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Session 223: Finding Support in Recovery

The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves.

Each September is the observance of National Recovery Month. The journey to recovery after substance abuse looks different for everyone and it’s important to find spaces and communities that can support you along the way. Joining us today to chat about what the recovery journey might look like throughout the lifespan is Kristen Feemster, LMFT. Kristen and I chatted about what kinds of things you should pay attention to in your relationship with alcohol to indicate whether there may be a concern, the importance of recovery options that are culturally responsive, and how we can support friends and loved ones in their recovery.


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Session 223: Finding Support in Recovery

Dr. Joy: Hey, y'all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 223 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. We'll get right into the show after a word from our sponsors.


Dr. Joy: The journey to recovery after substance abuse looks different for everyone and it's important to find spaces and communities that can support you along the way. Joining us today to chat about what the recovery journey might look like throughout the lifespan is Kristen Feemster. Kristen is a licensed marriage & family therapist, wellness coach, and the founder of B3 based out of Charlotte, North Carolina. With the mission of moving women toward freedom, she offers therapy and wellness programs to support women in shifting unhealthy patterns to create a sustainable lifestyle. Kristen has been sober for six and a half years and has felt it was important to share her story because there were so few black women sharing about sobriety when she was looking for resources.

Kristen and I chatted about what kinds of things you should pay attention to in your relationship with alcohol to indicate there may be a concern, the importance of recovery options that are culturally responsive, and how we can support friends and loved ones in their recovery. If there's something that resonates with you while enjoying our conversation, please share it with us on social media using the hashtag #TBGinSession. Here's our conversation.

Dr. Joy: Thank you so much for joining me today, Kristen. I'm so excited to chat with you.

Kristen: Thank you for having me. I am seriously honored to be here and speaking on the topic, so thanks for having me.

Dr. Joy: I was wondering if you could just start by telling us a little bit about your recovery story and the decision to make that a part of your practice.

Kristen: Essentially, I grew up as a child... Struggled with anxiety, I can identify now my perfectionism from a very young age. And I think that was exasperated by, you know, I grew up in a predominantly white environment community, went to a predominantly white school, and just naturally always felt like I needed to do more and be better and that good wasn't good enough. And that I needed to keep striving and striving for perfection to make it, to feel good enough and to be acknowledged and appreciated.

And so these are all things that I'm realizing in hindsight. At the time, I didn't really know what was going on, why I felt like I was just always on edge about life and the things that I was involved in. I grew up an athlete, I played basketball, volleyball, ran track, I was a year-round athlete of some sort. And so a lot of that worry, lack of confidence, insecurity, showed up in my sports as well and so always struggled with that in high school and particularly in college as well when I played basketball.

Where the drinking comes in is that I didn't wait until I was 21 to start drinking, so that is important to note in my story. I started drinking in high school. Socially, but still nonetheless, drinking before I was of age and that continued in college. But I would say at certain periods, it was normal for whatever late teens, early 20s would be as far as environment. And I think that's something to speak to as well–is that normal actually, or is that a problem already in the ways that I was drinking?

But I started to notice, the older I got and the more my mindset around my capabilities and struggling with confidence and just being anxious in spaces where I know I'm qualified, I know I'm smart, I know I'm capable, but still just feeling like I wasn't good enough. I started to notice relying on drinking more, and so outside of the social settings of parties and tailgates and different things like that, and more into my personal life to deal with my emotions.

And so this is something that happened slowly, it's not something that I remember the day when it was social and then it went into problem drinking, but it was a gradual reaching out for something to make me feel better. Whether it be a heartbreak, whether it be losing a game, whether it be the pressures of all the organizations I was a part of and all of that, it just slowly began to be “I think I'll have some wine with that.”

Over time, what we know about problem drinking is that for a lot of us who have a problem with alcohol, the behaviors that we used to do start out maybe more occasional or far in between. But as you continue drinking, you realize that you start to do things more frequently, drinking more often. And so instead of it being a weekend thing, now it's a Thursday through Sunday thing, or now I'm drinking on Wednesday because, you know, everybody drinks on Wednesdays. And you start to think through all these reasons why your drinking is okay on any given day.

