pod 64 lisa bennett
Deb: Welcome back to the alcohol tipping point podcast. I am your host deb masner. I'm a registered nurse health coach and alcohol free bad-ass.
And today on the show, I have Lisa Bennet. She is the author of her new memoir, my unfurling emerging from the grip of anxiety self-doubt and drinking. Welcome to the show, Lisa.
Lisa: Thank you so much, Deb. I'm really thrilled to be here.
Deb: Yeah. I'm glad you're here. And congratulations on having a book come out.
That's like a big milestone in your life. It sounds like it was something you always wanted to do is write a book.
Lisa: Absolutely. I wanted to be a writer since I was about 11 years old and drinking got in the way a little bit. So I'm several decades later. Finally self-published my first book.
Well, congratulations like that. That would seem to be like one of your themes of your book too. Just like you can achieve your dreams by letting go of alcohol.
Lisa: Yes. We'll give
Deb: a little bit of background, just like about who you are, what you do.
Lisa: Sure. So right now I live in the state of Maryland with my husband, my 82 year old mom who has lived with us for 12 years now and our two cats and our dog, and we live on a lake.
We love it here. We've been in this house for about 10 years and it's. It's really amazing. I I grew up in Florida and after I graduated college, I lived in New York city for about seven and a half years. And I worked in marketing and communications for more than two decades. I did an 18 year stretch at a nonprofit organization in DC and.
Currently I'm, I'm not working or at least I'm not working for a salary anymore. My, my mother's got some health issues, so I am her health advocate and that's, that's kind of like having a part-time job and I'm also trying to make a go of turning my writing into a career. So that's, that's what I'm doing right now.
Deb: Oh, I love it. I love it. So what, what was your experience with drinking?
Lisa: So I started drinking when I was 16. I was a late bloomer. I was behind by friends you know, physically developing. And so by the time boys were finally interested in me. I, it was like, I didn't get any time in the shallow end of the pool.
I had to jump into the deep end. And so drinking just happened to come around. Everyone was starting to go to parties and drinking around that time. And it really did help me loosen up and be able to talk to boys and have fun at parties. So I, I drank quite a bit, those last two years of high school. And then.
My friends and I went off to college and wow. College is just, you know, there's no parents everything's right there on the campus. And it was so easy to party and drink. And it really became a part of my life during college. And then I moved directly to New York city after college. And again, suddenly I was living in an environment where.
I didn't have a car. I didn't have to drive. There was a restaurant slash bar on every corner of where I lived and there are cabs and subways. And again, it was so easy to drink at least several times a week. So by the time I hit 30 drinking. Really immeshed in my life. Like it was just it was a big part of, so many of the things that I did and I never, I never sort of got to that rock bottom that they talk about in our society.
And so I, I struggled with whether or not I should quit because I felt like, well, I could keep going on like this. For the rest of my life. But like I said, it was getting in the way of my writing and that's why I finally decided to quit.
Deb: Yeah. And then how, how did you do it? I'm sure you get asked this a lot and which was just, you just celebrated five years.
Lisa: Thank you. Yeah, just a couple of days ago, it was a really exciting, I a. So, you know, for a couple of years prior to deciding to quit, I had been thinking about it a lot and I've been going back and forth. And I think we all know this. I had tried moderating and I had tried making up all kinds of crazy rules that I couldn't follow.
And. I had pretty much realized that moderation was, was not for me. It wasn't going to happen. And then one day I read this piece and it just lit that fire under me that I needed. I had, I had started a blog the year before, and I was going really good at first. And then. You know, after a couple months I was hardly posting on it at all.
And I just, I knew that if I wanted to do my kind of writing for myself, that I was going to have to quit. And so when I did quit five years ago I was, I was pretty determined by that point. And I was 51 and I didn't feel like. I had a whole lot more time to go back and forth and back and forth about it in my head anymore.
I just, I just wanted to do it. So I listened to a ton of podcasts and, and there were a lot fewer of them back then. And I read a lot of books and read a lot of blogs and just sort of immersed myself in. What was then sort of an, an early emerging sobriety community online it's in the last five years, it's just exploded.
Which is exciting because there's so many more resources now for people. And there's so many other ways of quitting lots of programs and 30 day challenges online that weren't there. When I first quit. And I made the decision not to go to AA. And like I said, there weren't as many alternatives back then I did go to a couple refuge recovery meetings and that didn't, that didn't fit.
Right. So I kinda, I mean, I say I did it myself, but. Like I said without all the podcasts and the blogs and the books, I don't think I could have done it on my own.
