Booze Free Hero: Jill Manning


My sister is hands down the most talented and inspiring person in my life. We quit alcohol at the same time, and I'm not certain I could have done it without her. She works full time at a university while she raises her young daughter together with her husband.

Before she worked in the world of higher ed, she was a longtime globe-trotting yoga teacher, studying in India and leading workshops around the world. She travels less today, but she has started teaching yoga in the small town where she lives on weekends and the wee early hours of weekday mornings. At just 3, her kid can do an impressive downward dog. 

When she moved to Central Virginia for her husband's job as a professor, I had no idea what she would do. There wasn't the demand for yoga classes or the fitness studios to teach them in. I should have known it would only be a matter of time before she'd figure out the puzzle of her new surroundings and how to combine her yoga teaching experience with some hidden talent and skills that no one knew she had.

My sister knows how to dig deep and pull off the impossible. Today she's an accomplished gift officer who looks to all the world like she's been doing it since college graduation. She says now that alcohol is no longer part of her life, she's sharper at work and better, happier mom.

Here's my Q&A with Jill:

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

I think the first time was my first trip to Mysore, India—no one ever drank, ever. It was 2006. I was there for 6 weeks. It’s a hard trip to talk about. A lot was going on with me, being with my teacher Pattabhi Jois. I didn’t feel weird about not drinking because no one was drinking and I thought, "I like this lifestyle." I went back 6 years in a row and every year I looked forward to it, to not drinking. But the norms of behavior here are so different, when someone invites me to a party, I felt obligated to go, to have a drink. At least, I felt that way before, but not anymore. 

What do you most enjoy about not drinking? 

Sleeping! And getting my mornings back. I notice I’ve always been a morning person but now because my sleep is 90% rock solid I can easily wake at 4:50 or 5:30 am. I don’t need an alarm. The rhythm of my life has come back to me. In the morning, having a toddler, having a yoga practice, I can get something done that is solely for me. I think sleeping is the thing I enjoy most. Before I quit, sleep would either be just OK or disrupted. And when I woke up I would panic, even with just one drink sometimes. Two drinks, forget it. 

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

Get a buddy! It can be anyone—I was fortunate enough to have you as a buddy even though you aren’t geographically close. It doesn’t need to be a neighbor, your sister, your best friend. Sometimes you think an accountability buddy has to be your best friend but it can be anybody, anywhere who has the same goal.

What is your favorite festive nonalcoholic beverage? 

Food Lion seltzer in a can! I pour it out of the can into a glass. Must have half a lime squeezed into it. It’s like the lime soda that’s everywhere in India. It’s also known as “special water” in our house. That’s what [my daughter] Hennie calls it. I’m pretty simple that way.


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

That if you are a non drinker you must be an alcoholic, that the only reason anyone would not drink is because they were a full blown alcoholic. I have run into people in my office who have said, “Jill, you’re still not drinking, it’s not like you had wine in your purse and vodka in your desk.” Their assumption is that I should still drink. 

joy manning