A lot of people, when they first "get sober," have a come-to-Jesus moment. In fact, Step 2 of the classic Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step recovery program is to "come to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." Steps 3, 5, 6, and 11 all make specific reference to the G-word (yes, God), while step 12 sums things up with this: "Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs."
But for me, you see, it was the other way around.
Connecting to the idea of myself as spiritual was the catalyst for me to reframe my relationship with alcohol. Let's be clear: I'm not totally abstinent from alcohol. I still have a drink on occasion. Growing up in a resolutely secular household, my adult life has been tinged with an innate distrust of organized religion.
But having spent the past five years investigating the more mystical realms of the human experience while creating my online magazine, The Numinous, I have developed my own relationship to my sense of "spirit"—what some might simply define as my "life force." And it has become increasingly clear that when it comes to connecting to this part of myself on a regular basis, booze is enemy No. 1.
It's ironic when you consider how I started. When I started drinking in my early 20s, I felt like I’d found the elixir of life itself. A rookie journalist in London (whose boyfriend also happened to be a club promoter), I quickly morphed from studious college swot to high-achieving party girl. Shy and bookish by nature, I now found myself nailing deadlines by day and downing pints of lager at night.
It was the era of the ladettes, of Cool Britannia, and Kate Moss stumbling out of the Met Bar.
On TV, Sex and the City taught us that bonding with your girlfriends meant rounds of cosmos for brunch. Not only did drinking grant me access to a world of sophistication and glamour—I felt my kudos in the eyes of my colleagues grew along with my ability to keep it together after three large glasses of chardonnay.
As the years rolled by in a blur of brilliant laughs, thrilling scrapes, and the inevitable crashing hangovers, a small voice, somewhere very deep in my psyche, began to question whether the ups were worth the downs. After all, the downs, if I was honest, were becoming unbearable. But I consistently chose to drown that voice out with another ridiculously strong homemade vodka martini.
Not that I would ever have considered myself an "alcoholic." I always had at least three nights a week off the sauce and never passed out or threw up from drinking. My career had gone from strength to strength, and my relationships were only enhanced by alcohol.
But when I moved to New York and went freelance in 2012, there was a shift. Removed from my family and friends and stripped of the kudos that came with my fancy job as features editor on the Sunday Times Style supplement, I began to use booze as a crutch—a glittering yet precarious bridge across the "isn’t my life fabulous" gap—which worked a treat, so long as I kept drinking. I still thought my life was pretty fabulous. It was only on the grim and grimy mornings after that I became acutely aware of how lonely and displaced I felt inside.
It was shortly after this that I began work on The Numinous, with which I intended to dust off all things "New Age" and give them a chic and aspirational upgrade for what I began calling the "now age." After all, yoga and meditation were becoming more and more mainstream, and everyone in my magazine world was obsessed with the monthly horoscopes by Susan Miller—it just wasn’t very cool to admit it.
Of course, this meant doing the yoga and the meditation myself. It meant experimenting with shamanic healing sessions, and attending workshops with names like "Family Constellations Therapy." It also meant getting high as a kite—no substances required!—practicing something called "breath work." And slowly but surely, I began to feel better, about my life and my sense of self. Better, in fact, and more myself than I could ever remember feeling.
By contrast, I began to realize that alcohol just made me numb. That the "high" I got from booze was largely a result of my having pressed pause on whatever was bringing me down. The "me" I refer to here being the "spirit" I identified earlier on—that part of myself that fuels my inspiration, my ability to connect deeply with others, and my general joie-de-vivre. A part of myself I realized I want to feel connected to as often as possible.
And so the past five years have seen a steady backing away from the drinking culture that had defined my 20s and 30s. I’ve slowly replaced nights on the lash with psychedelic gong baths and lessons on how to balance my chakras. And, yes, I also took myself to a couple of AA meetings.
Because of course, as any habitual drinker will identify with, it wasn’t ever going to be as easy as simply stopping drinking. Booze is deeply interwoven into almost every aspect of our lives—both at work and play, and from our family time to our love lives. And while I still don’t identify with the term "alcoholic," my research, both academic and in the field, has actually led me to believe that anybody who drinks on a regular basis is addicted to alcohol to some degree—the negative consequences of this addiction more acute for some, depending on individual life circumstances.
But AA wasn’t for me. I might have found my own brand of "spirituality," but I still can’t get down with the G-word. In my experience, the "higher power" that has restored me to sanity—or rather, has restored my sense of self—has been an inside job.