Deb: Yeah. And having gotten to the decision that you're like, I'm not going to moderate, like I'm done. I think people kind of live in that. My done or not like, like it's still looking for that magic moderation pill for a long time.
And, and once, you know, like you're done done, then it becomes a little bit easier, still hard. But what was, I mean, just because I'm curious and I haven't been to one what, what was, was it refuge recovery? You said you went to, what was that
Lisa: like? So I, I think I'm using the right term. I think it might have been renamed since then.
Deb: think one branch of it is Dharma recovery, and one is refuge. Just for people who don't know what is that?
Lisa: So it a lot of the meeting was meditating, which, which appealed to me. So. I, I, I just remember the first time I went and You know, we talked a little bit, but then we were all going to sit there and meditate for a long time.
And there were people who were getting up and going outside to take phone calls and then like coming back in and slamming the door. It was very distracted. So I, I tried one more time and, and it, it wasn't for me. And I, and I do still meditate but I'm, I'm very easily distracted. So.
Deb: Yeah. Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing.
I was just curious, I know that we have one around here and just like hearing about alternatives. So you, you made the decision, you immersed yourself in like new, modern recovery as it was happening. And, and here you are five years out and then you decided to write a book. Which it sounds like you ha that had been brewing since you were 11.
Lisa: Yes. I actually wrote my first quote unquote book when I was 11 years old. I had little drawings that went with it and my mom photocopied it at work and gave it to people that she worked with. Really proud of me. So yeah, I was a creative writing major at college and I started my first novel while I was in college.
I originally thought I was going to be a fiction writer. And then, you know, I partied my way through college and afterwards I was very ill prepared when I left college to get a job that might actually help foster my writing career. I hadn't written for the school paper or the literary magazine. I hadn't done any of those things that might better prepare me for a career in writing.
So I went into communications and marketing and I did do a lot of writing for my employers. Just not my own writing. And by the time I quit, I, I was really hungry. I was like, you know, this is it. I'm in my fifties now. Like I got to start writing. So, because I had been listening to the sobriety podcasts.
I started getting served up ads. And one of them was an ad for a writing course, a six month writing course. And this was very soon after I had quit and I looked into it and I decided to take this course and it's, it's not offered anymore. But the purpose of it was to develop a book proposal. So it was a six month course.
And at the end of the course, you would have this proposal that you could send to agents to try to get yourself signed with an agent. And I got really great feedback from the woman who taught the course and I. Pretty good that I had produced like the best quality book proposal I could, but it was still really early in my sobriety.
I, you know, by the end of the course, I had just hit my first year and I did not feel confident enough that I could go around and do podcasts like this and talk about my experience. I really wasn't ready. So I, I put. Book on the shelf and or that book proposal on the shelf and went about living my life and figuring out who I was and sobriety, and then the pandemic kit.
And in September of 2020, I wasn't working anymore. I was like, well, when am I going to get this chance again? Like I should take that book back out and start working on it. So I changed the concept a little bit. It wasn't originally just a straightforward memoir, which it is now. And I started working on it and it literally took me 19 months to write, edit and self-publish but now it's out and it's, it's great timing because I think.
Now that I'm five years sober. I'm much more confident talking about the issues that I cover in the book.
Deb: Yeah. Well, one of the most heartbreaking stories in your book was about your friend that passed away. Can you, would you like to share a little bit about her story?
Lisa: Sure. And I did change everyone's names in the book.
Just. You know, consideration for everyone who appears in the book because a lot of friends and family appear in the book. And this was a friend that I met in my late bloomer years, she was also a late bloomer and her name is Shannon and the book and we, we were both, I call us glorious storks. We We just liked, really silly, goofy things.
And she would draw me pictures. We would pass each other drawings and class at school. And we formed a really important bond around starting around the age of 12. And. So we were part of a tight knit group of friends, and we all stayed friends for decades. And I, we all were, you know, we were all pretty enthusiastic drinkers.
And so it, it took a while to notice that, that she had a problem and. Didn't really become obvious, I would say until late thirties, early forties. And she just, she really struggled and, and it was hard because. She didn't want help. She didn't want to reach out for help. And I always let her know that I was there.
Whenever she was ready to talk about it, but she had a really hard time talking about. Anything that she felt would make her look weak. And so it was, it was, it was really painful to see. We eventually, our friendship became really strained toward the end because she wanted me to confirm that everything else in her life was the causing her problems.
