The Huffington Post – 35 Over 35 Honors Authors Who Found Success Later In Life


The celebration of youth is everywhere, not just in beauty magazines. Literary organizations also champion the hip and emerging, by recognizing the progress of rising stars under 40, under 35. This is a great way to keep talent on readers’ radars, but it is, necessarily, limited.

See 2016’s 35 Over 35 list here →

There are plenty of reasons why a writer might break out after 35. Writing a book is difficult and time-consuming. For most, it requires a good deal of attention, something not everyone can afford. Some writers waited until after they had raised children to commit to their craft; others emerged from different, more traditionally practical career paths.

Three years ago, writer Kera Yonker noticed the trend toward lauding youthful debuts. While scrolling through year-end book lists, she stumbled on National Book Foundation’s 5 under 35 honorees, and realized that if she ever published a book ― a feat she’s been working toward ― she’d already disqualify for such an accolade.

“If I am ever able to publish my book, I shouldn’t let the fact that I didn’t do it sooner diminish that accomplishment,” Yonker told HuffPost in an email. “And, I am always so encouraged when I hear of a first-time author publishing later in their life.”

So, she decided to begin compiling an annual list of honorees of her own selection ― all of whom had published their first books after the age of 35. “I spent a couple days digging around the internet to see if such a list already existed, and couldn’t find one,” Yonker said. She began informally collecting submissions from friends and publishers, and opened the distinction to authors, who are free to nominate themselves. She is open to all genres, both fiction and non-. Most of all, she seeks out compelling stories, and strong writing.

This year, that meant honoring work by Nicole Dennis-Benn, the author of Here Comes the Sun, a debut novel that made it onto the New York Times Notable Books list; Jade Sharma, the author of the short, bold novel Problems; Emily Witt, the essayist who served as a sort of sex sherpa for the sake of her book Future Sex, a look at the ways technology has changed how we go about getting it on.

The selections are intentionally broad, demonstrating the range of new, inventive writing being done by authors of all ages.

Yonker said, “books like Debbie Clarke Moderow’s Fast Into the Night, about her experience as a musher on the Iditarod, and Nick Lovegrove’s The Mosaic Principle, about the benefits of building a broad career, are great examples of what we’re celebrating with the list. None of these books could have been written by the authors at 25 ― the writing is informed by their experience. As readers, we’re lucky these authors persevered in telling their stories.”

So, why celebrate young writers when there are benefits to debuting as an author past 35 ― life experience perhaps the clearest among them? Yonker suspects that the reasons are varied, and not entirely pernicious.

“I think a lot of industries celebrate their wunderkinds, and publishing is no exception,” she said. “A young author offers the promise of more to come. Once they’re someone to watch, there’s hopefully a built-in book-buying audience for their future titles.”

Now, the collective list of writers to watch has expanded ― for the better.


Maddie Crum Culture Writer, The Huffington Post

Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb


How did you end up writing this memoir of addiction, and how difficult was it to write about your experiences?

I started writing as soon as I got out of the hospital detox in 2004. Somehow, I had managed to hide my addiction from my family and friends, so everyone had a million questions. What had happened? How it could have happened? Why I hadn’t asked for help if I was struggling so badly and in so much pain?

Newly sober, I was up at 5am, well before I had to get ready for work, and just started writing everything down. It was supposed to be a way to convey the story to those close to me, but I ended up loving the morning writing ritual, so I kept going.

Eventually, I started taking writing workshops and then evening classes at NYU. Over time I decided to make it a book in the hopes that I could help the next person struggling with addiction or trying to understand a loved one who is addicted.

I also feel strongly that the stigma surrounding addiction and mental health issues needs to be broken. That can only happen if people talk about it and write about it.

I found the writing process hugely cathartic. It helped me process what had happened. Of course, there are a lot of things in my past that I’m not proud of, but I had to write about some of them for the book to tell the story in a meaningful way.

Those scenes were particularly painful because in order to write them, I really had to put myself back into the brain and body of the person that I was in active addiction. It was like reliving some of the worst parts of my life.

What impact did the detox program and its follow up have on your life, and why do you think you were able to stick with it while others you know have relapsed?

The detox and the follow up have completely changed my life – really gave me a chance to save my life. I didn’t think I’d live to see 40 and I happily and gratefully turned 50 this year.

There are two main reasons I think I have been fortunate enough not to relapse so far. First, I believe the doctors in the detox nailed my diagnosis. They told me I had Major Depressive Disorder, which likely had led me to drink and use drugs to self-medicate.

They put me on antidepressants immediately. I think once my brain chemistry problem was addressed, I had a much stronger chance to do the things I needed to do to stay sober.

I did try once to taper off and get off the antidepressants, just to see if I really needed them. The answer was, “yes.” I spiraled back into depression and then decided I would stay on the medication for good.

Second, I had a ton of support when I got out of detox. I hadn’t lost my family and friends. They wanted to do all they could to support me. I hadn’t lost my job. I hadn’t been arrested or worse. I was as well positioned as I could be to succeed.

