, 2017. It was an all women’s meeting, and that detail feels pertinent to me. Finding, creating, building, supporting, uplifting, and sustaining recovery spaces that are by and for womxn is incredibly important to me. And finding SheRecovers and Jen McNeely here in Toronto came at just the right time. I just needed to know there was something else out there, other than AA, that I could access. And there is. 

What does your recovery look like today?

Recovery today looks like the following:

Going to therapy biweekly. I love my therapist so much and love that we are able to call upon a number of non-traditional modalities to support and fortify my healing journey. I’m also so grateful that I found her because she is affordable. One of my biggest concerns when I began therapy was whether or not I would be able to afford regular appointments. Looking towards the future I’d definitely like to get involved in organizing or supporting a community fund that improves accessibility for things like psychotherapy and mind/body/spirit healing for vulnerable folks in my community. It’s been a bit of a challenge adjusting to therapy over the phone. I maintained my bi-weekly appointments and was actually surprised that my therapist didn’t immediately choose video appointments. We ended up really finding our groove through our phone appointments, but it helps that her guided meditations in our therapy sessions are so freaking amazing that I’ve had some pretty powerful breakthroughs. I am excited to be able to see my therapist in person in the near future to continue our somatic work, and happy we were able to find connection in our sessions during the lockdown and physical distancing recommendations of COVID-19.

Reading. I’m currently reading The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease by Marc David Lewis which was gifted to me by my #sobersister and best friend Amy Willis. I have found that reading is an incredible tool to re-pattern my brain when I’m feeling anxious. I am drawn to unhealthy & addictive behaviours when I am overwhelmed by my big feelings. Remembering the tools I already had at the beginning of my journey was instrumental in laying down some healthy foundations.

Meditation. I’ve always dabbled in meditation and love using apps like HeadSpace and Calm. Thanks to Jen McNeely, who introduced me to Sarah Blondin & Insight Timer, I attended my first SheRecovers meeting a while back. I was able to commit to daily meditation and found that the words of Sarah Blondin were extremely fortifying and supported me in addressing some real deep issues that were preventing me from connecting to myself. I challenge any woman to listen to Sarah Blondin and not weep in a transformative way. 

Nature. This one is huge. I make sure that I connect with nature EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. And more often than not, especially right now, connecting with nature sometimes means walking out to my backyard in my bare feet and planting my feet into the ground and taking a few moments to be where my feet are – this is clearly a warm weather activity but hey, maybe a barefoot winter backyard walk has its own benefits?! I often ride my bike up to Taylor Creek or down along the Lakeshore. Riding the Lakeshore path from east to west or vice versa is very special to me. Point is that we don’t have to turn this into a weekend getaway or camping trip or even a day trip out to Dundas Peak. Find a piece of nature that looks good to you and enjoy being there with it. We are fortunate to still have quite a bit of stunning green space/trails/parks in and around our city. 

Movement. Also critical for me as a former elite athlete and someone who requires physical movement to move my big feelings through and out of me, I have to move my body. For a big, deep feeler like me moving my body every day is a non-negotiable.

Showing up everyday. Back in January I chose my motto for 2020: “I can do hard things.” Difficult conversations often evoke shame and discomfort in me, especially when I am co-parenting our 12-year-old, working through old hurt with my partner, or addressing childhood trauma. When I choose to sit through the uncomfortable experience, I move through things with greater ease and confidence. It is critical that we hold space for uncomfortable experiences. This process prevents a backlog of big feelings, like shame and unworthiness, from building up and creating the kind of pressure that makes us want to escape. There is good news! On the other side of holding space, connecting, and being comfortable with getting uncomfortable, is connection – deep, joyous connection even! That’s something that I first heard from my partner, Bianca, in the early days of our relationship. Who knew that my 2020 motto was going to be so on point?! I have used this phrase almost every single day of 2020. And gosh, I cannot help but make connections between the things I am discovering in my personal recovery work and the activism work I am witnessing and supporting and engaging in and how I can start putting ALL of these pieces together. Showing up everyday is hard. It’s ok if we have hard days. We get to keep trying, everyday.  

