In this two-part episode, Melissa (she/her) gives an update on her ten-month “I’m not drinking right now” experiment, sharing all of the surprising ways that not drinking alcohol has positively impacted her life, and why she’s still not calling herself “sober.” She also explores part two of the “judgment” discussion from Episode 10, providing a framework to help you see other people’s judgment in a different way, and teaching you how to drop it for good.
Continue the conversation with me @melissa_hartwig on Instagram. If you have a question for Dear Melissa or a topic idea for the show, leave me a voicemail at (321) 209-1480.Do the Thing is part of ‘The Onward Project,’ a family of podcasts brought together by Gretchen Rubin—all about how to make your life better. Check out the other Onward Project podcasts– Happier with Gretchen Rubin,Side Hustle School, and Happier in Hollywood. If you liked this episode, please subscribe, leave a 5-star review, and tell your friends to Do the Thing!
THIS EPISODE’S GUEST
Whole30 Head Mistress, Co-Founder
Modern Sobriety influences:@holly@thetemper
Do the Thing Episode 05, Holly Whitaker, Modern Sobriety
Do the Thing Episode 10, Melissa Urban (part 1 of the judgment discussion)
Loving What Is, Byron Katie
Daring Greatly, Brené Brown
The 11 Best Addiction and Sobriety Books, by Laura McKowen
Hi, my name is Melissa Urban and you’re listening to Do the Thing, a podcast where we explore what’s been missing every time you’ve tried to make a change and make it stick.
Today, I’m sharing a much requested update of my, I’m not drinking right now experiment and following up on the last Dear Melissa podcast segment, all about judgment. It’s been 10 months since I decided I’m not drinking right now and though I wasn’t a big drinker before this experiment removing even the little bit of alcohol I was consuming has had a major impact on my life. I’ll talk about why I began the experiment, how not drinking has had a huge ripple effect, what happened that one time I decided to have a drink and why removing all the labels and preconceived notions we have about alcohol can help you successfully evaluate your own relationship. Second, I’m going to follow up on the topic of judgment. In the last Dear Melissa, I discussed how we can stop being so judgmental of others today. I’ll flip that around and talk about how we can see feeling judged in a different way and how to drop other people’s judgment for good. Today’s theme is experimentation. Doing something new, trying on a different story and allowing yourself the freedom to explore these subjects in your own way. I say at one point you can do this any way you want and that applies to so much more than just your relationship with alcohol. By hope, by exploring these topics, you’ll have your own light bulb moment and successfully do the thing.
In this next segment, I’m going to give you an update on my, I’m not drinking right now experiment. Before I do, however, I just want to make one note. Many of you may know that I identify as a drug addict in recovery. I’ve been in recovery for 19 years and I do still self identify as an addict because it serves me. However, I do still drink alcohol and that might not fit the typical profile of someone you think of as being in recovery, but that’s actually a good thing. I think our definition of sobriety and recovery has grown and expanded since my stint in rehab back in the nineties I think it’s good to challenge people’s assumption that in order to be in recovery you have to be completely abstinent or you have to abstain from all substances that someone might consider controlled. The decision for me to continue to drink alcohol was made in conjunction with my therapist who I saw for the better part of 15 years, both in rehabilitation and after rehab.
We decided based on my relationship with alcohol, which was nonexistent at the time that I was using drugs, I never mixed the two, and given the fact that I had gone long periods of time in my recovery a year at a time here, a year at a time there and many months during whole thirties that it was fine for me to drink alcohol in my recovery. So I’m very careful never to say that I’m sober. I always say I’m in recovery for drug addiction, but I wanted to give that little explanation in case you knew that part of my back story and you were curious why I was talking about eliminating alcohol from my life for a period of time. With that out of the way, as many of you know, I began an experiment on September 1st, 2018. I called it, I’m not drinking right now. It came as the result of a few things.
