Checking In Podcast

Do I Have a Drinking Problem?

Do I Have a Drinking Problem?

Hi. I’m Carolyn. I’m the editor in chief of SELF and the host of our wellness advice podcast, Checking In. In this week’s episode, we’re talking about what it means to have a drinking problem, and what it might look like to change your relationship with alcohol.

Today’s question comes from Elise, who is taking a 90-day hiatus from drinking after realizing that her relationship with alcohol isn’t always healthy. But she wants to know what she should do after her 90 days are up. Elise is curious if complete sobriety is the only path forward for her, or if there are other options. She asks: “For someone like me who has a genetic history of alcoholism, who has had a history of not being able to find the kill switch…is there a balance to find, or is it all or nothing?”

New episodes of Checking In come out every Monday. Listen to this week’s episode above, and get more episodes of Checking In on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Elise’s question probably resonates with anyone who may be examining their relationship with alcohol, especially as we set foot into the new year. Having a healthy relationship with drinking means different things to different people, and while there’s a popular view that recovery from alcohol and drug use disorder requires complete sobriety, the reality is a bit more nuanced.

To help Elise understand what some of her options might be, I turned to SELF editor Sarah Jacoby. Sarah is a health journalist who has reported extensively on substance use, as well as harm reduction and recovery.

First, Sarah and I talk about what it even means to have a drinking problem—and how it might not be what you think. “The idea of having to hit rock bottom before you deserve help is a really damaging concept,” Sarah says. Your life doesn’t need to be falling apart before you deserve help. If you’re feeling that you may want to reevaluate your relationship with alcohol, that’s good enough to start thinking about it seriously, regardless of how your life is going.
We also talk about different approaches to recovery from alcohol use disorder (or an otherwise unhealthy relationship with alcohol). Sarah says that there are definite benefits to sobriety, and to programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, especially given that AA is free and pretty much everywhere. But she also says that researchers are beginning to realize that quitting alcohol completely, for the rest of your life, isn’t necessarily the right approach for everyone. “We have a lot of other options now,” Sarah says. “Other people might do better with more of a moderation management type approach. Some people might be able to do that with the help of their therapist that they already see.” The bottom line is that it’s great that Elise is working on this issue with a mental health care professional—acknowledging that you have a problem with drinking and that you want to explore ways to change, with guidance, is a huge and important first step.

How to Feel Less Lonely When You’ve Lost Your Person

How to Feel Less Lonely When You’ve Lost Your Person

She also gives some research-based tips on ways to work through your grief. Dr. Shear tells us repeatedly: In order to start healing after loss, an important step is to fortify your relationships. And yeah, maybe even start a new relationship. That’s obviously much easier said than done, though (particularly during a global pandemic!), so another perhaps more manageable piece of advice: Find a new way to express yourself, like by journaling or painting or playing music. Because when we experience the loss of a life partner, we often lose someone who makes us feel seen, heard, and secure. And finding an outlet for that communication and self-expression can potentially help you start to feel like yourself again, at least a little bit.
In the second half of the episode, I speak with Nora McInerny. McInerny is a writer who turned her grief into a career that includes two memoirs, a podcast called Terrible, Thanks for Asking, and so many meaningful conversations about death and loss that help people grieving from all kinds of things feel seen. Nora’s husband Aaron died of brain cancer in 2014. She has since remarried and is raising a blended family with a new husband.
I talked to her about how to maintain relationships with friends and family while you’re grieving. Which is definitely not easy—relationships can go haywire after loss.
“Not every relationship will survive a loss,” McInerny says. “Not every friendship survives grief. It just doesn’t.” She shares some hard-learned advice for Deanne, and everyone else who’s grieving the loss of a loved one. Namely: Learn to ask for what you need from your people. Because most people have no idea how to be there for someone who’s grieving. And beyond that, find ways to connect with others who can relate. In fact, several years ago, McInerney and her friend Mo, another widow, formed a group called the Hot Young Widows Club. It began as an in-person meeting in Minneapolis, and has since become an online space. Contrary to its name, the group includes people of all ages and genders. And you don’t have to have been married to the person you lost. They just have to have been your person. McInerney says that what’s great about the group is that it gives people a place to talk about the person they’ve lost, and to talk to others who are going through similar situations. It helps a lot of people feel less alone while they grieve.
Ultimately, losing someone so important to you can be an absolutely Earth-shattering experience, and it’s normal for it to feel deeply destabilizing for a while. Loneliness is an integral part of grief, and, according to Dr. Shear, one of the longest-lasting symptoms of grief. But it doesn’t have to last forever, and there are things you can do to start to feel better and feel less alone. If you’re dealing with loneliness after loss, hopefully some of the tips in this episode can be of solace to you.

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If you’re interested in learning more about any of these topics, here are some articles you might enjoy:
Here’s When It’s Time to See Someone About Your Grief
How Do We Even Grieve Right Now?
Chrissy Teigen’s Heartbreaking Photos Reminded Me There’s No Right Way to Grieve
5 Ways I Learned to Deal With Grief During the Holidays

Sex Tips for Queer People (Or Anyone, Actually)

Sex Tips for Queer People (Or Anyone, Actually)

Hi. I’m Carolyn. I’m the editor in chief of SELF and the host of our wellness advice podcast, Checking In. In this week’s episode, we’re talking about how to date and have sex when you’re newly out as queer.

Today’s question comes from a 23-year-old listener named Raven who says she recently came out as queer. She wants to know how to get started dating women. And she’s also curious about what she needs to know about sex—how to have it, how to be safe.

Raven says that most of her friends are straight, so she doesn’t really have many people to talk to about this stuff. Meanwhile, she also tells us that she’s having serious confidence issues. She doesn’t know how to talk to women, which is really surprising to her. “I realized that the level of confidence I had with talking with a man was completely different to the level of confidence I had with trying to talk with a woman,” she says. “The difference was staggering to me because usually I’m pretty confident. But the moment I tried to talk to a woman, I got so nervous, I got so anxious about it, I didn’t know what to do. So I just ended up not doing anything at all.”

New episodes of Checking In come out every Monday. Listen to this week’s episode above, and get more episodes of Checking In on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

At Raven’s age, cisgender heterosexual folks have had many years to learn how to navigate romantic relationships, and likely have tons of examples in their lives, both among their friends and family and also in popular media, about what sex and love and dating for heterosexual couples might be like. Queer folks don’t have that—which can be really unsettling.

To help Raven out, I first speak with Casey Tanner, a queer sex therapist based in Chicago. She gives very clear, direct, and helpful advice about the logistics here—safe-sex basics, dating while queer, how to learn how to have sex in the first place. On safe sex, she talks about a range of things that Raven should keep in mind, from condoms to cleanliness and protection for your hands. She also mentions the important point that not all women have vulvas, and so Raven might still need to think about birth control and pregnancy prevention.

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