Sober in the City: Yoga is Not a Cure-All, But It Helps

Though yoga was a big part of my life when I was drinking, it has also been a significant part of my recovery.

Pre-COVID, I attended a Yoginis Only (aka Women Only) yoga class at SWEAT Yoga in TriBeCa. This vigorous, heated flow was taught by the lovely Sarrah Strimel. She guided a diverse group of students through an hour-long practice while we rocked out to an all-female playlist: 4 Non Blondes, Madonna, Meredith Brooks, Lady Gaga, and of course, Beyonce.

Back in my party girl days, my Friday nights consisted of pre-gaming (drinking in preparation for more drinking), getting dressed up to impress potential hook ups, hopping from bar to bar, then driving home drunk at 2:30am. My Saturday mornings, predictably, were full of headaches and regret.

Zoom back to my sobriety — for this yoga class, my pre-game consisted of putting on a pair of herringbone patterned yoga pants, a funky sports bra, and a daisy chain (check out my pic in the header!). Afterward, I took the train home and was in bed by 10:30. I woke up refreshed, although my quads were definitely feeling a little yoga hungover.

I started practicing yoga five years ago, when I was drinking heavily and living in my hometown of Waco, Texas. While I never went to a workout after drinking, I’ve done my fair share of drunken yoga poses. From headstands on the filthy streets of Austin to arm balances on bar tops in Houston, and many, many places in between.

Back then, I frequently tested my balance throughout a night of binge drinking by doing headstands sporadically throughout the night. If I can stand on my head, I’m not THAT drunk! True story. That was the excuse I used to keep drinking. And drinking. And drinking. Until I would pass out and wake up too hungover to consider doing any form of exercise, let alone headstands.

If I can stand on my head, I’m not THAT drunk! True story. That was the excuse I used to keep drinking. And drinking. And drinking.

On November 30th, 2015, I quit drinking. Though yoga was a big part of my life when I was drinking, it has also been a significant part of my recovery. The less I drank, the more I could focus on my practice. Sobriety (paired with weekly therapy) has helped me realize why I abused alcohol: depression and anxiety. I was depressed about my life, my job, my relationships, how I looked… and the list goes on and on. I was anxious about not being “good” enough. Not being “fit” enough. Not being “smart” enough. But when I finally stopped drinking, I saw life from the other side. I could finally see and accept myself without constantly trying to change.

At the end of the class, Sarrah had us repeat a series of affirmations:

“I will let my voice be heard. I will not be silenced. My body is beautiful just the way it is. I am worthy.” Being in that room with 30 other women while repeating those powerful words left such a lasting impression on me. I am good enough. I am fit enough. I am smart enough.

I am… enough.

How Working at Lululemon Helped Me Stay Sober

The Positive Relationship Between Working and Sobriety

Lululemon was my first job outside of a bar or restaurant. When I was hired, I was 28 years old, fresh out of college, and had just moved from my hometown of Waco, Texas to The Woodlands in North Houston. I’ve proudly been rocking my high-end yoga pants for nearly three years now – both in The Woodlands and New York City. This job has been a consistent support system for my sobriety and my coworkers have been some of my most enthusiastic cheerleaders. Here’s how the unique work culture has played a key part in my recovery:We write down goals we can see every day.

One of the foundations of Lululemon’s work culture is writing down our goals. It’s like if the ideologies of Field of Dreams and The Secret had a baby. While this process can be (and often is) overwhelming, it’s really improved my life. We write down our goals and hang them up in a visible place. If you build it, he will come. I doubt that I’d be living in New York City without this practice. My favorite goal I’ve written down was right before my 30th birthday: “I abstain from alcohol for a full year and I write about the experience in my blog called SobrieTea Party.” Seeing that declaration every time I went to work kept me accountable to my sobriety and my writing commitment. I’ve been sober for a year and 5 months and writing consistently ever since.

Non-alcohol based company outings, YES!