First, observing people on social media like Holly and Laura McKowen and my friends, Mary Beth Larue and Danika Brysha talking about their sobriety and all of the freedom they felt like their sobriety brought and the fact that they didn’t feel in some cases that they were alcoholics. They just felt like alcohol wasn’t giving them their best life, so they dropped it and I was really inspired by that. I feel like sobriety is like really having a moment right now in the best way possible. The other thing is that my boyfriend, Brandon doesn’t drink, he’s never drank. And when I met him two and a half years ago, it made me more aware of my own alcohol consumption in that when we hung out, I would still have a drink, but I would keep it to like just one because I never wanted to be tipsy or like drunk in front of him.
So I had become more aware of my own alcohol consumption. I was drinking less and less because of my relationship with Brandon and my awareness. And in September I said to him kind of casually just sitting on the couch, I think my just like not drink for a little while. And he said, well, why don’t you not drink for September? Everyone’s doing the September Whole30 you can just stop drinking for the month. And I was like, great. And then I did because I’m a Gretchen Ruben upholder and when I say I’m going to do something, it’s not that hard. So as of September 1st I began this, I’m not drinking right now, experiment. And I phrased it like that because I wasn’t ready to commit to the idea that I was never drinking again. That just felt like too finite to me, but I’m not drinking right now.
Had like a nice open ring to it and it came in really handy in social situations. I felt that phrase in particular kept people off of the defensive. If I just said I don’t drink or no thanks, there were likely to be questions, you know, well how come are you pregnant or any of those other BS responses. But if I said I’m not drinking right now, it felt like it was a conscientious decision in the moment for reasons that they didn’t have to ask about but were clear to me for some reason. That phrase just kind of worked for me. So now it’s been 10 months on this, I’m not drinking right now. Experiment. And I want to talk about how it’s impacted my life. And one of the things I’m not going to talk about is the impact that alcohol has on blood sugar regulation or hormonal balance.
Like what I have learned is that it’s not the absence of the substance of alcohol in my life that has made such a huge impact. I wasn’t drinking that much to begin with. So it’s not like I was cutting back from five beers a night or a few glasses of wine every day, but not drinking has had an enormous impact on my life because there is a major ripple effect. So I’ll give you an example. I go on book tour every year. Every year it’s about two weeks on the road. I’m going from city to city. It’s very stressful. I’m always under slept. I’m traveling a ton. I’m meeting a ton of people. So it’s energetically, um, a lot. And every single year, either during book tour or after I get sick, I lose my voice. As many of you have experienced in my audience or watching me on Instagram stories, I come down with a really bad cold and it takes me like a week to recover every single year and I just accepted that as normal.
This past year on book tour, I didn’t get sick. I went on book tour in October and I didn’t get sick at all. I remember talking to Brandon about it and I was like, I didn’t get sick this year. I must be doing something right and it immediately occurred to me that the thing that I had changed, the only thing I had changed was that I’m not drinking. The cities were the same. The schedule was the same. That early morning media, the late night flights, the meeting, hundreds of people shaking a bunch of hands being on airplanes, all of that was the same. The only thing that changed was that I wasn’t drinking and when I really started to think about the way I drank alcohol on book tour, I would do my book signing. I’d be done around nine or 9:30 PM and then I would take myself out for dinner and I’d sit at the bar with my book and I’d have a glass of wine and that was my mostly nightly ritual.
And then I would go back to my hotel and I would go to bed. Now I wasn’t drinking on this book tour and let’s look at the cascade effect that that had going out to dinner after my book signing without a glass of wine was way less appealing. Like it’s nine 30 at night. I just got through meeting three or 400 people. I’m tired. And if I didn’t have that glass of wine waiting for me, I found I just didn’t want to go out. So I made a plan and I would eat a good dinner right before I left for my event, or I would have some kind of whole 30 approved takeout option in my hotel room ready for me when I got back. So I wasn’t taking myself out for dinner after the event for a drink, which meant that I was going back to my room and eating a wholesome food freedom meal afterward, which meant that I wasn’t after one glass of wine, which might turn into making questionable choices like raiding the minibar for peanut M&Ms.
