Bench + Bar of Minnesota

Exploring the NA life: A journal of drinking and not drinking


By Carrie Osowski

I learned I passed the bar exam on October 5, 2015. I spent my morning refreshing both Facebook and the bar examiner website. Midmorning, a classmate finally posted a status celebrating their passing result. I rushed to check my score, then immediately called one of my best friends, having promised to tell her as soon as I knew. I sobbed as I excitedly told her, “I never have to study for the bar exam again!” Throughout the day, I continued sharing the news with family and friends. My future mother-in-law and stepfather-in-law brought me a card and a box of chocolates, and my boss happily gave me time off for the day of my swearing-in ceremony. As I celebrated with and accepted congratulations from others, I anxiously awaited my opportunity to tell Ashlyn, my now-wife, the good news. Finally, after work, when visiting hours began, I was able to sit down and share with Ashlyn that I passed the bar exam. I also admitted that I resented having to tell her this in a detox facility; Ashlyn was being held there until she was sober enough to attend the arraignment for her third Driving While Impaired (DWI) charge. 

Ashlyn’s drinking was almost always problematic.1 She was already drinking regularly by the time we met in the spring of 2009, when I was a freshman in college and she was a sophomore. Less than two years later, during the fall of my junior year, she went to the ER for a drinking-related injury. This hospital visit occurred shortly after she was charged with her first DWI offense. My roommate, a close friend of mine, was at the hospital with us that night. When the ER staff wanted to keep her in the hospital, we insisted she could decide if she was to be discharged that night. The doctor agreed to check her blood alcohol content (BAC) to determine if she was sober enough to go home. We expressed shock when her BAC exceeded .20—we had seen her much drunker than she was that night. Unsurprisingly, our response did not sway the doctor into letting Ashlyn leave with us from the hospital.

Ashlyn eventually left our college town to go to treatment and then move back home, and I started drinking to soothe the pain of her leaving and process my illogical guilt over her DWI charge. My roommate was also drinking to deal with the trauma of the night we spent in the ER. We isolated ourselves, drinking together in her room despite living in campus housing, where alcohol was not permitted. Our other roommates would try to spend time with us, but our drinking pushed them away throughout the remainder of the school year. We went to a friend’s sober birthday drunk, then left the party early to continue drinking on our own. My roommate eventually started seeing a school therapist, as she had also been grieving a family member’s death. As she progressed in therapy, we drank together less, but I continued to drink on my own. My overconsumption of alcohol in social settings led to my receiving fewer and fewer invitations from my more casual friends, and my social circle grew smaller as the school year wore on. 

I began to realize how unhealthy my drinking was after I was nearly caught with alcohol on campus. I was drinking alone in my room after spring finals, and when I left my apartment with a mixed drink, I ran into a colleague from campus security, where I worked my last two years of school. He jokingly asked me what was in my cup and if he needed to smell it to make sure it did not contain alcohol. I laughed as we parted ways in the stairwell, but immediately started crying when he was out of earshot. I was terrified he was going to report me for drinking, not only on campus but a few short hours before I was due to arrive for my own shift.

After the school year ended, my roommate was still insisting I talk to someone. I began seeing a therapist, working on processing my emotions as well as my drinking. Later that summer, I realized I was at my lowest point when I emailed my therapist after a night of drinking at a friend’s house and found myself feeling proud to write, “I’m drunk and I didn’t drive myself home!” I didn’t stop drinking after this night, but I stopped drinking as frequently, and I made sure to walk to my drinking destinations when I went out with friends during my senior year.

When I entered law school, my drinking slowed down even more. I no longer lived in a small college town; drinks were more expensive in the Twin Cities, and I didn’t live within walking distance of bars. I lived with a friend from undergrad during my 1L year. Instead of going out and drinking heavily, we stayed in, snobbishly sipping rum, reminiscing about our history classes, and discussing our futures as lawyers. By my 3L year, I lived on my own. Because of my past experiences, I did not drink alone, which meant I did not drink at home. From time to time, I still got drunk with friends, but as friends became parents and parties became fewer, my drinking continued to decrease. 