Like most humans, Lululemon employees attend happy hours, parties, and other gatherings that are often amplified by alcohol. I’ve drastically cut back on attending these events and my coworkers never give me a hard time. A great thing about being a sober gal working for an athletic apparel company is that many of our meetings or group outings are fitness based – green juice lovers, rejoice!

We share and don’t judge.

Before each shift begins, we are encouraged to share something that’s going on in our world or clear the air of something that might keep us from being present on the floor. A sharing can be something as simple as discussing a movie you just watched or a goal you recently accomplished. A clearing can be anything from “I’m gassy from too much veggie chili, stay clear of the fitting rooms today” to “Dealing with reality without alcohol sucks.” Sometimes I can just say, “today is tough and I don’t want to talk about it.” Sometimes I say nothing at all. I appreciate having a safe space to discuss as much or as little as I want to without feeling judged. Instead, I feel loved and supported.

I get to wear yoga pants to work.

Yeah, that’s pretty much all I have to say in that regard. It’s pretty great.

They really take “family first” seriously.

One of the many cool things about working for this company is that I’m able to work at any Lululemon in the country. Last fall, when I was going through a lot of family struggles, my stress and anxiety were heightened. I was thinking about alcohol a lot more than usual. I knew that I needed to be home with my family. My boss here in New York City let me temporarily transfer to my home store in The Woodlands. This flexibility allowed me to simultaneously be with family during a tough time while still maintaining a level of normalcy with my work schedule. Support from my employer helped me keep my recovery as my number one priority during an incredibly challenging time.

We talk to each other directly.

The company has basically created a work environment where it’s encouraged to share compliments as well as constructive criticism. Since becoming sober, my managers have told me that my emotional stability has greatly improved. I’ve also been told that I have less mood swings and less existential crises (I’m only questioning the meaning of life, like, five times a day now). Much like vision and goal setting, receiving feedback can also feel overwhelming. One coworker told me that early in my sobriety, I had an air of “holier than thou”ness that I eventually outgrew. This was hard to swallow because I didn’t want to believe it. Whether it was true or not, that’s how my co-worker felt and I’m grateful that he felt comfortable telling me. This framework has helped me develop a thick skin, which I can definitely apply to all aspects of my life.

There are several essays written by former Lululemon employees calling the company a cult. While I don’t feel that we’re a cult, I’ll be the first person to say that our unique work culture is pretty odd. For as many people that drink the yoga pants Kool-Aid, there are a bunch of us who take the weirdness with a grain of salt. Just like anything in the self-help arena, I’ve learned to keep the helpful tools in my tool belt and leave the unnecessary gadgets in the shed.

A quote from a former Lemon who’s sober, Rich Binning:

“Suddenly I was surrounded by a group of people whose lives didn’t revolve around getting drunk. The culture of Lululemon gave me the power to take personal responsibility and I did more personal development there than I had done in a lifetime. I realized a major reason I drank was to be around and be close to people, and Lululemon showed me how much better and more meaningful that could be than getting blitzed at a bar.”

I’m grateful to have a fun job that supports my sobriety. My co-workers celebrated my sober anniversary (or #SoBerthday, as I like to call it) by signing a sweet card and buying me some fancy tea. They ask about my recovery, read my blog, and follow my journey on all 250 social media platforms. Being sober is hard as hell, especially when I’m so far away from my family back home in Texas. My coworkers have become my New York City family. They not only support my sobriety, they help me embrace it every day.

Sober in the City: My Beach Vacation, No Beer Required

How to Stay Sober on Vacation

As much as I love New York City, I love getting away from it, too. Last week, I traded 30 degrees on the East Coast for 80 degrees in Mexico. I even set a sassy auto-reply for my email account: “Soaking up the sun and binge drinking virgin cocktails in Mexico.” And binge drink virgin cocktails, I did. I drank my weight in Mexican Coke and limonadas – no hangovers, no blackouts.In Mexico, I spent time with my aunt, her wife, and their awesome friends as we camped at Rancho Grande on Gonzaga Bay. We paddle boarded, cooked, and enjoyed each other’s company. I even had a little “spring fling.” And oh, he was the best! Gunner had lost most of his teeth, so his tongue hangs out of his mouth most of the time, but he was just the sweetest, tiniest, 13-year-old Chihuahua. We were inseparable for most of the trip.