I didn't notice that as much until I graduated college and no longer was a student, no longer was an athlete, and was really just going through an identity crisis of who am I? What was that all for? You know, all those years of trying and striving, what am I doing with my life? Where am I going? Where am I living? What's my career? And what do I do with myself? Through that, yet again, let me just drink to not think about it or to feel better about it. And so that essentially was more or less the case leading up until I decided to stop drinking at the age of 26.

But I just began to notice that all of the things that I felt like I had under control, whether it be certain days or a certain amount or a certain time period or anything, bit by bit started to no longer matter and I began to feel out of control. I felt like I was no longer dictating when and how much I would drink and rather alcohol was starting to control me. And that's when I knew that I had become at least psychologically and emotionally dependent, but also maybe even physically dependent at some stages, before I stopped.

Dr. Joy: You bring up so many really great points, Kristen, and I really appreciate you sharing that with us. Because you've talked about like how drinking is a part of our culture, especially like youth culture. Like that is what you do when you go to college, and at least that's the thought. And so I'm wondering if you can share for people how they might know when drinking has become problematic.

Kristen: It's a spectrum. There are so many debates about is alcohol good for us? Is it not? Or can you drink in moderation? Can you not? And really every person is different. And so sometimes when I'm giving people suggestions or guides for that, I put it out there that you really have to be in tune with yourself. Because any example you can roll yourself out of or into, depending on your headspace around it. And so, ultimately, if you feel like alcohol is causing you to do, say, or be things that you don't want to be and that you don't want to do, and that aren't true to who you are, then it is a problem. But what that could look like for anybody who's just like, “I don't know if my behaviors are kind of on the cusp or whatever,” it could look like noticing an increase in the frequency of drinking.

So say, oh, well, I used to have one or two drinks on the weekend and that was it, and now I find that I have five at a day party or at an event. Noticing that increase and not wanting it to be there anymore, you know what I mean? Or noticing that either your tolerance or your frequency or noticing that you are justifying your drinking. So, “well, it's okay if I drink at this because we're at a social gathering.” I mean, what's wrong with drinking now when you know that you may not necessarily want to drink at that event or had plans to not drink? I find that a lot of times with clients I work with now, is that I go in and I tell myself “I'm just going to have two” and the next thing you know, I've had more than that and then I don't know where I fell off from my original plan.

And so if you have a point where it was like “I meant to stay sober or I didn't even really want to drink, but I found myself drinking anyway,” that also could be a sign that your relationship with alcohol is not in the healthiest of spaces. And of course, sometimes we talk about the consequences that you can start to experience from continued drinking, whether that be severe hangovers that are getting worse. I know that that was something that I started to experience, is that the bounce back the next morning was not what it used to be and it was a problem. It was getting in the way of studying for the next day, showing up for things the next day, or just canceling things that I would have been at because of the way I physically felt.

And so I think that also can be a sign that's actually normalized–the hangover, the “Sunday scaries” we call them sometimes, or the Sunday blues from a weekend of drinking. It tends to be normalized, but to know that that's not normal to feel that way. And that is our body letting us know, hey, we did too much. Too many toxins in the body right now, we're sick. And so I think those are some of the big ones around frequency and tolerance for alcohol, as well as the physical and emotional consequences that come along with it.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, and there are lots of different pieces that would need to be addressed. Can you share, if I recognize that I do have a problem, like maybe I don't appreciate my behavior after I've been drinking or I'm noticing that I am drinking way more than I used to, what are some of the next steps? Like what do I do if I discover that I do have a problem with drinking?

Kristen: Honestly, a big part of it is just acknowledgement. So many times we live in a space of denial or just lack of knowledge about what's going on. Some people come from environments where their families drank like that, their parents drank like that, their siblings, and so they don't really notice that something is a problem. And so I always apply people because you need that, you need that awareness. It doesn't come with a certain label, I think it's just the acknowledgement that “I have a drinking problem” is really what I'm looking for. Because that shows that we're open and willing to explore what the next steps might be.