It’s part of why I feel so strongly about speaking up to help the next person. I got lucky and want to help others who come out of detox or rehab with a rougher road.

How was the book’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?

It popped into my brain one day as I was walking to work in New York City. That half-hour walk entails passing about 20 bars on the west side and there was something about me walking past them every day that resonated. I knew I wanted something that didn’t sound depressing or humorless, so I stuck with it.

What reactions have you heard from readers?

I feel really blessed that the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Nothing makes me happier or more proud than hearing that it helped someone who is struggling with addiction or has a loved one struggling whom they’re trying to understand.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a new book. This one will be fiction, but again exposing what goes on behind closed doors among professionals in New York City. They seem to have these “perfect” lives, but actually are hiding some super dark secrets.

Anything else we should know?

I feel strongly about drawing attention to the importance of this issue in the legal community. The American Bar Association and Hazelden Betty Ford released a joint study earlier this year that found that one in four lawyers suffers from a substance abuse disorder. (I wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post on it here.

That’s more than twice the general population and more than other professions. So, being able to help raise awareness of this issue in my field and talk about my personal experience with colleagues and other lawyers is a gift.

I want to do all I can in the legal community and beyond to help break the stigma that surrounds addiction and mental health issues.

Interview with Deborah Kalb. Lisa F. Smith is participating in The Lessans Family Annual Book Festival at the Bender JCC of Greater Washington, which runs from Nov. 3-13, 2016.


Drinking Diaries


From time to time, we post short interviews with interesting people about their thoughts and feelings on women and drinking. There is such a wide array of perspectives about this topic, and we are excited to gain insight into as many as possible and to share them with you.

 Lisa F. Smith is a writer and lawyer in New York City. She is the author of “Girl Walks Out of a Bar,” her memoir of high-functioning addiction and recovery in the world of New York City corporate law. Lisa’s writing has been published in The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune,, and She is passionate about breaking the stigma of addiction and mental health issues.

Prior to beginning her more than 15-year legal marketing career, Lisa practiced law in the Corporate Finance group of a leading international firm.

Lisa can also be found at, on Twitter @girlwalksout, and on Facebook at Lisa F. Smith, Author.

Drinking Diaries: How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it?

Lisa F. Smith: When I was about eight or nine years old, I started sneaking sips of leftover drinks at my parents’ parties – things like gin and tonics and whiskey sours. I was a self-conscious, anxious kid prone to sadness. I learned pretty quickly that the cocktails adults drank could make that anxiety disappear for a little bit. It made me feel peaceful in much the same way that scarfing down a couple twin packs of Yodels in two minutes did. By the time I was 13, I had found the kids who liked to sneak into the woods to drink Budweisers. These were my people.

How did/does your family treat drinking? 

I grew up in the 1970s and drinking was very much part of life. There were nightly cocktail hours at home, but no one got drunk, nasty or out of control. Alcohol was a happy, tasty reward after a long day. It made the adults around me relaxed and friendly. I was an insecure kid who never felt comfortable in my own skin, so I couldn’t wait to grow up and let alcohol work its magic on me! I had no reason to fear that anything bad could come of drinking because I grew up with happy memories around it.

How do you approach alcohol in your everyday life?

Being in recovery now for 12 years, alcohol isn’t really part of my daily life. My husband will have one or two drinks if we’re out, but he gets super buzzed after just two, which I find remarkable. I always tell him that he wouldn’t have made it through breakfast with me when I was drinking. Two drinks were down before 7 am. I have to be around alcohol occasionally for work or social situations, but I avoid places like bars, where drinking is a key part of the evening, as opposed to it being something incidental to the evening.

If you have kids, how is the subject of drinking handled? Do you drink in front of them? With them?

I don’t have kids.

Have you ever had a phase in your life when you drank more or less?

My alcoholism and, later, cocaine addiction were progressive. What started with weekend drinking became daily drinking, which included drinking alone. Then the amounts increased from a couple glasses of wine in the evening to at least a bottle. After that, lunchtime drinking dropped into the mix (people in France drink at lunch!), followed later by morning drinking (it’s lunchtime in France!). By the end I was drinking and using cocaine 24/7. I needed it to be steady. If you saw me when I hadn’t been drinking or using, I looked much worse off than when I had that appropriate calibration of substances flowing through my body.

What’s your drink of choice? Why?

Seltzer with lime because abstinence from alcohol is the only choice for me (I cannot speak for anyone else) and my nutritionist made me cut out the artificially sweetened diet CranCherry juice I used to add to the seltzer.

Can you tell us about the best time you ever had drinking?

I actually don’t think I could narrow it to one. So many incredibly wonderful times in the first 38 years of my life involved drinking.

What about the worst time?

I actually don’t think I could narrow it to one. So many incredibly awful times in the first 38 years of my life involved drinking.

Has drinking ever affected—either negatively or positively—a relationship of yours?