I have been known to do that. Which meant that I was actually going to bed earlier because I would just get home and eat my meal and just go straight to bed and I was sleeping better because I was going to bed earlier and I didn’t have any alcohol in my system, so I would wake up earlier and feel more refreshed and more energetic. So I would go to the gym as planned and I would have a better workout and a better mind right session and I would start my day feeling centered and grounded and energetic. Now compound that by two weeks. That’s two weeks of that behavior versus two weeks of taking myself out for dinner and having a glass of wine and all of the cascade effects that that brings. No wonder I didn’t get sick. It’s not about the alcohol, it’s about what removal of the alcohol from this equation brought into my life.
It was a real light bulb moment for me that making one small change can have such an enormous and positive cascade effect over the rest of my life. And certainly there are others. Not ordering a glass of wine at dinner with Brandon means I no longer have to wonder or worry about whether I’m acting weird in front of him. He doesn’t care if I have a glass of wine with dinner. He never does. I care knowing that he’s never drank and doesn’t like being around people who are under the influence of alcohol. I never want to appear like tipsy in front of him. And I’m such a lightweight that even one glass sometimes leaves me feeling off so I don’t have to worry about that anymore. Not to mention the other social occasions where I’d be out with my friends and we’d be having a fun night and I’d have two glasses and then I would bump into a whole third year.
And that was the worst feeling. I never like meeting one you under the influence. I just, I feel like I’m not fully present. I don’t know the impression I’m giving you. Oh, it just makes me really uncomfortable. I’m sure you’re not judging, but I don’t like feeling like that. Um, when I’m out in public, so this I’m not drinking right now, experiment means I don’t have to worry about either of those situations. Another thing is that I no longer have to have the internal battle with myself after one glass of wine when I really like, my brain is telling me that I should order a second. That was an internal battle. I fought in my head, distracting me from everything going on around me for like 30 minutes of my evening. Every time I would go out and get a glass of wine, I would have to talk myself out of getting a second one because that’s what booze does.
It inhibits your inhibitory mechanism. And so that’s an argument I no longer have to have with myself, which feels really good. I no longer make questionable choices when I get home after a drink of wine and I’m talking about food, but again, it’s way easier for me to throw my food freedom plan out the window and just say screw it and eat whatever’s in the pantry. If I have a glass of wine in my system. Being social without alcohol has also forced me to evaluate what really makes a social occasion special. All too often I think we think that what makes the happy hour or the birthday party or the wedding special is that we’re all sharing this communal experience of like toasting with champagne or sharing a bottle of wine or commiserating over beer, but not having alcohol in the equation made me take a look at these social events I was going to and ask myself, how can I still have this same sense of community?
How can I still create a ritual? How can I still make something feel special or ceremonial without it being boozed related? So on New Year’s Eve, I went to dinner with two friends, Brandon and I went to dinner and I wasn’t drinking and we were all just up and it was just like really festive occasion. It’s New Year’s Eve after all. So we sat down at the table and I thought, I want this to be like more than just a normal Sushi dinner where I’m drinking a cold glass of water. So I ordered a pot of green tea and it came in this beautiful pot and we let it steep. And even though our dinner guests both had glasses of wine, they also shared in the tea. And not only did that make the event feel special, but I loved how confident I felt ordering a pot of tea on New Year’s Eve.
Maybe it’s because I’m older and I give less foxes about what other people think or I don’t know. Maybe there is a bit of like counterculture rebel in me. But I liked being that person who was like, no, I don’t want a glass of champagne. I don’t want a glass of wine. I want tea. And it was delightful and I really, really enjoyed that night. So, you know, after I have a dinner party, I make myself a cup of Four Sigmatic hot cacao with Reishi. That’s like my favorite after dinner drink and that feels really warm and inviting. When I went to a house warming party at my friend Drew’s house, I was the only one there besides the 14 year old boy in attendance who wasn’t drinking. And I just rocked my LaCroix and when we all cheers to his new house, I held up my can and cheers with him.
