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Season 3 | Episode 2

Sober Curious

As the “sober curious” movement gains popularity, there are so many options to define how alcohol does or doesn’t fit into our lives.

December 27, 2022 | 33 minutes

Episode 2 with Jen Hirst, Deb Nussbaum, Bob Poznanovich

In this episode, our host Callie Chamberlain is joined by Jen Hirst, Deb Nussbaum and Bob Poznanovich for a discussion about how the health industry can support people reevaluating their alcohol use.

Speaker 1: It's really a wellness conversation of what am I using alcohol for? Is it serving me and is it helping me achieve the goals that I set for myself in the direction I'd like to take my life?

Speaker 2: Welcome back to Until It's Fixed. I'm Callie Chamberlain. We are gonna cover off on something that I am really excited to talk about, which is our relationships to alcohol.

Speaker 2: In reflection for this episode, I was thinking about how [00:00:30] often I'm really stepping back to think about my own relationship to drinking and really, especially as it relates to the healthcare system. The only time I know I'm thinking about this or being asked about this is when I go in for my annual physical. And that question is usually centered around, all right, how often and how much are you drinking? And that's kind of it. But the truth is the choices that we're making daily and what influence those choices are central to our health. So while we may touch on diet and exercise with our doctor, and that might be the bulk of a lot of conversations [00:01:00] around wellness, some of the preventative steps that we can take to be the healthiest versions of ourselves are not always included. And of course one of those would be drinking.

Speaker 2: So I'm really interested in this whole sober curiosity movement that we'll get into because it can be uncomfortable to really reflect on our relationships with alcohol or even to bring it up with our doctors, maybe even to just take an honest look at where we're at in our own lives. So it's interesting and exciting that there are so many people who are stepping back to do that and to rethink their relationship with [00:01:30] alcohol. What I love about this conversation in the movement is that it's not so much a binary of should I drink or should I not drink? It's exploring our relationship to alcohol and the grace base in between. So some of the questions instead might look like, what role does this play in my life? What do I get out of it? What do I want from it? And does this align with the other choices that I wanna make or the other goals I have around my overall health and wellbeing? All in all, it really comes down to being educated [00:02:00] and empowered to take charge in our own personal health journeys. Jen Hurst, who you heard in the clip at the beginning of this episode, is one of the many people who has come to reject the idea that alcohol is a necessary part of having fun and living her best life. She's the founder of Zero Proof Women, a Facebook group providing support to sober and sober curious women.

Speaker 2: Thank you so much for joining Gen. I'm so excited to have you on the podcast today. Before we get started, can you just share a little bit about yourself with our audience?

Speaker 1: [00:02:30] Yes. Thank you so much for having me on. My name is Jen Hurst and I am a mom of two little humans who are six and eight. I am nine years sober and really after spending most of my career as a brand manager, I'm now a full-time sober coach. And I really realized that after coming out of the sober closet four years into sobriety, that people really needed to hear my story and how I did it. And from that forward, I've been on [00:03:00] this self-improvement path, continuing to find ways to feel better and really improve my mindset in all areas. Cuz when you give up something that was such a comfort for you, that's so ingrained in our society, when you take that away, it changes things. It changes everything. And that can be scary. So I really love to show women how to do that in a positive way because we all deserve to feel good.

Speaker 2: Absolutely. [00:03:30] Can you tell me a little bit about your story that you referenced and your connection to the topic of being sober? Curious?

Speaker 1: Yeah. My story started way back in 2005 where I began to question what is going on and why can't I stop? I began drinking by myself and I was very stubborn as a overachiever and perfectionist, I put such unrealistic expectations on myself and when I couldn't achieve those I would beat myself up and I would [00:04:00] drink to help numb the pain of not being good enough and not setting these and achieving these expectations. And so I started doing this and I did it in silent. I didn't tell anybody and I was suffering and, but I appeared that I had it all together so no one knew what was going on. I was what we like to call a closet alcoholic. Um, I hid my drinking for many years. Even my husband didn't even know. I tried to prove to myself that I couldn't manage this thing.