Drinking nearly killed me and it crushed so many of my relationships–many I have been able to repair through making amends, which very much includes living amends and showing up for life in a way I never did when I was drinking. The fact that I no longer drink has allowed me to have relationships I never could have had if I hadn’t gotten sober. For example, I wouldn’t have made it through one date with my husband when I was drinking. He would have run for the hills and been smart to do it. Also, I have great relationships with my niece and nephew, who would likely think I was a disaster if they saw what I was like when I was drinking.

Do you have a favorite book, song, or movie about drinking? 

Yes, yes, and yes. “Lit,” by Mary Karr is probably my favorite addiction memoir, although I love so many of them.

I love every Red Hot Chili Peppers song that references addiction and recovery. There are many, but I might relate most to “She Looks to Me.” Anthony Kiedis is kind of a sober shaman to me. Whenever getting drunk sounds tempting (big difference between having a drink and getting drunk – I really never did the former and always chased the latter), I tell myself that if Anthony Kiedis can stay sober, so can I.

“Candy” with Heath Ledger is my favorite addiction movie, although it’s more about heroin than alcohol. The addiction element is the same with either substance in my mind. The movie is so hard to watch, but it contains my favorite quote about addiction. Heath’s character, Dan, at one point says, “If you’re given a reprieve, I think it’s good to remember just how thin it is.” I need to remember that every day.

How has alcoholism affected your life?

Alcoholism has been the worst thing that I have ever experienced, but also led to my recovery, which has been the best thing that I have ever experienced. In the 10 years before I got sober, I could count on one hand the number of days that I didn’t drink and I would still have fingers left over. Alcohol owned me. My mental obsession over drinking, when I would have my next drink, was complete. It was with me from the moment I opened my eyes in the morning until the moment I passed out. Although I never lost a job, got a DUI or lost my family due to drinking, I lost immeasurable parts of life living in obsession and self-loathing, as well as feeling miserable physically.

I am beyond fortunate that I was able to find recovery and begin a new life. Recovery is the only reason that today I have an incredible husband and family, a job that I feel proud of, and a healthy emotional and physical life. I wrote my memoir, “Girl Walks Out of a Bar,” in the hopes of helping the next person who feels as alone in their addiction as I did to learn that there is a way out, people who can support them, and a kick-ass life on the other side of drinking.


I had taken several trips to Paris, but I’d spent very little of my time there even remotely sober. Why would anyone choose to stroll and eat and dance their way through Paris nights sober? On previous trips, I’d been on the Parisian Party Program: eat in world-class restaurants, drink fabulous wine, kiss French men, and troll for drugs in hip nightclubs. Don’t worry about tours or galleries or learning the history—daytime was all about sleeping off what I’d done the night before. Headaches, dehydration, street noise, and a shortage of ice kept me complaining as I tried to sleep through the world’s most beautiful city.

But this time I saw Paris, actually saw it. Up early each morning, I would buy a copy of the International Tribune and work the crossword puzzle at a café as I wired myself up on croissants and café au lait. This time I kept my eyes open and reveled in my time with Randi as well as my time alone. Many times I stopped and let myself enjoy a feeling of profound gratitude.

My Internet search turned up several English-speaking 12-step meetings in Paris, and I decided to try one at the American Church on the Quai d’Orsay. The next morning, I navigated the Metro from the Marais to the Invalides stop, and as soon as I stepped outside the Metro station, I knew I was lost.

At that early hour, there was almost no one around to ask for help, and anyway I wanted a break from seeing pained expressions on Parisian faces when I tripped over my clunky high school French. So I tried to find my own way to the church and ended up turning a five-minute walk into a forty-five minute labyrinth.

Before long, as I stood on a corner trying not to look like a lost American, frustration and self-doubt joined the outing. I’m not an adventurer. I’m not self-sufficient. I have no sense of direction. Where the hell is this church? Forget it, I don’t need this meeting. Ugh, I look helpless. Why haven’t I kept up with French? What the hell was the point of taking it if I was only going to abandon it? Why is everything so fucking hard for me??

And with feelings of insecurity came the need for a drink. Does anybody drink in the morning around here? They have 12-step meetings—they must have morning drinkers. What if I found a nice café and started by ordering a coffee? Then I could say something like, “Hey, I’m on vacation, let’s make it a Café Calva, heavy on the brandy. What’s that, barman? You’re a master of the espresso martini? C’est magnifique! I’ll try one!”

Wait. How the hell did I switch so quickly from gratitude to coffee boozing? I had to get control of this head of mine. If I couldn’t switch off the static altogether, at least I could try to change the channel, so I repeated that Gracie Square wall mantra: “Get up. Get dressed. Get with the program.” And I visualized the day room. The memory of that cold, barren cell lined with the smell of sweat, piss, and disinfectant offered a dramatic contrast to France’s blooming spring trees and centuries-old architecture.

So I reminded myself that on that lovely Paris morning, I’d gotten up and had gotten dressed. Now, I’d better get with le fucking programme.