I really owned my not drinking, not in a way where I was shoving it in everyone’s face, but in a way where I felt so confident and comfortable in my choices that it didn’t even occur to me that I was missing out on something. And I think that’s been the most important lesson. Every time I do a whole30 I would realize that I missed alcohol less than I expected and I always returned after my whole30 was over, slower and more deliberately and with less consumption. And this I’m not drinking right now. Experience has also made me realize that I don’t actually miss alcohol that much and all of the wonderful things they brings me far outweigh the twinge I might get when I look at a menu and see a glass of wine and think I want to want that glass of wine.
In fact, that’s what I’ve learned from this experiment and I’m going to tell you a story to illustrate. At the six month mark, I was in New York City. We had just shot the cover for the new whole 30 cookbook friends and family. I was like riding this super adrenaline high and I went into my favorite restaurant ever, the Breslin in the Ace Hotel and I was going to order the lamb burger and I sat down at a table and I had a really good book and they found me a table for two all by myself even though I didn’t have a reservation, it was really busy and the owner or manager came over and he was like, would you like to look at a wine list? And I said yes because I felt like maybe in that moment I’d want a glass and I did.
I really, really wanted one. So I ordered it and all the stars were aligned and I was so excited about drinking it and I had the first few sips consciously and deliberately and they were so good and it was so worth it until it wasn’t. And I ended up leaving probably like half or like a third of the glass because it just wasn’t worth it and I was so sad. I wanted to want that glass of wine so much more than I actually wanted the glass of wine. And that I think is something that surprised me, but it’s also a very familiar experience from all my whole thirties I learned that I want to want to drink alcohol more than I actually want to drink alcohol. And now finally in this, I’m not drinking right now. Experiment. I’m honoring that and I will tell you, I have just as much fun.
I have more fun because with alcohol, not in the equation, there is just all of that added stress that I know I don’t have to deal with. I know I’m going to go home feeling awesome. I know I’m going to sleep really, really well. I’m going to wake up feeling energetic and I wouldn’t give that up for anything right now. No. I’m still not ready to say I’m never drinking again and I’m not ready to commit to being sober. I don’t, there’s no like I’m not a rebel, but there’s still something inside me that isn’t ready to make that definitive of a statement. So guess what? I’m not and I don’t think it’s problematic. One bit. I am looking at this as a giant exploration of my relationship with alcohol and what that has meant in the past is me drinking socially and what that means now is me not drinking at all right now, but I don’t think we need to put a label on it.
And if that’s the thing that’s been holding you back from exploring your relationship with alcohol, this idea that like you’re either fine with drinking or you’re an alcoholic or the idea that you have to be stone cold sober or you’re a drinker, like let’s just get rid of those labels all together. You can do this any way you want and the way I’ve chosen to do it is by saying I’m not drinking right now. If you’re ready to take a look at your own relationship with alcohol, listen to the podcast I did a few weeks back with Holly Whitaker. She explores her relationship with alcohol and talks about her recovery in a really unique and refreshing way that may resonate with you. She describes it as building a life you don’t want to escape from. I’ll also list some resources in the show notes and link to a few Instagram accounts that I really like to follow for modern sobriety inspiration.
The second segment is a followup to the last Dear Melissa episode I did, which is number 10. in that episode I talked about the idea of judgment and explored how we can all be less judgmental of others in our own lives, but there’s a second piece to that equation which is how can I process feeling judged by others in a healthier or more effective way? And that’s the piece I’m going to address here. So I’m kind of fast tracking this one, but it’s because a bunch of you said, Hey, don’t forget to talk about that second piece. I do hope that you can take some lessons from the last podcast and apply it to this subject, particularly the realization that judgment is a mirror, not a window when you are looking at your own judgmental behavior and thinking about it as not a projection on to someone else, but a reflection back on you and things that you don’t like in your own life or about yourself.