And so with that, next steps I would say is to definitely get connected. I think that that's the most important part of it because so many times addiction and problems, any of our vices really, happen in secret. It's like nobody knows or people who do the same thing are the only people that know, and it really keeps us from accessing other supports, other skills, other resources that we might need to actually address the problem. And so I would suggest if there's a support meeting, or even a safe person that you know is sober or has mentioned some certain things about their journey with a particular substance or vice that you can reach out to, that you feel safe with, I would say that those are some great places to start.

And of course, you can never get enough of just knowledge around alcoholism, addiction, just for your own understanding of what's going on with you. Because I know so many people struggle with shame and feeling like an addiction is their fault and “I did this on myself and I should have had more control and discipline to figure this out on my own.” And so I think the more knowledge you can have about it, the more you can allow yourself to get the support and resources that you need to really overcome it.

Dr. Joy: Kristen, that brings up an interesting point I’m wondering if you can say more about. I do feel like there has been some back and forth in the field around like addiction and genetics. And is this like a thing that is a more biological thing, is it more a social thing? Can you speak to where we are now with the thoughts around addiction?

Kristen: Yeah, I think that the nature-nurture debate is going to be one that we'll always have about certain things. But what we do know and what I'll speak to and what I help my clients with the most, is understanding that our environment and the context which we grow up, normalizes things, exasperates things. Trauma, different things like that, play a role in who we become. In the last five to 10 years, I would say that the conversation around “it doesn't have to be a black or white thing as far as what addiction looks like and what alcoholism is in order for people to want to be sober,” I think has really helped to get less away from like how and the why. Instead of realizing there's actually at least 30 different reasons why we are dependent on alcohol in the ways that we are. And it matters to a certain extent why, but it also is more important as to how we move forward with that information and what we do with that.

For example, for me, alcoholism does run on one side of my family and I don't blame my behavior on anyone else's or anything like that. I didn't observe alcoholism as a child, it just is in my bloodline. But I do think that avoiding hard conversations and reaching outside of ourselves to feel better and having secrets of some sort, is a problem in my family. And that all lends itself to, “Oh, wow, I have a problem. Who can I talk to about it? Like, what do I do about it?” And not really seeing what I need in order to move past that. And I see that as being very important for the ways that we cope and the habits that we develop.

Dr. Joy: Mm hmm, great points there. And I think a part of like just our national conversation around stuff like managing stress and coping mechanisms, alcohol often comes up as a part of like, “Oh, you know, I'm having a bad day.” Like you mentioned, like I'll just have a glass of wine. The American Psychological Association has this Stress in America report that they do every year and so, of course, last year's results were very telling. In the 2020 Stress in America report, 23% of adults reported drinking more alcohol to cope with stress during the pandemic than before. And I think there are lots of reasons, of course, that we can understand how that happens. Can you share a little bit more about what has been the impact of the pandemic in people's drinking?

Kristen: Yeah, I definitely would agree with that statistic, if not higher than that. Of course, statistics only come from people who self-report and acknowledge and are aware that their drinking problems have increased. But I also think that it's twofold. I spoke to earlier about how sometimes we justify and rationalize our drinking habits because of social situations. Like, oh, well, I'm drinking this much because I had this on Thursday, this on Friday, this on Saturday, and then brunch on Sunday. So that's four days of drinking that have all been justified by a social outing of some sort. And so when the pandemic happens, when we don't have that event on Thursday, we don't have that engagement on Friday, we don't have those social constructs, and so when you take those away, now it's “I'm just drinking.”

I realize it's blatant, like I still want my wine on Thursday night, even though I don't have dinner with friends to go to. And so I think that that has increased people's awareness of their drinking habits that have maybe already been there. But also, on the other side of that, we have been collectively under a lot of stress and trauma. Whether that be from the pandemic, whether that be from the protests and racial tension in the country, political tension in the country, and not really having the skills to deal with that otherwise. While also getting messages from big alcohol companies that, “Hey, look, this is fun.”