Gonzaga Bay had one of the most beautiful sunsets I’d ever seen. The sky went from sunny, to shades of pink, orange, and blue, to a solid blue. When it was blue, the ocean met the sky. Sometimes I’d look at the sunset and think about honking taxis, skyscrapers, subways, and overpriced smoothies. How can two places that are polar opposites exist on the same planet?

I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t think about alcohol on the trip. The first time my toes hit the sand, I thought, damn, it would be really nice to have a beer right now. I’d even get the occasional beach-themed country song in my head. Ya know, something like “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem” by Kenny Chesney (Can you tell I grew up in Texas?). Thankfully, those pseudo beer cravings were fleeting. Sobriety never surprises me, though. It’s interesting to see what can trigger a craving and how quickly I can say no to it. It’s difficult from time to time, but I’ve truly grown to love my life without alcohol.

“The first time my toes hit the sand, I thought, damn, it would be really nice to have a beer right now.”

Vacations used to be one of my myriad excuses to get drunk. Honestly, anything was an excuse to get drunk. Binge drinking on vacation meant jumping head first into some pretty risky behaviors, most of which I would not remember (nor was I proud of them). This sober vacation encouraged me to connect with people and experiences on a deeper level. I was present for each and every conversation, and now I have vivid memories of the warm sunshine on my skin, the sand squishing between my toes, the sound of my aunt’s laughter, and Gunner’s sweet doggy kisses on my cheek.

A week in Mexico was just what the doctor ordered. Seriously… my therapist was like “Girl, you need a vacation.” I wish I could have bottled up the carefree feeling that was the byproduct of fresh air and no wifi. I was, however, able to bring back some seashells, a sand dollar, and a some sweet tan lines. A tan New Yorker stands out – especially in the early Spring. Now I’m the weird girl in New York City with a tan, paying way too much for a smoothie.

Sober in the City: Why I’m Not Ashamed To Say I Go To Therapy

“I’ve always been a ‘solve your own problems’ kind of gal.”

— Carrie Bradshaw

Being Proud about Needing Help

Therapy didn’t come to me as an option until August 2016, when I was just over 9 months sober. During the first 9 months of my sobriety, or as I like to call it – BT (“before therapy”), I talked about what I was going through to anyone and everyone who was willing to lend an ear. My go-to person was my therapy-advocating roommate. She listened to me, gave excellent advice, and found gracious ways to sneak in the whole “you should see a therapist” message. I’d get annoyed, but then after the 100th time, it finally sunk in. I realized that my neuroses weren’t so cute after all.

At 14, I was struggling with some family issues and saw a psychiatrist. She diagnosed me with depression and put me on antidepressants. I tried Prozac. Then Zoloft. Then Effexor. I hated them all. I was a stubborn kid who knew everything and I didn’t need medication. At 16, I found what I thought I needed: weed and Smirnoff Ice (#classy, right?). At 18, I took myself off my meds without telling anyone; who needs antidepressants when they’ve got weed and booze? Obviously, I was wrong.

The first time I got high was the best feeling in the world. Calm and relaxation washed over me. Nothing else mattered other than the cloudy bubble I had just created. From that moment forward, I subconsciously decided that cloudiness would be my medication of choice. Smoking weed turned into popping pills… which I stole from my grandmother. Drinking a few Smirnoffs turned into chugging whiskey and hooking up with strangers. This was my life for the next 13 years.

“Smoking weed turned into popping pills… which I stole from my grandmother. Drinking a few Smirnoffs turned into chugging whiskey and hooking up with strangers. This was my life for the next 13 years.”

With time, my current therapist has helped me identify the underlying issues that led to all those years of self-destruction. Through this experience, I’ve found that I have agitated depression/ high functioning anxiety. This means that I feel like I have to solve every single problem, and if I don’t, I see myself as weak. It also means I fill every moment of my life with “busy-ness,” so I don’t have to feel my own depression. I subconsciously self-destruct – even in sobriety.

