Sobriety and Judgment: Why Do I Judge People Who Still Drink?

Dear Holly,

Last year, I left drinking behind, which I’m proud of and grateful for. Sobriety has been a tremendous life-giving choice. I don’t miss it and I don’t envy other people who drink. The thing is, though, I do find myself judging other drinkers, especially bingers or heavy drinkers—people who drink no more than I used to.

I don’t do it intentionally or in a mean way, but I find myself looking around and sort of feeling like the Drink Police. I count other people’s’ drinks; I am disgusted by drunkenness. I’m judging them and their choices.

Is this normal? Have you felt this way? Am I just hyper-aware of people’s alcohol consumption now that I’ve made the decision to not drink? I don’t want to be judgmental or assume that everyone has a problem just because I did and wanted to stop. Any advice?!

—Judgy Judy


Dear Judgy Judy,

First of all, sweet one, I want to let you in on one of the biggest secrets of this path: The answer to the question “Is this normal?” when it comes to something you’re experiencing in recovery is always yes.

Second: Of course I have judged drinkers. We all do this—every single one of us. It’s part of the process. People judge, and people especially judge those who do things they once did. It’s how we separate ourselves from who we once were. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

To really drive home the point of this, I first need to tell you about my summer of 2014.

I had just returned home from a two-month trip to Italy and was 15 months sober. I’d quit my big corporate job and was couchsurfing and wrapping up my Kundalini yoga teacher training. I’d recently gotten a tattoo of an eagle on my breast, I wore feather earrings and tie-dyed yoga pants most days of the week, and I considered myself a free-spirited-world-traveling yogini. I was very zen and I knew things. And I was certain that people—by merely being in my presence—would know that I was very zen and knew things.

Cut to the first week of June, when I started a second yoga teacher training and met the man who would become my arch nemesis—let’s call him Richard. I’ll save you a lot of backstory here, but the gist of it is that I felt that Richard absolutely, 100 percent loathed me. He spoke over me and competed with me and moved his mat away from mine during practice like I had cooties; he brought food for other members of our carpool and didn’t for me; he seemed to make a point of loving every single person in our sangha, and a point of hating me.

I was consumed by it. Totally and utterly consumed. I couldn’t fathom what I’d done to him or how the rest of the yogis couldn’t see through his crap. I was consumed with trying to fix it and win him over; more than once I asked him why he didn’t like me. The second time I asked that question, he made me cry. He made me feel like the most invisible, pathetic version of myself. Mostly though, he made me feel like a fraud.

Here is where I fell into the first true period of depression in sobriety: Richard was the pin that popped my precious pink cloud. The thing I couldn’t get over was that I’d been so wrong about myself. I’d walked into that second yoga training sure of who I was and my place in this world. I was a good person, a spiritual person, an evolved person. Yet here I was, weeks into it—a jealous, hateful, insecure, penetrated version of myself. All because some yoga man didn’t like me.

I tried to be the bigger person, I tried to be unbothered. I rejected the parts of me that felt jealous, or insecure, or diminished because at 15 months sober (and an almost-twice certified yoga teacher!) I was sure I should be pretty close to being like Jesus.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but what I was doing was denying what I actually felt, and therefore, I was denying my humanity. The depression broke only when I talked to my friend about it. When she flipped it around and asked me if I liked him—and I told her “hell no”—she explained that it probably wasn’t about him at all; he was just a mirror of the parts in me I couldn’t stand. Or, in other words, he was my shadow, embodied.

If you are not familiar with the shadow, it is essentially the person we would rather not be.

The shadow—a concept in Jungian psychology—represents the things present in ourselves that we disassociate from because we deem them bad, ugly, dark, and less than. The shadow is all the things we suppress, reject, or deny in ourselves—the things we would rather not be. We think that if people were to see our shadow elements, we would not be liked, regarded, loved, and so on.

We can’t see the shadow very well in ourselves. But we can see it very, VERY well in other people. In fact, the more we judge a sister of something, the more likely it is our own shadow we are judging (even though we usually don’t know it).

When I reflected on the things I hated about Richard and wrote them down in list form, I realized they were things that I hated about myself—both behaviors I had ditched in my evolution and behaviors still completely active and alive within me. I saw him as a catty, gossipy, insecure, dramatic bitch—so was I (or: at least I had been very recently). I saw him as spiritually disingenuous, a fool—so was I (actively—see: feather earrings, tie-dyed yoga pants, eagle tattoo). The problem wasn’t Richard. The problem was, I was Richard, and I hated the things about him that I hated in myself.