If you pay attention to commercials, there'll be moms with kids and the moms, like they’re advertising wine but it'll be like, “Moms, you deserve this after a long day.” It won't be overt messages, it'll usually be a covert placing of a drink or highlighting a drink in a video or something like that. But all those messages, we take those in. And so where have we been most of the pandemic? We've been on our phones, we've been watching TV, we've been taking all of that stuff in.

And it's not that it happens suddenly but I do think it plays a role in what we think we have access to, to cope. And so on both sides, I think there's already a drinking issue in our country, for sure. But it's also been exasperated by the particular stressors that we're under and it's highlighting how we've used alcohol as a crutch in many ways that we didn't realize before.

Dr. Joy: More from my conversation with Kristen after the break.


Dr. Joy: You mentioned earlier that when you feel like you might have a problem with alcohol, one of the best things to do is to acknowledge that and to find others that you can connect with. We know that for black women, situations and treatment should be culturally specific and so I would just love to hear your take around how you can find those programs and what that looks like when we are talking about black women like going to a recovery program. Like how would that be tailored to be culturally specific?

Kristen: I would say that this new space that we're in as far as recovery, I'm taking that in in real time. That really only since the pandemic started have I even seen, from my own personal recovery, spaces that are unique and safe for women of color or black women. And so I think that if we had to find some sort of silver lining with the pandemic, I think that recovery spaces going online has made them, one, more accessible to different people. To have to acknowledge your drinking problem to an extent that you would physically go to a meeting is different than being able to log on to a virtual meeting with your camera off and just check it out, you know what I mean? So I think in that sense of the word, recovery is more accessible or at least people who are sober is more accessible.

And also with that, I've attended and have seen some recovery meetings that are specifically for BIPOC folks to attend and it creates a safer space to have these conversations around race and around everything that's going on. And I remember, when I first got sober, I started going to in-person 12-step meetings and it was at the height of Donald Trump's election, I mean it was really tense. And I'm in the Carolinas so we're down in the south and, you know, it's just tense. And I remember feeling so isolated because there is an element of not talking about outside issues in those 12-step spaces. And I was like, I have no idea where to take this information and this weight that I feel and the frustration of just today. Like I don't feel like I can talk about it and then also, I'm looking at people who don't look like me, I don't even know if it's safe for me to even bring that up.

And so that was a pretty big deal the first couple of years. But I say that to say that now there are those spaces that are popping up where you can log on to a meeting and see nothing but beautiful brown women staring back at you, from all over the world even, to give you that support to say, “Yes, I see you. Yes, I hear you. And me too,” you know. And so off the top of my head, She Recovers has a black women only recovery meeting that they host at least once a week that I know about. That's a great space. It's led by a recovery coach so you can get some really good information and support there as well. But also other women from all across the world that are trying to get and stay sober at a time like this.

And then also Sober Black Girls Club is an Instagram page and they also have several recovery meetings throughout the week for this very same reason–to give us a space to just say I'm black and I'm struggling, and I have a drinking problem, and I don't know where else to go to talk about all of these things together. But in those spaces, you have people that are looking back at you and have been there and it really makes all the difference.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, I'm sure. Because the whole premise around like AA is that it's supposed to be anonymous, right? And if you are like a black woman in the south where there might not be a lot of other people who look like you, are you really anonymous? Like I could feel like there is this sense that your anonymity may not be protected in the same way as someone else who is not a black woman in the group.

Kristen: Absolutely. You just spoke to my story. Right from the jump, that's exactly how it was. I remember walking into some 12-step meetings at the beginning and I couldn't understand. Like I would have to call another sober friend and have them talk me through walking into the room. And most of them white (all of them white, actually) they could not understand why it was just so hard. They're like, you know, “Everybody there has a drinking problem, too. It’s not that big a deal. No one's gonna go back and share your information with anyone.” And I'm like, I know.