But hey, there’s no cure for my own stubbornness. I still choose to self-medicate instead of take antidepressants. Every morning, I’ve prescribed myself 20 minutes of meditation and Holy Basil (an herbal anti-stress supplement). Once a day, I drink Kava tea (an anti-anxiety herbal tea) as needed, and little to no caffeine – I’ve found that caffeine exacerbates my anxiety.

Therapy has really helped me figure out who I am, who I’ve been, and what I’ve been dealing with all along. I am NOT my depression, I am NOT my triggered behaviors, and most importantly, it’s NOT my responsibility to save the world. I wish I’d have taken my mental health more seriously long ago. But if I did that, where would all my stories come from today? (Just kidding!)

“I am NOT my depression, I am NOT my triggered behaviors, and most importantly, it’s NOT my responsibility to save the world.”

Tawny Lara is a Texan who currently resides in New York City. Her blog, SobrieTeaParty, documents her continuous evolution from a drunk party girl to a sober woman. She feels most alive when she’s exploring activities outside of her comfort zone. When Tawny isn’t writing, she’s studying Spanish, working out, eating tacos, interpreting song lyrics, or all of the above.

Sober in the City: How I Found a Whole New Sober World in Broadway

Sobriety Doesn’t Have to Ruin Your Relationship with Music

Back in my party girl days (years ago), I went to a few concerts. Well, dozens. Okay, more like hundreds. I loved getting drunk and singing along with my favourite bands and musicians. I’d think to myself “OMG! Mick Jagger is like, right there!” Or when I was stoned, I’d think “Man… I’m breathing the same air as Dylan.” While my passion has always been rock n’ roll, my taste in live music has ranged from bubblegum pop to intense hip hop. There was just something about being around live music that made me alive. And by “alive,” I mean “intoxicated.” I’d drink before, during, and after each concert. Since the lines for drinks were so long, I’d often order two beers at once, proudly “double fisting.” Depending on what artist I was seeing, I’d throw weed or coke into the mix too. I’d get so drunk and/or high that I could barely remember the actual shows. I’d forget the songs they played, the people I met, and how I got home. Apparently, “feeling alive” meant feeling nothing at all.

“Apparently, “feeling alive” meant feeling nothing at all.”

To live a sober life, I had to change certain aspects of my lifestyle. Throughout all of these positive changes, something felt like it was missing. Drinking tea, reading books, laying low, and avoiding bars was nice, but I wanted to feel the way I felt when I was at a concert. Ya know, that “aliveness.” That rush of live entertainment. And that’s when I found Broadway.

Many of the things I loved about concerts (live entertainment, flashy performances, elaborate costumes, being in the close vicinity of famous people) were available to me in a brand new way. Shortly after Misery, I saw Blackfoot. OMG! Michelle Williams! Then Fully Committed. OMG! Jesse Tyler Ferguson! I had found my new, safe addiction: live theater.

After seeing a few plays, I was ready to see a musical. Ok, I’m lying. I was actually scared to see a musical (yes, I’m totally serious). Even though I loved The Sound of Music, Grease, and Across the Universe, I didn’t think I was smart enough to follow a live storyline and that randomly broke out into song. Insecurities are soooo fun (not). I eventually got over myself and challenged the voice in my head telling me that I was stupid.

For my birthday a few months ago, my aunt took my roomie and I to see Wicked. I was excited to pop my musical cherry while simultaneously seeing my buddy/ former co-worker Michael playing Fiyero, the male lead. After the show, he gave us a tour backstage. A few weeks later, I saw The Color Purple. Then Kinky Boots. Then School of Rock. And this week, I saw Sunday in the Park with George. OMG! Jake Gyllenhaal!

