Coulter got widespread attention for a 2016 Medium essay called "Enjoli" about how the stress of working in tech and its happy-hour culture led her — and a lot of other women — to drink more than they liked. She has a new book of essays about sobriety, "Nothing Good Can Come From This."
You want to know what happens when you drink? Kristi Coulter can tell you, because she has had to deal with glugging, glassy-eyed folks at work parties and hotel pools, at holiday events and airport lounges, all while being stone-cold sober.
“Once the third drink starts, people start repeating themselves,” Coulter told me recently. “They get louder. Their opinions get more emphatic. Whatever they think, they think more. They cling to that idea.”
Women get “hyperemotional,” she said, and men get overly tender and affectionate, saying things like “I love you, man.”
And Coulter, well, she tends to feel a little alienated, likely to peel off to the bathroom to play Words with Friends on her phone, or just leave altogether.
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These are some of the things she’s learned to do since quitting drinking five years ago, a decision she writes about in her new book of essays, “Nothing Good Can Come From This.” (Coulter will talk about her book on at 7 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 6, at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, where she will be in conversation with author Claire Dederer.)
Coulter, 48, is a former writer for Amazon who got widespread attention for a July 2016 Medium essay called “Enjoli” about how the stress of working in tech and its happy-hour culture led her — and a lot of other women — to drink more than they liked.
And yet, it seemed one of the only ways to dull the pressure of being a “24-hour woman,” strong and sexy and successful, like magazines, TV and men urge you to be.
“And then I start to get angry at women, too,” Coulter wrote. “Not for being born wrong, or for failing to dismantle a thousand years of patriarchy on my personal timetable. And not for enjoying a glass of wine, alone or with their girlfriends — cheers to that, if you can stop at one or two. (I could, until I couldn’t.) But for being so easily mollified by overdrinking. For thinking that the right to get as trashed as a man means anything but the right to be as useless.”
Coulter took some heat for the piece — was she blaming her drinking on the patriarchy? — but she also touched on something that many people (men and women) could relate to. A book deal quickly followed.
The essays are wry and smart, honest and vulnerable. She writes about struggling to fill the time she had spent drinking, and almost having an affair with a co-worker. Three of the essays are lists (“A Life in Liquids” is a timeline consisting of the year, who she was and the drink that captured it all.) They are not so much revealing as freeing.
“Part of getting sober is that I lost my shame about things,” Coulter said.
There is the added bonus of many of the essays being set in Seattle. You relate to Coulter a little bit more because you can see where she is.
Which leads to one night at the Capitol Hill restaurant Mamnoon, where Coulter’s husband, John, after joining her in sobriety, asked the waiter for a nonalcoholic drink. He got something that tasted “a little like tea, a little like soda, and a lot like belonging.”
“Sometimes I try those same words in the same casual tone,” Coulter writes, “but the results aren’t as thrilling. I’m more likely to say, ‘I’m fine with water’ and mean it. Because I just don’t really care what the liquid in my glass says about me anymore. I’d like to tell you it’s because sobriety cured my need for specialness. I’d also like to tell you I invented the stapler and can start fires with my mind. But no.”
Over time, she stopped worrying about what people thought. Her shame fell away while at the same time, people reached out to say, “Me, too!”
“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” she said of her sobriety. “Life on the other side is fascinating and complicated. But it’s not like joining a cult.”
There wasn’t one moment, one foggy morning or rock-bottom landing that led Coulter to quit drinking. But there was the night she returned to her hotel room after a work dinner in London when she looked around like a swimmer treading in wine instead of water, and sized herself up.
“I felt profoundly drunk,” she remembered. “And I was dreading the next morning because I knew I would feel awful. And I didn’t know how to stop. And in my brain I said, ‘You can’t go on like this.'”
Sure enough, she woke up with “a typical wine headache” and made a decision: “I thought, I can’t do this anymore, and if I didn’t grab this moment, I was never going to quit.”
She didn’t tell anyone, not even her husband, because she didn’t trust she could get through the night.
But five days in, she realized she had “a little bit of a foothold” that was a relief, but also a little scary. Instead of being anxious about drinking, she started getting anxious about not drinking — especially between the hours of 7 and 9 p.m.
“I thought, ‘If I could just stay busy …”
So she ran, looked at books, went to the movies.
“I didn’t have some sort of social scene I had to disconnect from,” she said. “It was just my job. But I had to learn how to exist before I could be around other humans.”
Coulter didn’t write with the intent of teaching people a lesson about drinking.
“I don’t have a mission,” she said. “I’ll just hope they think about how they drink and why.”
She learned that drinking doesn’t change reality.
“We have this fantasy that drinking is going to fix things, but it does not,” she said. “When people say they’re drinking their way through the Trump administration, it makes me sad.
“You still have a life and you’re giving him too much power.”
Coulter left Amazon in February to write the book, promote it and start work on another.
As for the story of her sobriety, well, she has put an ellipsis on it. That is to be determined.
“I’m not going to tell people I’m done,” she said. “I have plenty of problems, and huge issues. I’m a piece of work. But I see myself more clearly. And that’s fine.”