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A journalist gets sober, then hits the bars

Courtesy of Erica C Barnett

This story originally aired on April 21, 2018.    

All of Erica’s heroes liked to drink. Hunter S. Thompson, Molly Ivins … to be an edgy journalist, it seemed like alcohol was part of the job description.

For Erica C. Barnett, alcohol did soon become a thread weaving through her work for magazines and alternative weeklies.

“I loved being able to meet with people over drinks,” she said. “That is a wonderful way to get to know a source, over a couple, five, ten drinks. And it just made sense to me that that’s what journalism culture is. You write with a whisky every night, you do interviews with a drink in your hand, and so that’s what I did for about 10 years.”

But before long it became apparent that drinking, for Erica, was not just a “sexy vice.” For her, as it is for at least 15 million American adults, it became an addiction.

Some seven years after she first tried to kick alcohol, Erica finally got sober. But while she quit drinking, she did not quit writing. So she found that she had to learn anew how to do the parts of the job she used to depend on bars and cocktails for.

“I don’t understand coffee culture, or writing in the middle of the day. That just seems incredibly foreign to me,” Erica said.

After about six months, Erica decided to try visiting bars again -- not to drink, but to live like a normal American and not have to cut ties with everyone she knows.

“I remember feeling very relieved that I felt comfortable there and that I didn’t feel the need to drink,” Erica said. “Having that security in my own sobriety and my own ability to resist something that had me in its grips for a long time was really empowering.”

Erica writes about addiction and recovery in her forthcoming memoir, due out from Viking Books. She talked with Sound Effect host Gabriel Spitzer about what it’s like to hit the bars as a sober person, and how sobriety changed the way she thought of herself.


Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.