I refocused on finding the meeting and feeling grateful again. It was during that walk that I realized something enlightening about gratitude: I could make myself feel it by thinking about what’s good or by thinking about what isn’t bad.

Yes, I was aware that it was a stunning day and that I was walking along La Seine, the one and only river right in the heart of the city of a thousand dreams. And I was conscious of my good luck to feel healthy enough to walk it and to be well off enough to pay for the trip. But the flash of awareness that really perked my mood was actually about what I was missing.

On that morning, I wasn’t face down in a pillow soaked in saliva groaning as I negotiated with my stomach to please hold back the vomit because I just couldn’t bear to drag my wretched body to a toilet where I’d lie there, face on the seat, mouth breathing until another nausea wave passed. None of that was happening. I was lost in a foreign city, but I was standing up straight. Could I ever need anything more than that?

I found the church, a Gothic-style structure with a soaring green spire and joined my fellow sober folk under the high ceilings of the room inside. What could a 12-step meeting possibly be like in Paris? In fact, it looked like a 12-step meeting in New York. The big difference was the chic. Man, I thought looking around at my fellow group members. Parisians roll out of bed looking more stylish than I do in my best black-tie dress. But in the meeting we were all very much the same, sharing similar stories and repeating the familiar expressions that illustrate what we deal with in recovery: “I’m struggling today,” “I feel so fortunate to be alive,” and “My worst day sober is better than my best day on drugs.” I knew these people and they knew me. What a revelation: 12-step meetings were like McDonald’s, you could find them just about anywhere in the world, and they always served just what you expected.

The night before we left France, Randi and I stood front row center at the intimate Olympia Theater. With nobody between us and Sting, he sang to us and no one else. Randi cried like a teenager watching the Beatles step off their plane in 1964. I cried because I couldn’t believe that this could be my life.

I Feared Rehab Would end my BigLaw Career, ex-associate says; How Can Firms Address the Issue?


A lawyer who began her career in BigLaw more than 20 years ago says the stressful environment was literally addictive.

“Everyone drank,” writes New York City lawyer Lisa Smith in an op-ed for the Washington Post. “Being able to hold your liquor was a badge of honor, especially for women. Long days in the office turned into long nights in the bars and clubs. Unfortunately, another long and stressful day in the office was always just a few hours away. It was a terrible dynamic for someone like me with a Type A personality and a then-undiagnosed depressive disorder.”

The day before she began rehab, Smith recalls, her breakfast consisted of “nearly a bottle of red wine and a few thick lines of cocaine.” Then she left for work at her law firm.

Smith refers to the results of a new study that found nearly 21 percent of surveyed lawyers and judges reported problematic alcohol use. The study, conducted by ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, also found that the most common barrier to seeking treatment is fear that others will find out.

Smith agrees that “the stigma of alcoholism and drug addiction in law firms is real.” She recalls rejecting a 28-day stay in rehab because she didn’t want to tell her law firm about the treatment. Instead, she opted for outpatient rehab two nights a week.

Smith suggests law firms could aid in the discussion by adding the topics of substance abuse and mental health challenges to orientations for new lawyers. At that time, law firms could stress how their confidential Employee Assistance Programs could help.

“Law firm rigors and cultures aren’t going to change anytime soon,” Smith writes. “The best we can do is provide information and education that will help young lawyers understand that they might need help—and that’s okay.”

Smith has written a memoir, Girl Walks Out of Bar, that is slated for June publication.

Profiles in Recovery: Lisa Smith


New York City attorney Lisa Smith was a high-functioning addict, hiding a spiraling alcohol and cocaine habit amid the pressures of corporate law. Attorneys struggle with addiction at rates that are twice the national average, and Smith — who is now 12 years in recovery — wants to change the stigma.


Day Job:
Deputy Executive Director at a New York City law firm. Author, Girl Walks Out of a Bar, a memoir of high-functioning addiction and recovery.

Stigma I faced:
I am a lawyer and there is a stigma around alcoholism and addiction in law firms. When I went to detox for five days, I told the firm I had a medical emergency and would be back the following week. Then I wouldn’t go to longer rehab because I felt I had to show up back at work.

One of my hopes for my memoir, Girl Walks Out of a Bar, is that it will help to break the stigma at least a little bit.

What I lost to addiction:
I was fortunate enough not to lose a job or get arrested, but that was only by luck. I lost my physical health and became dead inside. I lost hope, peace, and any trace of self-esteem. I lost years of healthy relationships with family and friends. I became someone I hated.

Favorite recovery quote:
“If you’re given a reprieve, it’s good to remember how thin it is.” ~ Dan (actor Heath Ledger) in Candy.

What worked for me:
One morning, when I thought I was going to die and I was out of drugs, I checked myself into a five-day medicated detox in a seedy psychiatric hospital. It scared me out of my mind, but I learned that I am not someone who can drink safely.

After detox, I refused to go to a long-term inpatient facility because I didn’t want my law firm to know what had happened. I started going to 12-step meetings and realized that there actually was life after drinking and if I wanted my life back, I’d better get on board. I still am active in 12-step programs 12 years later. It keeps me sober.