 Tawny Lara of SobrieTea Party backstage at Wicked

I still go to concerts, just not as much as I used to. It’s hard for me to be in that setting and not feel tempted to drink. I find going to Broadway shows to be safe and relatively trigger-free because it’s a new activity I embraced in my recovery. I don’t have memories of being wasted at a Broadway show; I’ve only known it sober. Nobody is shoving one another to get a better view. Beer isn’t spilled all over me. Joints aren’t being passed around through the audience. At concerts, I’d bond with my friends over shots and beers and screaming the words to songs we loved. At a Broadway show, I bond with friends in silent appreciation of live theater.

“I find going to Broadway shows to be safe and relatively trigger-free because it’s a new activity I embraced in my recovery. I don’t have memories of being wasted at a Broadway show; I’ve only known it sober.”

The magic created on Broadway also opened my eyes to a world I knew nothing about. Growing up in a small Texas town, theater wasn’t discussed too often. I was in choir in 5th grade and loved it. Then I learned it wasn’t “cool,” so I didn’t pursue it the following year. Kids at school made fun of anyone who was in theater, choir, or band. So instead of doing something that made me happy, I joined the bullies. I just wanted so badly to be part of something.

It still bugs me a bit that my relationship with alcohol has somewhat ruined my relationship with live music, but it is what it is. Sobriety has taught me that it’s okay to be less “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll” and more School of Rock. And that f*&%ing rocks.

Sober in the City: I Followed My Fear and Found Myself

An Addict’s Journey through Improv Exercises, Personal Growth, and Recovery

As I go into my second year of sobriety, I decided to follow my passion of personal growth. I chopped my hair off, enrolled in Spanish classes and sketch writing classes, and even went on a couple of dates (that’s a pretty big deal for me, but more on that next time). This week continued down path of new experiences when I took my first improv class. I’ve flirted with the idea of improv for awhile now, but the thought of emitting that amount of vulnerability scared me to death. I used to hide my vulnerability by binge drinking a ton of whiskey, but this year, I’ve decided to face it head on. I found a class at The People’s Improv Theater called ‘Improv Your Public Speaking.’ I hesitated, but finally signed up for the February 13th class as a Galentine’s Day gift to myself.

On my way to the class, I was sick to my stomach with anxiety. As soon as I got there though, I saw the room filled with anxious people just like me. This helped. A lot. I was one of the 11 people there. There were a mix of genders and ages, and people from different ethnicities, cultures, and professionals all united by our fear of public speaking.

The three-hour class consisted of several improv exercises that taught us some techniques in any public speaking scenario. These exercises ended up teaching me quite a lot about myself as well. Here’s what I learned:

1. Confidence is not a goal.

The class began with us sitting in a circle of chairs facing one another. Our instructor, Taren, asked each of us what we wanted to achieve from the class. I told the group that I was a blogger who wanted to transition into vlogging and eventually write a book. I also said that I’m looking to find confidence in my voice as a speaker, and grow from being the woman who hides behind her laptop. Her response was just what I needed to hear: “Confidence is not something you achieve. It’s a feeling or a state of being that you get from practice. Confidence is mostly conditioned on your relationship to yourself and how much trust you have in yourself. If you trust yourself, you can be confident in any situation.” – Taren Sterry

2. My voice hides behind sarcasm and negativity.

The basic rule of improv is “yes, and,” which means that no matter what your prompt is or what your partner is saying, you accept it as true and keep growing from there. Throughout these exercises, I learned that when put under pressure to “yes, and” someone, I often resort to sarcasm and negativity.

For example, my improv partner and I were asked to talk about “that time we went camping together” (this obviously never happened, so we…improvised!) We talked about camping, then that turned into him wanting to go surfing. I told him “but you fall every time you try to surf.” And he replied with something along the lines of “But I keep trying.”

If I would’ve “yes, and” him, I might’ve said something like “That’s why I married a surfer” or “You always look great on that surfboard!” Instead, I shut down his idea and the rest of the conversation took a different turn.

Most people may not see this sarcastic, negative side to me because I rarely embrace it. I can edit my blog posts, social media posts, texts, emails, etc… but there’s no editing in real life.

