One Year No Beer Podcast Episode 099 – Sobriety and Allyship with Scott Pearson
As the idea of creating spaces for people who want to change their relationship with alcohol continues to grow, it’s only natural that people will start to create spaces for those who want to change their relationship with alcohol and also have life experiences and perspectives that are outside of the majority. That’s what today’s guest, Scott Pearson, is doing with Proud and Sober, an online social platform geared toward supporting those in the LGBT+ community who have decided to change their relationships with alcohol.
In today’s episode, Scott describes his own experiences with getting sober. He explains that he knew when he was 25 that he needed to stop drinking, but he grappled with the decision for a couple of years before finally giving the alcohol up for good. He talks about the specific challenges faced by people in their 20s who want to give up drinking in an alcohol-soaked youth culture.
“I just woke up one morning after way too many drinks the night before and I knew that that was it.”
Scott discovered that there was a sober community out there that was willing to help and support people on their journey to becoming alcohol-free, and that community helped him on his journey as well. However, he also found that there were far fewer young people speaking about the experience of giving up alcohol. He also discovered that there weren’t many LGBT+ people who were talking publicly about what it was like to give up drinking. Scott wanted to hear more of those voices, and that desire is what gave him the idea to work on creating Proud and Sober.
In today’s interview, Scott also talks about the importance of allyship, and what it really means to be an ally. He describes situations that he experienced when he felt alone and could have used an ally. He also speaks about the universal nature of allyship – how the definition of allyship is fundamentally the same to the Black community, the LGBT+ community, the Jewish community, and so on. He discusses the actions that an ally should take and how they can speak up for the communities that they’re allied with. Listen to the episode to hear more about Scott’s journey and his goals for the future.
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Ruari: Welcome to another epic—I always have to insert a new description word every week—edition of the One Year No Beer Podcast. Of course, I'm your host, Ruari Fairbairns. Today, I am joined by Scott Pearson. Scott, very excited for this podcast, is an activist formerly known as The Boy Who Drank Too Much—we'll have to ask him all about that—who focuses on supporting to change the LGBT+ community's relationship with alcohol.
After embarking on his own journey to give up alcohol, he has set his sights on creating Proud and Sober, a social and online platform that encourages open dialogue about booze and what it means to be alcohol-free. Scott, thank you very much for joining us today. How are you?
Scott: I'm good, I'm good. It's a very weird time at the moment as we're just talking about a little bit before we joined this call. Yeah, it's been a very interesting time but I'm good.
Ruari: Definitely been an interesting time. We're going to dig into lots of that. We'll have a good round table discussion on that. Before we do, give me a little bit of background into your journey, Scott.
Scott: Yeah. I forget now how long it's been since I stopped drinking until I actually look at the date. I actually noticed this morning that it's 20 months tomorrow which is closing in two years. In itself, it's just crazy to me. If you ever said to me three years ago that within the year I would've been sober and that would have been my future, I would've never believed you.
I kind of always knew that I have this niggling feeling that my drinking was holding me back. I was making quite whole life decisions when I was drinking. Probably key to mention, I wasn't drinking every day. I didn't end up in rehab, AA, or anything like that. It was very much organic. I reached a point in my life where I realized that drinking alcohol was just not serving me any good anymore.
I think I got to about 25 and knew in my heart of hearts that I needed to stop but I just had no idea how. At 25 years old, I was going to give up drinking. It took maybe two years for that to click, 2–3 years in fact. By the time I hit 28, in the back-end of that year, I gave up. I just woke up one morning after way too many drinks the night before and I knew that that was it. My body, my soul, and my mind were all very aligned in the fact that that was it now. I was done. There wasn't anything left for me to do to this alcohol. I’ve exhausted every possible avenue with it. So, I made the decision on the 13th of October 2018 that that was it and here we are.
Ruari: Yay. That's awesome. Well done. Good job. You were formerly known as The Boy Who Drank Too Much.
