The Sober-Minded Sisterhood
Looking in the mirror takes courage and the willingness to see what’s there, not what we want to be there. Jenn Kautsch talks about that look in the mirror and how it led her to found Sober Sis, a like-minded community of women who are renegotiating their relationship with alcohol, without labels, shame, judgment, or rules. The Sober-Minded Sisterhood is about making a conscious choice to be the best version of yourself and to live in an intentional manner, creating the life you want. Jenn’s contact information and resources, including events, blogs, and the 21 Day Reset Challenge, can be found at https://www.sobersis.com/ss-home
[Jaunty Guitar Music]
Mike: Welcome everyone. This is Avoiding The Addiction Affliction, a series brought to you by Westwords Consulting. I'm your host, Mike McGowen. We've had a number of conversations about the variety of different recovery methodologies available to people. One size rarely fits all. Today is another one of those conversations that I'm really looking forward to.
I'm really pleased to have as our guest, Jen Kautsch. Fort Worth, Texas, founder of the Sober-Minded Sisterhood, better known as Sober Sis. Welcome, Jen.
Jen: Well, thank you Mike. I'm glad to be here. I've been looking forward to it.
Mike: Well, me too. And you were just telling me before we started that you were without power for a little while because you've been having ice storms down there, right?
Jen: Correct. I'm in like you said, Fort Worth, Texas. And yeah, we don't know how to deal with weather down here if it's not sunny and 70, we just almost don't know what to do. So we've got the ice on the branches and I think the branches are now falling on the power lines. And that's the issue at hand.
Mike: Well, I'm glad the power went back on that we could do this. Well, let's start with the basics; what is Sober Sis and why did you decide to start it?
Jen: Yeah. Well, thank you for asking and thank you so much for having me on. I definitely probably have a different story than well anybody else, right? Because don't we all have different stories? There's really no two stories that are the same. However, there are a lot similarities in our stories.
I started Sober Sis in 2018 after a year of my own personal sober-curious journey to renegotiate my relationship with alcohol, which I knew was unhealthy because it felt misaligning and out of balance to me. But quite honestly, I didn't really fit any kind of label. I was not physically addicted. You know, I could go without it, I could wait till five o'clock. I kind of just was in that middle, what is now called the Grey Area Drinking Zone. And for a long time, I thought - many people I think do - that drinking is all or nothing, black or white. You're either, you know, a normy who can take it or leave it and you don't care, or you're an alcoholic, pick one! What if you can't, what if you can't pick one? And that's where I found myself.
Mike: How did you know, I mean, when you say you felt a little out of balance, what were you feeling, what were you thinking?
Jen: Yeah. I'll kind of rewind and tell you a little bit more about my story because I have quite a contrast in my adult life as a non-drinker to a drinker, to now a non-drinker. So I didn't start really drinking on a regular basis, like socially, regularly, often, until my young 30s.
Jen: I was the kid in high school that didn't touch alcohol with a ten-foot pole. I went on to Texas Tech University, which is a party school, a state school, and pledged a sorority - did not drink in college either. It was not my thing.
I actually watched people around me, you know, party hard, this is the late eighties. I watched people around me, party and get stuck at frat houses drunk in the bathroom, and I'm thinking, how are you gonna get out of there? It looked scary to me. It looked out of control. I also grew up with parents that didn't drink. I didn't really have alcohol in my home growing up, so I also didn't have a cautionary tale around me of alcohol use or abuse.
So when I was younger, alcohol had three kind of rules around it: don't drink if you're not 21, because that was the Texas state law, I believe it still is. Don't drink if you're not 21, I myself am a rule follower, so I was like, all right, that's the rule. I got it. Because knowing me, I lived in a small town, if I tried it once, I'd totally get caught, I'm that person that's like, can't get away with anything. Don't drink and drive well, I was like, well, why would I wanna do that? That sounds horrendous and scary to like, give your car keys and your mind to something that will take you places you don't wanna go, that wasn't my thing.
And then I also am a person of faith, so I grew up with the kind of the church atmosphere telling me, don't get drunk with wine, that's a bad thing. Drinking's okay, but don't get drunk. I'm like, got it. So don't drink and drive, don't drink to get drunk, and don't drink if you're not 21. Literally, that was my grid, that was my view of alcohol.
