Making sobriety look sexy

“From early on I was hypersensitive, didn’t fit in and was using external things to escape from being in my own skin.” 

But now, being comfortable in her skin is Fiona McCosh’s way of showing off life in recovery.

McCosh has been sober for over six years, and is the brain behind Sober&Sexy – a movement which looks to change the way recovering addicts are seen. McCosh has brought out two calendars featuring tasteful nude photographs of recovering addicts.

The photos feature a mix of individuals, with differing backgrounds and stories, but who are all in recovery from addiction, alcoholism or one of the process addictions (gambling, eating or sex and love).

Funds raised from the sale of the calendars go to the Cape Town Drug Counselling Centre.

The brand was born of a frustration at the way media portrayed recovering addicts as “miserable” or about to relapse, McCosh says.

 “That hasn’t been my experience – you go to recovery meetings and people are laughing, talking and smiling. And yes, there’s a very serious fatal side to the disease, but there’s also [another side]. If recovery wasn’t enjoyable, then we wouldn’t be doing it.

“That’s what I wanted to get across: it’s not just about abstinence. It’s about change, fun, growth, learning and freedom from active addiction. I want to send the message that there’s hope and there’s a solution. Life can be enjoyable and it’s never too late to change.”

 

Relapse demons

Irish-born McCosh went into recovery at the age of 40 after being told she only had six months to live. She left her life in London and travelled to South Africa for rehab – something she says was motivated by the expense of rehabilitation facilities in the UK – and later decided to make Cape Town her home.

But not before she relapsed after five months and faced many of her demons.

“I think I always knew that there was something different about me. From an early age I was self-harming – at 28 months and at four – pulling my hair out. When I was eight, I remember getting obsessed by boys, which I now know is love addiction.

“And then when the drink and drugs came along in my teens, I thought: ‘This is it, this is my solution’. It was torture just being me and then [I was able] to escape my reality.

“I hit a rock bottom where I either get help or die. And something inside me wanted to live.”

McCosh began rehab but was not prepared for the life changes she would need to make.

“I knew that I needed to clean up for a bit.

I knew I had drug problem, but I wasn’t putting down the red wine. So I relapsed after five months and did some research as to why I had to put down the red wine: Because I’m a raging alcoholic as well as drug addict.”

 

Connecting with others

After four months, Fiona booked herself back into treatment and is now over six and a half years clean. Through her recovery journey, she met most of those featured in the Sober&Sexy calendars. Being part of this fraternity has tapped into a deep need she’s always had: To connect with others.

“I was very introverted and the drink would allow me to come out of my shell. There’s a saying that the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety, its connection.

"That resonates with me because I’d always felt disconnected and I think what I was always searching for was that connection with people, with myself, with friends and family. And then when the drink and drugs came along, I felt ‘connected’ but it wasn’t authentic, it wasn’t real.

“The years of drinking got worse and worse and worse to the extent that I couldn’t leave the house. I didn’t wash. I didn’t get out of bed. I didn’t change my clothes. I was a wreck and the irony is what I thought brought me connection brought me to a place of utter isolation and desperation.”

 McCosh has always dabbled in amateur photography and started taking photos of people she met in recovery circles. These were very well received, and when she spoke of doing an exhibition someone instead suggested she make a calendar – inspired by the movie Calendar Girls.

“It’s not just about the nakedness for shock factor, but more of the idea that we haven’t got anything to hide. I’m not ashamed of saying I’m a recovering addict. And I hope to encourage more people to be vocal about it because the stigma and shame keeps a lot of people trapped and from coming forward, seeking help and admitting they’ve got a problem.”

The calendar has also come to represent how far McCosh has come in her personal journey.

“I’ve never done anything like this before in my life. I’ve been using and abusing drink since I was 16. I couldn’t hold down a job and I’ve never seen projects through from start to finish, so to actually come up with and do something like this: “Look what I can do now that I’m sober’. It’s really helped with my self-esteem and it’s hopefully showing that everyone I’ve got involved in this is in recovery and that we can live productive lives.”

McCosh is currently working on a calendar for 2020 and has secured several South African celebrities who are in recovery or living sober lives. And her dream is to take the concept international. In addition, the brand will be launching a merchandise range this year.