Scott: I was, yeah. When I was first trying to figure out how on earth I was going to be in my 20s and not drink, I went on to Instagram and discovered that there was an incredible sober community online. That's the thing. If you're not a kind of drinker that needs to go to an AA or AA isn't for you, then where is it where you go? I went online and found that there was an incredible community there. To keep some anonymity because I wasn't ready to be public about the fact that I've gone sober because I wanted to keep it for me to begin with while I look after my sobriety.
I joined under an alias as The Boy Who Drank Too Much. I don't talk about this often but I actually thought of the name of that account whilst I was drunk (which is ironic in itself) and created the account under theboywhodranktoomuch. Essentially, I operated under that for about a year and 2–3 months as something online.
Originally, it was […] and every time I eventually started showing my face using that as a platform to speak more publicly about this journey. Mainly because there are two reasons, I think. There aren't many younger people—there are now but there weren't especially two years ago—to speak about what it's like to be in your 20s and stop drinking because we live in such an alcohol-drenched culture. Also, there aren't many LGBT young people that talk about what it's like to give up drinking. That's how it's started.
Over time, I realized, I actually didn’t want it to be about me so much anymore. I wanted it to be more about everyone else because I’m bored of hearing my story. I want to hear other people's stories and create a space that any person, specifically LGBT, can find someone to relate to on the platform I'm creating so that they didn't feel alone like I did when I first started.
Ruari: Awesome, great. Do you think that the LGBT community is ahead of the curve when it comes to changing their relationship with alcohol or behind the curve when it comes to changing their relationship with alcohol?
Scott: Behind, for sure.
Ruari: Why do you think that is?
Scott: There's a lot of research that's been done over the years that links quite heavily, I'm sure you probably notice around maybe trauma and stuff like that and how that interlinks to addiction. There's also a dimension for the LGBT+ community of an inherent shine that you carry because when you don't conform to heteronormative society. I know that I had problems when I was growing up, but I'm sure it's a lot easier now than it was when I was at school. Imagine if I was 50 now, how my experience could have been at school?
You internalize a lot of that shame and you contort yourself to fit into what you think you need to be. That means you're not living your true self. When you do that, I believe you create a lot of darkness. Obviously, the less you are yourself, you kind of scare yourself, almost, and lock yourself into this box, and eventually, lose yourself. I think that's most likely when people start to discover alcohol, drugs, and other things they can do to take their minds out of actually how unhappy they are.
I think there's still a lot of work that needs to be done to the LGBT+ community. The whole community vibe is founded around alcohol and drugs. That's kind of what it is. By no means, I want to be clear, I'm not demonizing it. For those who can go and have a healthy relationship with it, it's actually an amazing place of solace and pride, but there is also that dark underbelly that people need to be aware of.
Ruari: Well put. I messed up the […] a couple of times there because I'm all about unveiling. I think we're both sharing this a minute ago. Realizing my ignorance, realizing my ignorance around racism, realizing my ignorance around the LGBT+ community, et cetera. I don't want to be ignorant, but I just haven't been educated yet on these things. I haven't been either aware or perhaps have been looking, just not realizing through my own actions or whatever.
Anyway, LGBT+, of course, the plus being an extra—we've talked about this—you're better off to say QIA meaning Queer, Intersexual, and Asexual. Correct?
Scott: You nailed it.
Ruari: See how fast I learn.
Scott: That's the thing. To your point, a lot of people aren't told these things. I think right now it's such a prevalent conversation around that term ally and allyship. This is something that I'm going to speak about on my own social media coming up soon. I think that what we need to be really clear on is that allyship is universal. If you understand the definition of an ally in terms of race, you also understand the definition of an ally to the LGBT community or the Jewish community. It's totally universal.
To be an ally is to actually just go and do the work. Learn these things yourself. It's not up to anyone else to teach you. To actually be willing to—after you learned those things and be knowledgeable—speak up for those people because that's the most important part. I know that I've had experiences where people were shouting things at me across the street or said something on me on the tube or given me, like an ex-boyfriend of mine, a really rough time when we were walking down the street before. No one said anything. You feel very alone in that moment.
