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Zibby Owens: Welcome, Cait. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Cait Flanders: Oh, my gosh, thank you so much for having me.

Zibby: Adventures in Opting Out: A Field Guide to Leading an Intentional Life, this is so timely. I feel like we have all sort of opted out of everything not, perhaps, by choice, but here we are. Everyone’s taken a new path from what they thought. Yet here comes your book. Tell listeners a little about what made you take a new path. What did you opt out of, and why? I’d particularly like to hear more about — this is like a hundred questions in one. I really want to hear more about quitting drinking. You talked a lot about that in the book. I feel like that was a whole other book waiting to happen.

Cait: You’re right that we have all unintentionally opted out this year. I think that we are forced to opt out of a lot of things that we used to do. The book is about making intentional choices, so deciding that something is no longer working for you or even just — one of the things I like about the book or just the idea is you don’t always have to make a different decision because something bad has happened. Sometimes you make a different decision actually when everything’s kind of okay but you’re still noticing that you just want something different. There’s something that you’ve been curious about, and it’s time to follow that path or just see where your curiosity leads you. Things that I’ve opted out of in the past, drinking was the first one. In terms of timeline, I stopped drinking in 2012. I was only twenty-seven years old. If I was a little older, it might not seem as big of a decision. I think quitting drinking in your twenties, it changes a lot about your life. It changes a lot about your lifestyle and who you connect with and how you spend your time and also how you, at least for me, how you deal with things.

I’ll just list things that I’ve opted out of, drinking, I would say shopping. There was a year, actually two years, where I didn’t buy anything except for a few things if I absolutely needed them, shopping, that consumerist lifestyle. I’ve changed career paths multiple times, so originally being someone who — I’m from a government town. The story is truly, once you get in, you’re in for life. You’re set. My parents both worked for the government. To say one day, actually, I’m going to go to the private sector, that’s actually a big deal. Then eventually leaving that to work for myself. Then even within that, within working for myself, switching from being a full-time freelancer to now being a full-time author. There’s a whole bunch of changes in there. Then I’ve also moved multiple times, decided to live in different cities. The last or biggest move that I made was at the end of 2018. I gave up my apartment so that I could travel full time, which looks a little bit different this year. That was the last one.

Fundamentally, deciding to stop drinking taught me everything that I would need to do the other things, being that it teaches me still, but taught me how to be comfortable being the only sober person in the room, so essentially being comfortable being the odd one out and choosing that, choosing to be different from most of the people that you’re around. It meant that I had to change my coping mechanisms because drinking was something that got me through, whether it was awkward situations, social life, certainly my dating life, and got me through tougher moments. I don’t think that I had identified that, really, until I stopped, but I really was someone — I didn’t and still don’t identify as an alcoholic because I wasn’t chemically dependent on alcoholic, but I used it to get through everything. Any bad, negative feeling that came up, I used drinking as a coping mechanism. To wipe all of those things out has been a lot over the years. Not drinking anymore has taught me everything that I need.

Zibby: Were there any moments — I know you reference some of them, especially as you tried to stop drinking where you would go a little bit and then you’d kind of regress and have a bender of a weekend and things like that. I know you’re not identifying as an alcoholic, and that’s cool. Just as getting rid of any coping strategy, was there a moment that was like, you’re hitting bottom where you’re like, I better stop the drinking? It could’ve been, I better stop the X, Y, Z at that moment. Tell me your deepest, darkest, worst moment that made you change your life.

Cait: There’s two things. I don’t identify as an alcoholic, and I actually think that there’s something interesting about that. Things don’t need to be the worst in order for you to want to change it.

Zibby: That’s true. You’re right. Sorry.

Cait: No, I’m more saying from the intentional side of things. I think that what I’ve done with drinking and all kinds of thing is, I’m looking at, what are the results of my actions? Which ones don’t actually feel good? Drinking was one, though, where I did think about not drinking multiple times. I think the first time I very seriously considered it I was probably twenty or twenty-one. I will say this. Basically every time I drank, I got blackout drunk. That could look different every time. Maybe I just lost an hour of the night. Maybe I lost everything after the first hour of the night. I was twenty, twenty-one. I remember going to this party, and then I don’t really remember anything. Then I woke up in my bed. I was very confused. It took me four days to piece together what happened, contacting multiple friends and trying to figure out how I had gotten home, and figured out that what had happened was I had called a cab. I had left the party. I guess I was tired. I sat down on the sidewalk waiting for the cab. I must have fallen asleep there. My friends’ parents found me. Then they put me in their van and literally carried me into my house. I have no memory of any of it. That was probably extreme, but in terms of the blackout it wasn’t. It was extreme in that someone saw me in it and had to help me through it.

Zibby: Just curious here, were you drinking that much, or do you maybe have some sort of reaction to alcohol?

Cait: I was definitely drinking that much.

Zibby: Wow. I was like, maybe there’s an allergy. I’ll just solve your problem right here.