3. I often push responsibility to others.

One exercise taught me that when I have to rapidly make a decision, I instinctively hand that decision to someone else. I see this in my daily life with simple activities like finding a place to eat with a friend. In my mind, I think I’m being the chill, laid back friend who’s down for whatever, but in reality I’m making someone else come up with an answer.

4. I overanalyze.

I get stuck in my head. I worry about looking perfect, writing perfectly, speaking perfectly, etc. In improv, there’s barely enough time to think, let alone time to overthink. In improv, I can’t overanalyze what my response will be. I can’t obsess over other ways I could have responded. Improv encourages me to be completely present.

5. I talk about tacos… a lot.

When I was asked to give a prompt, my mind immediately went to tacos. After saying “tacos” twice, I had to actively try to not think about tacos. Then my mind went to sex. Then sunshine. Then cats.

After a night of spontaneity, trying not to think about tacos, and giving a two minute monologue (*cringe*), I laughed my ass off and had an awesome time. Taren’s advice helped me understand that confidence isn’t something that can be crossed off my to-do list. It’s something that comes from practice and having a solid relationship with one’s self. Her advice humanized my perception of confidence.

The PIT’s motto is “Follow the Fear, Find the Fun.” My old motto was something along the lines of “Swallow the Fear, Chase It with Whiskey.” I think I’ll follow the fear and find the fun in another improv class – hold the whiskey.

Sober in the City: I Want To Drink To De-stress, But I Can’t. Now What?

An Addict’s Experience with Staying Sober in NYC

Last Friday, I worked 8 hours on my feet at my retail job in SoHo. As much as I love people, it’s emotionally taxing to be “on” for an entire day with a smile on my face. Towards the end of my shift, I was pretty grumpy. On my train ride home, my grumpiness continued when I realized the train had no seats left. I had to stand for 20 more minutes, shoulder to shoulder with stinky strangers in a crowded little box.

I stood there, with my eyes closed, picturing myself taking a bath while drinking a big glass of wine. This delusional thought was so relaxing, I may have even smiled. When the train slammed on its brakes, and I had to get off at my stop, it brought me right back to my reality: I. Can’t. Drink. Wine was never even my drink of choice, I was always more of a Jack Daniels straight from the bottle kind of gal (#classy).

I stood there, with my eyes closed, picturing myself taking a bath while drinking a big glass of wine. This delusional thought was so relaxing, I may have even smiled.

I’ve been sober for over a year, and I still struggle with the fact that I can never drink again. This very thought can be overwhelming sometimes. On the 10 minute walk home, I listened to a few fracks from Coldplay’s first album, Parachutes. The piano intro to “Trouble” was the soothing melody that I needed in that moment. It calmed me down. It helped me accept the fact that taking a bath and enjoying a glass of wine are not viable options for me because my apartment doesn’t have a working bathtub and I have a terribly unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

As soon as I got home, I made a warm cup of tea and put on some comfy clothes. I sipped my tea in the comfort of my bed while writing in my journal. In this moment, I remembered how for years I chose to drink until I forgot what was stressing me out. Now in sobriety, I choose to pause and reflect on the madness of my day. I identify my stressors and how they made me feel.

After journaling, I meditated for 20 minutes. I laid there in my dark bedroom as I felt the day throb through me. My body ached. My mind was mush. I took a series of deep breaths, desperate to find relaxation. The sirens, honking, and yelling outside my window are customary now. My mind has accepted these background noises as non-negotiable. This is urban city life. It hurts. It’s loud. It’s triggering. It’s not for everyone. Sometimes, I have to remind myself why it’s for me.

My body ached. My mind was mush. I took a series of deep breaths, desperate to find relaxation. The sirens, honking, and yelling outside my window are customary now. My mind has accepted these background noises as non-negotiable.

New York City life is tough. Sobriety in this city is even tougher. Somehow, the two came together and worked for me. As much as I wish I could have come home to a relaxing glass of wine, I’m happy that I chose to unwind in a different way. I do wish my bathtub worked though.