So in my 20s, I ended up not drinking at all, even when I kind of met all the criteria of being, quote, "able to drink". I got married fairly young, I mean, not super young, I was 24, my husband at the time was 22, okay. We were not drinkers together. It was not a couple's activity for us, we didn't meet at a bar, it was just, again, not our thing.
So, fast forward my life, I had two kiddos in my 20s, so I was becoming a mom. I was building a family, I was building a life, I was building a business with my husband, just wasn't time to start drinking if I hadn't yet, if you know what I mean.
Jen: So here I am, picture me then, I'm 32 years old. I've been married close to a decade. I have kids on the ground. I mean, I am in it. And I've done hard things in my life by that point, I mean, I won't go into the challenges that I had in my 20s, but I certainly had some, because we all have challenges.
So I handled those with a sober mind. I handled those challenges without outsourcing my resilience, my coping skills, to a substance. I had a lot of fortitude and resilience, and again, I thank God for that because he's very much a part of my life and so, in my young 30s, I started working a home-based network marketing business.
The challenges financially that my husband and I were under owning a retail store were starting to crowd us in. That was starting to kind of fail, go down, and I thought, you know what? I am a college graduate with a marketing degree. I can go to work and still be at home with my kids during the day.
So that's exactly what I did. I took on this marketing job that took me out of the house in the evenings to all kinds of, you know, hotels and public venues in the evening, all over the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. So I was driving, traffic crazy, you know, kids all day, the business is failing. I've been married a while. So now the heat of life is turning up, right? Life is getting a little bit more stressful and I'm getting a little bit older. And I'll never forget it, Mike, I mean, it was a real standout moment for me because I had so much experience socially without drinking for so long that I was actually at a networking happy hour, and a friend of mine said, Jen, why don't you get a drink with us?
And I literally, Mike, went back to the rules that I just told you that applied to me when I was 19 or 20, and I applied them to myself at 32. And I thought, well, my gosh, hello, I'm definitely over 21 by a decade. I'm not trying to drink and drive, in fact, I actually came here with a friend so that's not the deal. My word, I'm certainly not trying to get drunk, I don't even know what to order.
I mean, so seriously, it was very naive and very green of me to go, well, you know, why don't I, hello? I meet the criteria, quote, to now be an "adult, grownup social drinker". I'm not coming at it with a party lifestyle or trying to eject outta my own life, yet at that point. I went into it with a kind of glamorized social appeal, and that's also, I have to think really a around the dates on that, my brain's not that fast. It was around the turn of this century. It was probably in the 2000s, early 2000s.
And so that's also when the mommy juice culture was starting to creep in. I don't know if you've heard that term, but this "mommy juice", this "mommy wine" culture, this marketing and messaging to women, the dial was just starting to turn where the alcohol industry realized we - stay-at-home moms, working moms, moms - were an underutilized market within the alcohol industry, and they really came for us.
I know this for a fact. I mean, there's been many, many people that have said, you know, we were in a boardroom and we were literally looking around at who to sell more alcohol to, and it was you. And so hook, line, and sinker man, all the marketing was just kind of the, you deserve it, it's your reward, it's your treat. Look at you. Look at how hard you're working. Look at what you're doing for your family. My gosh, if anyone deserves a glass of wine, it's you. So that was setting the stage for my 30s. So I learned literally y'all, I learned how to become a drinker in my 30s.
I mean, I really had to kind of learn the ropes. I had a handful, okay, maybe two, epic fails where I just drank too much too fast. I just didn't even know how alcohol was gonna affect my body. I didn't understand the science of it. I hadn't learned a lot of the things that my peers had learned a decade or more earlier.
So there was an immediate amount of cognitive dissonance for me. A lot of confusion, a little bit of shame, some guilt, some, why can't I make this work? Like, ugh. But I need to make it work because I like it. I like the way it makes me feel. I mean, that first glass I had of white Zinfandel that my friend ordered me was like a potion. It was like a magic potion. And I didn't realize how uptight and anxious I really had been holding in until I had that. And it was like, wow, neck roll, there it is, and I chased that feeling.
