Sobriety in Roller Derby, Pt. 1: Getting Sober

Although the stereotype may be that roller derby players are party girls who can drink you under the table, roller derby was a large part of the reason I quit drinking. As I approach my second anniversary of being sober, I wanted to share my story.

I grew up in a family of drinkers and was drinking heavily by the ripe old age of 14. Shortly after I turned 17, I joined the Navy, and at 19, I was stationed in England. You know who can drink as much as a U.S. Sailor? Your average Englishman. I was totally immersed in drinking cultures before I was even able to legally drink.

In my heyday, I could drink an impressive amount. But what's the problem with that? Everyone should be allowed to kick back and have some fun, right? Most people who know me don't fully understand why I stopped drinking.“You're so much fun when you drink!” They say. It can be hard to explain as it is so personal, but I will try to name the reasons that I quit.

Sometimes, drinking WAS fun, and it helped me loosen up and make friends. Other times, however, I became violent and attacked people. More often than not, I blacked out and didn't remember any of it. Drinking was an excuse for any bad behavior, and it always meant that I got a hangover day. A hangover day was basically any day after a night of drinking, a day where I didn't expect myself to get anything done or try too hard. I could take it easy, to reduce the discomfort of the hangover. Hangover days also frequently involved drinking. This caused a vicious cycle of getting nothing done and being depressed because I wasn't getting anything done, which normally led to more drinking just to make me feel different. Not better, because it didn't normally make me feel better. It just made me feel different.

As someone who is fiercely independent and stubborn, I hated the idea of having to depend on someone else to give me a ride home, so I would usually just drive drunk. While sober, I would hide my keys just in case anyone tried to take them away from me later.

Drinking alone isn't as much fun, so I got myself into a toxic, abusive relationship with another alcoholic. We gave each other an excuse to drink, in good times and in bad.

Then I joined roller derby! I knew from the moment that I realized I could join freshmeat that it was going to be something I loved and something I was good at. It was like this sport was designed specifically for me. I was in love before I even strapped on skates or saw gameplay. I first joined fresh meat while I was in England, but I was only able to go to a couple practices before I went home. The first thing I did when I found out I was going home for sure was to look up the closest roller derby league at home.

I debated between two leagues, and A2D2 was the one who took my heart (forever and always). During my first social event after I joined fresh meat, I was very nervous to talk to people, so I drank quite a bit. I don't remember most of the night, but I know that I threw up, made a spectacle of myself, attacked someone, and someone else had to go through my phone to call a ride home for me.

I was absolutely mortified about this event after people told me about it. Mostly, attacking a skater I respected and looked up to was unforgivable. That was when I knew I had to quit.

But that's not when I quit. I took a little break from drinking, but I was back at it soon enough. A friend with a bottle of wine makes a convincing argument!

It wasn't until I made it to the Brawlstars that I quit drinking, presumably for good. It was the end of the season Brawlstars party, and I was a fresh member of the team. It was the first time that I had interacted with many of my teammates in a party situation. I came late to the party, and a few people were already drunk. I decided I needed to catch up, and catch up I did! I woke up in the middle of the night on the couch. No one else was there. I found my keys and I got out of there as fast as I could, still a little drunk but not wanting to be there in the morning.

Black outs are so scary because you have no idea what you did or said, how many friendships you ruined, what drinks you spilled, who you puked on. I heard stories later, and although it wasn't my worst night, I was, again, mortified to have behaved that way in front of people who I respected and looked up to.

It was time for a break from drinking. It might have been any other little break from drinking, because I tried to quit so many times, but this particular break came at an interesting time. My derby wife had quit drinking recently, and my brother had started going to counseling for his mental health issue and was taking a little break from drinking. This normalized sobriety for me a little. But it was something my brother said to me that really sealed the deal. His therapist had told him that, yes, he most definitely was an alcoholic, and that as an alcoholic, you can try to limit yourself to just one drink, but after a while, whether it's a few weeks or months or whatever, that one will turn into two, and two will turn into three, and soon you're getting blackout drunk again. Then you'll cut back or take a little break, and the cycle will start over. It will always happen. Those were the words that gave me clarity. It will always happen.

Unless you just stop completely, forever. Although my brother has continued struggling with his alcoholism for the past two years, I have remained sober. If it hadn't been for that perfect storm of events, I might not have quit drinking, and my life would probably be much more of a mess.

It's still difficult for me. There are many times when I remember the good parts about drinking and I think, “I wasn't really that bad. Maybe I'm not an alcoholic. Maybe I'm just being too hard on myself.” And then I remember the really ugly parts. And I remember the cloud of guilt and depression and not knowing that hovered over me when I was a drinker. After I stopped drinking, I didn't immediately feel better or feel like I had changed. It has been a slow process of resetting negative feelings and habits into positive ones, and at this point I feel fulfilled in a way that I didn't when I was filling the void with alcohol. Roller derby has helped immensely with that, but I'm also starting to see myself as a whole person, with good things in my life and good aspects of myself that don't pertain just to roller derby.

When I celebrated my anniversary of two years sober in December, I mentally sent a huge thank you to A2D2 and to roller derby in general. A2D2 has given me so much in the past few years, and helped me transform my life into something good. In the second part of Sobriety in Roller Derby, I'll discuss my transition into the community of sober skaters.

Just Wingett is a Brawlstars triple threat and captain of Ann Arbor Bruising Company.

Posted on April 12, 2017 .