The point of this story is to prove one very big point to you—and that is that seeing other people drink wouldn’t drive you so crazy if you didn’t still hold yourself in some judgment for having binge drank and gotten ridiculously drunk in your previous life.

If you didn’t think that this new sober version of you was somehow more worthy and superior than the version of you that drank to excess, you wouldn’t see those who are still engaged in your old ways as inferior or wrong. And you for sure wouldn’t want to change them or think you knew better than they do.

There’s a lot of talk about being different versions of ourselves, of fucking our past and sleeping with our future, of setting ourselves on fire so we can rise from the ashes like a phoenix. But these principles—while all very helpful in some capacity—can do more harm than good. Because they can lead us to believe that there was something wrong with who we were in the first place, and make us think that in order to be “good” we have to cut off the parts of us that were “bad.”

Judgy Judy, you are who you are today because you binge drank and got ridiculously drunk. You are where you are today not despite what you did, but because of what you did. And so it goes that to be who you are today, you have to bring all of you along for the ride. The party girl. The binge drinker. The sloppy drunk. The bitch. THE JUDGER! They are part of it. A big part of it. They are what makes you so very you, so very lovable.

Below is a list of some things/thoughts/practices that will help you work with and use your judginess (towards drinkers, and in life) to grow.

Recognize that the other person is you. This is one of the five sutras of the Aquarian Age from Kundalini yoga, and one of the best tools you can use when in judgment of another for anything. When we recognize the other person is us—and what we are seeing in them is simply a reflection of our own perception and judgment of self—we can empower ourselves by using it as a chance to look deeper at what is really going on. In times when I’m in judgment of another, I try and witness why it plugs in so deeply: What is it that I’m seeing in them, and what can it show me about me? It’s fertile ground for major ah-ha moments.

Understand that “giving it is how you keep it.” This principle comes from Helen Schucman’s A Course in Miracles, and it’s one of my favorite ways to deal with judgment. It follows that what we give to others we inevitably keep for ourselves. If we give love to our brothers and sisters, then it is love that we keep for ourselves. If we give anger, it is actually us who suffers and carries around that anger. And if we give judgment, then we will for sure keep judgment for ourselves. I know I can’t judge another without being subject to judgment from myself and fearing judgment from others. You give it, you get to keep it.

Call on compassion. Another one of the five sutras of the Aquarian Age is, “Understand through compassion or you will misunderstand the times.” What this means is that we are already in a world of hurt. All we need to do is watch the news or the Real Housewives. All around us people are scared and in pain. If you can, instead of holding another in judgment for their actions, find deep compassion for them—regardless of if you know better—you will operate in this world in a way that most people can’t. A Course in Miracles says that everything is either love, or a call for love. This is true. Everything we encounter is one or the other. And the only way to respond to either is with love.

Mind your own process. I often find myself thinking, if she just did what I did, then… But the truth is this: We all—each and every seven-something billion of us—have a path, and no two paths are ever exactly alike. So what may look like someone’s wrong process/decision/idea/choice/etc. to us might actually be exactly what that person needs. It is not up to us to decide. Spiritual author and lecturer Marianne Williamson said, “God did not put us here to monitor other people’s process.” And she’s right. We aren’t here to decide what is right or wrong for other people. That doesn’t mean that you can’t teach or demonstrate or fight for what you believe in or shine your light. But it does mean that your will ends where another’s will begins—and for good reason.

Read and work The Dark Side of The Light Chasers. This is the book I used during my Richard drama and it saved my life. It raised me from depression and gave me permission to be a whole perfect mess of a human. The book has examples and exercises and is extremely practical. It’s gold and it will change how you judge yourself and others forever. Promise. Swear.

That all being said, most of the practices I outlined take some work and time to establish.

If you’re facing an immediate drinking situation where judgment is choking you—for instance, an outing this weekend with friends who still have multiple drinks or get drunk—remember you don’t have to put yourself in situations that trigger you or make you angry or uncomfortable. Your recovery always comes first.

And when you do find yourself in a scenario that inflames your judgment, go easy on yourself and meet yourself with kindness and understanding. Judging yourself for judging others who drink keeps you stuck and in pain, and it solves nothing. As I’ve said time and again, the goal isn’t sobriety; the goal is to love ourselves so much we don’t ever need to drink again.

Holly Glenn Whitaker is the founder and CEO of Tempest, a modern, feminist digital recovery solution, and the former co-host of the Home Podcast. Follow her on Instagram at @holly.

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