Rules I live by:
1) “Get Up. Get Dressed. Get With The Program.” This was on the wall of the detox I was in. They were three things I hadn’t been doing, but they seemed to make sense and be simple enough for me to try.

2) “Just For Today.” I have never said I’ll never drink again. That would be too much for me. Each day, I make a decision that for that day, I am not going to drink. If I just take care of today, tomorrow will take care of itself.

3) “Just Don’t Be A Jerk.” It’s amazing how much easier life is if I just try to treat other people the way I would hope to be treated.

How I get through the holidays:
I have learned that “No” is a complete sentence. I don’t have to participate in every party or family gathering. I’ve learned to put my spiritual fitness and sobriety first. If I have to go to something that I know will make me uncomfortable (e.g., my firm’s holiday party), I will go late and leave early. I also bump up my 12-step program and talk to my sponsor regularly.

Proudest moment:
Publishing my memoir, Girl Walks Out of a Bar. When someone tells me it helped them or someone they know, I feel like I have done service for others. I had a lot of advantages coming into recovery, so if I can help the next person, I feel truly grateful and proud.

Follow Smith:; on Twitter @girlwalksout

Shed the Stigma:
If you’re a person in long-term recovery who wants to share your insights, please contact us at

Will My Friendships Survive Sobriety?


A few months after I got out of detox, one of my closest friends met me outside after a 12-step meeting. We were headed to dinner on a warm spring night in New York City.

“So,” he said, “what do you think? After a couple more months of this, can you drink again?”

“Umm, I don’t think so,” I said, even though I knew the answer was a most definite, “No.” My stomach felt a little sick as I said it, in part because the idea of not drinking had been unimaginable not so long ago, but also because I was terrified about what my newfound sobriety would mean for my friendships.

I was lucky to be surrounded by a tight circle of great friends in the city. We all worked demanding jobs with long hours and we all loved to unwind together over dinner and drinks on the weekends, sometimes on weeknights. But while my friends managed their drinking like “normal” people do—stopping after a few or surviving the occasional hangover if they had a few more—they had no idea of how badly out of hand my drinking had become. They didn’t know that after the check had been paid and we all left the restaurant, I went home and opened (and finished) another bottle of wine. They didn’t know that I snuck out of my office at lunch to drink. And they certainly didn’t know that I had begun drinking in the morning in order to steady my shaking hands and relieve my crashing headaches.

So when I announced to them that I was checking into a detox for five days because I couldn’t stop drinking, none of us really knew what it would mean. It was a lot for them to swallow, learning about the life I had been living and the fact that I had been hiding it for so long. But in addition to that, no one we knew was sober. None of us even had family members who were in 12-step programs to help us understand what to expect. For me, there was no playbook on how to continue to maintain my close friendships in sobriety.

In the very early days, as I attended outpatient rehab and 12-step meetings, I was like a racehorse wearing blinders, laser focused on what was directly in front of me. Wake up, march directly to meeting, go to work and, unless it’s rehab night, go directly home. My friends treated me as if I were a newborn baby, checking on me several times throughout the day to make sure I had woken up and gotten to work, eaten at mealtimes and was bathed and ready for bed at night. They handled me gently as if I were a Fabergé egg.

When it came time to go to dinner and hang out over cocktails those first few months, I bowed out. I couldn’t imagine watching everyone enjoy a martini before they ordered a bottle of wine while sitting in a trendy restaurant. Even worse, I couldn’t bear to be the reason that no one drank at dinner when I knew perfectly well they wanted cocktails. The truth was I lost my drinking privileges because of how out of control I had become. They hadn’t. They certainly weren’t going to make me feel left out or defective for not drinking—that was something I was entirely prepared to do on my own. My inability to socialize the way I had before I got sober was about what went on in my head, not theirs.

I took my frustrations to my sponsor. She assured me that I didn’t need to change my friends just because I stopped drinking with them, as long as they were supportive of my sobriety. This was a major relief after hearing in 12-step meetings that I should avoid “people, places and things,” that I drank around. I could accept the places (no more nights at the dive bar across the street from my apartment) and the things (no more boozy brunches), but not the people—at least not the supportive ones.

What I needed to change was the way I spent time with them. Dinner on Saturday night needed to become breakfast on Saturday morning or lunch and walking around the city on Saturday afternoon. Before I got sober, I had become such a nocturnal, drunken slug that I had forgotten these were actual options. So while I expected people to recoil when I offered to swing by their neighborhood for a weekend breakfast, my friends actually thought that was a great idea. Much to my surprise, it turned out that people who aren’t chained to the bottle manage to see daylight at all kinds of early hours. Who knew?

Of course, switching up how I socialized with the friends I used to have dinner with on the weekends left a gaping hole in my weekend schedule. And that hole was in the shape of a vodka bottle. It needed to be plugged, quickly. My sponsor assured me that there were in fact humans walking this earth who did not drink on Saturday nights. By getting connected with a sober crew from meetings, I found them. On several Saturday evenings, I hit a meeting and then went to dinner with people from the group afterwards. I expected it to be grim. Just as in every other group, we find people we click with and people we’d prefer to avoid, but at those dinners I ended up having some of the most gut-twisting belly laughs I have ever experienced.