Speaker 1: [00:04:30] Mm-hmm (affirmative) and I and I couldn't. So I would drink more to stop the pain from not being able to achieve this one thing. So my health was declining rapidly and I was started to lose big things. And so it took me physically getting to that point where I decided to turn my life around. And again, it's such a cool point in our time right now where people are beginning to question not sobriety isn't just for alcoholics, [00:05:00] but it's really a wellness conversation. Yeah. Of what am I using alcohol for? Is it serving me and is it helping me achieve the goals that I set for myself and the direction I'd like to take my life? Or am I willing to take a break for 30 days to see how I feel, to see if it can improve my health, improve my anxiety, improve my quality of sleep, and then go from there.

Speaker 2: You mentioned a couple times the [00:05:30] question and how folks can kind of step back and consider whether or not their relationship with alcohol is serving them or helping them become healthier and achieving their goals. And so I'm curious for you, what was that moment or series of moments where you really, you know, held that question and wanted to answer it?

Speaker 1: Yeah, that's such a great question and I think it's different for everybody. And like you said, it's on a spectrum and that people's drinking can be, you know, just drinking [00:06:00] once in a while to, for me it was every day. It was in the morning, it progressed to that point because addiction is progressive but it's just, for me it was, I had progressed it to the point where I began losing things where I began to feel the effects. I was doing things that I normally wouldn't do if I was sober. So that was really my turning point from really starting to question it back in 2005 to actually my sober date, [00:06:30] which is April 24th, 2013. It was an eight year progression of questioning is this a problem? And then am I ready to do something about it? And a lot of times you need to have both. You have to really want it like you have to really want it, not your family, not your husband, not your kids. Cuz this all comes from you

Speaker 2: As we talk about being sober curious and the social movement that's kind of happening around that topic. I'm curious from your perspective what that experience [00:07:00] was like for you early on and if you have any tips to offer some of our listeners.

Speaker 1: Yeah, and that's 10 years ago when I was so lost and confused. The only way to do this thing was AA. And now there's so many different opportunities. So we deserve to know what we're putting in our body, how it can affect us, the dangers of it so we can all make an informed decision. So I encourage people to keep the label out of it. [00:07:30] You don't have to call yourself an alcoholic, you don't have to say you have a problem with drinking, you can just be curious to see what life is like without alcohol. And during that time, you know, notice what kind of benefits do you notice, what are the challenges but also what are the benefits? And then you can reassess after 30 days, is this something I wanna continue? But I think it's all really about becoming aware, becoming educated. So reading [00:08:00] about what alcohol does, a great book on that is this Naked Bind by Annie Grace. I recommend it to all my clients so we can make that informed decision of if we choose to pick up and having more options available. I think is the really cool part that I didn't see 10 years ago is the mocktail movement of how much that is increasing, how many more options there are, you know, and I hope in the next five to 10 years that we'll have a different mindset [00:08:30] as a society of how we view alcohol.

Speaker 2: Hmm. Yeah. And one of the things that you kind of touched on as well is just the shame or the stigmatization that exists with alcohol addiction and you know, then we have sober people who are often thought of as people who have had to cut alcohol out of their life because they might struggle with a substance use disorder versus someone who now as we're talking about, it's more culturally, you know, in the lexicon of things to be sober. Curious. And so I'm [00:09:00] wondering if you can talk about the stigma here and the process of destigmatizing sobriety or the choice to take a break from alcohol and where do you think we are today on that spectrum of progress?

Speaker 1: I think we're making tremendous progress. We are light years from the way we view alcohol and the stigma associated with it. And it kept me stuck for many years. And I think the label keeps people stuck for many years cuz we don't wanna be labeled an alcoholic. And with more people choosing to recover out loud and own [00:09:30] that, we're seeing a huge, huge shift because you don't have to be ashamed about not being able to manage an addictive drug that doesn't say anything about you, about who you are, about your achievements, about anything. It just means that your body was doing what it's supposed to. It became addicted to a substance and that's not a moral failing. That just means we succumbed to doing the best that we could with the tools that we have. But in sobriety you get [00:10:00] to learn new tools of really how to manage what you were using alcohol for, whether that was social anxiety, whether that was stress, whether that was sadness of really implementing new ways to help manage in a healthier way. So you feel good after.

Speaker 2: Can you talk a little bit about some of the benefits that you experienced physically and mentally while taking, you know, a break from drinking?

