Booze Free Hero: Sarah Grey


Sarah Grey is a colleague and a friend. We work together on Edible Philly, where she is a writer and copy editor. Like me, she’s a full time freelance writer and editor, so I know she’s coping with same kind of professional stress that I am. She loves and writes about food, hosts dinner parties most weekends, and attends the same kind of alcohol-soaked conferences and events that I go to as well. Plus, she has a seven-year-old daughter! 

When she first mentioned the fact that she’d stopped drinking alcohol on facebook back in 2015, it got my attention.

She said: “It's been six months since I last drank alcohol. I decided to take a break for health reasons, and the difference in my life has been more positive than I could have imagined. So here it is, I'm making it facebook official: I don't drink. Cheers.”

I felt impressed and happy for Sarah. I also filed away the fact that she was someone I could hang out with when I didn’t want to drink. Even though I was a while off from quitting myself, I knew it was a good idea to have a list of sober people handy. I was inspired and admitted, if only to myself, that I wanted to do the same thing someday.

Time passed and Sarah flourished. She was accomplishing a lot, and I suspected that a life (and brain) free from alcohol was likely a factor in her increasing success. She was attending conferences (frequently as a speaker), publishing like crazy, and seemed to be getting a lot out of work and life without alcohol in the mix.

A little over a year after that “I don’t drink” post, in late 2016, she posted this:

“[This] was a huge year for me: I won the major prize in my field, I wrote for some of my dream publications, our family left a bad housing situation behind for a much better home, my daughter learned to read, I formed some amazing friendships, AND it was the first full year of my adult life in which I didn't touch a drop of alcohol.”

By then I felt unmistakable envy. I knew I wanted both that freedom from alcohol and the achievements for myself. Recently, I asked Sarah to tell me more about what led to her decision, and I heard a very familiar story.

The stresses of having a freelance career and parenting a small child were piling up. Many of her friends had moved away. She felt anxious and blue; she had a couple drinks most nights, enough to improve her mood but not enough to worry about how much she was drinking. “Four drinks was like a very wild night for me,” she says.

No one in her life thought of her drinking as excessive, a problem, but Sarah knew she was using alcohol to self-medicate her anxiety and numb her loneliness. It was a cycle of waking up feeling unrested and unwell, which leads directly to reaching for a drink later come evening. I related so much—I had been doing the exact same thing.

And her husband, like mine, initially thought that choosing a sober life was overkill, given Sarah’s typical drinking behavior. It looked so “normal.” When you are in that huge grey area of drinking that doesn’t rise to the level of others being worried for you, you meet resistance from all sides when you stop. Even from those who love you most.

“A few months later, though, he bought me a beautiful tea set. He said, ‘this is an apology gift. You were right. I see how much better everything is for you now.’”

I cannot overstate the significance of Sarah saying publicly that she was no longer drinking. Especially because we know each other online and in real life and have so much in common, she was a powerful role model for me. From August of 2016 until I quit four months later, I thought about Sarah most days. After I quit, I thought about her more.

When we talked about this recently I thanked her and I told her several people didn’t want me to write about their not drinking because most people don’t know they don’t drink. It is personal, and you have a right to keep your sobriety secret. But if you have the courage to talk about it, the way Sarah did, you can change other people’s lives. And perhaps even save them.

Here’s Sarah’s Q&A:

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

About a year before I actually stopped. There was no one thing, more of a creeping sense that I shouldn’t be doing this. I was so stressed by parenting and freelancing.  But about a month into not drinking I remember waking up not having a hangover and having more energy and noticing my face wasn’t as puffy. I thought, this is better. The first weeks were hard, but by the end of that month, I was like ‘this how I want to be.’

What do you most enjoy about not drinking? 

Control over my life. Not waking up wondering what I said or did or if I embarrassed myself. I never wake up thinking, oh God what did I say on facebook last night? Now that I’m in control of how I present myself and how I treat other people, I don’t want to go back. I also feel like I’m more present with my daughter.

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

Socially, it’s probably easier than you think it is. A lot of the barriers are in our own minds. Once you build up the confidence of saying “I’ll have a seltzer,” it gets a lot easier.

Some support is necessary. It can be AA, a therapist, even a facebook group. And remember, when you first quit drinking, you can eat all the ice cream you want and play iPhone games until your battery dies. I did that. But have a plan to wean yourself off those things. Or, If you’re going to down a rabbit hole, go down a healthy rabbit hole. For me that’s Korean skin care. I do it every night before I go to bed but instead of a hangover I have really healthy skin now.

What is your favorite festive nonalcoholic beverage? 

There’s a bar in Portland, Maine, Vena’s Fizz House. They do a cocktail called Bangladesh Express, with blood orange, coconut milk, and ghost pepper—just enough to give you a little of a burn like you’re drinking a cocktail. It’s really good. But if I’m just at home, a seltzer with rose water is really nice in the summer.

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

There’s this perception that nondrinkers forget how to have fun or that we disapprove of them. It is quite possible to have fun. I’m not judging you.

joy manning