Actually, allyship is a communal effort. It's not something that I might not feel safe to be able to challenge someone. If everyone else around me said no, that's not okay. You need to stop what you're saying, that's wrong, then eventually, change will happen. It will start to permeate generations. I think that's the thing that we need to get to an allyship right now.
Right now we're in a period where a lot of people need to learn this stuff and they need to understand it. Obviously, specifically around race right now and I'm on my own journey. It's okay to get it wrong. The point is that you're trying as long as you're not being offensive. Obviously, there are certain specific words for different communities that you should just never use. If you don't know them, just go and learn them because you're just actually stupid if you haven't learned them by now.
Outside of that, just try. Just try and challenge the way things are done. It's not easy. There are some really quite difficult conversations. Sometimes, I know that I feel in certain situations like I'm constantly having to call things out. I hate being that guy because it's quite annoying for me to have to keep doing it but actually it's important because only then will generations below us understand what's right and wrong.
Ruari: Completely. I think that I've learned and that's really why. Since this has been flagged up that I've been using our platform—our podcast—to have these conversations around being alcohol-free. We're about living life better. To live life better for all. For all. Live life better for all. If that means that we need to have a conversation about race, let's have a conversation about race which we did last week. We will continue to have these conversations. I may blunder into it because I haven't been having these conversations if I'm honest. I just haven't been aware. No one here is aware as I am getting myself now.
As I go through this, hopefully, other people are picking up these ideas. It is LGBT+ month this month which is why we needed to get you in the podcast and be having these conversations as well. I think 100% learning and being willing to speak up, I think this is really exciting. Yes, it's tough, difficult, painful, and anguish but I don't see a conversation that's ever been had like it has been had right now. Hopefully, this is a chance exactly as you just portrayed for everyone whether you are in any kind of minority, you have felt suppressed, unable to speak out, and unsupported what's going on now specifically in racism, I think, will have an impact or a ripple effect across all areas. Maybe I'm just a glass-half-full guy, but what do you think, Scott?
Scott: I absolutely agree. I spoke about this recently on a post that I did. Going by the term, allyship, if anyone listening to this saw an elderly person being mugged in the street, I'm 99.9% sure most of the people listening would do something about it. They would shout and scream or they would chase after the bus that was doing it. They will take some form of action. That is allyship.
I think we'll have it in us to do what's being asked. It's just the system we've been raised in has stopped us from seeing the people that needed the help. It's just so important that right now like you say, it's been awful that we have to go through a global pandemic to get to this point. I do believe that had we not all been locked in our homes and not had been able to do what we normally do, I know for sure I probably wouldn't have taken in the depth of quite how deep the situation currently in terms of race runs because I would've been running around at work. I wouldn't be here than anywhere in London and not focusing on social media and the news as much I have been.
I do think that whilst the Coronavirus has been horrendous—obviously, my condolences to anyone that's lost anyone including some of my friends and family—it has stopped the world and made people hold on. That's not right. We can't let that go anymore. Especially in terms of the Black Lives Matter Movement as well. Let's not forget that the Black Lives Matter Movement was actually started by two queer black women. Also, when you think about the fact that I wouldn't have the rights that I have today as a gay man if it weren't for black trans people, black trans sex workers in America. They’re powerful people. It’s incredible. They need to be celebrated. This movement today wouldn't be happening again if it wasn't for the black queer people.
Ruari: That's amazing. Absolute respect. What came to mind was really that the depth of oppression because there is so much in the race perspective that for you to be black, queer, the force required to break through that and to be a voice would make a very compelling voice. Does that make sense?
It is in the action of the oppression that brings forward the rise. I think that's definitely what we're seeing today. I'm 100% supporting a fair life for all. The system is broken. We're all looking at the system going. The system is broken, but what do we do about it? Hopefully, there are some changes to come. I guess you've decided to create this platform specifically for the LGBT+ community. Why is that important to you?
