Search & Replace S02E19: Ruth Yunker

At 72 years old, Ruth Yunker is aging vivaciously! She has found that getting older isn’t the end of the world but the beginning of a new journey. What does she attribute to her extraordinary adventure into her trimester of life? Committing to sobriety at the age of 50. Find out what role Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) played in helping Ruth maintain over twenty years of sobriety on Search and Replace. 

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[00:00:00] Announcer: Support for the following podcast is provided by the user experience specialist at Johns and Taylor. More information follows this episode. 

[00:00:11] Joe Taylor Jr.: What if you realized it’s never too late to make a decision that could save your life? I’m Joe Taylor Jr. This is Search and Replace

Humorist Ruth Yuker has written three books so far about her life, and she spent a great deal of time thinking about the role that alcohol has played in it. 

[00:00:39] Ruth Yunker: It’s never a good drinker. I actually started with marijuana first. But my husband, I got married young and he was a ragtime piano player until he did the right thing and, you know, went into business.

But anyway, the minute he turned 21, he started drinking. He ultimately dying of alcoholism at the age of 58. We weren’t married any longer at that point. But it’s been started right away where, you know, I could, kind of, blame it on him for years. I just never was a very good drinker. 

I drank to get drunk. I wasn’t louder or obstreperous. But anyway, when I divorced him, I quit drinking and didn’t miss it at all. In fact, I didn’t drink while I was pregnant with my children. And that was the beginning of the downfall of our marriage cuz he lost his drinking companion. 

[00:01:23] Joe Taylor Jr.: Ruth moved on, or so she thought. 

[00:01:26] Ruth Yunker: I didn’t drink for about eight years in my middle thirties, but when I remarried I thought, well maybe it’s different with this guy and you know, social life and all of that.

And so I started drinking again and like I said, I wasn’t a daily drinker. It was social or at night cocktail, et cetera. That kind. And that immediately, just the obsession was right back with when’s my next drink? Can I have my drink? Can I have another drink? You know. The, on my mind all the time, this drinking thing. And it took me 12 years after that to quit. 

So now I know not, I can’t, I first, I believe in the medical thing of that it’s genetically, it’s in my family- cuz I don’t even like alcohol. I never could drink it, and but always had this obsession for it, so I finally quit at the age of 50. 

[00:02:12] Joe Taylor Jr.: Like many people who choose to give up drinking, Ruth relied on some proven support systems.

[00:02:17] Ruth Yunker: There’s so many ways to try and get sober nowadays. I’ve. At the time I was also in therapy. And so she would say, how much do you drink? And I told her how much, which is, you know, about half as much as I drink, which is so true of alcoholics. And she said, well, you know, you might want. I said, well I have to quit, don’t I?

And she said, you can do whatever you want, you know, which is perfect. She recommended that I try AA. They saved my life in terms of making stopping drinking something I wanted to do to celebrate every single day. Of the whole process of giving it up and everything else. They were great. And what they do, it’s the power of the group.

They just said how to have fun and sobriety. That was what they did. And Laguna Beach, and it was like after meetings, people would go to breakfast together. It was to have a social life afterwards and, you know, get out and do. I’ve been in a lot of places. I go to AA meetings wherever I go because it’s a great way to meet people.

[00:03:15] Joe Taylor Jr.: And it’s safe to say that one of those people, Ruth met in recovery is herself.

[00:03:21] Ruth Yunker: I quit drinking, gave up alcohol at the age of 50. And I’m an alcoholic, and I gave it up. And it wasn’t easy, of course, but I did it with the help of the people in AA. And that gave me this whole new person that I hadn’t known since I was 18, and that is my sober drug-free, alcohol-free self.

So anybody who wants to try on a new thing and they think they have a little problem with drugs or alcohol, I suggest you quit them. Give it three years. Not six months, not one week, not what is it that sober January or whatever. Give it some time, because that, for me, is when I found a lot of who I’d lost.

Finally, at the age of 73, I can say, this is who I am. Just the little things, you know. Like the new favorite ice cream. Ice cream’s gotten really sophisticated in over the 70 years I’ve been alive. You know? Whoever thought of salted caramel ice cream? It’s too die for, as they say. 

I think you also have to have a sense of humor. You know? If you take yourself too seriously, you’re gonna lose. 

[00:04:27] Joe Taylor Jr.: Ruth attributes her success in recovery to a daily routine that highlights small victories. 

[00:04:32] Ruth Yunker: I always say, get up in the morning. Doesn’t matter what you look like. Force your face into a smile into the mirror, because that just sends the message to you that you’re happy, whether or not you really are or not.

And if that doesn’t work, then get some coffee, or a donut, or both, or all of ’em. But I take delight in the little things as a result. I just, I just notice ’em. 

I’ve had ups and downs in my life, you know, and relationships that didn’t go right or whatever. All of that stuff. I’m naturally an optimist, though.

I’m not optimistic, like, oh, you know, everything is great. But I prefer to be happy. I feel like my body is healthier when I am at least fooling myself into thinking I’m happy. But if you do enough exercise, walk, drink water – walking gets that oxygen to your brain, that will help with the mood. 

Once in a while, I will simply stop and look at myself in the mirror. I believe in looking at yourself in the mirror and talking to yourself. You know, if I’m saying Yunker, I’m mad. But I’ll look and I’ll say, my God. You know, one reason, maybe you’re in this mood because you have lived a heck of a long time. 73 years is a lot of years, by any standard. If I were to kick the bucket right now, everyone would say, well, she was a little too young, but really she had a nice run. You know what I mean? And that it life looks the same. You know, I still am me inside. 

[00:05:56] Joe Taylor Jr.: That’s author Ruth Yuker. Her latest book, ‘Baby I’m the Boss of Me,’ includes essays about taking back control of the grocery checkout line, coping with sudden gray eyebrows, and floating the possibility of a facelift to your adult daughters.

We’ve got links to Ruth’s books in our show notes and on our website 

Also in today’s show notes a piece from Well and Good’s, Kells McPhillips on the changing definition of aging for women and about what it means to focus on a specific theme for each decade of your life. 

Plus, writing for the Pro-Age Woman, author Darra Goldberg writes about the time that she didn’t have a midlife crisis. She had a midlife growth spurt. 

All that and more on our show notes and on our website at 

Search and Replace was produced by Nicole Hubbard with support from Christine Benton, Connie Evans, Amelia Lohmann, April Smith, and executive producer Lori Taylor. Our theme music was composed by Alex Rufire. I’m Joe Taylor, Jr.

[00:07:05] Announcer: This has been a Podcast Taxi radio production. 

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Joe Taylor Jr. has produced stories about media, technology, entertainment, and personal finance for over 25 years. His work has been featured on NPR, CNBC, Financial Times Television, and ABC News. After launching one of public radio's first successful digital platforms, Joe helped dozens of client companies launch or migrate their online content libraries. Today, Joe serves as a user experience consultant for a variety of Fortune 500 and Inc. 5000 businesses. Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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