Finding Sobriety In Unexpected Places
For Rachel Hetchman, the COVID-19 pandemic was a complete 180 experience from what you’d expect of the typical pandemic experience, let alone someone living in the heart of New York City. For most people, the abrupt pause caused by the pandemic was an unwelcome, unprecedented event that dramatically changed daily life in ways many of us had never experienced.
This pause was so life-altering, in fact, that many turned to alcohol as a way to cope with this immense, once-in-a-lifetime level of stress. In 2020, alcohol sales in the United States soared to record highs, with the industry as a whole seeing a nearly 60% increase in sales. During this time, the CDC also reported the largest single-year increase in reported alcohol use disorders (AUD), with a nearly 15% jump from 2019.
However, for Rachel Hechtman, this pause wasn’t unwelcome, it was the moment she had been waiting for; and quite possibly the one that saved her life.
“Without COVID, I don’t know if I would have gotten sober at all.”
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A Storied Past With Alcohol
For Rachel, alcohol had always been a crutch to help her numb the pain. From everything from childhood traumas to mental illness, alcohol had always been her way of escaping from the hardships of life. At 14, Rachel had her first drink, and says she quickly started partying and not caring about school.
Her mother, not wanting her to self-destruct, sent Rachel off to boarding school, where she says she found comfort in the rigid structure and was able to thrive academically again. Shortly after, she was diagnosed with ADHD and put on medication, which she says was a momentous event.
“I always knew I was ‘different,’ so this diagnosis was life changing.”
After leaving boarding school, Rachel went off to attend Dartmouth College–her dream school. However, after leaving the rigid structure of boarding school and moving to a much more independent environment, Rachel says she quickly accepted that alcohol was a normal, acceptable part of college life, and began to drink heavily.
“The unofficial [Dartmouth] college mascot is a keg with a face – his name is ‘keggy.’ Everyone I went to school with heavily abused alcohol. This all fed into my thinking that this kind of drinking was normal and the ‘everyone else does it so do I really have a problem?’ mentality.”
As the years went on, Rachel graduated from Dartmouth and exited the “party” phase of her 20s. Instead, she found herself in a vicious cycle of drinking after work, happy hours, not sleeping well, not eating well, and not exercising.
When the pandemic emerged, Rachel says she was the heaviest she had ever been, was in a relationship that had long-expired, working a job she hated, and struggling with anxiety she had never experienced before. It was then, when COVID forced everything to a halt, that she wondered, “did I manifest this?”
The Turning Moment
It seems like an odd thing to say, but Rachel says she couldn’t have asked for a more perfect storm than the pandemic. When the pandemic hit, Rachel says it brought about all of the things she thought she wanted.
“Just before COVID hit, I was living just two blocks away from my current residence with my now ex-husband and our dog. I had a job that I absolutely despised, and everything about it was dreadful. At that time, my little sister was preparing to get married in June 2020, and I was to be the maid of honor. I felt unhappy with my appearance, as I was at my heaviest, and I found myself yearning for a break or pause in life.”
However, Rachel says this pause didn’t bring about any of the solutions she thought it would. When the pandemic reached its peak, Rachel was laid off, and her lease expired. This allowed her to move out of her apartment into her mother’s lake house in New Hampshire. It also meant the wedding, for the time being, was called off.
“I thought, well, at least I don’t have to deal with the job, and my sister’s wedding being postponed twice meant I didn’t have to stress over that either. All the things I was freaking out about, I didn’t have to worry about. I could avoid real-life responsibilities, indulge in eating and drinking without moving much, and just lounge on the couch like a blob, watching TV – which was exactly what I thought I wanted.”
When Rachel got all the things she thought she wanted and still wasn’t happy, she says that’s when she realized something else was to blame. In June of 2020, while day drinking at the lake house in New Hampshire, Rachel says she had her “come to Jesus” moment.
“I found myself at the lake, alone, with a drink and my dog. I spotted a guy running, and my initial thought was to dismissively label him a loser for running on such a nice day. Then, a new voice surfaced, and was like, ‘he’s not the loser, you are.’ I was the one sitting alone by the lake, drinking, and passing judgment, while he was actively bettering himself.”
While it would take Rachel another 6 months to finally get sober, this moment was awakening she needed to finally make a change.
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Using Dry January To Get Sober For Good
In January of 2021, Rachel officially began her journey to become sober; however, that wasn’t the plan for her initially. For Hanukkah, Rachel’s mother bought her a copy of Quit Like a Woman by Holly Whittaker, and suggested they both try Dry January. At first, Rachel says she was apprehensive about the idea.
“I was like no, no no. So I drink on New Years and feel like crap the next day. Then I drink the next day because I was like ‘Oh, I guess I already ruined Dry January I can’t start it now.’”
However, on January 2, when Rachel awoke with a terrible hangover, she began to think, “what’s the worst that could happen?” She thought maybe she’d try and use dry January as a way to lose weight, and on the 3rd, Rachel says the rest was history. By the end of the month Rachel said she felt amazing.
“I had woken up with a hangover every day for over 10 years. I had never woken up feeling great, and that anxiety I had my whole life began to subside. It was like my body started resetting.”
At the end of the 30 days, Rachel says a friend asked if she was ready to drink again, to which she replied, “No. Why would I have a drink now and ruin how I feel? I’m just going to see how long I can go. And here we are.”
Helping Others Suffering In Silence
Now 34 months sober, Rachel is thriving. She says her life has drastically changed “in the most magical and amazing ways.” Down 100 lbs and in the best shape of her life, Rachel says she feels strong and confident in ways she never thought were possible. Mentally, Rachel says her anxiety has subsided to a level where she can “irrefutably confirm that drinking alcohol was like pouring gasoline on a fire for [her] mental health.”
Now, Rachel works as a sober coach and alcohol-free life coach, helping provide a safe space for community and connection, without the presence of alcohol. Rachel says being a sober coach was never something she set out to do, but says she quickly found that it was the one thing fills her up more than anything she’s ever done before.
“I transitioned into coaching full time in February, and while it wasn’t initially planned, everything fell into place perfectly. It’s been quite intimidating because I never thought I would own my own business or work for myself. Nevertheless, here I am. I’ve always sought my purpose in life, and that search was a major factor in my excessive drinking. Now, it feels like I’ve found my purpose, providing a sense of order and meaning to all the challenges I’ve faced. I can look back at what happened and appreciate where I am today, knowing that I also have a meaningful story to share.”
If you’d like to get in touch with Rachel, you can do so by visiting her website, soberincentralpark.com, or by visiting her Instagram @Soberincentralpark.
Find Support For Alcohol Addiction And Abuse
If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol or drug abuse, know that there are dedicated individuals waiting to help you with your recovery. To have a confidential, free conversation about the process of entering treatment, reach out to a treatment provider today. They are available 24/7 to walk you through the process of starting your recovery journey.