Cait: Oh, my gosh, if only it was that easy, but no. There was this thing about drinking, too, for me where it truly made up a portion of my identity that I was someone who could drink. I could keep up with the guys. I never got sick. I rarely got hungover. It was almost like those were points of pride. Because I wasn’t really good at anything else in my teens and early twenties, that is what formed, truly, a huge piece of my identity. Then to give it up in my mid to late twenties was a massive shock.

Zibby: Wow. Also, it’s hard when everybody around you is drunk and they all find themselves hilarious, and they’re mostly not funny.

Cait: No.

Zibby: When you’re the only sober person in a crowd of drunk people, it is not that amusing.

Cait: My dad, he got sober when I was ten and a half, eleven years old. I do believe that that is one of the reasons that the topic of sobriety even seemed like something that would be possible because then I grew up in a house where my parents didn’t drink. That was my role model growing up. I remember having conversations with him in the early days that I couldn’t get on board with. He would say things like, it’s kind of funny now to watch other people. I’m like, no, it’s not. It’s really annoying.

Zibby: It’s really annoying. I’ve been there too. It’s annoying. I back you up. Luckily, now there are no parties, so it’s not even an issue. I didn’t mean to focus too much on the drinking. There’s so much in your book, obviously, aside from that, and your whole analogy of the two-pronged mountain and coming down and all the different ways from packing to everything where you traverse this path. One thing I thought was interesting, and I guess it’s sort of related to this being an outsider now in your friend group with the drinking, is how to deal with the aftermath of making a decision that might be right for you but that sets you outside the comfort zone of your entire life. I was looking at some of the things that you had pointed out. This is sort of like the warning bullet point list. “You might feel as though you don’t have anything in common with anyone anymore. You might feel like you have nothing to contribute to conversations. You might feel like you can’t relate to experiences.” You go on and on. I mean, not on and on in a bad way. You elaborate. This could be applied to so many things. I felt like I could’ve written that bullet point list when I got divorced as a mom with little kids. Suddenly, everybody else is married. You’re like, well, that’s not my experience right now. I don’t have a husband at home who I’m annoyed with or whatever it is they’re complaining about. I think it’s interesting because people don’t really talk about what it’s like in life as adults to suddenly — I’m envisioning a Jell-O mold and you squish out just enough that you’re not really in the mold anymore, but you’re still attached to the Jell-O.

Cait: It makes me think, one of the pieces around why it can be applied to so many different things is, that was a piece of your identity, which means it was how people connected with you and/or how you connected with other people. Then it’s gone. That can be so many different things that we’re going through. It can also be bigger things like if you are grieving or just healing from something and you’re deep in process. That can be a very isolating period of time. That is certainly something that I think that we’ve probably all collectively, but at different times, been dealing with this year. It is hard. It is hard to feel like no one sees you or hears you anymore. No one really gets you anymore. It’s especially hard when you chose that, when you chose to enter that space. It’s not even that I wrote the book being like, here, I have all the answers. One of the main reasons I wrote it was because I just thought, we have to acknowledge this.

There are so many self-help books that just sort of give you ten steps to follow, or here’s the goal in making these changes, but I don’t often read a lot about just people describing the actual human experience that you are going to have when you decide to change your life. It’s not just that you change. A whole bunch of other things change because you have changed. It’s not as simple as saying, just let go and it’ll get better. Trust me, I’m a firm believer in nonattachment and how that can help us in certain ways. Doesn’t mean that hard things don’t come up or that you’re not going to have to navigate difficult feelings and difficult situations. I thought, we just need to at least be addressing this. If this book is even just a conversation-starter, maybe someone else will write all the tangible ways of how to navigate all of it. I just thought, we have to start acknowledging this. We can’t keep writing self-help books that are promising simple solutions and don’t talk about the actual emotional ups and downs that come with it.

Zibby: Maybe it could’ve been called Adventures in Opting Out: What Comes Next or After the Self-Help Book Ends or something. It’s almost like a continuation. Okay, you decided you’re going to have a big January and stop doing X, Y, Z. Now what? You also have obviously moved so much in your life. I know you talk about as a child how you moved so much with your family and then as a grown-up and now, of course, traveling or whatever. I’m curious what you’re doing now in place of being a nomad. I wonder if there’s a correlation between kids who moved a lot or military families or just people who have had to have change and the ability to pick up and change again. I would think yes. I would think, well, you’ve learned to adapt. You know it’s possible, and so you’re going to try it, versus people who maybe their parents are married and they’ve lived in the same home until they go to college. They go to college, and they come back to their hometown or something. Then they’re forced to make a decision like, maybe I’m drinking too much. Maybe then they don’t have the mental roadmap, if you will, to put that into place. What do you think?

Cait: I think that makes perfect sense. I think that an extra piece of that would also be around probably relating to people and/or building relationships and also maintaining relationships. I get a lot of questions or just comments from people saying, you seem to have friends all over or friends from all these different periods of your life. I don’t think I had ever really actively thought about if that was true or how that was possible. I have reflected on it a bit more this year, obviously, as we’re all communicating at a distance more and people are really learning how to check in with each other more. I actually think that also came from moving around all the time and also having a dad who — he worked for the coast guard his whole career, so he was home for twenty-eight days and then gone for twenty-eight days. I’ve also learned a lot about how to maintain long-distance relationships, essentially. I do think that you’re right. I think that if you have really been raised where things are constantly changing, you do learn just how adaptable we are. I would say that that, the word adaptable, is something that has really resonated for me this year and also has been nice to see other people recognizing in themselves, that they are more adaptable than they thought.

