Written by Zoë Pawlak
Foreword by Christy Key
Months ago I spent a sunny afternoon on a photoshoot with painter, designer and all around badass artist, Zoë Pawlak, in New York, a total of only three hours, and have yet to stop thinking about it. Zoë is a Canadian contemporary artist who works with private clients, interior designers and various brands. However, this time she gets personal with her words. You will read her personal essay below- a piece so important I encourage you to read more than once and to share with your most cherished people. As you read this essay, you will get to know a woman who battled through the influence of alcohol while balancing a marriage and motherhood, and came out the other side with intense perseverance and love. What you won’t be able to read is how she is a true light in this world. Someone whose happiness exudes from her and touches everything around her- she is clear with her intention- she is here to love. She sees everyone so clear and presently for who they are and accepts and celebrates them as they are. Since that day on the photoshoot, I have spoken to Zoë multiple times, in person and on the phone, and I always leave these conversations in awe of her genuine warmth. I hope that my friends feel half the kindness from me that Zoë gives so easily to complete strangers. And I hope you learn something about this extraordinary woman, about yourself, and about the possibility to come out of darkness with more light than you’ve ever known.
Dress Hellessy Necklace TBC
I never was a good drinker.
My habit began in my teenage years, and continued through adolescence with consistent excess well into my 30’s.
If I’m being entirely honest, I have never been that good at moderation. In my twenties, my tendency to overwork reigned as my habit-supreme and alcohol was a very effective, encouraged, and legal way to cope. Because it has been served as the cultural norm at nearly every social event I’ve attended for the last 20 years, it was easy to begin drinking to self-medicate my stress and anxiety.
I never missed work because of it, I rarely drank during the day and I have never once participated in illegal activity. My story, like that of so many women, is peppered with blackout drinking and hangovers that compromised my best-capacity and even at times, publicly threatened my professional reputation. I was drinking almost daily well after having children, but because of the private way that I drank, very few people knew just how dark it got, or how far alcohol had stepped in and taken over my life.
I felt that in most areas I could honestly say that I was doing my best, but I knew I had this secret, and at 34, I began to feel as if drinking was something that could one day take me down. I began to imagine what small tragedy might wake me up and quickly became sure that I didn’t want to find out.
There are only so many times you can google “Am I an alcoholic?” and not think, “OK, the jig is up.”
Drinking often made me irritable and disorganized and led to unnecessary fighting with my husband. It interrupted my sleep patterns for years and kept me from being truly present with my children.
As my career as an artist and designer grew, I would fly to amazing cities to see colleagues and friends. One of my highest values is to spend quality time with the people that I love, so in that precious time, I would make elaborate plans to see my most cherished people. We would drink the night away until we could not recall countless beautiful conversations. Drinking with the people that I claimed to love and respect the most, faced me with a growing hypocrisy that I could not stand. My inability to remember some of the best nights of my life, became one of my main motivators to quit.
In 2016, my influence was growing and a call to leadership began tugging at my heart. Yoko Ono’s quote, “Healing yourself is connected to healing others.” kept haunting me. I wanted to coach basketball, mentor my staff and land more public speaking gigs. I wanted to see my influence expand. I wanted my joy to be so contagious that everyone would ask, “What makes her seem so alive?”, “What makes her seem so clear?” I knew that alcohol was the obstacle that kept tripping me up. If I was to live in the future that I had imagined for myself, and be a woman of power and integrity, it was time for me to relinquish control and tap out.
The problem with alcohol is that it doesn’t discriminate. It befriends the grieving, the introvert and the charismatic party animal. Alcohol accompanied me through some of my best adventures, my worst sex and hundreds of evenings of celebration and domestic boredom, but when managing my habit began taking up too much space, I started to realize that drinking was keeping me from the spiritual, financial and parenting life that I wanted. If I was to step into my calling, take my business to the next level and be a badass example for my kids, I was going to have to let it go.
On the spectrum of alcohol use, there is a place where use, slides into abuse. I was terrified to end up in AA and I didn’t know of any other support system to reach out to. I was perceived as a successful, mid-30’s, lady on the go. I was up at 6 AM each day making lunches and exercising with regularity while in reality, I was drinking almost nightly, often to excess and I had started to feel like I was pushing my life uphill.
I didn’t have words for what I was experiencing, let alone a contemporary community to lean into for healing. I began to quietly cry ‘mercy’ to my inner circle and luckily, my voice was heard by some newly sober friends, one of whom led me to the discovery of a blog called Hip Sobriety, by Holly Glenn Whitaker.
Everything Holly said made sense to me. It spoke directly to every intuitive thought I had had around how my habit had escalated. The Hip Sobriety Manifesto introduced me to the principle that “you don’t need to hit rock bottom” in order to quit and that quitting is “…not a sad consequence” but “a proud choice”. As someone keenly interested in being counter-culture, her notion that “By just trying on sobriety or questioning our drink-centric culture, you are profoundly ahead of the pack,” totally appealed to me. Holly introduced me to the term ‘dry-curious’ and prepared me for ‘coming out sober’.
I knew I had this secret, and at 34, I began to feel as if drinking was something that could one day take me down.
Hip Sobriety is a recovery language that appeals to those of us for whom moderation is not an option or for those wanting a life set free of the need to drink. Holly has introduced an alternative to AA, suggesting that labels “stigmatize us, keep us stuck in an old story, and perpetuate an idea that we are flawed.” The discovery of her work saves lives and gave me the language and tools to save my own.
It remains a mystery to me as to why so many of us don’t quit in the moment of our darkest despair. On the days we feel the most hungover, I know that many of us have sworn we would never drink again. You have to believe that happiness is something you are deserving of in order to fully step into it. I had to admit that I had a problem and more importantly, that I was special enough to let it go.
Often, our choices are quiet, firm and personal. This affirmation landed me right in the lap of a life that, despite appearances, is so decidedly different from my life with alcohol that I would dare to call it a miracle.
Even the most broken-you is worthy, beautiful, and powerful. You have to show up to your new decisions just as you are. Honesty, as a starting point, is a very terrifying step in the right direction. That’s why I tell the truth now about being on the other side of something that once seemed impossible or in the life-saving words of Anne Lamott: “Guess what? Me, too.”
I have a newfound urgency to really celebrate the present gift. It’s possible that the best nights of your life are yet to come and that by simply showing up sober, you’ll be able to let all of the love in, stay up later, dance longer and at the very least, remember the party.