Booze Free Hero: Erin Shaw Street

Shortly after I quit drinking, a very smart person introduced me via email to Erin Shaw Street. A former newspaper reporter and editor for Southern Living Magazine, Erin would definitely understand the way a river of alcohol flows through all things magazine related. Media events, booze-filled lunches and meetings, travel and the airport bars--drinking is an occupational hazard.

Like many women, Erin juggled drinking too much and succeeding at her job for a long time. When hangovers or other effects of drinking did start to touch the edges of her work performance she would give herself rules and restrictions. "I'll work harder, I'll pray more, I'll cut back," she says. "I'd do everything except quitting drinking." 

In September of 2015, she connected with Holly Whittaker one day after literally googling "How do I stay hip and get sober?" Today she says the community of sober women she's met in real life and online is one of her favorite things about life after alcohol.

Another thing she likes is using her writing skills to change the conversation around alcohol in our culture. "It's a problem that I unintentionally helped promote as a member of the media who normalized and glamorized drinking in my work," she says.

Now she is very intentionally challenging the usual messaging around articles with thoughtful analysis of the ways alcohol is presented to consumers. (Read her excellent dissection of a recent PR stunt in support of a liquor company here. And this one deconstructing a recent misguided hotel advertisement.)  

Today Erin is a full-time freelance writer and editor using her talents to inspire and inform other people about addiction and alcohol. It's something she sees herself incorporating to her work for a long time to come. She's also helping to build the very community that supported her when she most needed it so it will continue to be there for us. 

Here's my Q&A with Erin:

When did you first realize that life could be better without booze? 

I didn’t have a lot of "real life" models -- I didn't see examples of badass sober women, and part of that may be related to some of the traditions of anonymity, which I do respect. I started reading memoirs, including those by Mary Carr, Sarah Hepola and Kim Severson.  By the time I stopped I knew I had to.  I had to stop drinking—it was getting progressively worse. I was high achieving, high preforming, but that all started to unravel. Honestly, life wasn’t great when I stopped drinking. But I didn’t know how things would be better.

After getting sober it got harder because my body was healing, and I was feeling everything without the numbing agent of alcohol. It took me 6 months to see that life got better. Around that time my attitude changed: I wasn't being "deprived" of something, I was gaining much more.  

What do you most enjoy about not drinking? 

Everything! I see, feel, taste, and experience everything. It’s good, difficult, and overwhelming at times. It's how I believe I was meant to live. I am filled withcuriosity, which is how I was before I started drinking. Sobriety takes the blinders off. I get to carve out life with a renewed joy. It’s freedom to be exactly who I’m supposed to be. I also love being connected to this community of badass women. We’re waking up. We’re all taking off our masks and being real. This tribe of women is incredible. It’s brought me back to who I’m supposed to be.

Do you have any advice for people who might be considering taking alcohol out of their lives?

Ask what does alcohol bring to your life and what does it take away? Just give it a chance--see what life can be like without it. I hear from women daily who say,  "I think I want to examine my relationship with alcohol." Even a weekend or a night without it can give you a new perspective. If you are considering it, ask yourself why? It may be that you land on the idea that you can have a healthy life with alcohol in it. That’s not my story. But it’s worth examining why we put anything in our bodies. If you are considering taking a break, connect with people who have done it. That’s the beauty of 2017, you can connect with people readily and easily. As more people are having these conversations, people are saying "Hey, life can be good without this," it makes this lifestyle more accessible. As we see the tide starting to turn, images of women enjoying themselves not centered around alcohol, there’s a hope in general for people considering this decision. 

As for the whole question of "Is it a problem or isn’t it a problem?" ...  I'd say when you start Googling, "Do I have a problem with drinking?" Well, that’s probably a sign. But I also challenge the notion that something has to be "wrong" before one stops drinking. There are more women, especially younger ones, who just choose not to drink for a variety of reasons. They opt out early or never start.  That is exciting and something we'll see more of. 

What is your favorite festive nonalcoholic beverage? 

My new favorite this Stumptown sparkling coffee that’s incredible. I spend a lot of time in LA, and love the non-alcoholic options for food and activity out there. I float on a cloud there—it’s the epicenter of recovery.  I thought of you at Café Gratitude, where they serve all these beautiful nonalcoholic drinks. I also am really into Topo Chico and love that they are more readily available now. 

What is one assumption drinkers have about the dry life that you think they’ve got wrong?

That we’re not fun! I used to think, God how boring, what do you do if you don’t drink? Now that idea makes me cringe -- we’re not "weird." I've met the most fun, real, badass people through recovery. And "fun" is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sobriety. Yeah, I have fun in sobriety -- more fun than I did when I was drinking. But I also get what I was always looking for -- real, authentic connection. No substance required. 

joy manning