Jamie Amos is a writer in recovery who believes we change the stigma of addiction through story. Her fiction has appeared in The Greensboro Review, Cold Mountain Review, and storySouth, among others. Articles about recovery have been featured at IntheNola and Klen & Sobr. She lives in New Orleans, blogs at The Neutral Ground, and photographs her Pitbull on Instagram.
Kitchen Table Conversation
Liv: Let’s kick off with a food question: What have you had for breakfast today?
Jamie: Overnight oats with Greek yogurt and some really, really good coffee.
On Problem Drinking
Liv: Moving to your story, you said in your interview with The Recovery Revolution: “I didn’t hit rock bottom to quit. I never got a DUI. I never went to jail. I didn’t lose my husband–how he put with me for 17 years, I’ll never know. I didn’t lose jobs, loved ones, not even a finger in an ill-fated power tools incident.” How did the fact you didn’t reach that ‘rock-bottom’ affect your desire to get help?
Jamie: I had actually hit what people might recognize as a ‘rock-bottom’ in my early-to-mid-twenties. I frequently drank to black out, shot coke, and put myself and others at risk. But instead of using some pretty harrowing experiences as the launch to a better, more sober life, I just used them as a benchmark to prove I didn’t have a problem. I didn’t get sober until I was 34. I was a binge drinker, not an everyday drinker, so I could easily hide the ramifications from myself and others. I think because of that I had a very slow crawl to recognizing the true extent of my addiction and very few people in my life compelled to nudge me. I’m glad I got here, but it took a hell of a long time for me to even want help. I mean, I actually didn’t admit my powerlessness until 2 years into my program!
Liv: I loved how you describe the insight you gained into how your drinking was impacting your life. You said: “…I started to see real Truth: alcohol disconnected me from my center and stole any authenticity I had to offer. I made myself agreeable to experience connection. I bragged while drunk about my accomplishments to make up for never feeling like I was enough. These things compressed inside me to give birth to a shadow self of shame.” Why do you think you felt inadequate? And how did the shame you felt affect your drinking?
Jamie: Dang, we getting into it! I come by my addiction honestly with generations of alcoholics and addicts, including my mom, a woman I value like my second heart, but who still battles her addictions. I grew up witnessing a kind of powerlessness, particularly among the women, who I can now see more clearly as burdened with tending the threads that kept our families together. I didn’t want to be anything like them. When I drank, I swelled with courage and the kind of bravado reserved for men in my family. But behind that peacocking was always fear. I drank to outrun fear that said I did not deserve and would never receive anything better or good in my life.
Liv: What I love about your story is that you highlight the cultural identity we share of the typical person suffering with alcoholism or addiction as “…the neighborhood drunk sitting on a crate at the corner store, a tall boy in a paper bag. It’s 9 a.m. and Mr. Lloyd is already slurring his words. We understand he needs help.” You made a really pertinent point that perpetuating that stereotype can postpone problem drinkers getting help, because they see the differences in recovery support meetings and do not identify as an alcoholic or addict. But you did—why?
Jamie: Oh, girl. Easy. Really intense and frightening depression. I definitely did not identify as an addict or alcoholic – which is baffling to me now – when I first sought help. I was at work on this intensely beautiful clear summer day, the kind in which you can feel the warm sun and breeze on your skin at the same time. The day was so achingly beautiful. I was sitting on a bench and suddenly, almost from outside of me, this clear, ringing voice popped in my head that said I could get in the lake nearby and end my life now. I felt eerily calm about it, matter of fact, as if I’d just said to myself, “I could go grab lunch at the cafeteria.” That kind of unquestioned truth or reality.
Thankfully, I was lucid enough to recognize this moment for the terrifying event it was. I sought out a therapist and throughout our time together, she would tilt her head and gently ask, “What do you think about your relationship with alcohol?” About a year later, I finally understood drinking wasn’t just a symptom, but a cause, too.
On Getting Sober
Liv: How did you get sober?
I just stopped – kidding! My path to was all winding and looping. In 2014, I had saved enough money and vacation time to take 2 months and dedicate myself to writing. I knew that if I drank even once, I’d wake the next day feeling like shit, tank the writing day, drink that night for shame, rinse and repeat. At first I told myself a couple weeks, which I hadn’t done since my teens. But I kept going for that whole two months.