Everything. But her own behavior and it, it became really difficult to talk with her. We we weren't in communication very much when she passed away and she passed away right before the pandemic hit. So it was It was kind of a double whammy.
Deb: Yeah. And it, and she passed away related to alcohol.
Lisa: Well, she ended up overdosing, but I, I believe that the alcohol put her in a vulnerable position so that she ended up in, in the position that she could possibly overdose.
Deb: Do you think, like seeing, having someone close to you who was further along in their alcohol disorder? It, I mean, and I guess we do it with anybody, whether they're close to us or not, but in a way, like when we compare ourselves to other people, like, then it doesn't seem so bad.
Like our own drinking is okay. Did you find yourself doing that?
Lisa: Absolutely. And I don't think I've ever met anyone. Who's struggled even a little bit with drinking who doesn't do that. I mean, even she did that herself and said, well, I have this friend who, you know, does X, Y, and Z. And I think we all have a tendency to do it.
And I do think it was hard because. 'cause I never experienced, I never got a DUI. I never got fired from a job. I, you know, I didn't have any of those really bad experiences. So it was. I don't want to say easy, but for lack of a better word, it was, it was easy for years and years and years for me to just sweep it under the rug and say, well, I'm, you know, my problem is not that bad.
So I liked to drink and my friends all liked to drink and, you know, that's what you do. And you go out for a nice dinner or you celebrate something or you've had a rough day at work and It almost made it harder to quit because my life wasn't falling apart.
Deb: Yeah. Yeah. I think that is so common for a lot of people.
I, I know that I will do that. I know. I mean, we just can't help, but compare our journey to others. Yeah. Well, what would you say to anyone who's looking to change their drink?
Lisa: So the first thing I would say takes off from what we were just saying, which is that even if your life is not falling apart, you can really benefit from quitting.
I, I just, I can't even explain how my life has changed and. Unfolded in these five years there there's so much waiting for you in sobriety, even if you aren't in an urgent, you know, circumstance there's, there's still so much to be gained from removing alcohol from your life. The other thing I would say.
And, and I'm a writer. So of course, I'm going to tell people that that writing is it's this amazing thing to do, but I don't think you have to be a writer to benefit from journaling, or I know some people, because I was never much of a journalist when I was a kid, I, I would start a journal or a diary and write in it for a couple of weeks.
Toss it in the closet. So I know that that, that sometimes scares people off, but if you can just get those thoughts out of your head, cause so much of us live in our head and we're thinking, well, what if I just only drank on the weekends? Or what if I, and we've got all this stuff going on in our heads.
And if, if you can just get it out and get it down on paper or onto a file on your computer, or even the notes on your phone. I think it helps to get a handle on what you're going through. When you get it out of your head. At one point when I was still on the fence, I created these five questions and I sat down and answered them.
And then once I had been sober for a little while I, I went back and elaborated on them and actually posted it on my blog and I found it very instructive. To ask myself, I'm like, why did I start drinking? Why did I keep drinking? What reasons might exist for me to try moderating yet again? And what reasons existed for just quitting entirely?
So I would highly recommend doing some form of writing. And the last thing I would say relates to my friend, Shannon, I would say that. Our society often tells us that asking for help is a sign of weakness. It means that we're soft and that is just not the case. And I can't think, I can't imagine a world where people didn't need each other and didn't need the guidance and help of, of people who knew things and had been through things that we.
No, or haven't experienced yet. So I would just, I just want people to know that there's nothing wrong with asking for help.
Deb: Yeah, well said, I like, I like to tell people about journaling. It's it's like when you're doing a math problem, I mean, unless you're rain, man, you can't really do it in your head.
Like you have to write it down to get to work it out, to work out the solution. And that's what journaling is like, or can be like for you and ask for help. Do ask for help for other things. I mean, we just are getting our dishwasher installed. We needed a plumber to come do it. Like we do, you know, there are things that you just go to someone else to do because they do it better than you.
And so it is okay to go to someone else to help you quit drinking or, or anything. That that is okay. And near, right? Like we need to normalize that. Yes,
Deb: Yeah. Okay. That is great. What made you pick the title? My unfairly.
Lisa: You know, there was a night, not long after I quit drinking. I was in my kitchen and I was listening to music and I was dancing around and I, you know, had had this sort of burst of energy and the word unfurling came to me because that's what it felt like I was doing it.
I felt like I was opening up after this really long dormant period. And that title just stuck with me when I, when I first. I wrote when I wrote the book proposal for my first version of the book, I, I didn't use that at all in the title and I, it just, it wouldn't go away. And when I, when I did sit down to write this version of the book, It just so naturally the, the metaphor of a plant or a flower opening up and unfurling.