Even I, at the very beginning, had really intense anxiety about what this year was going to look like. Reminding myself, if I can settle into whatever this looks like, let’s say, for a year and a half — we were all promised two weeks, two weeks, and things get better. I just thought, that is not going to work for my anxiety. If I can settle into whatever this life is, this is my life for a year and a half, I will be able to at least get through it. I have to find whatever my base is for this. To answer your other question, I’ve been at my dad’s house this whole year. Literally, what else could I do? We had finished everything for the book. I had a flight booked to go back to Europe where I would’ve probably spent most of the rest of this year. I would’ve come home for the holidays. Those were the original plans. It was like, well, what now? We just had conversations. My dad’s still gone half the year. It was just like, I’ll pay rent. I’m a grown-up. I’m not going to live at home rent-free or anything. I’ll pay rent. We’ll be roommates for up to eighteen months and see what happens after that. It has worked and also been challenging. It’s challenging to live with your parents as an adult. The silver lining of it is I think we’ll have a much different relationship as adults now than we would have if I had just left home at twenty and never come back.

Zibby: I see another book in formation here. What do you think?

Cait: A Year with Dad.

Zibby: A Year with Dad, yeah. Living at Home: Adventures in Living Back in the Nest or something. A lot of people can relate to that. I actually wonder what it’s going to be like when everybody tries to leave again. This whole two weeks, and now it’s been — you said you kind of got used to this eighteen months or longer. I am not allowing myself to look forward anymore. In my head, I’m like, this is life now. It will never change. Then I’ll be pleasantly surprised. In actuality, of course, things will probably, I hope, God willing, get back to normal at some point. How are people going to cope with that? Maybe you become so close with your dad and everybody feels a sense of loss. The closeness that we’re all having with our immediate quarantine-ers is going to lift. Then we’ll all be inexplicably sad while we’re out in the world again expecting to be jumping up and down for joy. Who knows?

Cait: Who knows? If people don’t stick with it, I think there will be a longing for how slow and present people were this year if that part goes away. We’ve been forced to look at a much smaller perspective than usual, which is immediate family, closest friends, our home, our hometown, wherever we’re staying. We’re so localized right now. I do think that when it expands, my assumption is there will be a bit of longing for that.

Zibby: You’re probably right. Then we’ll all need to opt into that. Aside from my book idea, are you working on any other writing projects right now?

Cait: Kind of. I don’t know that either of them are going to become anything. I do have, I don’t want to say that it’s a novel, but I’m playing around with fiction for the first time since I was probably eighteen. I don’t actually know that anyone will ever read it. Even for now, it’s nice to be trying something different and something that’s a little bit challenging, or a lot challenging. I don’t know that I would call this maybe an opt-out, but thanks to COVID and the fact that everything is online, at least here still, I actually decided to go back to school just part time. I’m taking two classes at my local university in January. It may just be two classes and I’ll never take any more again. I thought, I have a curiosity. I’ll follow it a little bit. We’ll see what happens.

Zibby: That’s so cool. I love that.

Cait: We’ll see.

Zibby: In the meantime, do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Cait: Oh, my gosh. I almost feel like this year has shown to not be afraid of whatever your idea is because we do only one chance at it. Even if no one ever reads it, just following it. I didn’t actually know that anyone would understand what Adventures in Opting Out was going to be. It does only take one person, whether it’s another writer or it’s an agent or one publisher. It only takes one person to say that they get it, that they can see it, so just to try it.

Zibby: It’s true, and perhaps take a few classes. See what you can drum up.

Cait: Take a few classes.

Zibby: I think another, just to give lessons on your behalf from your book, is that any big life change is also great copy for a memoir. You can go a year and stop shopping, and there’s your book right there.

Cait: Apparently. That one was really interesting. I wrote about the shopping ban on my blog with no intention ever of writing anything about it after that. I just thought it would be over. I was done. Then other people said, hey, that could be a book. I went, okay. That is true. Also, too, you do not know who is reading your content and who might think that you have more to say.

Zibby: Very interesting. It’s a good encouragement for just writing something and putting it somewhere because you never know. If it stays inside you, no one’s responding to it. That’s for sure.

Cait: Yep, that’s definitely true.

Zibby: Basically, I’m just giving my own advice. Thank you for coming on my show where I just don’t even interview you. I’m kidding. Thank you, Cait. Thank you for your advice, and mine. Thank you for sharing all of your adventures. I can’t wait to see your next book about your time with your dad.

Cait: He’s going to laugh so much. I can’t wait to tell him about it.

Zibby: At least an essay.

Cait: An essay, I could probably do that.

Zibby: There you go.

Cait: Awesome. Thank you.

Zibby: Bye, Cait. Thanks.

Cait: Bye.