Writer Sacha Z. Scoblic spent years reveling in her life as the party girl, always quick with a laugh and up for another drink—or five. But when she gave up alcohol in 2005, Scoblic found she wasn’t interested in chronicling the past debauchery so much as exploring the perplexing new world of sobriety. In her new book, Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety, Scoblic writes about the challenges of being newly sober and the surprise of discovering that life without alcohol wasn’t as lame as she’d expected. Scoblic spoke to TIME from her home in Washington, DC.
Q: Most memoirs by recovering addicts are about the dark and stormy nights of binges and blackouts. Why write about becoming sober?
A: I was bothered by all of those addiction memoirs—I call them “junkie lit.” They’re voyeuristic, focusing on the wild and crazy episodes, and then there’s this burning bush moment in the last chapter when the addict decides to quit. The books remind me of romantic comedies in which the struggle of a couple getting together is the whole movie. But real life comes after that.
Q: You write about not really knowing who you were once you were sober.
A: I had defined myself for years as a kind of party girl, like Karen from “Will and Grace.” I liked subversive humor and was attracted to the dark side of things. That was the story I told myself because I thought it made me look cool. Without alcohol, the story sounded ridiculous.
It was terrifying to realize that I had to figure out what I actually liked to do. I had no ideas at first. And it seemed like I was surrounded by people who knew exactly who they were. Suddenly it became hard to contribute to conversations. I didn’t have my salve to pave the way for clever thoughts—or to make me not care if what I said wasn’t really clever.
Q: Did others see you as this suddenly different person?
A: People were supportive right away, which surprised me a little because I felt I had disappointed them. And acquaintances, as opposed to good friends, were often surprised to hear about my addiction. They had only dipped in and out of my life, and thought everything seemed really good. It was fascinating to see that what I looked like to other people was not reflective of how I felt inside.
There were harder moments when very close friends responded by saying, “Oh, thank God,” and I realized that I had been driving them crazy or hurting them or ignoring them when they tried to help me.
Q: How did people find out—did you make an announcement?
A: When I first got sober, literally Day One, I emailed several people and said, I’m not drinking anymore. I wanted that accountability. Like any good alcoholic, I had tried to cut back on the drinking many times. Stopping entirely was a last resort.
It was a couple months before I said the words, “I’m an alcoholic” out loud. That’s how I identify myself very often now. If someone asks why I don’t drink, it’s easy for me to say I’m an alcoholic. I really want to demystify alcoholism, and I don’t think it should be anything I’m ashamed of.
Q: Did you know when you quit that it was going to stick?
A: I had tried to control my drinking before, but I had never said I’m not going to drink ever again. Even so, my crazy alcoholic mind immediately started hedging with, well, maybe when my boyfriend is away for the weekend or maybe when I’m traveling for work I can have a drink. Now, that never happened. But part of me was already planning a new, even more secretive lifestyle. But by the time I first had an opportunity and was by myself for the weekend, I was proud of the time I’d gone without a drink. I was thinking better. I was enjoying my life more—training for a marathon, writing a book. I still didn’t trust myself and took some protective measures like making sure there was no alcohol in the house. But I was sober.
Q: You’ve just had your first child. Knowing that alcoholism runs in your family, have you thought about how you’ll talk to your son about alcohol?
A: It was one of the things that terrified me about having children. I think I will be very honest with him early on. I want my son to understand that alcoholism is a disease and that there’s a very real chance that he is genetically at risk. But I also want him to know that there’s a life out there that’s not nerdy and square just because you don’t drink.
Q: In the book, you write about attending a dinner party at which both the main course and dessert were made with alcohol. What advice do you have for non-addicts who want to support newly-sober friends?
A: First of all, I don’t think any addict wants people to have to tiptoe around them. I would tell non-addicts not to tread so lightly or be so careful. But yeah, having something to offer them to drink that is not water is a nice gesture. And for food, have options that don’t include alcohol. You wouldn’t serve veal to a vegetarian.
Q: What do you hope others struggling with addiction will get out of the book?
A: Sobriety does not mean giving up a fun life or a sense of humor. It allows you to engage with and enjoy life. If you’d told me when I was drinking that someday I would enjoy hanging out with people eating ice cream sandwiches, I would have been: L-O-S-E-R. But there’s a better life waiting, not a boring life.
Also, let yourself be diagnosed. It’s easy for people to deny addiction because part of the disease is that it’s telling you you’re fine, nothing’s wrong. But if a medical professional is talking to you, you have to take your medicine and manage your disease. Arguing with the diagnosis is you thinking you know better than the doctor. It’s hard to have humility when you’re an addict.