It just fit in so nicely with the story that I was trying to tell. So I was actually really, I'm a huge fan of analogies and metaphors and. I was really pleased with how it turned out.
Deb: Oh, me too. I'm a huge fan of analogies and metaphors too, especially when it comes to drinking or changing your life. Yes.
Well you, you said how sobriety opens up time, energy and mind space. What were some of the other benefits or ongoing benefits of these last five years? How has your life changed?
Lisa: So that's one thing that I do want people to realize is that it eventually becomes about so much more than just quitting drinking.
It's it's not just about not putting a substance in your body and then counting the number of days that you successfully do that. It's about personal development and emotional growth. There's a lot of emotional growth that gets stunted while you're drinking, because you're, you're leaning on the alcohol to take away the stress and all the other things that you lean on it for.
So, Suddenly, you're doing a lot of growth that, that you didn't get to do. And you're also exploring other areas that you, again, you didn't really have the time or space or energy to think about. So to, to use another metaphor, It's like alcohol is, is this locked door. And once you get it open, there's this whole other wing of your life that you get to explore.
And there are other doors there too. There. We find that there are other things like food or shopping or. TV and phone use and all these other things that are also just waiting in the wings to take over for alcohol and you have to learn how to not just then lean on them as well. I've had a life long love, hate relationship with television, and I write a lot about media in the book a little upset.
Pop culture and celebrities and TV and yeah, sometimes little it's a bit much. So it it's a really, if you, if you accept it, it's a really fascinating journey and it can help you. It can help you learn so much about yourself.
Deb: Yeah, I agree. It's just, I've never, I mean, in these conversations that I've had, like the amount of transformation that people go through after giving up alcohol, like, it's, it's amazing.
Just removing that substance from your life changes so much. I mean I love it. Okay. What else should we talk about? What else. In your life and on your mind for our listeners.
Lisa: So, so self-doubt is in the subtitle and that's one of the things that I've, I've struggled with since a young age. And so again, I think that alcohol gets in the way of building authentic self-confidence and again, you just lean on the alcohol and let that create the confidence for you.
So. In the course of, of quitting drinking, I've really pushed myself to do things that are new and different and challenging. And I mean, I don't, I don't push myself too hard and into places where I'm really uncomfortable. But, but I've had to get used to a little bit of discomfort. And so one thing I talk about in the book is about.
Physical movement and exercise, which has something that I had put aside for years. And. It's scary, you know, going to the gym for the first time. I just started doing indoor cycling or spin class. I had always like, had no desire to do that. And there's a gym really close to me. And I I started doing spin and I turns out I really like it, but that first time I had to walk in there, I was terrified.
And I, I believe that by doing things that scare us, And then we do them and we realize, wow, that, I mean, it was a little scary, but it wasn't that hard after all that helps us build confidence. And I was missing out on that for a long, a long period of time.
Deb: Yeah, that's such a good point like you, because we have numbed ourselves or use something else to not feel those feelings.
When you force yourself to go do something new it can feel scary, but you're right. Like you get such a boost of confidence after. Do it, like I just learned to ski this year. Oh wow. And I was so scared. I'm still kind of scared honestly, of the chairlift, but, but I was like, I can quit drinking. I can do anything, right.
Lisa: Yeah. Yeah. Oh my goodness. Skiing would scare me too,
Deb: but it's kind of a thrill. Yeah. Well, one of the other parts of your title is about anxiety. How, how are you managing your anxiety now? How has that change?
Lisa: So I've always been really anxious. I have, I have a fear of death and I have a whole collection of OCD tendencies.
And I take after my mom in this regard and. I it's something I've really struggled with since, since I was a kid and I've meditating has helped a lot. Getting the alcohol out of my system has helped. I think people don't, we think of it as an anti-anxiety drug, but it's really not. So. But the meditating in particular has helped me with learning to be in the moment and not like, think like, oh, well, what if this happens?
And then what if that happens? And, you know, just catastrophizing and or reliving something where I think I just said the stupidest thing, and then I relive it again and again and again, in my head. And so meditating has helped me. Learn how to breathe and stop and reject those thoughts and stay in the moment.
And I remember I was driving around about a year ago and I realized that I, I hadn't had one of my, like, sort of panicky fears of death in a while. And so it's, it's so nice every once in a while to realize that I'm, I am so not the same anxious person that I was five years ago. I still have to work at it, but It's it's improved dramatically.