I didn't have the words for it at the time but it just was so hard for me to get through and to attend meetings at first and it was because I would be the only black person in the room. And I'm six-foot tall, afro, there is no blending in and like kind of just sliding in the back door and just having a seat. There’s this like, “Whoa, there's this new black woman in our meeting. Who are you?” It came from a genuine place, I would say, I don't think anybody was out to like point me out. But it definitely did not feel anonymous to me. So yeah, that's definitely a big factor.

Dr. Joy: Yeah. Can you say more about something else that happens in the 12-step programs, is that like you will typically get matched with a sponsor or like find a sponsor. What kinds of things should you look into to figure out who's gonna be like the right sponsor for you?

Kristen: For me, when I first went into 12-step, I knew that my first priority was that I didn't have anybody really that could support me in the ways that I needed to be supported as far as just not drinking. And so my initial decision was made out of “I need someone that I can depend on, to pick up the phone, to talk me through these stages, and really just give me that support.” I didn't have the option really to choose a black sponsor at the time and in that particular meeting when I made the decision, there was no one there and I just went with who was there.

And so I think that this is a very nuanced thing because it's like, do you wait and get that support once you find another black person to walk you through the steps or just to be your sponsor? Or do you make the decision that, hey, I need help right now, today, and so let me go with what I have and then hopefully be able to transition? There's a lot of different factors that that depends on, I would say.

But, if it's possible to find someone that can relate to you culturally, racially, that sort of thing, that will help ease your recovery experience. If at all possible, I would say, yeah, absolutely. Look for someone who is also black and in recovery, however you may identify. In the recovery programs that I mentioned to you earlier, they do have those supports in place, naturally. But even for people who are in person, I would say be very mindful of not waiting for that person to come because alcohol is an addiction and it will make it hard for you to stay sober, to not have that support. But also, if there's an opportunity, I would say jump on it, for sure.

Something that happened to me with my sponsor is that it worked for a while, and I'll say this is kind of how recovery changes over time. It works for us to stick with the issues, helped me stay sober, rebuild my life, go through the steps, all that. But then there was like, at the two or three-year mark, I realized that I was in a space where I needed more and that's okay, too. And so I remember having a conversation with her to say, everything she had done for me, I genuinely appreciated, that we had come to the end of our relationship.

I just knew that the issues I was dealing with at that point were a little bit more specific and that's when I broke off into exploring some of these other recovery spaces to help myself. The virtual ones weren't available at that time but that is when I started exploring what really should my recovery look like? How can I make this last long term? And it's not just staying right here–I've got to look for more and try to find more.

Dr. Joy: Can you say more about like how somebody might know? Because this sounds a lot like working with a therapist, right? Like there comes a point and at some point, where you're working with a therapist for some time and you've done great work but you realize like, okay, this person can't take me to this next place. What kinds of questions should someone ask to kind of determine whether they should stick with their sponsor or whether it might be time to like break up (so to speak) with their sponsor and maybe find somebody else? How would you know?

Kristen: I would say, do I feel like with the information I have about myself right now, can I be fully honest with them? And so when I was early on in recovery, to the best of my knowledge, I was being 100% honest about the things I was dealing with. But as you heal and as you grow, you realize deeper things or other things start to come to the surface that then I also need to process and to get support around. And so when I felt hesitant to call or felt like I couldn't really give a full update on my day, or felt like I couldn't really run a certain issue by my sponsor, then I started to realize, okay, if I can't be completely authentic and honest with this person, then I need something else in addition to that. And so that's an option too.

It may not be a breaking up with your sponsor and then just exploring your other options, it might be a little bit of both. But for me, I was pretty well into the 12-step life and felt like I needed something else branching out. And so for me, that looked like getting on the Sober Black Women hashtag on Instagram and looking up other sober black women and saying hey to them. And that kind of helped me before I actually ended things with my sponsor. It kind of helped me realize, ah, that's what it is. That's what I was missing, that's what I needed more of.