I was, as they say, a miserable fuck for the next six months. I wasn’t drinking, and I was an emotional wreck. Then at a dinner party right as I was about to break, a man I’d known for years sat down next to me and ordered a water, opening the moment long enough for me to ask why he didn’t want wine. He kept me sober that night. Well, him and the Universe. He also took me to my first meeting and introduced me to my first sponsor. Only then did I really start to get sober.
The Neutral Ground
Liv: Moving on to your website—The Neutral Ground—you talk of the reasons why you co-founded it was to demonstrate what it looks like to heal and recover on a regular wage. You said: “We need some solid daily practices, service in our communities, a fuck-ton of real connection, and to share our stories.” What do you get from connection?
When I was drinking, I spent most of my time thinking about myself, my comforts, and wants. My world had shrunk to this tiny window-sized view. I could be vulnerable and generous when it suited me. I could also be cold and withdrawn. I lingered in friendships forged by the false intimacy of 3 a.m. and a gallon of booze. I didn’t really hear or see others and I certainly didn’t reveal the truest parts of myself. That exchange of truth and presence and witness is what I’m after now. That gift we all give when we show up for the people we love and truly see them and in turn reveal ourselves and our truth in loving ways.
Liv: Leading on from the previous question, what are your daily practices?
Journaling. I process the world through writing, so journaling has to happen every day. Holly Whittaker and Laura McKowen talk on HOME about non-negotiables, I think a concept borrowed from Meadow Devor. Not sure. But journaling is one of my non-negotiables. I wake up, make coffee, and sit down to journal. That’s the clearest way for me to access the quiet, wiser part of myself that knows the answers before the rest of me. Journaling is really the only thing I have to do every single day.
Not everyone enjoys the act of writing, but I think we all need something like this. We need to create the quiet space from which our truest selves can safely bloom. Whether that’s a bath, a long run, painting, or playing the drums, we all need that one place we go to allow the Universe to move through us.
Liv: Moving on to physical recovery, how has your relationship with food changed in recovery?
My relationship with food still troubles me. After I got to a place where I could sustain sobriety, I started to notice that I was using food in exactly the same way I used drugs and alcohol. A pint of Ben & Jerry’s allowed me to check out of my present in exactly the same ways. I was a binge drinker and I slowly realized I was also a binge eater. Navigating this can be challenging. My mom is over 400 lbs and 5’1 – her addictions have absolutely transferred to food – and I feel like it’s much more difficult for her to navigate her sobriety. In mine, I avoid alcohol and drugs. But what is my line with food? What is communal indulgence? I often don’t know how to stop with foods in the same way I didn’t with alcohol.
So, right now, my relationship with food is precarious. I aim for whole, real foods, most of my meals cooked at home, and vegetables taking up most of my plate. I avoid gluten because it makes my joints ache and worsens my PCOS symptoms. Still, food still feels like the place my addict most readily weasels herself back out of her cage.
Liv: How have you developed a relationship with your body?
Actively and out loud. Like every woman I know, even the ones we think of as having a body endorsed by Western standards, I wasted a lot of time hating my body. I often feel guilty that my real thoughts counter the body positivity movement, but the truth is that my brain will jump to “I’m fat” or “I’m gross” faster than I can stop it. So, I say out loud I am beautiful exactly the way I am. I tell the mirror and my naked self I look hot. When I make gratitude lists, I always put the things my body can accomplish without my telling it one thing. I also try to take way better care of it. Moving because it’s good for me, nourishing it with real food, and taking long, hot and luxurious baths.
Liv: Last, what are your top five recovery tools?
- All of you. I mean it. In 2014 when I first got sober, I craved this kind of community, and somehow here you all are. It’s a dream.
- The people in my regular life who taught me what it means to love unconditionally as a daily practice.
- I revelled in chaos in my drinking, but I actually need the comfort of regular habits like journaling and 8 hours of sleep.
- The pause. It’s my favourite thing I learned in recovery. We don’t have to act. We don’t have to react. We can hit pause, take deep breaths, and make a decision later.
- I read absolutely everything I could about recovery in the beginning. I read AA books, anti-AA books, Alanon books. A Gentle Path through the 12 Steps is still one of the things I turn to when I’m struggling. Reading about how others experienced alcoholism and addiction helped me understand I belonged and was actually typical.
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