Speaker 1: Absolutely, and I think especially for me, my main [00:10:30] benefit was anxiety, like less anxiety, really understanding that drinking alcohol causes anxiety, which it's not marketed that way, it's marketed as the solution to stress the so you know, relax with a glass of wine. I see celebrities do it. So really taking that into account of if I wanna decrease my anxiety, I need to cut out alcohol. So that lesson dramatically I get better sleep, I am sleeping so, so well and getting a good night's sleep, it made my marriage stronger, it brought [00:11:00] me two beautiful kids. So I really try to treat my body with respect now. I found my true passion in helping others. It was my, it's now my career. I paid off my debt. I have more time boosting my self-confidence, boosting my mental health. I get to enjoy the mornings. I wake up at 4 45 every morning and I'm ready to start my day. I really say that when you get sober you really change your late nights into early mornings. So it really makes [00:11:30] you show up as your best self and that's who I wanna be. For me, that's really who I wanna be for my kids as well.

Speaker 2: Awesome, thank you so much. Can you talk a little bit about the non-alcoholic drink movement and some of the non-alcoholic options that are being introduced by celebrities like Blake Lively and Katy Perry and how that might help it to be a little bit cooler and more accessible?

Speaker 1: Absolutely and I think that's the main word is accessibility. We need to have access to this and more and more [00:12:00] celebrities are coming out with their own lines and I think it's a great and huge opportunity for even, you know, Heineken has a 0.0% beer. Athletic brewing is a huge one that a lot of my clients love. One that I love is groovy. They make NA wine 0% alcohol and they have so many options. So you can really choose to indulge and treat yourself. You just don't have the negative effects of alcohol in that. And we deserve to have those options [00:12:30] and there's more and more options becoming available. I know there's a new shop in Minneapolis that's gonna be opening up of non-alcoholic beverages. There's sober bars that are popping up. I know there's a great one in Denver, Colorado called Awake. We're gonna be going to one on my retreat in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And being able to go out and have a social life that doesn't revolve around alcohol. And again, there's opportunity there and accessibility, being able [00:13:00] to ask your waiter if they have any mocktail options or non-alcoholic options because that begins to plant the seed that there's a need there.

Speaker 2: Thank you so much for all of the insight that you've provided. We're gonna move into the lightning round, so I'll ask you a couple questions and then would love to just get some quick responses. So the first one is, what is giving you hope right now?

Speaker 1: Really seeing others muster up the courage to recover out loud and own their sobriety.

Speaker 2: [00:13:30] What achievement are you most proud of?

Speaker 1: There's two. Having my kids, having my body, being able to produce two kits is incredible to me. And also being able to do what I do.

Speaker 2: Yeah. And then our last question is, what drives your passion for what you do?

Speaker 1: I think seeing other women, again see the light come on in their eyes, being able to laugh again and be excited about life and, and go after those things that they really wanna do. [00:14:00] It's like a switch and there's nothing else like it. It's absolutely incredible.

Speaker 2: Awesome. Thank you so much. Jen, where can our audience find you?

Speaker 1: Yes, so I like to hang out on Instagram. My handle is Jen lee Hurst, j e n l a e h i r s t. And then they can also check out my website. It's join lighthouse for more information and to check out the next course that I have coming up.

Speaker 2: Thank you.

Speaker 1: Thank [00:14:30] you so much.

Speaker 2: One of the things I reflected on during that conversation with Jen is about how 80% of our health decisions and our health outcomes are directly tied to what happens outside of the doctor's office. So I really appreciate that there's so much social support, there's a lot more alternatives that are coming into focus and we're seeing examples of other people really changing the norm. And specifically as it relates to this word sobriety, it feels like that's becoming more expansive to include people [00:15:00] who are just curious and drinking sometimes or maybe not all the time or taking a pause, whatever that might be. So the opportunity to really reflect on how we can live our best lives and using sober curiosity as a movement to explore that idea broadly is so exciting to me. So Jen's story is resonating with a lot of people and I think that what's great is the health industry is starting to pay attention and the system is starting to shift. So to learn more about that, we are gonna bring in Deb Nussbaum and [00:15:30] her colleague Bob Povi. Thank you Bob. And thank you Deb for joining us today for this conversation. I'm really excited to have you on. And just to get us started, I'm wondering if you can each share a little bit about yourself.

