Holly Whitaker is a recovery advocate who created sobriety blogs The Temper and Hip Sobriety, as well as the digital recovery program Tempest. Her book, Quit Like a Woman—which details how her own experience in sobriety informed her work with Tempest—is a New York Times bestseller.
Whitaker has been sober since April 15th, 2013. 12-step programs don’t work for her, and the insurance she had when she got sober wouldn’t pay for treatment. She decided to build her own system.
Her view is that recovery should be holistic; it should improve your life and well-being, so drinking or using drugs could never compete with your sober life (I’ve found this to be true of my recovery, though that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard).
“Sobriety, if it is anything, is paying attention,” says Whitaker, “seeing the wonder and the beauty around us that we so easily sprint by on our way to the next thing. And this is more than fun; this is actually living.”
Before Whitaker got sober, she was living a life that looked good on the outside. She had the “right” clothes, the “right” job, the “right” apartment. But internally, she was suffering tremendously. She was severely bulimic and addicted to alcohol and cigarettes.
“I was putting away either a few bottles of wine or a few pints of Jameson most nights, binging and purging close to $1,000 of take-out food a week, and smoking as much weed and tobacco as I could get into my lungs,” she says. “My behavior was becoming more erratic, my secret habits were becoming harder to keep secret, and I looked like shit and aging faster than I should have been. One day, it became too much to keep up.”
Eating disorders and addiction commonly co-occur. One of several reasons is because they are external ways of coping with deeper underlying issues. Whitaker’s approach to treatment—like ours at Amatus—is to focus on these individual reasons as much as the substance addiction itself.
“The second thing that helped me pull apart my own addiction, and thus understand how to approach it and overcome it,” says Whitaker, “was breaking it up into two distinct parts: the root causes, or the things that drive us out of ourselves to cope, and the cycle of addiction, or what happens to us biologically, spiritually, socially, and psychologically over time when we use an effective but addictive substance or behavior in an attempt to regulate ourselves. I call it the Two-Part Problem, and in order to heal, we need to address both parts.”
While during active addiction Whitaker was mired in secrecy, in recovery she’s incredibly outspoken and honest. She talks about the ways addiction can shapeshift, and is very honest when she’s struggling. She came out as queer this year, and was clear that she doesn’t know whether she’s a lesbian, bisexual, or pansexual. All of her writing and work allows for the messy complication of being human, and particularly a human in recovery.
“Today, I see my struggles as a gift,” she says. “When I experience depression or anxiety, I move with it instead of against it; I am an active participant in my life and I continuously work to take care of myself, to give myself the best chance of showing up and being here for it all.”
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is help and hope. TruHealing Centers offers high-quality treatment for addiction and mental health disorders in facilities across the country. Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—will help you find and build the recovery program that suits you and live your best sober life. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.