Perhaps most surprising, I also learned that I can very much enjoy spending a Saturday night by myself, at home with a movie or a book. Now that I’m not dependent on the bottle, I get to choose how I spend my time and it turns out that I like some peace, quiet and maybe a little Ben & Jerry’s. The dear friends I had before I got sober remain my dear friends. We are still intertwined in each other’s lives, as we have been for 25 years. My sobriety is no longer a big topic of discussion or something we tiptoe around. It’s just a fact. One of us has teenage kids, one of us moved to Asia, one of us just started a great new job and I am still sober.

Over time, I even found myself ready for that occasional weekend dinner with my friends. In the past, going out to dinner for me was about the drinking first and the company and food second and third. But the first time I sat surrounded by people I loved, comfortably raising my glass of seltzer to toast a friend’s success, I saw the dinner celebration as they did. Friendship came first. And, even better, it doesn’t cause blackouts or hangovers. I’m grateful.

How I Got Sober


What is your sobriety date?

April 5, 2004

Where did you get sober?

New York City

When did you start drinking?

I started taking sips off adults’ drinks when I was about eight, just to try the stuff that seemed to make everyone so happy. I started drinking beers on weekends with friends when I was 12. I was a blackout drunk on weekends by the end of high school.

How would you describe your life before you quit drinking?

Fear, shame and lies, not necessarily in that order. At the end of my using, I was drinking around the clock and using a lot of cocaine. I would go to bed at night with a drink on my nightstand because I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning without a drink to settle down my tremors and sweats. Then after drinking, I’d immediately need to turn to the cocaine to “straighten me out,” so I could go to work. I hated myself but was terrified of trying to quit. I couldn’t imagine life without drinking and cocaine.

What was your childhood like?

I was always a nervous, fearful kid. Before I discovered alcohol, I ate to soothe those feelings. Compulsive eating made me fat, which led to other kids teasing me. That made me more self-conscious and sad, so I ate more. Once I discovered alcohol, I realized that while food was great, booze could really help me. It didn’t make me feel overly happy—it just relaxed me and shut up the voice in my head that kept telling me how much I sucked. It was a vicious cycle of self-medicating that didn’t break until I got sober.

Do you remember the first time you thought you might have a problem?

I knew 10 years before I got sober that I was an alcoholic, but I was terrified of that idea and could not imagine life without drinking. I did everything I could to hide it, but as a progressive disease, it became harder and harder (impossible) for me to control. Over the years, evening drinking became lunchtime drinking became breakfast drinking became drinking around the clock, propped up with cocaine.

How did you rationalize your drinking?

The rationales were endless, but most of it was the old “If you had my life, you’d drink, too.” I blamed my job and the fact that no romantic relationship had worked out. But really, I blamed anything—the fact that it was Tuesday, the strange look that a cab driver gave me. “The holidays” were a big excuse and they basically ran from Halloween through New Year’s. Everything and nothing were reasons for drinking. Also, I was doing well at work, so how bad could I really be?

What do you consider your bottom?

After 10 years of misery, fear and deception, I just ran out of gas. It was a Monday morning and I was on my way to work after a weekend of drinking, using, not eating and not sleeping. I was out of coke and knew I’d have to coordinate with my dealer yet again that afternoon. Staying wasted all the time was hard work. That day, I got to the elevator and just couldn’t push the “down” button. Something snapped and I said, “I give up. I need help.” I was just so sick and exhausted. I couldn’t do it for another day.

Did you go to rehab?

I went to detox for five days at Gracie Square, a psych hospital in Manhattan. I really didn’t know what I was doing—I just knew that I needed to go that day or I wouldn’t do it. After five days on Librium, the doctors pushed me to go to a 28-day rehab, but I refused. I was afraid to tell my law firm. If I went away somewhere and missed that much work, I’d need to explain and I wasn’t willing to do that. I was willing to tell family and friends about my addiction, but not my law firm.

Did anything significant happen while in rehab that is important to your sobriety?

The most powerful things I remember are 1) words written in marker at the top of the white board in the detox dayroom: Get Up. Get Dressed. Get with the Program. I didn’t know what “the program” was, but things as simple as getting up and getting dressed seemed like pretty great achievements if I could accomplish them. It was more than I had been doing in recent memory. And 2) the speaker at the AA meeting I got dragged to in detox. He kept saying over and over, “You do not pick up no matter what. You do not pick up no matter what.” He really drove home the urgency of what I would need to do and that it had to be my top priority if I didn’t want to land back in detox again—if I were to be that lucky the next time.

What did you think of 12-step at first? How do you feel about it now?