Speaker 3: My name is Deb Nussbaum, I lead Optum's National Substance Use Disorder initiatives. My interest in addiction started about 30 years ago. Uh, hard to say that I've actually been in the industry for 30 years, [00:16:00] but it's also been my pleasure.

Speaker 4: So hi, my name is Bob Hasanovic. I'm the Vice President of business development at the Hazel Bunny Ford Foundation. I've been with Hazel for 13 years, so about 27 years ago I went through treatment myself and then for the last 20 years I've worked in this industry.

Speaker 2: Wow. Thank you for sharing that Bob. I was just gonna ask actually about your connection to this topic. I'd love to hear either of your thoughts on the term sober curious and where it comes from.

Speaker 4: Sure. I think the sober curious topic [00:16:30] is really important for a couple of reasons. I think the whole discussion, some have called it a movement, you know, some talk about covid changing everything that it really raised the visibility of the problem. So I think the whole conversation around sober curious is so important to helping us overcome stigma and fear and the shame that comes along with it. And I think it will help more people be healthy as a result.

Speaker 3: [00:17:00] I completely agree with Bob. We're in an industry transformation right now to make sure that we have services not only traditional treatment services, but all services that can help people explore ways to get healthy. And like Bob said, I think that this sober curious, um, you know, and I'm gonna use the word movement, is more towards thinking about healthier lifestyles. [00:17:30] Not only in our relationship with alcohol, but in our relationship with with food. And this is, this is big. This is gaining a lot of momentum.

Speaker 2: Yeah, it's so interesting because I feel like sober curious, you know, whether we wanna call it a movement or just a questioning or you know, however we wanna reference that. It does feel in some ways like a gentler entry point to the conversation. And as you both are talking, what I'm reflecting on is why [00:18:00] is this so hard? Why do we need this different framing to make it feel more accessible? Like what's the shame about and the stigma about that Bobby would reference? And I'm curious if either of you have any reflections on that.

Speaker 4: Well, I think if we talk about alcohol, you know, it's just such a big part of our society, I think people are afraid to stand out. I think there's again that stigma. If you say I'm not drinking, does that imply that you're alcoholic? When I use the word movement, [00:18:30] there's a lot that could be gained in the power of numbers. This is the beginning of an opportunity for people to take a look at, as Deb said, to the healthy lifestyles. I think you've got a generation now who is much more concerned about what they're putting in their bodies and and health than they were in the past. And they're more aware of the opportunities to make some of those changes.

Speaker 3: I think that alcohol is so ingrained in every aspect of our culture and we do have a new generation that's [00:19:00] not afraid to talk about emotions and feelings and therapy and seeking help and needing to talk to someone. This the new generation is so much more emotionally vulnerable and the secrets are all out on the table and alcohol is one of them.

Speaker 4: Yeah, I think it brings attention to alcohol as a substance than as a drug. You know, I don't think many people realize that there's more deaths from [00:19:30] alcohol than there is other substances and sometimes the effect of alcohol is minimized as a result. I think being legal and being so prevalent that the impact gets trivialized. And if you looked at the data from last year, you know, last year as a result of covid and the increases we saw, it was the most deaths we've ever seen from alcoholism.

Speaker 2: Wow, I did not know that. That is very shocking. Is there anything else that we're learning because we're linking Covid and this movement toward sober curious, [00:20:00] is there anything else that we're learning or seeing as a result of that time period that we might be able to use as we think about how to extend that questioning into our lives even further?

Speaker 3: I think from my vantage point, what we're learning is that our treatment system is not completely prepared for handling these type of issues. I think our treatment system is very traditional [00:20:30] and we think about alcohol in terms of detoxification, rehabilitation therapy, complete abstinence, you know, where it's all or nothing. And the treatment system has to evolve as sober curious takes hold it. It's not about becoming abstinent from all alcohol, but it's about questioning our relationship to the need for alcohol in [00:21:00] various parts of our lives.