That should make it easier for you to recognize other people’s judgment for what it really is. But I do want to add some more to this discussion because I think I can give you a few really key takeaways that will help release you from this burden of feeling judged even more effectively. The first question I want to pose is this. Other people are judging me. Is that true? Can you absolutely know that that’s true and this is straight out of Byron Katie. I’m not making this up. This is what I’ve learned from doing Byron Katie’s work. We tell ourselves stories about situations and it’s not the situation itself that stressful. It’s the story we tell ourselves about the situation that brings us stress. When you walk into a yoga class and the heads turn to look at you, you assume they’re judging you, your body size or how fit you look.
When you’re at a store with your child and your child starts acting up and people start looking your way, you assume that they’re judging you, that you’re a bad parent for letting your kid get away with this or that your kid is just a brat. We auto default to a story that this person is being judgmental. There are any number of stories we could tell ourselves about why this person is looking at us, but we default to one that says they’re judging us. I think I know why we do this. By the way, I’m going to wait till the end to share that, but this is our default mode. That person is judging us and I ask you again, is that true? You can’t possibly know that that’s true and it’s not like you’re going to walk up to them and say, excuse me, stranger in a target store.
Are you judging me and my child? When this situation occurs? Someone looks at you or someone says something and you feel like they’re being judgmental. You can do two things. The first option is you can default to a more benign story. So when you walk into a yoga studio and someone looks at you, you can assume it’s because they really like your pants or you look just like a really good friend of theirs or they’re really happy to see a new face in their favorite yoga class. When a parent looks at you in line with your screaming toddler, you can assume that parent is thinking been there, Mama, I get it. There are any number of stories that are just as likely as the fact that they’re judging you but you’re still telling yourself a story about that situation and while that’s a better option, I’m going to give you a third even better or option which is not to tell yourself a story about it at all and just accept what is and you’re like, Ooh, that sounds interesting.
Sign me up. How do I do that? And I will say that it’s easier said than done, but I had an experience at my landmark forum a bunch of years ago that really solidified how to accept what is and I’m going to share that experience with you. Here I was dealing with a very stressful thought and in this example I’ll just use someone is judging me and what my landmark leader made me do in front of everyone was look at the ceiling and the floor and the wall all around me and I said out loud, this is the ceiling. That is the floor, this is the wall. That person looked at me, this is the ceiling, this is the floor that is the wall. That person looked at me and I said it over and over and over again until it started to solidify. The only thing that happened is someone looked at me.
That’s it. And when you put it in that context as practically as that, excepting what is, and really I like using this mantra of this is the ceiling, this is the floor that is the wall. Someone looked at me helps you realize that you don’t have to tell yourself a story about it at all because the only thing that happened is someone looked at you. I love that concept of accepting what is, because if you just accept what is, there’s no stress whatsoever in that situation. And the only time stress comes up is when we leave our business and get all up in someone else’s and tell ourselves stories about their motivations or their behaviors or their thoughts or their feelings. Okay, so now you’re going to push back and say, but I know these people are judging me. It’s the way they say it.
It’s the interactions we’ve had before, maybe their family or maybe their friends. All right, so let’s go through this. Even if someone walks up to you and says, hey you, I am judging the crap out of you right now. No one can make you feel judged. I want you to sit with that for a minute. Judgment is not like a backpack that someone can take off and like put on your body without your consent. No one can make you feel judged. You have to choose to pick that up and carry it. It is always your choice. So even if someone was being judgmental and you knew it for a fact because they stated it out loud, you still don’t have to pick that up. And I know that that might be easier said than done in certain relationships. Relationships with our parents or spouses or old friends like these long standing relationships where we have patterns, it’s still very easy to default back to whatever the pattern is, which is somebody says something or does something.
You immediately interpret that as judgment and then you pick that up and throw it on and carry it around like it belongs to you because that’s what you’ve been taught to do. But recognizing that you don’t have to immediately, blindly without any thought, pick it up and carry. It can be really freeing. Now, you don’t necessarily have to pick judgment up and wear it, but you can leave the backpack on the ground, open it up and see what’s inside. There’s a difference between carrying something as if it belongs to you as if it is now part of your worth or your identity and unpacking something and seeing if there’s something there to look at. You could see this as a wonderful opportunity for growth work and self inquiry and if you choose to do that you would be doing it because it was right for your integrity, not because they are forcing it on you and there’s a critical difference there.