I was just astounded there was a room full of people whose brains worked like mine. I was shocked it wasn’t just me, that I wasn’t alone, as I had believed. Addiction owned me, and they understood that and had been there. Yet here they were sober. I was willing to listen and try what they suggested. I was fortunate enough to have the gift of desperation. Now I believe that it saved my life.

What do you hate about being an alcoholic?

The stigma that I think still surrounds addiction and mental health issues. I think it has improved greatly even in the 12 years since I got sober, but it’s still there. I would love to do even just a little bit to break that stigma, particularly among lawyers. We suffer from alcoholism at more than twice the rate of the general population. People tell me that I don’t “look like” an addict. Do they say to other people that they don’t “look like” diabetics? Somehow, I doubt it.

What do you love about being an alcoholic?

The people. I have incredible friends and family who are not alcoholics, but I have met some of the most fantastic people in sobriety. It’s so great to see people succeed and find peace when I know the kind of struggle they’ve had against this awful disease.

What are the three best tools you have acquired to stay sober and happy?

It has allowed me to process all of the things that happened and try to understand why. It’s cathartic to me and has helped my family and friends to understand things they’ve never experienced, like the all-consuming mental obsession to drink and use drugs.

Staying connected to the rooms. Going to meetings, talking to my sponsor, sponsoring others. If I don’t keep it green, I’m terrified that history will repeat itself and I’ll find myself holding a drink. It’s not broken, so I won’t fix it.

A sense of humor about it all. I have to be able to laugh about things and not take myself too seriously. Sobriety has taught me that the world doesn’t revolve around me and I’m not in charge. It makes it easier not to sweat the small stuff.

Do you have a sobriety mantra?

“If Anthony Kiedis can do it, I can do it.” I am madly in love with him and his book, Scar Tissue, was so great. I find a lot of sober connections in Red Hot Chili Peppers songs.

What is the most valuable thing that has happened to you in recovery?

My marriage. I met my husband when I was about one and a half years sober. He’s never seen me drink and I plan to do everything I can to keep it that way. Also, being present and of service when my father was dying. He was the most wonderful, special man and I was with him every step of the way. If I had still been drinking and using, I would have been sitting on a bar stool bitching about how unfair it was that my father was sick. It was such a miracle to be present for him instead.

Have you worked the 12 steps? What is your opinion on them?

Yes. For me, they provide relief. I remember feeling profound relief in doing Step Three and being able to say, “I’m not in charge of the big picture here. All I can do is take the next right action and let go of the results.” I can’t control everything in life, so I shouldn’t try to. I’ve learned to keep my side of the street clean. If I do that, I don’t have to feel guilty and ashamed as I felt the whole time I was drinking.

If you could offer a newcomer or someone thinking about getting sober any advice, what would it be?

Sobriety seriously is one day at a time, whether you’re in AA, another program or no program. Don’t worry about anything down the road. All we have is today and the only decision we need to take is not to pick up a drink today. I have never woken up in the morning sorry that I didn’t drink the night before.

“She Seemed Like Such a Nice Girl”

THIS article FIRST APPEARED ON Since Right Now.

excerpted from girl walks out of a bar

Shit. It was 7:00 Monday morning and I needed wine.

In two hours I’d have to be at work, which meant that I was going to have to steady my shaking hands. I inched out of bed and walked naked toward the kitchen. After just a few steps, my stomach lurched with the undeniable rumble of rising vomit, and I dashed to the bathroom with my hand pressed against my mouth. I vomited violently and then sprawled out across the cold tile floor and lay there like a deer that had just been hit by a car. After a few minutes I began to lift my head upright, slowly, gradually, as if sneaking up on something. When I had finally reached eye level with the toilet, I saw blood in the bowl.

Finally steady enough, I went to the kitchen and filled a dirty glass with wine from an open bottle. Looking down the long counter at the spoon rest I’d bought in Italy, my fancy tea kettle, and the slotted spoons in a ceramic pitcher, I could almost convince myself that a normal person lived here, maybe even the successful, thirty-eight-year-old lawyer people saw when they looked at me. But for that perspective I’d have to hold my hands up like a photographer framing a shot so I could crop out all the empty wine bottles, the dirty glasses, and the overflowing ashtrays.

My immaculate coffeemaker looked at me in judgment. This would be just another day that I ignored it in favor of the wine bottle. It was a good time for a cigarette.

Still naked, I shuffled to the living room and on hands and knees slapped around under the couch looking for my lighter. All I came up with was a handful of dust and seventeen cents. But there were always matches to be found somewhere in my dark den. I reached into a hand-painted box that sat on my end table and found a plain, white matchbook amid the rolling papers, razor blades, and rolled up dollar bills. I flopped down on the couch and lit a Marlboro Light.

With the cigarette clamped between two fingers, I rested my elbow on my knee and dropped my head. My hair hung over my face like dirty curtains, but the sunlight streaming into the room still stung my eyes. I got up and opened the window to let in the fresh air of early spring. It was in April 2004 and the sounds of rumbling trucks and honking horns on East 20th Street flooded my apartment. Everybody shut up, I thought.

