results: … if I disappeared

I recently sent out a questionnaire to a small group of my subscribers (n = 458) to ask about what people would miss if I disappeared.

No, I’m not planning to disappear. But it turns out if you ask people “rate these things in level of importance,” you get different results than if you ask: “if all of these disappear tomorrow, which ones would you pay to make them come back.” Again, I’m not really asking about ‘paying’ for anything, but asking the question this way helps to figure out what things are ‘worth’.

I do approximately 8 discrete sober things. My goal as to try to begin to figure out what might change if my live evolves in some way that would limit the amount of time I spend physically sitting at my desk. Like if I was travelling more to meet sober humans. or doing media stuff (ha!). or if I’m flown first class to New York for a talk show (I’ll request this from the universe, now. and we might as well let the stewardess know that I’ll take the fish, please, accompanied by a litre of tonic water. and a newspaper in English. and a non-scratchy blanket.)

The 8 sober things that I do now are:

(1) sober penpalling

(2) compiling and sending shared stories for the daily micro-email

(3) designing, receiving, packaging & mailing sober jewelry and treat boxes

(4) recording original audios (one minute messages, longer podcasts)

(5) writing original text (either for the emails, or for the blog, or for some other writing project)

(6) one-on-one sober coaching calls

(7) live group calls (like on Mixlr, or on conference calls)

(8) travelling to host sober meetups, eat in a bakery, hang out together


When people had to pick only 4 things from the list, then the results look like this (in declining order):

  • sober penpalling (this received 111 votes)
  • writing original text (either for the emails, or for the blog, or for some other writing project) 104
  • recording original audios (one minute messages, longer podcasts) (96)
  • compiling and sending shared stories for the daily micro-email (69)
  • designing, receiving, packaging & mailing sober jewelry and treat boxes     (22)
  • one-on-one sober coaching calls (22)
  • live group calls (like on Mixlr, or on conference calls) (11)
  • travelling to host sober meetups, eat in a bakery, hang out together (11)

Interesting to me was how the penpalling and the writing ranked higher than the audio stuff. And yes, I know it’s all ‘important’ but it’s curious how the written came out ‘higher’. Not for everyone, of course. And some people adamantly insisted that all 8 things HAD to stay, and that I needed to change something else, but not the 8 things 🙂

Here’s some of the comments that accompanied the survey results:

E-Z (day 270): “I vote for the one-on-one sober coaching calls. The one I had was awesome, and really helped me. I think it’s important to talk about the process of getting sober with someone who understands. Places like AA can be good for that, but I honestly hate the idea of feeling like I have to keep going to maintain sobriety, or that people will judge me if I stop. Being able to work through it one-on-one with someone was a lot more manageable and relaxing. Plus, I was able to have this call with you while sitting in my jammies on the floor of my closet, which was a big plus.

Bruna (day 47): “I love love love the OMMs sometimes I’m folding laundry and listen to 15-20 in a row.”

Carly (day 8): “Penpalling is by far the most important. Drinking is so isolating, having your voice come across the interwebs with a specific response to me in a specific moment has literally saved my life multiple times. You have a true gift for saying exactly what we need to hear, and it’s not a formula or duplicable (I know that’s not a word). Audios are super helpful. Original writing is a clear talent of yours, and important. The daily micro-emails and the jewelry could be done by someone else and we’d all survive. =) Proud of you for thinking through this! I might have to do this myself to see places I can streamline my workload as a teacher!”

Grateful Girl (day 397): “The micro email reminds me I am not on my own and gives me the feeling of being in a lovely sober club.”

Trixie (day 477): “Penpalling. I’m sure that people who are more ‘joiny’ than me appreciate different things like personal and group calls.  I think I was just too engrossed in my own shame and fakery to talk outloud to anyone at all, especially about that.”

Phoenix (day 178): “In terms of the list. I think all are very valuable to a range of people at different stages. Now that I’m almost 6 months, I love the idea of a sober meetup and it’ a goal worth striving for.”

Clear-Eyed Girl (day 911): “My starting point is that everything you do is valuable and that it would be better to involve others than to stop doing any of it. If you don’t agree with that premise, please feel free to ignore the rest of this e-mail …”

AmandaJ (day 74): “We all need help with decision making, all of us types I mean. I you didn’t need advice, opinions or need to ask for feedback –if decision making was naturally so black or white to you, then you wouldn’t be the wonderful being you are, doing the wonderful thing you’re doing. You’d probably be a hot headed bell-end of a narcissistic CEO with pots of money but no soul. And that would never do.”  me: that’s hilarious. if it was ‘all about money’ you’re right, I wouldn’t ask. I’d just maximize for profits … what a soulless kind of sober support that would be 🙁

Yogayamagirl (day 462):I would miss the penpalling the most. It is so important to me when you answer me.  One word, two doesn’t matter. I know you read it and heard me.”

Fern (day 150): “Sober penpal – I like having someone who is interacting with just me – not on a blog or through comments etc. but someone who is personal to me. Don’t think I would be on this sober journey without this.”

Coco (day 155): “Love the podcasts, audios, and one minute messages because I like to hear your voice, it makes it more real. Also, no matter how busy I am I always have time for a one minute message and they are very powerful as I often hear  your voice in my head standing up for me against Wolfie.”

Miss Kell (day 15): “I’d miss the phone calls although I do love the original writing too. I know I’ve only spoken to you twice, but when thinking about what I would really miss, the choices with personal connection won out. In your penpal emails and in the phone calls, you  say exactly the right thing every time. Off the cuff, tailored to my situation, you really get it and you really help. So while I love all of your writing (I bought the book can’t wait to get it!) I had to choose personal responses/ connection as part of my top 4.”