Their judgment is a mirror and it’s reflecting back onto them the things that they don’t like about themselves or things that they know they need to work on for themselves. If you choose to use that as a learning opportunity for you, that’s like a big old therapeutic self care, personal growth bonus, however you don’t to pick their big old heavy judgy backpack up to do that kind of work. So the next time they try to hand it to you, you can just take two steps back, put your hands up in the air and remind yourself that this is not yours to carry. Let it fall to the ground. Feel free to poke around in it while it’s down there. See if there’s something in there for you to look at, but when you’re done, hand it right on back to them because it does not belong to you and you can do that in a few ways.
The first thing you can do is you can call them on it. I like sometimes a very clear, that sounds really judgmental. I’m sure that’s not how you meant it though, and then that gives the person a chance to think about what they actually meant to say and revise it. Sometimes just bringing it right out into the open and letting them know how you’re experiencing that statement can do wonders for bringing about a more positive conversation. You can also choose to meet judgement with empathy. Remember, if judgment is a mirror and they’re judging you really hard, all that’s doing is telling you that there are things about themselves that they are not happy with and that’s certainly worthy of your compassion. In fact, taking their judgment and owning it, taking it away from them and putting it squarely on your shoulders actually does them a disservice because you are taking away their own growth opportunity.
Remember, their judgment is a mirror reflecting back on them, things that they would like to change about themselves. So giving it back to them for them to own and acknowledge and process is actually the most compassionate thing you can do and if you can’t imagine how to do that, let me share with you the thought process that I go through. One of the things I like to do is energetically send it back to them. It’s a process I go through in my head that my friend Magdalena taught me and it goes like this, thank you for this feedback, but this is not mine to carry. I send this back to you for your higher good. That’s actually what I say in my head so that I can physically imagine not picking this up and putting it back where it belongs. You can also be empathetic and compassionate with yourself.
It’s okay that I picked this up right now. It’s pattern and habit that makes me feel like I have to carry this judgment, but I know that I don’t have to anymore. So I’m going to politely refuse and put it down. And this brings me back around to the reason that we so often feel like we’re being judged by others. It’s because we’re judging ourselves. Remember, your stories have nothing to do with the other person and everything to do with you. So when you walk into that Yoga class and someone looks at you and you’re, you tell yourself a story about it, it’s not about them, it’s about how your experiencing it in that moment. Ask Yourself, am I judging myself right now on the way my body looks or how I am? And am I just projecting that judgment onto the other person? Because remember, judgment is a mirror, not a window.
So this is getting a little convoluted, but it’s entirely possible that your perception that they are judging you is just a mirror back on you being judgmental of yourself. I know it’s a little inception, honey, but I’m pretty sure that’s gonna resonate. So awareness is the very first step. The second you get the sense that someone is being judgmental, you can ask yourself, wait a minute, am I just judging myself here? And then you can use the tips from the last podcast to snap out of the judgement mindset for yourself. And we can also practice that same empathy and compassion for ourselves because I don’t know about you, but I have lived with a voice inside my head for a very long time telling me that I’m not good enough and I’m not worthy. And it has taken an awful lot of therapy and work and awareness and meditation and prayer and you name it to get her to shut up.
So be patient with yourself, have compassion for yourself because you have done the best you can and now that you know better, you can do better. And I bet you’ll find the more you practice self awareness, staying in your business and compassion for yourself, the feeling that everyone else is judging you will simply disappear. I hope that wraps up that segment nicely and I hope you’ve found something in all of these discussions about the idea of judgment, the idea of empathy and compassion, and the idea of questioning your own stressful thoughts and accepting what is. I really love doing these segments for you, so keep the podcast ideas and the Dear Melissa questions come in.