Welcome to the MCR sober author interview series, featuring Kristi Coulter, author of Nothing Good Can Come from This.
When, what, and where was your last drink?
My last drink was about six years ago in the thrilling environs of my living room. I don’t know exactly what it was other than some kind of white wine (mostly likely Chardonnay or Viognier) in the $10-$12 range, because that was my thing 90% of the time. There was a six-pack of award-winning local craft beer in my fridge the whole first week I was sober, but because I never cared for beer, it didn’t even occur to me that I could drink it, any more than I would liquify a jar of jam and drink that. Being a delicate, picky flower has worked in my favor at times.
If your sobriety was a Spotify playlist, what would be the 3rd song on the list?
Anyone who knows me knows I have pretty geeky, even snobbish musical taste. I’m an indie-rock girl from thirty years back; I could talk all day about Australian chamber-pop alone. So it feels weird to say that Alanis Morissette’s Thank U would be the third song on my playlist. But it’s true. It’s that line about transparent dangling carrots that touched me so deeply. (LOL j/k—who the fuck knows what that’s all about, though I always picture plastic carrot earrings for some reason.) No, it’s a line in the bridge—”The moment I jumped off of it is the moment I touched down.” It started playing spontaneously in my head a week or so into sobriety, when I realized the thing I’d been dreading most for all those years I knew I should quit wasn’t the totality of life afterward so much as the moment of stopping, of admitting it was over. And I’d done it, and had already touched down somewhere new.
Honestly, I was quite upset to become a sudden Alanis fan in 2013 after escaping it for twenty years. I worried that next I’d be referring to friends as my “tribe” and letting my brows go all to hell. But it’s been okay. So far.
What is your recovery super power?
So, I’m a little concerned that “ruthlessness” is the first word that came to mind. And with an exclamation mark, actually. “Ruthlessness!” Like it’s my brand, or my one-woman show. But what I think—hope—it actually means is that recovery has given me a sharp mind and disinclination to put up with a lot of nonsense that I used to. I mean, I’m generally a pretty easygoing West Coast chick. I’m not a martinet. But I don’t really tolerate jackasses anymore, or no-win situations. I was surprised to realize in early sobriety that it’s not meant to be an endurance contest, that instead you’re supposed to make your life something you don’t need to escape. But I took it to heart. So now, while I certainly suffer the same daily inconveniences and small humiliations as anyone else—don’t get me started—I’m ruthless about putting my own general well-being and happiness first.
Describe your crankiest moment in recovery. Please include the word “soap” in your answer.
I was about two years sober and had to attend a “team-building event” based on an afternoon of wine-tasting in Woodinville, a popular wine-tourism town near Seattle. To be clear, this wasn’t a social event at which wine happened to be available. The entire deal was visiting three different wineries as a group. At this point, I was fine being around alcohol and drinkers, and not embarrassed or shy about being sober. But for people who don’t drink for whatever reason, a wine-tasting afternoon is basically a standing-around-aimlessly afternoon. So I was already wishing we could be at a movie or an arcade or even doing fucking trust falls—anything that would not involve me spending four hours watching other people sip things. But whatever. I liked my coworkers, and passed the time catching up with some of them about vacations and movies and whatnot. My crankiness was fairly well-contained until I realized I was thirsty and approached the woman behind the tasting counter to see if she had any sparkling water. She flung this baleful look at me—I was really surprised by it– and without a word gestured toward the area with charcuterie and other picnic foods for sale. Well, the idea of going back to my table, digging out my debit card, and coming back to pay for a San Pellegrino while the rest of the team drank company-paid wine did not strike me as something I was in the mood to do, so I asked (politely! I’m compulsively polite—I swear I did not take my crankiness out on this chick) for a glass of tap water instead. She disappeared into a back room, came back several minutes later with a paper cup, filled it with water and slid it over to me. Everyone around me was drinking out of hand-blown Riedel stemware, there were probably fifty other Riedel glasses in racks behind the bar, but she went out of her way to dig up a fucking Dixie cup for me. I was sort of stunned, and then I was furious—at her, at the team for building an entire event around a beverage that lots of people don’t consume, and at myself for becoming such a freak. I thought of making up an excuse to leave early. I thought of just walking out. I even thought briefly and irrationally of quitting my job. But I didn’t do any of that. Just sat there drinking my (vaguely soapy-tasting) water and making the best of it.
Just that I’m glad this blog exists because more people need to understand how funny sobriety is. Especially early sobriety—there you are out in the world stripped of all your usual coping mechanisms. It’s terrible, but it’s also kind of comedy gold—the classic fish-out-of-water situation. I remember moments of thinking ‘How is this both unbearable and kind of hilarious at the same time?’ When I talk to newly sober people who are facing their first business trip or family visit or other triggering situation, I often encourage them to look for the humor in it, or if not that, to at least have the eye of an anthropologist—step back and observe everything, including their own reactions. Because it’s a fascinating time of change and discomfort and wild potential.
Kristi Coulter is the author of the memoir-in-essays Nothing Good Can Come from This, published by MCD Books x FSG Originals in August 2018. holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan. She is a former Ragdale Foundation resident and the recipient of a grant from the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts. Her work has appeared in The Paris Review, New York Magazine/The Cut, The Awl, Glamour, Vox, The Mississippi Review, Longreads, and elsewhere and is forthcoming from Amazon Original Stories. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan and has been a guest lecturer at the University of Washington and Hugo House. She lives in Seattle, where she is working on her next book.