And so it kind of overlapped. It wasn't like I knew it, broke up with her, and then moved on. It was kind of like through the exploration, I realized I need other black women that are doing this in the ways that I'm having to do it and so let me add that in. Do I feel safe? Do I feel like I can be open and honest and authentic with these women? Yes, I do. Now, sponsor, thank you. This has been an amazing, you know. And I had that conversation with her and she understood that I needed to do that for myself.

Dr. Joy: I want to talk a little bit about media portrayals of alcoholism because we've already talked about like how some of that impacts us. Even what people think are subtle messages definitely impacts us and we get ideas about that. And more recently, we have seen varying degrees of like alcoholism in some shows like Euphoria, How to Get Away with Murder. And most recently, or at least the most recent depiction I've seen, In Treatment on HBO, which is a show about a therapist and her clients. And so I’d just love to hear like any thoughts you have about maybe those shows or others in terms of what you feel like they’ve really got right about portraying alcoholism and treatment.

Kristen: Yeah, I've seen Euphoria, I've seen How to Get Away with Murder. And All American, actually, I've watched recently. That’s another series with an addiction storyline with one of the young teens in that show. And I think that I see myself in all of them. I see the superwoman when you think about Viola Davis in How to Get Away with Murder. Her job was super stressful, she was trying to hold it all together, it was so many things going on. And those are the reasons why we reach for that relief of a drink, is to have a break and to cope and to keep showing up.

I can't remember episodes or seasons in particular, but I just remember seeing scenes of her trying to deal with the stressors of the day when she would come home. And it worked for a while, and then it started to spill over into her work and it started to backfire. And I think that is an accurate depiction of how alcoholism or even just drinking problems in general, how the tolerance increases, the frequency goes up, and you start to experience those more severe consequences. And so I do appreciate seeing that more in the storylines because I think it helps women like myself or someone who's not even where they are really realizing their drinking problem or ready to acknowledge it–they can at least see a different option.

And I think that representation is so important for when I log on to whatever social media or if I watch a show, to see that I'm not the only one and that there's a recovery option available. Like I can see that happening. And then also, for some of them, you kind of get the understanding of where their drinking came from, which helps you have compassion. We're so hard on ourselves and we think that I caused this on myself. When really, you know, with Euphoria, she had all kinds of trauma that was from her experience in childhood that was fueling that, and the same for all the other storylines. And so if I can have compassion for these characters and see how they got to where they are, surely I can have compassion for myself and give myself that grace to go get the help and support I need to really be well, you know.

Dr. Joy: Yeah. You know, Kristen, as I'm thinking about it, it feels similar to how historically we didn't necessarily think about black women as it was related to eating disorders. Like for a long time, it felt like, oh, that's not something black girls struggle with. And it feels like maybe to a lesser extent, it was the same thing with substance abuse, that you didn't necessarily hear about this being a problem for black women. When, of course, this is something that we have struggled with, whether we named it that or not.

Kristen: Exactly, yeah. And historically, just thinking about the medical field in general, like it wasn't okay for us to struggle with that for a very long time. We had to keep it together, there wasn't a supportive, nonjudgmental space for us to go to, to acknowledge those things. And so for black women and even for our community in general, we go inward and we say, well, we'll just keep it in house, we'll just figure it out some other kind of way. And then that turns into stigma around certain disorders–what do they look like and who “gets to have them” or not?

And it can be very damaging to our community to believe that, because we go without acknowledgement and it repeats the generational patterns and then the problem grows. And so yes, I do think that has been a challenge for us with food as well. With eating disorders as well, the same thing, and that it's okay. And it's okay–you're not abnormal, it's okay that you struggle with that. Let's see what it would look like to heal and get better from that.

Dr. Joy; More from my conversation with Kristen after the break.


Dr. Joy: A lot of times, I think what happens with stuff like substance abuse and drinking, friends and loved ones sometimes recognize that there is a concern maybe before the person does. Can you share a little bit about how we might be able to support a friend or a loved one who is struggling with recovery?