And here's just a random side note, at around 38 years old, so about six years of drinking, pretty much more and more every year, as my tolerance built, we know this, my dependence built as well. Now all of a sudden, one glass ain't quite doing the trick like two can or three. Just building up tolerance, building up dependence as I go. So at around 38 I looked at my husband, Craig, and I said, babe, I really feel like this is not us. This is not me. I mean, I'm homeschooling my kids at the time, and I've got the liquor up in the top of the pantry so we can make margaritas after they go to bed. I mean, what are we doing? It just was so unaligning to me. And that's again, now that you know a little bit more about my background, it's like, what are we doing?
And I like it and I hate it, and I wanna make that margarita, but yet I'm waiting all day to make that margarita. What am I doing? So I told my husband, Craig, hey, what do you think about this? What if we just took a year off of drinking together? Because you're my drinking buddy, let's do this together. And just not drink for a year and kind of reel it in. Man. I feel like it's becoming too important. It's becoming too important in our lives. And you know, he agreed. He was like, sure, I can take it or leave it, I'll leave it with you. So that's exactly what we did. We didn't drink for a whole year.
And I dropped 15 pounds, literally, I started sleeping better. I felt the energy that I had in my 20s, I felt a lot more self-respect. And after a year feeling so great, I was like, awesome, rock on! Let's celebrate that with moderating now, because if we can control the drinking by not having it, we can control it by having it.
Let's just, you know, you drink your beer, your IPA, I've got my glass of wine. Let's just not get crazy over here. I'll measure it, that's cool, you know, and that's what I did, Mike. I wanted to show up differently at 40 than kind of just a drinking mom, but no. 40 rolled around, and I say that because it's a big part of my story.
40 to 45 for me was also when those little kids turned into teenagers, they grew. And the stress of life grew as well. And so our oldest turned 13 the same year I turned 40.
Jen: And it was like, game on. Stress, hormonal chaos at home. A lot of fear on my part, watching some choices, you know, fair making, how to parent, good boundaries, how to let go, all the things. And that's when drinking was really back in my life. And that's when I felt it really make the turn for me from a social pleasantry, something I was looking forward to as a reward, to a crutch, to an emotional, mental crutch to lean on in hard times, celebrating times, lonely times, times when I was bored.
Just all of my friends drank. My husband went back to drinking, so my whole social world was revolved around this social drinking, but for me, it held a separate place in my heart. It held a place of companionship, a little bit of comfort, but what, as you well know, it turned out to really not be all that it was cracked up to be because it was just like any crutch if had got knocked out from under me, I was totally out of balance.
But again, I could stop, start, I was kind of a yo-yo drinker during those years. I would take long breaks, sometimes months without drinking on my own. Just like I'm not gonna do that. And I knew a life without it for so long, I just kind of went back, but I always felt a little bit deprived. A little bit miserable on the outside looking in. I had not yet changed the way I looked at alcohol. I really highly valued it and just tried not to have it versus changing the value that I had attributed to alcohol.
So right before I turned 46 my daughter finally turned 18, so now we made it through the five years. That was like a wilderness for me. We made it, we made it through everyone's alive. I thought, you know what, she's moving on to her next season in life, if I'm not careful, I'm gonna stay the same. I am gonna stay the same, and I'm gonna show up at 50 as that professional patio drinker that's just like looking for the next happy hour, and that's like not who I am at all. And so, I was ready for a change, I was really sick and tired of being sick and tired.
The hangovers were getting worse, I was in what I call the "detox to re-tox" loop because I was so mindful still by day. I wasn't, you know, drinking in the morning. I hadn't let it go. I mean, I was working out like a banshee, I was doing all kinds of hot yoga classes, sweating it out, I was having my green juice every day at lunch and eating kale. I mean, I was doing all the right things only to plow through a bottle of wine in the evening. And I'm like, this is not working.
So I was definitely ready for a change. And that's when I started hearing words like sober-curious, grey area drinking, alcohol-free lifestyle. I started hearing words other than sober, addict, addiction. And for me personally, the words grey area drinking, create a life you love that you don't wanna numb out from really resonated with me.
