Holly Sprague & Megan Barnes Zesati of ‘Dry Together’: “It’s okay to go slow”

It’s okay to go slow. We felt pressure to grow quickly but real communities take time. As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing the founders of Dry Together, Holly Sprague and Megan Barnes Zesati. Close friends for more than 25 years, Holly and […]

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It’s okay to go slow. We felt pressure to grow quickly but real communities take time.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing the founders of Dry Together, Holly Sprague and Megan Barnes Zesati.

Close friends for more than 25 years, Holly and Megan were former college roommates who found themselves bonding over being alcohol-free moms in midlife during the COVID-19 global pandemic as the “mommy needs wine” memes proliferated. They started Dry Together™ because they believe moms in their 40s and 50s are asking themselves important questions about how to create and sustain meaningful lives right now, and for many women, that includes examining the health of their relationships with alcohol.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

We were college roommates and have stayed close friends for 25 years while living in different cities (Megan in Austin, Holly in Boulder). We recently realized we were both living alcohol-free in our 40s and, when the “mommy needs wine to survive COVID” memes proliferated, we were comforted by sharing our experiences of living without alcohol as working mothers in midlife during the pandemic.

As alcohol sales in the U.S. skyrocketed and zoom “quarantini” happy hours devolved into daily drinking during eternal groundhogs day of the pandemic, we began hearing things like “four o’clock is the new five o’clock” and we felt like moms deserved more. Mothers in midlife are not weak-willed or powerless. They are impressive women juggling motherhood, marriages, caregiving and aging parents, virtual schooling, self-care and career stress. At this age, they are serious about taking care of their health and living purposeful lives because they know that time is their most precious resource. Yet they are delivered media messages that they need alcohol to cope with stress and connect with each other.

We wanted to create a space where moms could talk about how they are coping and connecting without alcohol across state lines, like we were doing. In midlife we question so much, but it seems almost taboo to question our relationships with alcohol. We do that without judgment and no stigma attached.

Our community moves past the mommy wine culture to accept who we are in midlife and get real about how our relationships with alcohol have changed at this stage in life. We think about better ways to manage stress and cope, and we share resources on how to handle things like work trips, date nights, book club, and more, without drinking. In the eight months since we have started, women from around the country have joined the community to share their stories and lift one another up. As the community continues to grow, we are slowly creating a more inclusive world where it is just as normal to not drink as it is to drink. We are not there yet, but Dry Together brings us one step closer.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

We began this group as an experiment in January 2021. We assumed that mothers would complete a dry month challenge and then return to their lives, but we were surprised and delighted by how many mothers said they wanted to do another month at the end of January. And then another and then another.

The emerging community showed us how it wanted to grow and what started as a “dry month” has expanded into a robust virtual community. We now have a book club, mind body workshops, guest speakers, online discussion about articles and podcasts, and weekly Zoom meetings. Members form friendships, message one another and meet up in person when they can. The bond of doing a dry month together, whether it’s their first time not drinking or they’ve been on this path for a while, is powerful. During a time when the pandemic restricted our social circles, our members were able to make new friends across the country and experience conversations and social connections that brought novelty, intimacy and vitality into their lives.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

At our first photo shoot for Dry Together, we planned a mocktail party where we sampled new alcohol-free drinks we have been exploring with our community. It was a beautiful evening, we got dressed up, and we got some gorgeous shots. However, you can’t tell that we were not actually drinking alcohol. The photos show us laughing and toasting with our bubbly and mixing drinks with shakers and garnishes, but we realized we couldn’t use a lot of them because they look like we were boozing it up!

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Our lives have changed during COVID, and the Dry Together community acknowledges how midlife mothers have been uniquely challenged by helping them step into the next chapter with empowered intention.

