Penobscot Indian Island Reservation
Maulian Dana, the Penobscot Nation’s first Tribal Ambassador, made a choice on June 4, 2018 to stop drinking—altogether, forever— and has kept that promise to herself.
“Every time I hit a milestone or feel proud of it for whatever reason, I do a post about it, and I hope people are inspired,” Maulian says. “By textbook standards, I wasn’t a raging alcoholic, but I definitely had a problem. I think there are a lot of people who fall into that gray area and think that they’re not ‘enough of an alcoholic’ to seek treatment but it doesn’t make them feel very good.”
It wasn’t easy, but she could—and she did—just stop.
Ever since childhood, Maulian — who is now 36—had felt anxious, even about little things. And there were big things, too.
“My parents got divorced,” she says. “Then I had a rocky relationship with my kids’ father, and I ended up kicking him out when they were 1 and 3. I was pregnant with my first daughter, when I was graduating from college. So I was constantly trying to figure life out, providing for both of them. I had accumulated a lot of stress over the years on top of my anxious nature. And then I got into politics.”
She wouldn’t drink Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday and then—with a sense of relief and a little entitlement for having worked so hard—would open a bottle of wine on Thursday while she made dinner.
“And then Sunday night into Monday I would have this crushing shame that I had polluted my body for four days,” she says. “I want to be a healthy role model for my kids, and they had seen me with a wine glass or a beer attached to my hand all weekend.”
One Sunday—June 3, 2018—she went out for brunch and had mimosas, then went home and drank wine, and someone who had very different political views stopped by her house.
“I wasn’t the best version of myself,” Maulian said. “And of course I woke up the next day feeling like crap physically, emotionally and spiritually. I thought about my kids—’Do they deserve a mom who is going to be drunk, yelling at people she barely knows, about politics on a beautiful Sunday afternoon?’”
That Monday morning, Maulian texted her boyfriend Lloyd Bryant and said that she thought she was going to stop drinking—for good.
He replied: “I think you’re about to be the best version of yourself.”
They were a year into their relationship, and, for her first year of her sobriety, when she still sometimes craved “liquid courage,” he would gently remind her of the promise that she had made to herself. “You’re going to feel great today,” he would say. Or, “You’re so strong. You’re setting a good example.” Or, “People are probably envious of you that you’re able to do this.”
Another key to her sobriety was her Alaskan husky, Olive.
“It got to be a habit that every time I felt jealous or sorry for myself, I would take Olive out for a walk,” Maulian says, adding that she lost 30 pounds in that first year—which was quite noticeable on a woman just over five feet tall.
“I had to make a shift from exercising to try to be skinny to exercising for my health and well- being, and that shift coincided with my sobriety,” Maulian says.
“Before, I would run a bunch of miles, then do a Body Pump class, and it felt like it was never enough because I never lost weight because I was drinking. When I cut the alcohol out, the weight started coming off. I’m still working out, but I do things now in a mindful way. I run with my dog, I work out at home, and everything is about how I feel rather than how I look.”
Her relationship with fitness has always had a spiritual element. Before she was born, her father Barry Dana—former chief of the Penobscot—started the Katahdin 100.
“He ran the 100 miles as a spiritual journey, offering up his prayers and his suffering,” she says. “I’ve done it in some form every year. I’ve done relays to get there, I’ve canoed it, I’ve run it.
Sometimes I just go to be part of the ceremony; when my kids were little I wasn’t running much. A week before the Katahdin 100 there’s a sweat lodge, where you sweat out all your toxins. It’s a cleanse and you pray, and the idea is that you get yourself ready for the ceremony. In the week between the sweat lodge and the ceremony, there’s no drinking—and if you smoke, there’s no smoking. The idea is that you stay pure. In that week, I always felt so good. I remember Once Chief Kirk Francis appointed Dana as Tribal Ambassador in 2017, she realized that anything she said or did—whether she intended it to or not—could be taken as representing the tribe.
“I think about the effects that alcohol has had on indigenous people throughout history,” Maulian says. “I’ve grappled with some guilt about this thing that was weaponized against my ancestors. I have rampant alcoholism in my family that has caused so much trauma, and I see my aunts, uncles and parents all still healing from this. Neither of my parents drink, and I would feel guilty that I was drinking when they were strong enough to resist it. I felt like I was picking up a bad cycle again by being a drinker.”
Her early months of sobriety were marked by feelings of jealousy (that other people were drinking), anger (at herself, for not being able to handle alcohol) and awkwardness (of learning how to handle social situations without a “social lubricant” or worrying that she might be perceived as preachy).
Slowly, though, it began to feel natural.
“It’s the best thing I’ve done for myself, ever,” Maulian says. “I think that was part of the problem. I had gotten so used to taking care of my kids, and as the oldest of five siblings I had been used to taking care of other people my whole life. I thought I was taking care of myself by drinking. I would make it through another workweek, and my kids were doing well in school, and I’d say that I deserved it. But there are so many healthy ways to deal with stress.