Mike: Well, you know, part of the reason, Jen, I wanted to have you on was just that. Because what you just described in unbelievably great detail, I know that there's people listening to this nodding their heads. Cause your story that you just told is a story I've heard dozens of times of women who experienced that same thing through the pandemic.
Their usage went through the roof.
Mike: And you're just describing them, and it's like, where am I now?
Mike: Is this gonna be me? And so then you came up with something called what, the 21-day challenge, right?
Mike: Well, what is that?
Jen: Yes. And that's really the heart and soul of what I do now, is I lead women through just taking a break.
I think the notion of knowing that you do wanna change your relationship with drinking, but thinking that's a little bit intense and severe to say, I wanna change my relation to drinking, so I'm just never gonna drink again. It's too big of a jump for someone who's in this grey area, detox to re-tox, because keep in mind, I didn't have any external consequences. I really did not. I did not have a rock bottom externally. I mean, I would say inwardly, I was having rock bottoms all the time, but externally, oh man, I looked like everybody else, and I was getting it done. Type A person here, and just totally getting it done. So I needed something that was a little bit softer to onboard me to this concept of changing my relationship with alcohol without a label, without taking on a forever change.
And so I created the 21-day reset challenge in an effort to really just allow women some space. Some space to wrestle with this out loud without having to plant a flag in the ground forever, make a definitive yes or no, but just kind of experiment with a sober mind long enough to get the clarity to then have a clear picture of how or if alcohol even fits in your life. I don't think you know that until you set it aside long enough to feel the effects of feeling good, meanwhile learning the whole time.
And we do it with community, which as you well know from your background and what you do, community's everything, because connection really is the antidote to addiction. The antidote isn't really sobriety, it's connection. And so that's a big part of what we do in Sober Sis, it's connection. And I've had thousands of women come through Sober Sis with this 21-day reset and say, I've tried other programs or I've tried other things, but I did it by myself, I did it in my own head. This is very interactive where we really share real life stories, kinda like I just did. We share that way in our group and it just makes everybody feel accepted, but yet we don't wanna keep people in the status quo. I want to challenge people, and that's why I call it a challenge, because it is a challenge when you're a regular habitual drinker to set it down.
Mike: Well, and if you can't make it, that tells you something too, right?
Jen: There you go. Yeah, if it's hard to string together a couple of days, that's a red flag, that's a warning sign. And then I've got people that I can pass people on to, because it is a spectrum and there are different resources along that spectrum.
And I think that that's important because I think for the longest time there weren't really resources in the middle of the spectrum, right? There were, you know, recovery programs that were for the end of the spectrum, which is wonderful, I'm glad there's, you know, something there. But I'm proactively trying to keep women from falling into, as Alan Carr would say, the pitcher plant, where they just go deeper and deeper into the pitcher plant. I'm working with women who can technically still fly out. They can fly outta that pitcher plant, but not without changing their mindset and even the science of giving themselves that amount of time without alcohol.
Mike: You know, you referenced it, so much of our culture is surrounded by alcohol, everything that we do. And I've referenced articles here that people have written saying how to hide in a social environment that you're not using, like that's a bad thing to not use. And then you wrote a blog, or one of your blogs talks about, let me get it right, "How to Prepare for an Alcohol-Free Girls Trip". I read it, I loved it. Talk about that.
Jen: Oh, absolutely. Well, first off, you're right on, Mike. I mean, it's crazy. You know, alcohol's the only drug we have to justify not taking, which is just wild and very true in our alcohol-centric society. And again, I've lived on both sides, so I know what it feels like also to feel that for you newly alcohol free listeners or those thinking about it, it's daunting because you think, well, will I be on the outside looking in?
How do I show people that I'm sober minded, not somber minded. Like y'all, I'm still fun. I'm way more fun not drinking because I'm fully my weird self and I can't blame it on alcohol. I mean, it's just straight up me. And so I like that I can own that.