Kristen: I think the most important part is to make sure that you're a safe place. And I think that sometimes we want to express concern and, because it feels urgent to us, we come out with maybe a strong energy around it, making demands sometimes. You know, out of concern, but it's not as gentle as it may need to be. And so I always say that how are you living your day to day life in relationship with that person to show that you're a safe space for them to acknowledge something that's so difficult? To even acknowledge within yourself, better yet, much less another person.

And so for me, in my journey that looked like, who would push alcohol on me in different social settings or not? Before I stopped drinking, who would encourage me to drink and who would just kind of let me make my own decisions about whether I drank or not? Who would I do other fun things with outside of just drinking? Who did I have that type of relationship with? How did I see them interact with other people around mental health struggles and addiction? Did I hear them show care and compassion or did I hear them show judgment and play stereotypes on that person?

So I would say, first and foremost, make sure you're a safe person in the ways that you are in relationship with that person in general. And then from there, I think there are some ways to express concern in a gentle way. And what we know about addiction is sometimes we can get into defending our addictions, being very reactive if someone brings up a drinking problem, and so knowing that going in and finding some gentle ways to express concern that are without judgment as much as possible, I think is a helpful way to start the conversation. Then also educating yourself on what this means, what this looks like, what you can do to influence a situation and what ultimately is out of your control, I think, is helpful.

I've spent some years as a family therapist at some treatment centers and a lot of our work was around knowing what they could and couldn't do for their loved one. For so many parents with their kids, they’re like they want them to be sober more than their child wants to be sober. Even if they're an adult child, they would still enable in certain ways and “we’ll pay for this and we’ll pay for that, just go to treatment,” and like all the different ways that they would try to support them. They thought they were supporting them but really it was just enabling the situation. So my role with them was just to talk about what does it look like to have healthy boundaries and almost at some points detach from needing to know and be in control of the situation. Which is very hard and painful for us to do, to see someone else suffering and feel like we have to completely detach from watching them do so.

But in actuality it is very important for the family, our loved one’s recovery as well. You have the person with the drinking problem that has their own recovery, then also the support and family for that person also have their own recovery process and so boundaries is another part of that work. In realizing, what am I responsible for? What am I not responsible for? How can I influence the situation without making it my responsibility to do the work for them?

Dr. Joy: I think a lot of times, like after a friend has decided they are going to be sober, there is this awkwardness around like, okay, do we not have alcohol at the functions anymore? What kinds of practical things can people really do to help a friend who might be sober?

Kristen: I think that because we see drinking problems as being taboo even though we're trying to work on making it a more normal thing to address and deal with, sometimes we think that asking the person in recovery what they need is kind of like, “oh, I got to figure it out on my own and then hopefully it won't trigger them or hopefully it's what they need.” Instead of just saying, what does that mean for you? What can I do to support you? What feels comfortable to you? And with every person, it's going to be different.

I know some people that are not bothered by other people drinking around them or some people who drink nonalcoholic beverages instead of alcoholic beverages. And then some people who are like I can't be around it at all, I've got to completely like start with a clean slate of friends and people, places, and things. And so really for each person it’s going to be different. First and foremost, I would say it's okay to not guess and it's okay to not know and so ask them, what would be the most supportive for you right now? And know that that may change. A year from now may not be such urgent cravings and that sort of thing and they may be able to be in certain spaces and be okay. But it really depends.

And some of the things that usually are things that need to be adapted would be can this person be around alcohol in general? Would they prefer to have a sober or dry wedding or a sober activity? And if so, being the friend that's okay with that because I think sometimes we're afraid that our friends aren't going to want to make any adjustments for us or sacrifice for us. Or that it's going to be burdensome to ask my friend group to opt for something else other than the wine tasting and the *[inaudible 0:40:19], you know what I mean? And so any time you can just say “hey, I have plans for us,” and it just naturally doesn't include alcohol, that is the best. Because it's like you don't even have to worry about it, we're going hiking, it doesn't have anything to do with alcohol–I think that's a great way to do that.