During law school, Ashlyn and I reconnected. She told me that she had stopped drinking for a few years around 2012, but she slowly started consuming alcohol again. She initially told me she was trying to drink “like a normal person.” But by the time I took the bar exam in July 2015, Ashlyn and I were engaged, and I was becoming concerned about her alcohol addiction, because “normal people” do not sneak vodka into work. I tried to set a good example by limiting my own alcohol consumption, but still I enabled her drinking. We fought repeatedly about this issue, as I expressed concern and she defended her addiction. In late September that year, she finally told me she wanted to stop drinking. Then, on Sunday, October 4, 2015, Ashlyn hit a car on her drive home from work and was arrested. 

One of Ashlyn’s conditions of release (and later a term of her probation) was no possession of alcohol. Because we lived together, this meant I could not have any alcohol in our home. Ashlyn was also required to install ignition interlock in her car. The system was extremely sensitive, and Ashlyn was warned that the interlock could sense alcohol on the breath of passengers in the car. Because I drank so little while in law school, I did not have a high tolerance for alcohol; more than one drink could leave me buzzed enough that I could not drive. As a result, I rarely drank my first three years of legal practice. I couldn’t drink at home, I couldn’t drink when Ashlyn drove us somewhere, and I had to drink less and less when I drove us somewhere because my tolerance dropped as time went on. But even if I could drink, I did not want to; it just made sense not to drink with Ashlyn so newly sober. 

I could have been resentful of this period of forced sobriety, but I found I did not mind. I had reduced my alcohol consumption while I was in law school, so it felt almost like a continuation of my prior drinking habits. If I was staying at a friend’s home for a get-together, I would drink, but the number of drinks I consumed at those events steadily decreased over the years. On occasion, I would start a family holiday with a glass of wine, but I usually refrained so I wouldn’t smell like alcohol while sitting next to Ashlyn opening Christmas presents or eating birthday cake. We celebrated her sober milestones and legal milestones. After two years, Ashlyn was discharged from probation. Another year later, she was allowed to remove the ignition interlock from her car. And each October, we celebrated another year of Ashlyn’s sobriety. As she maintained it, I not only became used to not drinking; I started to enjoy not drinking.

About six months after Ashlyn removed the ignition interlock from her car, she was invited out to a coworker’s going-away party. She had been told to bring me, and as we got ready to go out, she told me that she wanted to try non-alcoholic (NA) beer. Her stepfather, who is also in recovery, drinks NA beer, and Ashlyn wanted to try it herself. She explained her drink of choice had been hard liquor, so NA beer was less likely to be a trigger to her. That night, she tried an O’Douls, the only option available at the bar we went to. She later told me she didn’t feel tempted to relapse after the NA beer, but she also didn’t like the taste of her drink. As we processed this, I wondered out loud if there were any craft NA beers, in the hopes that they would be a better-tasting product. As luck would have it, there were.

We started our journey into NA craft beer with Wellbeing Brewing Company, a brewery that only produces NA drinks. We ordered six-packs online, and when they arrived we didn’t even let them get cold in the fridge before we took our first sips. To our surprise and delight, we both loved them. More importantly, Ashlyn did not find herself tempted to drink alcohol despite how much she enjoyed the NA beer. We placed more orders from Wellbeing and also started exploring other options. Our first orders were placed with other NA craft breweries, and for far too long we could only find NA options online or in specialty food stores. We found sparkling hop water, hop teas, more NA beers, and even a few NA wines. Some we loved, some we hated—and some, we agreed, were best with a slice of lime. We also shared our finds with Ashlyn’s stepfather, who has reciprocated our NA beer explorations by sharing his own discoveries. 

After a while, we learned that some of our favorite brands would be stocked by Total Wine. As residents of greater Minnesota, we began incorporating trips to Total Wine into our visits to the metro area, placing online orders in advance to ensure our favorites would be available. One year, we celebrated Mother’s Day with a trip to the Twin Cities; we left with a minivan loaded with cases of NA beer and crates of plants. With NA beers becoming more mainstream, we started seeing more familiar brands in the NA beer section: Heineken, Budweiser, and most recently Blue Moon. We also saw the size of the NA beer sections grow from a few options on one shelf to multiple shelves, and our own shelves have become increasingly well-stocked with drink options we can both enjoy. 