And so I think for a girls trip, first off, it's having the right expectations. You know, we can't change other people, we know this. I've been married long enough to know this. We can only change ourselves. So I have to go into a girls trip first off, knowing what it is I want. I'm the one that lives in my own head, in my own real life, and so for me, it's not worth it for a weekend to abandon myself, literally leave who I am to become somebody I'm no longer just in an effort to socialize or fit in. Even at my age now in my fifties, because I did make it to 50 different than I did 40, that was my big goal. I was gonna tell you at 46, I was like, I gotta change some stuff up here, my program is not working for me, and I knew alcohol was the lead domino.
So yeah, I'm turning 52 in June and I'm just, I'm happy about it because I feel like I did before I ever drank alcohol at all. I feel that free. And that's a good thing, that's a positive thing. So if I go on a girls trip, yeah, the first thing I wanna do is pre-decide. I am now, I'm a non-drinker again, Jen's gone back to her original self. I'm a non-drinker that fits me better, feels better in my own skin to be a hundred percent me, 24/7, I'm there.
And that's how I define sober-minded living is just being awake, alert, aware, present in your own life. When I was drinking, I didn't have that. I had given that away. And so I love going on girls trips now because I can actually enjoy my time there. And guess what? If it's not fun, I'm gonna get that feedback too. I can tell who my fun friends are and who my drinking buddies are, and so that's good too, to go in with the expectations of this may or may not be fun, but it won't be because I'm drinking or not. It'll be because of the people I'm around, and the way I view myself alcohol free. If I think I'm lame, if I think I'm boring, then I am, then I sure am. But if I don't think I am, I'm gonna go in with a whole different persona of like, I like myself. I like myself sober minded.
So that's the first thing is pre-decide. You gotta know who you are going in and know your why, why you are changing, what you're changing. And then also be prepared. I mean, listen, I've been alcohol free for almost six years now, I've gone back, six years and anytime I hang out with my friends, most of them still drink.
I'm not surrounded by non-drinkers just because I'm aka Sober Sis. I am virtually, I'm surrounded by thousands of non-drinkers, but in my real life, I'm surrounded more by drinkers. So I have to not only pre-decide what I am doing as Jen, but I also have to prepare. I don't show up at a family reunion or a trip to the beach without my own stuff.
I mean BYOB. BYOB, whatever your drink of choice is, alcohol free, as you may know, if you follow me on Instagram at Sober Sis, I'm all about it. I am all about the zero proof cocktails and all the alcohol free options out there. For some people, that's not their thing, that trips 'em up, makes 'em want the real thing, I get it.
You do you, again, this goes back to you do you. You do what works for you. But for me early on, oh my gosh, if I could have a Heineken 0.0 and watch the football game with everybody else to you know, enjoy the taste, but not have the regret, for me personally, that really works. And again, for others they're like, no thanks, water with lemon, I'm good. And that's okay too. But I think pre-deciding and then preparing. So I don't show up empty handed. When I first stopped drinking, I was a part of a book club, okay. And anyone out there that knows about "book club", we know it's a drinking club, hello? We know we're not there for, we're not reading books are we?
I mean, maybe, but it was BYOB at the book club and it was bring your own bottle because you're probably gonna drink it. In fact, we'll mix and mingle 'em. So it's like, you can't tell that everybody's drinking a bottle, but they are, they're having three or four glasses of wine. And you know, a book club is three hours long because you're dancing to eighties music at the end. I mean, that's my kind of book club, I mean, granted, I did create it. So I was a part of that same book club for 18 months as a non-drinker, month after month, bringing my mingle mocktails, my whatever drinks, I have a list of drinks that I promote because I think they're good.
So I would just bring it and set it on the bar. And after a while people were like, okay, she's still her. In fact, if anything, she's more of her, not less her. She's not judging us, I don't wanna judge people for drinking, just like I don't wanna get judged for not drinking. It goes both ways.
Jen: Don't judge me for not drinking, and I won't judge you for drinking. Let's just, all you do you. Meanwhile, people are sober-curious, and they're watching you. If you're out there as an alcohol free person, literally enjoying your life, living your best life, following through with your intentions, honoring your own integrity, that's attractive. People notice that, there's a confidence about me, that isn't because I'm so great, it's because I'm so in touch with my ow desires, I am now aligned. I'm no longer arguing with myself everywhere I go. So, you know, over time people really accepted that as who I was because I had accepted that as who I was.