I took a few more slugs of wine and went back into the bedroom where I examined the small baggie of cocaine in my nightstand drawer. Thank God there was still some left. Dumping the remains on the top of my antique dresser, I crushed it into a fine powder with the back of a spoon. Careful not to lose any as I moved my hand across the white streaks in the marble top, I cut a few thick lines with a razor blade. There wasn’t nearly enough to get me through the workday. Fuck.

Save it for later, I thought. You’re definitely going to need it. But in four quick snorts through a rolled up dollar bill, the coke disappeared, leaving only a burning in my nose and a chemical-tasting drip down the back of my throat that managed to be both disgusting and delicious. My relief was countered by familiar feelings of dread about not having more—the untenable reality of an addict.

Just go—move, move, I thought. I lumbered toward the shower. Catching a glimpse of my bloated face in the bathroom mirror, I let the bath towel drop and rested both of my hands on the bathroom sink. It was hard to hold my head up. I looked like a haggard witch at least twice my age. What had I done to myself? And fuck, how was I going to get through today?

I gulped another big glass of wine as I dug through my closet for a suit.

My work wardrobe was ratty. All of my suits, like most of my clothes, were black because black hid the wine stains and cigarette ash. Black also matched my general outlook and helped me disappear in a crowd. After my obsessive ritual of brushing my teeth and gargling with Listerine at least three times before chomping Orbit gum, I began to feel more like my version of normal—steady enough to get through my workday without people seeing me violently shake or stumble and just barely confident that no one near me would smell the wine that pulsed through my veins.

I slid my laptop into its case. I had spent most of the weekend working on a business proposal that my law firm was submitting to a major power company. The prospective client represented millions of dollars in new business. Nonstop drinking and dozens of lines of coke had fueled my efforts from Friday evening through 3:00 Monday morning. No question that my work was better when I was high than when I was hungover. After drinking I was a three-toed sloth; on cocaine I was a stallion.

With my bag, phone, laptop, and keys together, I looked in the mirror, checking my nose for blood and stray coke and my teeth for smeared lipstick. Then I stepped out into the hallway and locked the door behind me.

But something felt wrong, unusually wrong. Anxiety seized me. I felt sicker than usual. My head was heavier and murkier. The shakes were deeper. I could feel them in my guts and in my bones. I even seemed to hate myself more than usual.

Was this it? Was this the end? Was it possible that my body could take no more and I might just drop dead right there? One of the senior citizens on my floor heading to the diner for breakfast would find me in the hall, dead on my back, my eyes and mouth gaping, one hand gripping my laptop and the other holding the New York Times. When the police insisted it was an overdose, the horrified old lady would whisper to my parents, “But she seemed like such a nice girl.” The thought made me sicker. I’m going to die, I thought. I’ve killed myself.

Standing in front of the elevator, I stared at the “down” button. My heart was thumping like an angry bass drum, and my neck, back, and chest were seeping a strange, cold sweat. A voice in my brain screamed, “GET HELP!”

Get help? Help for what, I thought.

For this anxiety attack (or is it a heart attack)? For the addiction that I’d known about but had dismissed for the past ten years? I wasn’t clear about what I needed, but somehow I knew that “it” was over, that something had to change. Without knowing what to do next, I turned away from the elevator. Back in my apartment, I poured another glass of cabernet. I called Mark, my ex-boyfriend. Two weeks earlier, he had chosen to go back to being just my “downstairs neighbor.” When he had insisted that I get treatment for my alcohol and cocaine addiction I told him to get the fuck out of my apartment.

Before he could say “hello,” I choked out the words, “I need help.” Mark was the only person who had any idea that I drank in the mornings and used coke regularly. For years, I had managed to hide it from my family and friends by lying my ass off, being extremely attentive to details, and staying away from the people who mattered most. Mark’s finding out was a testament to my spiraling sloppiness.

“I’ll be right there,” he said and hung up. 

Two minutes later he was at my door, and when I told him, “I think I need help with addiction,” his brown eyes gaped.

“You really mean it? You’re finally going to do something?” He looked like a bobblehead, bouncing up and down in his blue Puma sneakers, his shoulder-length curls of brown hair flopping back and forth.

“I have to. As in, today or I won’t do it.” He smiled. I looked at him with the focus of a military sniper. “Do not say ‘I told you so,’ or I’ll throw you out of this apartment. I mean it.” He bounced over to the couch and sat obediently.

A strange sense of relief began to warm me.

Maybe I was actually going to do something about the horror my life had become. Did I really want to stop drinking? Stop using drugs? It was unimaginable—seeming simultaneously too good to be true and my worst nightmare. Even if I wanted to quit, I seriously doubted I could go five hours without booze or coke. I had resigned myself to being an alcoholic and cocaine addict who would eventually drown in a puddle of vomit. Or maybe on a foggy night I’d stumble into the path of a speeding cab. In any case, it was clear that mine wasn’t going to be a graceful death. But on that morning, for the first time ever, I wanted to do something to save my life.