Speaker 4: Yeah. Deb, I thought what you just said was really important and I wanted to emphasize that again, you know, we're across the continuum of care. So what we wanna provide is extensions to the continuum of care that says, if you are not addicted and if you haven't crossed that line to where you're able to literally meet criteria for substance use disorder, but that you are, you are interested in reducing your drinking to be at what we would call the non-risk levels of drinking, what [00:21:30] could we do as an organization to help you on that journey? And what types of information and tools can we provide? I think if we could look at how do we create more mainstream recovery communities that we could change behavior and if you look at history, you know, the workplace has been a big part of the behavioral changes.

Speaker 2: Hmm. I love these examples and I'm wondering if there are more that are top of mind for you all to support people in rethinking their relationship with alcohol and other substances?

Speaker 3: [00:22:00] What we do with our medical partners at UnitedHealthcare is we have what is called disease management programs. And really it's not so much about you have a disease and we're gonna teach you how to manage it, but it's trying to get downstream. We could give people educational opportunities on recognizing alcohol. It's ill effects what would be considered drinking [00:22:30] in moderation versus crossing that line into having an alcohol use disorder. You know, that fine line between use and misuse. We're looking at different services, alternative services that could support people through this journey.

Speaker 4: Yeah, and I think if you look at people through the journey, you know, one is the individual who says I might have a problem. Those that know they have a big problem and those who took care of the problem. [00:23:00] So we're looking at, you know, the population of saying to what exactly what Deb said, what are the products and services that we could offer that could be delivered anonymously, that could be delivered in the comfort of their own privacy and, and where they want to interact at their asynchronous self-managed, um, screens, education learnings. We know that there's research that shows that some of those interventions can reduce the at-risk drinkers, those who are really acute, you know, who need help, they continue [00:23:30] to need the traditional treatment and as I said, anybody who has been through this journey can get recovery. But there's also opportunities to help the families, you know, who are trying to potentially provide resources to their family members who may not see it in a non-clinical way.

Speaker 4: How I define addiction is complete loss of control. I think in the early stages of using, maybe using with at non a non-risk level is that an individual has control over when they start and when they [00:24:00] stop using, I could say, no thank you, I'm not drinking tonight, I don't. Or I could say that I'm gonna have one drink and I have one drink. The second stage is where you still have some control over when you start to drink, but you start to lose control over when you stop drinking. And the third level is when you have no control anymore of when you start and when you stop you have to use. So I think what's sober curious does is it allows people to set rules for [00:24:30] themselves that they could follow. And I think it becomes a really important feedback loop too, because if I can't maintain the rules I set for myself, that might be an indication that there's a problem and maybe I need more help.

Speaker 2: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And I'm wondering as we're having this conversation, what do you all think it really takes to change a habit like drinking alcohol?

Speaker 3: Well, it takes commitment. Uh, (laugh) I'll tell you that I think that [00:25:00] there will be opportunities to set some boundaries around moving away from alcohol or drinking less, but you're going to have to make a commitment to a change in your lifestyle. It's gonna take support from those around you. You know, it's very hard to quit smoking when everyone around you is smoking. Sometimes you have to disconnect from those behaviors and [00:25:30] that's what we can help people understand is how to set the plan in motion, whether it's self-guided or, or through talking to others or peers, but the recognition that maybe I do wanna make this lifestyle change and here's the steps that I need to take to get there. And those steps are a commitment and there's [00:26:00] gonna be lots of opportunities to say, well, maybe not this week or, I didn't do that well, but you can always get back to it. There's not going to be failure in this process because it is a process.

Speaker 4: And I really liked what you said about recognizing it. I think this all begins by that recognition, you know, that alcohol isn't having a negative effect on me and that I've got some desire to change that.

Speaker 2: Absolutely. So can you talk a little bit about resources that might be available to support people [00:26:30] who are recognizing that maybe they're not able to maintain those boundaries and commitments?

Speaker 4: Deb, do you wanna start?

Speaker 3: Sure. I'll start through the health plan. We have lots of wonderful material on our sites. You can always contact your health plan, contact your e a p. There are plenty of terrific resources out there. Our friends at the Hazleton, Betty Ford Foundation, (laugh) (laugh) have wonderful resources online. So [00:27:00] we have, we have a full continuum, uh, continuum from educational material, digital applications all the way up to, you know, call the plan and speak with the clinician and we can help anyone get started.