Mike: And what a good example for your kids.
Jen: Oh man, Mike, very much so, and I had really struggled with it as a mom because again, I started drinking when they were probably 5 and 6, maybe a little younger and stopped drinking when they were close to 16 and almost 19. So they were old enough to certainly pay attention to my mistakes and my turnaround.
Jen: Which I'm really grateful for today. It was kind of rough times, rough man. Because there were times, especially with my oldest, my daughter, I know it was confusing for her to come home and see me somewhat glassy-eyed while I'm waiting up for her to come home for her curfew and her not be glassy-eyed.
I'm telling her, you know, don't do this. But yet I'm the mom that's, you know, mindlessly sipping, watching Netflix, waiting for my teenager to come home, and that duplicity was painful for me, and I think it was confusing for her. So there were times that, you know, just in her own journey, was pretty harsh, pretty harsh judgment. Which totally, for me, as a rule follower, kind of the do-gooder, I just absorbed that in as like, oh, bad mom, bad person. Which ironically, really made me wanna drink more. That's not her fault. That was my grid of thinking. And so I really had to tease out, okay, what can I own? What can I take ownership for? And again, it was really primarily just with my family right here in these little four walls that my drinking really impacted others.
I wouldn't really say it was outside of these walls because socially, I always kept it under control. I it was more at home. And again, back to the pandemic in your example, previous, I think that that's very relatable because it wasn't like I was outswinging from the chandeliers or dancing on the bar. You know, I'm at home just on the back patio minding my own business, thinking I'm bothering no one, and I'm totally disconnecting from my family.
Mike: And like you said, this allows you to be your best you. So now that your kids are a little bit older,
Mike: And you've been doing this, and of course we're gonna put links to all of this in the blurb. What's next for Sober Sis?
Jen: Yeah. Well, here it is at the time of our interview, in case you're listening way later, it's January, 2023 and I've got a book coming out.
Mike: Oh, that's great!
Jen: Yeah. Yeah, I've written a book. You'll love the title, it's called Look Alive, Sis. Like look alive! Like I'm like a coach saying, put me in coach, I'm ready to play, like it's my own life.
Jen: Look Alive says "40 days to awaken your sober mind." And it's a 40 day reader where I have, kind of like the blog that you read, picture 40 blog entries, little standalone snippets that can really help someone, whether they're sober-curious or already alcohol free, just really dig into that sober mindedness. So I've got the book coming out, end of March, first part of April. So stay tuned. And then I also have a live event that I'm hosting in Dallas, Texas, April 21st through the 23rd and it's open. It's a women's only event, so sorry, Mike. But it's open to women inside and outside of Sober Sis.
It's really for any woman out there who is sober-curious or already alcohol free that wants to come to a weekend where that is celebrated. Imagine going to a weekend of fun, you know, we were already talking about that. I'm fun, I'm not somber minded, I'm sober minded. So we're gonna have karaoke, has anyone ever done karaoke without a few drinks in them? Well, I have, and we're gonna do that again. So we've got karaoke lined up, I've got great speakers, we've got paddleboard. I mean, it's gonna be so fun, and alcohol is not invited. Alcohol is not invited to this event, and alcohol is usually the guest of honor at events, is it not? Do we not walk in and like, whoa, there's the pretty glass. There it is! Now we can get the party started. No, alcohol's not invited to this party. So it's gonna be open for women all over the world to attend, I would love for it to be an international event and and I'll have that link too.
Mike: Oh, that's great. You know, I can't thank you enough, I could listen to you all day, so maybe we can do part two again, but for those of you who are listening, please explore Jen's website and blogs, they're delightful. They're funny, as you are, but so insightful. You said so many things today that are just, you know, right on, that I think people will resonate with. So thanks a ton for being with us. I appreciate it a great deal.
Jen: It was a joy. Thanks for having me and listening to my story.
Mike: Yeah. And for those of you listening, thank you for listening to the story, listen in next time, and until then stay safe and stay yourself.
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