You might assume that Tawny Lara doesn’t subscribe to conventional stereotypes when you learn that in her hometown — it’s Waco, Texas, but she’s a New York City girl now — they’ve named a spicy dish after her (called “La Chica Diabla,” which literally translates to “The Devil Girl”).
And you’d be right.
Tawny’s career as “The Sober Sexpert” centers on smashing stigmas associated with sobriety and sexuality (she’s very sober and very bisexual, and very open about both). She’s a writer and podcaster spreading her intersectional message with bylines in Playboy, Men’s Health, Huffington Post and more.
Today, Tawny stays busy promoting her upcoming book, “Dry Humping: A Guide to Dating, Relating, and Hooking Up Without Booze”; recording her Signal Award-winning “Best Buddy” podcast, “Recovery Rocks”; and writing a weekly column about sober dating and relationships.
Here’s more about her path to writing and sobriety, why she regrets calling people out for “sober tourism” in the past, and what she was surprised to learn about “normies.”
Sobriety as a Path Back to Writing
Tawny grew up writing. Whether it was imitating “Harriet the Spy” by taking detailed notes on the residents in her apartment building or making up fictional stories, it was just something she’d always done.
As she grew older, that didn’t change. At age 14, the Waco Tribune-Herald allowed her to write op-eds about controversial topics such as same-sex marriage, legalizing cannabis and body positivity. “I still can’t believe they let me do that in such a conservative town,” she says.
Tawny was on track to be a journalist, reading the morning announcements every day at school and declaring her intent to pursue a degree in broadcast journalism. But soon after, drugs and alcohol entered the picture, and Tawny’s self-medicating sabotaged her dreams.
“I didn’t write consistently for nearly 15 years, until I got sober at age 29,” she recalls. “I’m very aware that sobriety and prioritizing my mental health through therapy and anxiety medication helped me find my voice as a writer.”
From Sober Curious to Sober Sexpert
Being “sober curious” is a widely accepted term today but wasn’t in 2015, when Tawny took a break from drinking. She was navigating seemingly uncharted territories, and she wanted to talk about it.
She’d moved to NYC on a whim, selling her things and purchasing a one-way ticket after a trip to Europe showed her there could be more to life than bartending in a small Texas town. Once she arrived in New York, she was inspired to stop drinking for a while and see how it affected her creativity.
A while went by, and she kept going. “I decided to spend my 30th year alcohol-free and blog about the experience. A year of consistent blogging, therapy, and sobriety showed me that my initial hunch was right,” she says. “Alcohol was 100% standing in the way of me finding my voice as a writer. Now I’m almost eight years sober with dozens of bylines, an award-winning recovery podcast, and a book about sober dating and relationships!”
‘Sober Tourism’ and Gatekeeping
Writing about sobriety can be tricky to navigate. On one hand, many people are trying out being sober, and there is (and should be!) content to support them. On the other hand, people who consider themselves in recovery may chafe at what they consider a nonchalant approach to a very serious topic.
Even Tawny, who didn’t get sober through a 12-step program, has found herself feeling judgmental of the less committed. “I’ve written some grumpy op-eds about something I called Sober Tourism — people who take a dry month here and there and think they can now sympathize with people in recovery,” she explains. “But I’ve definitely changed my stance on that.
“Now, I look at those pieces as a form of gatekeeping. I want everyone to feel welcome and know that they can totally sit with us. But I still believe the thesis of those pieces: A sober month is great and all, but I dare you to try on recovery for a month. Don’t just not drink. Go to therapy. Attend support groups. Sit with those shitty feelings. Talk about those feelings with a friend. Maybe look at this approach as ‘leveling up’ your dry month(s).”
Sometimes the Most Specific Topics Are the Most Universal
Perhaps most instrumental in helping Tawny shift her perspective was discovering that many people don’t identify as sober but were intrigued by what she had to say. While Tawny initially thought “normies” would have no interest in the themes of her work, they wanted to learn more about alcohol-free dating and relationships.
Tawny discovered that “liquid courage” — using alcohol to boost your confidence, especially in the bedroom — is a common experience. “That’s ultimately what inspired my weekly advice column,” she says. “It’s time for our culture to step back and cultivate intrinsic courage instead of outsourcing our confidence to a drink.”
That’s the beauty of Tawny’s work. The topics that she writes about are useful for people anywhere on the sobriety spectrum: from “sober curious” to “in recovery” and everyone in between. Her book is the culmination of her personal experience and in-the-field research interviewing people about how sober dating and sex look in their own lives.
And while these topics can feel quite heavy, she hopes to lighten the mood a little.
“I gave this book the cheeky title ‘Dry Humping’ because I wanted to add some levity,” she emphasizes. “I want readers to pick up the book, chuckle at the title and know they’re going to get through this tough time with a bit of laughter.”
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