As the years have passed, Ashlyn has become more comfortable with alcohol being kept in our home. Yet despite being able to drink at home, I usually find myself preferring NA options. After spending so many years drinking mostly NA drinks, my tolerance for alcohol has also drastically lowered. Depending on the strength of a drink, I can be tipsy, if not drunk, after finishing my first beverage. While being a so-called “lightweight” is fun to joke about, I wasn’t laughing when I felt hung-over after having two glasses of wine on a Tuesday night. I also did not enjoy enduring the depressant effects of alcohol when I knew I had to speak with stressed clients or combative opposing counsel at trials or mediations the following day. 

In March 2022, I started new employment, and I suddenly have multiple coworkers my age. As a result, I have been attending after-work happy hours and trivia nights on a regular basis. Because I have a foundation of healthy drinking choices, I am comfortable setting limits on my drinking. I know if I have a sober driver to take me home, I can have an alcoholic drink, and no matter who is driving me from a work event, I always have at least one NA beer. Either way, I can enjoy a night out with colleagues without my work being impacted the next day. Best of all, my coworkers do not pressure me to drink alcohol. Some coworkers have tried their own periods of sobriety, or have simply decided to explore NA drinks, and we compare favorite choices at various bars and restaurants. 

I have also seen benefits to my reduced drinking outside of my career. A few years ago, I started running more seriously and training for marathon-distance races. Drinking a beer or two with Ashlyn on a Friday night is a lot more enjoyable when it doesn’t impact my ability to run 15 miles the next morning. I prefer NA beer so much, I brought along my own to drink at the finish line when I ran my first marathon in 2019. You can only imagine my excitement when I ran the same marathon in 2022 and discovered I had two NA beer options to choose from at the finish line. A year later, I was even more thrilled when I went to the 2023 Minnesota State Fair and had multiple NA drink options to try. I was able to enjoy a day of eating and drinking to my heart’s content and still drive myself safely home.

I wrote at the start of this article that I did not struggle with drinking the way Ashlyn did. Sometimes I wonder if her sobriety kept me from developing an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. I certainly had wandered toward that path while in college. It is possible that, with the ability to drink freely, I would have developed a dependence on alcohol as I entered the stressful legal field.2 Instead, I found myself strengthening my healthier coping mechanisms, particularly running and baking. I also found myself forming a healthier relationship with alcohol. When I drink these days, I drink to enjoy the taste of my chosen beverage, not because I want to numb myself to the stress of my job. And when I don’t want to drink alcohol, I don’t hesitate to order a nonalcoholic beverage. For example, I attended a work-related happy hour at a brewery in the fall of 2023. Rather than leave smelling of alcohol that day, I happily ordered a root beer float. When I got home, I did not have to hesitate before kissing Ashlyn hello and wishing her a happy sober-versary. 

CARRIE OSOWSKI is a co-chair of the MSBA Well-Being Committee for the 2024-25 bar year, and she is endlessly proud of her wife, Ashlyn, who celebrated eight years of sobriety on October 5, 2023.

If you believe you are experiencing problematic drinking, or wish to learn more about this topic, resources are available through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration ( as well as Minnesota Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (


1The 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) made substantial changes to the criteria for substance use disorder. The 11 current criteria are 1) hazardous use, 2) social/interpersonal problems related to use, 3) neglected major roles to use, 4) withdrawal, 5) tolerance, 6) used larger amounts/longer, 7) repeated attempts to quit/control use, 8) much time spent using, 9) physical/psychological problems related to use, 10) activities given up to use, and 11) craving. The DSM-5 states two or more substance use disorder criteria within a 12-month period warrants a diagnosis of substance dependence.

2 According to a 2016 study regarding alcoholism in the legal profession, “20.6% of [the study’s] participants [scored] at a level consistent with problematic drinking.” Krill PR, Johnson R, and Albert L. February 2016. The Prevalence of Substance Use and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys.

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