Deb: Yeah. How about your relationships? How have those changed since
Lisa: quitting? So well the relationship that, I'm not sure this is what you are getting at, but the relationship at the core of my book is my mother and I, we have a, we have a really complicated relationship and you know, she came to live with my husband and I.
Wow. I think it's been 12 years now. And she has a lot of health issues. She needs a lot of I mean she can get around sort of, but yeah, she needs, she needs a lot of care and it's. I in writing this book, I told a lot of stories about our relationship and I had to face the fact that I was going to have to talk to her about this.
I didn't just hand her the book before it was published and say here. Read about yourself. I sat down with her. We had like four, almost like therapy sessions where the two of us like talked about the things that I made a big long list of all the things about her in the book. And we went through them over the course of four different sessions and it gave her a chance to talk to me and to tell me stories that I had never heard.
And I actually think it's made our relationship stronger.
Deb: Oh, yeah. What do you, cause I do have quite a few people in my group and whatnot that caregiving has been, and especially caregiving for their parents, their, their elderly parents, husband, one of their stressors and has led to their drinking more.
Do you have advice for. Adult children caring for their elderly parents.
Lisa: It, it can be very stressful, particularly when, on top of that, you have a sort of fraught emotional relationship with them as well. When I was still drinking and she first moved in with us, I really had to make a conscious effort not to rely on drinking to de-stress.
Her. And I got in the habit of going to the gym for like really long periods. I belonged to a gym at that time that had like a pool and a steam room and I would just go and work out and swim and do the steam room for like, I'd be gone for like an hour and a half. So. I think it really like if you have a parent and you're under that kind of stress, you really do have to make a concerted effort to find ways other than drinking, whether it's even just getting outside for a walk.
You have to prioritize your own mental and physical health. I mean, I still, I still struggle sometimes to schedule my own doctor's appointments because I'm so busy scheduling her doctor's appointments and she's on dialysis. So I have to take her to, and from dialysis three times a week, so that already eats up a lot of the week.
And I'm, I'm making an effort right now, but I have to push myself. I told myself this spring, I was going to finally see some of the doctors that I need to see. So it it's hard, but you, you do, you have to set some boundaries and you have to push her.
Deb: Yeah. And schedule time to take care of yourself.
Put that oxygen mask on first. I mean, it can apply to taking care of your elderly parent or your children. Very, very good point. Okay. Well, what are your plans for the future?
Lisa: So, I really am hoping to keep writing and publishing books. I'm hoping I can, I can turn this into a career. I have a couple ideas for my next two books already.
I think I want to write just a short book about the self-publishing process because through the course of self publishing my book, I joined some Facebook groups that offer encouragement and answer questions and wow. They have. Immensely helpful. And I've, it's made me realize how many people are out there who have stories to tell, and they want to tell them, and they want to self publish and they don't know, they don't have the first clue where to start.
And so I want to take my experience and just turn it into a, a short book that can help people hopefully take their story from beginning to published. That's my next book. And then I already have an idea for my third book.
Deb: Oh, that's great. So books on the way, will your third book be non-fiction or fiction?
Lisa: It will probably be nonfiction, but you know, last year for the first time, in a really long time, I got interested in writing fiction again and. I took the opportunity of having a blog anyway. And I published a, I think it was like a six part, very long short story on my blog. And yeah, it was the first time I had written fiction in a long time and I.
One of my fiction, weaknesses was always writing dialogue. I I hated, I loved writing descriptions, but I hated writing dialogue. So I purposely challenged myself to write a short story that was almost all dialogue. So I don't know how successful I was, but I had a blast doing it. And hopefully I will get back to writing fiction as well.
Deb: Yeah. And I'm, it does seem like people, when they quit drinking, they go back to like what their childhood dreams were. So neat. Well, how, how can someone find you and find your book?
Lisa: So my website is. Lisa May M a Y like the month Bennett Bennett with two N's and two teas. So Lisa May bet at.com is my author website.
And I have a whole bunch of links on there to buy the book through Amazon or Barnes and noble or apple or Google, whoever you prefer. And. That way you can learn a little bit, a little bit more about the book. You can check out my blog from my website. I linked to a couple of my blog posts, and I also have an email newsletter that you can sign up for there.
So that's probably a good place to start.
Deb: Great. Yeah. And I'll put that in the show notes.
Lisa: Great. Thank you. Well, yeah. Thank you so
Deb: much for coming on the show and sharing your story and, and some of your advice. I really appreciate it. It was nice to meet you. Nice to meet
Lisa: you too.