Speaker 4: Thanks ab we're gonna be launching a new website soon that will allow people to take anonymous screens. We're using evidence-based screening methods that that could be adjusted for the individual's age and drug of choice. Family members could also take it for on behalf of a loved one.

Speaker 2: Hmm. [00:27:30] And does that include virtual telehealth options?

Speaker 4: Yeah, from our end it includes individual and group-based mental health services, individual and group family services to help, you know, with the realities of, of substance use as a family problem. And then it also, um, provides virtual treatment for those suffering from a use disorder. And we have a class now that's a virtual class that will help people who need a little bit heavier intervention for some of their [00:28:00] at-risk behavior, but don't need treatment. And we do that virtually as well.

Speaker 2: That's great. Anything more that the health industry is doing to support people who are looking to rethink their relationship with alcohol and other substances? I know we kind of touched on some things, but just curious if there are others that you think are really important or that we should be focusing on to be able to better support people?

Speaker 3: I think that we traditionally have not reimbursed for non-professional services such [00:28:30] as coaching and such as peer services. I think that the health plan industry and at the request certainly of our of employer groups, were going to be moving toward covering these non-traditional services because we know that they could give people lower acuity support. So that's something that we have put in place over the last two years ever since Covid really turned [00:29:00] the industry on its head. So those are also services that were adding to our toolkit to help people get to where they wanna go in their health.

Speaker 4: The another thing that we're looking at is everything that Deb talked about, I think, you know, availability of payment methods is, is helpful. We're also, you know, exploring ways, you know, working with Optum to look at how could some of the services that we offer be delivered as an e a P benefit to which will help us reach even more people as well.

Speaker 2: That's great. This was [00:29:30] such an amazing conversation, so informative. I feel like I learned so much from both of you. And also on the topic to close this out, we're gonna move into the lightning round. So I'll ask a series of questions and then would love to just hear top of mind answers from both of you.

Speaker 3: Do I need a buzzer? No, I'm kidding.

Speaker 2: (laugh). (laugh). All right, so first question is, what drives your passion for what you do?

Speaker 4: For me, it would be to help families and individuals void the mistakes that I made in my family, made in my workplace made [00:30:00] and create the pathways to get more people help and for be okay in society to be okay with not being okay.

Speaker 3: And for me it's to reduce the stigma of addictive diseases.

Speaker 2: What is the most recent thing that you've learned?

Speaker 4: The most recent thing that I've learned is that there are many more people interested in looking at their usage of alcohol during covid and the workplace's willingness [00:30:30] to look at ways to help them.

Speaker 2: Last question, what is something that has surprised you in a really good way?

Speaker 3: Oh, I'll take that one. Um, the Gen z uh, group. I think that they're really challenging old beliefs and I completely supported. I think it's great, you know, kind of getting out of the box. I love that.

Speaker 2: Bob and Deb, thank you so much.

Speaker 2: Reflecting on this conversation, I'm thinking about how so much of this really comes [00:31:00] down to being educated and empowered to own our personal health journeys. So the idea that sobriety and alcohol use doesn't have to be all or nothing is really important because we have the space to then consider what it looks like to be having a healthier, more thoughtful relationship with alcohol. Bob and Deb talked about different levels of control and all the gray space related to how much we're drinking and how it affects us because we hear it again and again. Alcohol use, like so much in our lives isn't an isolated question. It's impacted [00:31:30] by our social support systems, our mental health, and so many more factors. It really ties back to the idea of tapping the resources that are around us. So if you have resources through work, like employee assistance programs, use those.

Speaker 2: If you have a friend who might be your accountability buddy for a little bit of self-reflection, reach out to them. And like you heard in the episode, there are several informal networks on social media that might also offer you an opportunity to either listen in or contribute to those conversations. [00:32:00] In our show notes, we've got resources where you can learn more about everything we discussed. Plus, we're to look for professional support if you or a loved one needs it. Join us next week as we continue the conversation around sober curiosity. My new co-host Dr. Kenny Pool, will be making his first appearance on the show. He and I will talk about one boy to reflect on your relationship with alcohol. That's it for now. Thank you for listening. And make sure to follow or subscribe on your platform of choice so you get notifications when new episodes go live. Take care [00:32:30] and we'll catch you next time.