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'Quit Like a Woman' author Holly Whitaker wants to help women stop drinking

Holly Whitaker's book "Quit Like a Woman" challenges "wine mom" jokes and stereotypes that normalize excessive drinking for women.
'Quit Like a Woman' examines drinking culture to give women a step-by-step guide to sobriety.
'Quit Like a Woman' examines drinking culture to give women a step-by-step guide to sobriety.TODAY Illustration / Catherine Just/ Amazon
/ Source: TMRW

For years, Holly Whitaker wanted to change the way Americans, particularly women, think about and consume alcohol. After developing her own sobriety school, "Tempest," she wrote the book "Quit Like A Woman," where she examines drinking culture and tries to give women a step-by-step guide to quitting.

When Whitaker started her own journey to sobriety in 2012, she said that she found most pre-existing methods restrictive and limited, especially when operating in a society where alcohol plays a key role in social activities.

"It was an extremely confusing and limited experience, because there were no role models, there was only one way that you did it," Whitaker told TMRW. "The book was written as an outgrowth of that experience, of wanting to create visibility, of wanting to create multiple pathways and addressing cases where we can't quite identify as alcoholics and our drinking isn't that destructive, but (where) we do need help."

Whitaker said that she wrote the book for women specifically, since most pre-existing methods of getting sober revolve around men's experiences. She also wanted to look at recovery through a new lens.

"I think most resources conceptualize addiction as something being wrong with you, instead of something being wrong with this idea that we're supposed to make alcohol work in our lives," Whitaker said. "I think it's a relief to people to understand that so many humans struggle with their drinking, even people who are not severely addicted."

Whitaker said that the emphasis on drinking as a way to get through stress related to the coronavirus pandemic has concerned her. She also noted that "wine mom" jokes and stereotypes "make light of addiction" and normalize excessive drinking for women.

"It seems like we'd just be throwing back wine all day, when that's what kills people," she noted. "I think that when we start to do something over and over again and actually feel the negative impact of it, eventually, our bodies are smart and tell us what we need to hear. So, yes, there has been a larger push to drink over the past year, and (eventually) you're going to see a lot of people hitting that edge of 'Wait a minute, I don't like this.'"

Whitaker said that women who want to quit drinking or change their relationship with alcohol should take a few simple steps for starters.

  1. We need to change our beliefs. "Thoughts become things, and so if we want to change our lives, we have to get down into our thoughts and understand what they are, work with them and change them," she said.
  2. "We need to work with the reasons we drink in the first place. All the other stuff exists outside of ourselves."
  3. Break the cycle of addiction, "which means dealing with very real things like a 5 p.m. craving."
  4. "It's really about practicing abstinence or practicing changing our relationship with alcohol, versus this black-and-white belief system that we have to remove alcohol immediately, never to do it again."

Whitaker added that another important element of the book was the forgiveness it offers to those who have trouble changing their habits, instead of focusing on having to quit cold turkey.

"It's a very, very forgiving book that speaks to people who are doing something major and monumental in a really kind way," she said. "It's encouraging, and that's what we need. ... It's a matter of commitment versus perfection."

Whitaker recommends keeping kindness in mind as they try to quit.

"Remember that everybody who's ever done anything great has failed many, many times, and we celebrate this," Whitaker said. "We celebrate successful people who have failed along the way to their success. This is no different. It requires picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off and going at it again. That's it. It's just a commitment, over and over, to keep standing up, brushing ourselves off and trying again."

Now, the book has been celebrated by stars like Chrissy Teigen, which Whitaker said felt like a breakthrough in the discussion around women and alcohol.

Chrissy Teigen explains what inspired her sobriety
Teigen shared a picture of the book on her Instagram account.Chrissy Teigen / Instagram

"There's been so many of us for so long trying to break through and pierce the veil," she said. "We knew so intimately that there has to be a larger conversation about women and drinking. There's been so many of us working for so long to change the narrative that it feels expected, yet delightful and surprising all at the same time."