Through our dry months and in our online community, women find that an alcohol-free lifestyle at this age in life can help them feel happier, more connected, and free. We take away the stigma of questioning alcohol and help assess its impact on their lives at this age, so they can get on a new path towards clarity and meaning.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

One of our moms did a dry month with us last spring, and then rejoined for the next month, and the next. She’s still not drinking — without saying forever — but it has opened her up to possibilities that were quieted when she was using alcohol to escape and cope with stresses from the pandemic. She has more time now and more mental energy, which has allowed her to take better care of herself and her family, and it has given her the clarity to exit a toxic work environment and accept a position with a new employer.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. Stop targeting women in marketing alcohol as the cure-all for the stressors we face as working mothers and a way to stay young and fun. This only keeps us down.
  2. Create alcohol-free inclusive workplace cultures and social gatherings, and everyone will benefit. Provide options for alcohol-free friends, family members and employees. Make it just as normal to not drink as it is to drink.
  3. Give us better alcohol-free options at our favorite restaurants and grocery stores. So many new non-alcoholic drinks launched during the pandemic, but you can only buy them online. A few of them are available in our local liquor stores and grocery stores, but it’s hard to find them, especially for our members in suburban or rural neighborhoods. We want to see these alcohol-free options in our local grocery stores and restaurants. We stopped going to bars a long time ago, but we go to restaurants with our friends and families, and we want more alcohol-free options when we’re out.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

We lead by facilitating connection and authentic conversation. We are not experts and there is no hierarchy of knowledge. Each member of Dry Together is a wellspring of life wisdom, practical knowledge and potential leadership within our community.

As the founders of this community and facilitators of our dry month experiences, we create a safe space where moms can meet other women from around the country who are experiencing the same types of midlife struggles, so they can see that a dry month (or longer) can be liberating at this stage in our lives. As the community grows, members step into leadership roles by organizing new ways to connect without alcohol, and we all benefit.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1) It’s okay to go slow. We felt pressure to grow quickly but real communities take time.

2) Ask your members what they think. We’re nothing without our community feedback.

3) Go! Don’t wait around too long to make decisions.

4) Give time & space to creativity. Your voice matters and you need to listen to it.

5) Collaborate. Bringing other people up, brings you up.

You are both peoiple of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

More alcohol-free drinks in stores and restaurants! We’re not talking about tailoring cocktails to make them virgin or pointing towards the kid’s menu. Or sugar-laden juices and sparkling water with lime (so boring!). We want sophisticated adult beverages with complexity to complement a nice meal, such as new zero-proof spirits like Seedlip, Ritual Tequila, Lyre’s and Spiritless Bourbon, or non-alcohol sparkling wines by Grüvi or TÖST. We’d love to see restaurants offer some of the exciting options from an entirely new category of drinks with adaptogens and nootropics too, such as Kin Euphorics, Moment and Three Spirits.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“To the middle-aged women of America. You’re not imagining it, and it’s not just you.” — Ada Calhoun

We read Ada’s book, “Why We Can’t Sleep,” for one of our book clubs this summer, and her interviews with more than 200 women about their midlife experiences were incredibly reassuring. We aren’t alone and we’re better together.

Another one we love: “Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.” — Unknown

Because we’re all just trying to show up as our best selves in midlife and we may never wake up early enough, exercise enough, be enough, but we keep on this path because it makes us feel clearer and calmer inside of ourselves.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Priya Parker. We’ve talked so much about her ideas since we started building this community. We devoured her book on The Art of Gathering, her podcasts, newsletters and interviews. Her guidance inspired us to be specific about the gathering of our community of mothers in midlife instead of trying to reach everyone. And with this specificity, we continue to uncover the rich diversity of our members and their voices. Our members have lots of things in common, but they’re also very different, and they’re coming together from all over the country. They lead amazing lives and when they take a moment for themselves to meet with other Dry Together moms, we want to make sure that time is well spent.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram @drytogether https://www.instagram.com/drytogether/

Facebook DryTogether https://www.facebook.com/drytogether/

Twitter @drytogether https://twitter.com/DryTogether

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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