Shorttermnoterm (day 344): “The fact that you have been where we are and you both hold your shit together and admit it can be tough to hold your shit together is beyond helpful. So when I get a personal email from you — albeit rarely because I don’t personally email you very often, it’s like “Oh, Brad Pitt waved at me today, yes ME” – that’s how I feel. “My good friend Belle who gets me even though we have never met but travel the same road emailed me” – I also believe you need to limit this, and say “OK 20 a day, or one hour, that’s it.”

Hank (day 830): “Jewelry. I wear either my “Stay Here” or “Not Today” bracelet every day! I got one for my 100 day treat and the other for 180, I think.  They are like a secret super power.  I think they serve the same purpose as an AA sober coin –a tangible symbol of success and strength. I feel strong when I put them on and when I look at them throughout the day.  Or when I’m having a shitty day, they make me feel better. And one on one calls, when I was obsessing about wrongs done to me in the past, a sober coaching call with you did more good that six weeks of (poor) therapy, so also an excellent resource.”

Molly Jones (day 12): I love the live mixlr chats! The immediate interaction and conversation is such another good level of connecting with you and others…it’s really fun and helpful.”

Lyra (day 358): “I vote for original text, but I think your writing combined with the stories also counts as original work. You are doing a lot of awesome sifting and the comments you add to the stories turn them to gold. We get the benefit of feeling like we are sharing this journey with others without the risks of connecting directly with hordes of strangers.  (Like getting discouraged by their relapses or bad advice or shaming.)”

Unwined Gal (331): “For those of us that don’t attend AA or don’t have other social supports, receiving your insightful emails is tremendously helpful. I feel like I am not alone and know it is always good sound advice from someone that has been there. Also, you are super funny and if we can’t laugh, well, then we…”

Beachluvin’ Annie: “Sober jewelry is available on sober sites (tho not today and the subtler texts are nice), and … sober meetups (i.e. meetings) are available all over the world.  Sober penpaling and one on one sober coaching calls (i.e. sponsorship) are necessary for permanent recovery. Daily micro emails, audios and your writing are helpful for “seekers” or peeps having “moments of clarity” that their drinking is going to heck in a hand basket FAST … Prayers and kind thoughts for the book launch. Keep your focus on your sobriety as none of this happens without it. Love you, Annie”

MichelleS (day 173): “Coaching calls – I appreciate that these may be considered a ‘luxury item’ by some.  Struggling to articulate why I value these.  Maybe it’s like Oprah says: we all just want to be heard and to be validated:  ‘I see you. I hear you. And what you say matters to me’.”


I want to put this online, to hold myself accountable. I want to document the noise in my head. I'm tired of thinking about drinking. date of last drink: june 30, 2012

  • My fav are the daily emails. Just a little reminder, “oh yeah, I’m still sober”. I don’t think about drinking much anymore, but I know that’s when I could slip. Belle, you are amazing! Thank you for what you do. I don’t know what day I am on, but it will be 2 years in November. I couldn’t have done it without your help. Don’t disappear. We need you!

  • haha, if you become the next Oprah, you could probably dispense with the treats/jewelry and the in person sober meet-ups. These are so very time intensive and easy to duplicate

  • You need an assistant. I have not taken advantage of all that you offer, but if you feel compelled to continue to offer these things, the posting of sober treat boxes is one thing that could be offloaded. Or the technical bits of uploading posts/podcasts. Whatever. I appreciate your emails and the posts, and want you to be able to help.

  • I started the 100 Day Program nearly 3 months ago and I am only on Day 5. I’ve had heaps of restarts. So everything you offer to me, I need. Tools, tools and more. But at present, top of my list is Sober Penpal. Knowing I can email you every day is a lifeline. Telling you how I’m travelling and asking for advice? Invaluable. I also need to hear your voice so audios are next. Your clear logic erases the grimy film that alcohol covered my senses with. There’s clarity and a can see a future. Receiving a micro email everyday is third as your reminding me you’re there. I don’t have to search you out – you jab me instead 🙂

  • For me, I would miss the longer podcasts and the emails you send out about others’ experiences. One of my most important tools to staying sober is liestening to a sober podcast(s) or to part of a book about sobriety for 30 minutes each day.

    As you know, I paid to be in the “Kick Ass” 100 day challenge, and that was hugely important to me. There would have been several times I would have said, “screw it” during those first 100 days IF I had not paid $400+. But since I did, my reaction to cravings was, “Hell yes, I’m going to make it to 100 days since I paid this money.” And then I paid for the next challenge–tp 180 days–and I have had the same response to myself the couple of times I have been tempted to drink. (I am sober 130 days now.) For me, to make the financial commitment was very important.
    [Note: I realize that some of your followers may not be able to afford the fee you charge for this particular program; some do the challenges without forking over money. My feeling is “more power to them.” I wish I could have, but I probably would not have seen it through. And, I only had to remind myself once or twice that if I had gone to an in-patient rehab program, I would have been paying thousands of dollars in fees.]

  • You touch all of us differently but yet the same – very deep and intimate – and that is what makes you so special – I don’t think it is what part is most important part – it is all important – my vote-
    Time to get an Assistant!!
    I have ideas!!!
    Anyone agree with me???

  • Wow this was good to read. Getting an email from you has given me something so very important. The connection during my many attempts at sobriety feels like I’m not hopeless and am actually recognized.

  • LOL…so cute…Brad Pitt waved to me 🙂 But it’s so true, talking to an actual person, being heard, and getting a helpful response is invaluable.