Scott: When I was trying to do this, I found it really hard to find someone to relate to. I think that this is where a lot of people sometimes get a bit confused because a platform is aimed at black people, or the Black Lives Matter Movement is just aimed at black people, or my platform gives specifically towards LGBT people. Some people would argue that that's not inclusive. The conversation that I would follow that or counter that with is that's because all other platforms are geared to white cis-gendered people. We need to make sure that we're creating spaces that make other people feel included as a pathway to making sure that we're also doing the work to work on the platforms that already exist and make sure that they're inclusive to everyone.
Until we get to that point, we need to create specific spaces so people feel more comfortable having conversations and find people to relate to. I'll probably say, it is for everyone but in terms of the stories that I share on the actual site, they will only be for LGBT+ people because they are the people that are underrepresented in terms of the sober community in general. I just think that it's really important that those voices are heard so that there should be younger (or older) LGBT+ people out there that need to get help, they can come on that platform, they can find someone that's like them, and relate. Maybe go on to find their profile somewhere and maybe have a chat. That might change the way that they drink.
Ruari: Brilliant. I loved it. Just sidestepping for a minute, we talked about how these traumatic experiences and then potentially trauma being a greater factor in LGBT+, it then drives these addictive behaviors. Certainly, my experience from the LGBT community—this may sound ignorant so please, shoot me down if I say anything ignorant—my experience living in London for 13 years, I used to love going to some of the gay clubs. In fact, I met my Master of Ceremonies at Fire probably about 8 o'clock in the morning.
Ruari: I know. Fire is pretty special. The thing about Fire, I actually remember meeting this guy in Fire. He was there with his girlfriend as I was there with my girlfriend. He walked out to me. Our girlfriends are not there at that time—my girlfriend now being my wife, of course—he said in a very Welsh accent, “You're not gay, are you?” I was standing on a podium at that time with no top on. I was like, “No, I'm not.” He was like, “Come, let's get a drink at the bar.”
Anyway, we hit it off. Obviously, the clubbing community, the LGBT, in my experience has a very club party lifestyle. That can become very ingrained in your identity. First of all, before I carry on, do you agree that it's a very clubbing lifestyle for the LGBT community?
Scott: I think, yes, it's easy to get into that. I did, for sure. I know Fire well. I spent many weekends there in my early 20s.
Ruari: I liked how you said weekend. In case you don't know Fire, you can spend the weekend there.
Scott: Oh, yeah.
Ruari: You can arrive on Friday and depart on Sunday morning.
Scott: Yeah. Monday morning, some weeks, for me. Fire is an experience that I'm glad I did but I would never choose to go back. Yes, there is definitely that part of it. I do think that over the course of the last few years, especially I'm in a lot of the scenes actually closed down. I think Fire is there but there aren't many other clubs that are around Vauxhall anymore specifically.
Yes, I do think you can get caught up in it. I do think equally there also needs to be space. There is a newer generation of LGBT+ people that are coming through who are maybe more level-headed.
Ruari: Yeah. Society has shifted. Social media, of course, changed that and getting photographed not looking so well at that time of the morning. Not ideal, so lots of those things, but not just that. I guess acceptance and being more accepted in the more lifestyle fashion.
Scott: Absolutely. I think there's way more representation now of what a normal and advanced […] relationship. I don't mean normal as in man and woman. I mean normal like just a healthy relationship that you can have. There's more representation of that for LGBT+ people now in the mainstream media whereas if you went back even 15 years for me, the only people that are on TV when I was growing up might be Paul O'Grady and a couple of other gay men.
It’s over the last (maybe) 15–20 years that we started to have narratives in mainstream soaps and magazines. In general, there's a representation now. As a younger LGBT person, I can grow up and see that's what my future is going to look like. I can get married to a man and I can adopt children. That can be my ending. Whereas previously, that wasn't an option. It was never told or shown to people. All that was ever shown was actually, you can go to clubs, you can party, and you need to keep yourself on the ground because you're not safe. There's been such a shift.
Ruari: Fantastic. It's so much more acceptable, so much more normalized. Not anywhere near there yet, I imagined. Even for myself, I have to do a double take of what I've seen. When I think about this, I doubletake what I've seen to men holding hands, walking down the street, and have a double look. If I reflect on myself again—sorry it's not all about me but hopefully, people resonate with some of this—I might've used words in a description faction. For instance, putting myself out there like it's so gay. Now, the question to you is, how offensive is that?
