Andrew Zimmern Talks "Emotional Sobriety"

By Kelly Burch 09/12/18

“I have found that it takes a very concentrated, focused effort in later years of sobriety to pursue a higher plane of wellness.”

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Andrew Zimmern
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Celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern has tried some strange food and drink as the host of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods, but one thing you won’t see him put to his lips is alcohol. 

Although he now travels the world trying the local cuisine, Zimmern was once an “everything addict,” shooting heroin, pawning his grandmother’s jewelry and sleeping on the streets of New York City when his addiction was at its peak. Now, Zimmern has been sober for 27 years and still very much lives a life in recovery, something he is very vocal about.  

“I think it’s a mistake for anyone to hide their choice to not drink,” Zimmern said in an in-depth interview with Quartzy about his sobriety. “We make choices all the time about food, beverages, and all sorts of things we put into our bodies. The silence reinforces the stigma and shame, and there’s a lot of stigma and shame associated with many personal choices.” 

Being open about his history with addiction is also a way to protect himself, Zimmern said.  

“I’ve found that if people don’t know you’re sober, then someone can very casually spin around and put a beer or a joint in your hand—things that might be very benign for most people, but for a recovering person can be very dangerous,” he said. “So not only for personal wellness, not only for the ease with which it helps you navigate sobriety, I recommend transparency. I think it has way more benefits than it has pejorative associations.”

Zimmern said that many of his problems disappeared when he decided to get sober, and more were solved in the early years of his sobriety. However, after decades of sobriety, he still had a few core problems in his life that caused deep hurt, he said. 

“I believe that for most people who have my kind of story, you stay sober a long time and a lot of shit gets better, but there are a couple little things that are still there,” he said. “I have found that it takes a very concentrated, focused effort in later years of sobriety to really target those things and pursue a higher plane of wellness.”

For Zimmern, that meant doing therapy around trauma and intimacy. 

“I’ve been abstinent from drugs and alcohol for 27 years. And I’ve now been abstinent from the problems and the consequences associated with my trauma and intimacy issues for a bunch of years,” he said. “I still have challenges in those departments, but no longer do I feel powerless. I now have a solution for how to deal with all of that—the same way I learned solutions to deal with my chemicals and booze. And I call this whole jumble of stuff emotional sobriety.”

This is a lesson many people could benefit from, Zimmern believes. 

“We’re living in very anxious, dangerous times. I think that there is a lot of fear and anxiety in the world,” he said. “Anyone who has a tendency toward something that makes them feel better is going to want to take their favorite medication, whether that’s food, gambling, drugs, alcohol, whatever.”

Zimmern said that through therapy he has learned that there is strength in being vulnerable and kind, both personally and professionally.

“My sponsor told me flat out, ‘You need to treat everybody in your life the same way that you would treat a newcomer in a 12-step meeting.’ I’ve never forgotten that.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

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