Talking. Being vocal and proud to discuss my journey is important to me and keeps me accountable. I’m so grateful to Amy & Bianca for being such incredible listeners and supportive people. I’m also super, super grateful to my other #sobersister Nat Fader

Social media. I want to shout out all of the incredibly smart, interesting, fun, and inspiring folx that have taken to social media to support recovery & sobriety in others. This was life changing for me. When I didn’t see myself in ANY of the physical recovery spaces I turned to social media and I am so freaking grateful I did. I do my best to send the dollars I can spare to the folx doing the digital work (and also in real life) and encourage anyone reading this to do the same. Those “followers” are simply a number that does not financially support the emotional labour being done by recovery advocates. 

Having a partner that has chosen to be my sober companion. Full stop.

What was a major discovery you made during the early days (months) of your recovery?

I was actually shocked at how fast some of the big discoveries came to me. I started having vivid dreams with the message that alcohol is dangerously oppressive. I discovered that I had been working so hard to have a relationship with something that simply did not work for me, my body, or my spirit. The way the alcohol industry markets to us (especially womxn and especially moms) is inextricably linked to the patriarchy. I believe that since alcohol was historically used as a colonizing tool, that it is still used today for these very same things; to silence/discredit/invalidate/incarcerate/steal/sexually abuse vulnerable & BIPOC folks, and it is especially used a tool to oppress, silence and ultimately murder those who identify as womxn. 

What have you discovered more recently?

That I’m ready to do more writing and deeper work to really get to the root of why I turned to escapism in the first place. That recovery work can also be applied to recovering from white supremacy. That global health crises and anti-Black racism are also things that make me want to escape. That I am so happy I am not someone standing in line at the LCBO anymore. And that my desire to heal myself is one of the very special & sacred things about me that connects me to everyone – I really had to lean on this concept when my friend died in May and I had no way of being in space with others to grieve. 

When someone asks you why you don’t drink, how do you respond?

I am a lot more comfortable and confident now saying that I had a toxic relationship with alcohol and it almost ended my primary relationship. Sometimes I will identify as an alcoholic to drive the point home. Sometimes I will say I am in recovery from alcohol use disorder. It all depends on who I am talking to and who I believe needs to hear a more dramatic statement. 

What does fun look like to you today?

I feel blessed that I can confidently say I have fun everyday. I used to go to a lot of concerts. I love to play cards and hang out with friends where we have inspiring conversations about how we’re going to dismantle the kyriarchy. I plan and execute awesome outdoor adventures for myself, my family, and my friends. I have coffee-dates with important people in my life in spaces that make me feel cozy and happy. I ride my bike – I LOVE riding my bike so much! I go for walks with Bianca – we’ve been walking 10 KM everyday since COVID-19 lockdown started and it has been SO great in helping us “get it out” of our bodies. Fun is one of my core values and always will be and I will forever be looking for interesting and thoughtful ways to create fun for myself and others.

What do you want to say to the person who is still struggling?

Your recovery or relationship to alcohol is yours and yours alone. How you talk about it and engage with it is your business. This doesn’t have to be an all or nothing journey to “make it count”. Most importantly, find ONE person that you can trust and talk to and that has the space and time to be present whenever you need them, especially in the first few months. This comes with the caveat that you have checked in with that person first and established that this is the nature of your relationship and that they consent to it. Do NOT make the assumption that your best friend or sister or whomever is available because that’s who you are used to turning to. 

What stigma do you think needs to be smashed? 

That there is something wrong with you or you are “less than” when you discover that your body, mind, and spirit are sick when you consume alcohol. You are a whole and complete person, no matter what.

What’s the greatest gift that sobriety has given you?

FREEDOM & the opportunity to heal generational & personal trauma. The freedom to know that I have the privilege & power to choose and create my reality. I don’t take this lightly. Sure I’m visibly queer and Gender Non-Conforming (GNC). I’m also white with a post-secondary education and I’m employed by my partner. So, I also have the freedom to be loud and proud about my recovery without fear of losing my job or being judged or having my child apprehended. Our team at bebo mia supports me and my recovery journey. I’m incredibly fortunate and know this isn’t the case for most. 

Read more from our Womxn In Alcohol series here

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