Scott: I have to say it's one that makes my blood boil. That one, if I had that in the workplace, I will file a formal complaint. You're using the term gay to denote something derogatory. By saying that, you're denoting my existence as a gay man. You're actually saying that as a gay man, I exist but it's actually a negative thing.
Don't get me wrong. I've heard it on multiple occasions over the years. That's an example of where quite rightly you acknowledged it. Maybe it's not the right thing but by just asking someone like me whether that's appropriate or not, you now have the answer. Now, if you choose to use it then you're on your own.
Ruari: That's exactly the thing. Awareness is the first step to change. Just like in changing your relationship with alcohol. Awareness is the first step. By the way, we have the same impression of changing our relationship with alcohol. Not the same. Of course, it's not the same. We don't have anywhere near as much, but we have that same thing. What's wrong with you? Why are you not drinking? Just have one drink. I didn't realize you didn't drink. Don't invite that person because they're not drinking. Whatever these things are.
Just coming back into I'm not getting away, give me a couple of these other insights that make your blood boil, that you hear on a regular occasion because this is exactly the conversation we're having. What we're having is that the normalization in our language and the way we behave in our system of demoting or demoralizing another group.
Scott: There's been a lot of chat over the last few years around this snowflake generation. I would fall (by definition) into that. There's a negativity that's come with that kind of label where we're oversensitive. Don't get me wrong, I do believe that some things have gone slightly too far but we do also need to hold space for the fact that these are actually people's feelings. I think it's just very important.
In terms of my own experiences, the things that get […] specifically, there's some automatic assumption especially with straight ciswomen that gay men automatically love shopping, or talking about hairstyles, or anything that is remotely flamboyant, or could fall into the category of female.
Quite often, if people or some people find out that you're gay, the first thing that will fall out of their mouth is oh my god, we can go shopping together. Or oh my god, I've always wanted a gay best friend. That's just ridiculous. You wouldn't say oh my god! I've always wanted a Black friend. Or oh my god! I've always wanted an Asian friend. That's not who I am. It happens to be my sexuality. That doesn't define who I am as a person.
So, no. I think you're a bit of a twat. I'm not going to go shopping with you, is normally my response. Those examples are a language that we're probably seeing quite commonly at the moment. They're forms of microaggressions. They're forms of language that keep continuing a narrative that is based on derogatory or negative towards a minority of people.
Ruari: Absolutely. What is in the plan for Proud and Sober going forward?
Scott: We've been sharing real-life stories for the last couple of months. We've got some great people coming up which is really exciting. I think the next phase for the site and for the platform, in general, is going to be more around creating some more content that educates, inspires, and lets people find other things to relate to.
Obviously, it's great to relate to a personal story, but I think there's a room and space that needs to be created for LGBT+ people to write their thoughts on yoga or whatever it is that's going on in their life. I'd like to get some people to contribute. It won't be content specifically run by me. It’ll be a varied group of people and voices so that it starts to become a place where there's a lot of nourishing content to people.
Ruari: Brilliant. I absolutely love it. Well done. What an inspiring project to be doing. Well done, great work. In terms of anyone on the fence about that alcohol-free journey or changing their relationship with alcohol, what are your top recommendations?
Scott: My recommendations are keep going because it's not a one-size-fits-all. It won’t happen overnight. When I describe my story, I said that I just woke up one day. That was after maybe four or five years of back and forth in my own thoughts. I did try January. Two years after that, it stuck. Just keep going is the main thing.
Also, immerse yourself and surround yourself with people that have been there and know what's going on so you don't feel alone. Engage your content like podcasts like these. There are loads of amazing people on Instagram to follow, that share incredible resources. Just dip your toe in the water slowly but surely. I believe if it's going to happen for you, by doing that you'll get there.
Ruari: Awesome. Good advice. Thank you very much for joining us on the podcast today. Keep doing the great work that you're doing and thanks
Scott: Thank you.