And also to be supportive when they share with you. If someone says, “I think I have a drinking problem and I wanted to let you know,” that means that they trust you and that means that they need your support. And so I can't count how many times, “What? A drinking problem? No, you don't.” And it’s like, but I'm telling you that I do and I need your support in that moment. And so I think that's something that folks can know. If someone tells you that, accept them, love them, how can I support you? That's awesome. “That's great, that's great, I would love to support you in doing that. What do you need from me?” I think is a great way.

Dr. Joy: You know, boundary work, Kristen, I think is important in so many different areas of healing but it seems like it would be particularly important here. Especially if you are working to maintain your sobriety around like “no, I can't be in that kind of a situation” or “please don't invite me to these kinds of things.” Or even like you just mentioned, like if I say I have a drinking problem, what does that bring up for other people who maybe drink as much as I was? And so now, does it feel like an indictment? And so it feels like there needs to be some real boundary work as a part of this recovery as well. Can you say more about that?

Kristen: Yeah. I think that recovery is a beautiful, beautiful journey. I wouldn't trade mine for the world and I know so many women that even through the ups and downs find it to be worth it. But some of that can be hard. It’s because not everybody's ready to do what you need them to do or what you would have them do to support your recovery. And sometimes that does mean seeing people less. It does mean bowing out of certain things, based on the day you've had. Like for me, if I've had a rough week... And it's not that I'm going to go out and drink, but I just know mentally and emotionally, I've had a draining week. I tend to not put myself, even at six, almost seven years sober, I may opt out of going to the party with the friends just because I know that I don't need that. I don't need that extra stressor on me.

Sometimes you do have to end friendships or distance yourself from certain people in order to protect your recovery. And there's a grieving process with that but I think that in recovery you can come to have closure with that and have peace around having to make those decisions. Because not everyone's going to be in a place where they can support you in the ways that you need to be supported and it is very important that you handle and manage your triggers–people, places and things–and sometimes those people are the ones closest to you. And so having those conversations can be hard but very necessary.

Dr. Joy: Yeah. Which is why, going back to the original points around why building this new community of people is so important, right? Because there may be a loss of some other people who can’t support you in the ways that you need.

Kristen: Absolutely.

Dr. Joy: You've already given us quite a few great resources, Kristen, but I wonder if there are any other books or podcasts or communities that you think people should check out, that might support them if they're looking for sober resources?

Kristen: Yes. I would say, honestly, the best one that I know is searching the SoberBlackWomen hashtag on Instagram. I know a lot of women, black women, that use that. There's a lot of accounts that I've found from that and it’s a great resource., they're not a BIPOC specific group but they do have some meetings that are specifically for BIPOC and so you can get connected there. Sober Black Girls Club is another. Their website is but they also have an Instagram, they host meetings several times a week.

Dr. Joy: And what is your website, Kristen, as well as any social media handles you'd like to share?

Kristen: My website is My Instagram handle is my name, @KristenFeemster. And so if you go to my website, I do have a Resources tab that has a list of other meetings. They're not all specifically for black women or people of color but there is a resource to get started. Like you mentioned, podcasts and recovery meetings and that sort of thing, to just get the ball rolling. And then all you have to do is just get your foot in the door in one of these spaces. You don't have to have all the answers to start; you just need to open the door and let someone else help you to guide you along. And so anything that you can have where it's person to person contact, I think will be the best bet for moving forward with this and then growing from there.

Dr. Joy: Perfect. Thank you so much, Kristen, I really appreciate you sharing so much with us today.

Kristen: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Dr. Joy: I'm so glad that Kristen was able to share her expertise with us today. To learn more about her and her work, visit the show notes at And don't forget to text two of your girls and tell them to check out the episode right now.

If you're looking for a therapist in your area, be sure to check out our therapist directory at

And if you want to continue digging into this topic or just be in community with other sisters, come on over and join us in the Sister Circle. It's our cozy corner of the internet designed just for black women. You can join us at Thank y’all so much for joining me again this week. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you all real soon. Take good care.


Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

Sisterhood heals
Order Now

Looking for the UK Edition?
Order here

Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

Looking for the UK Edition? Order here