The Joy of Baking (Sober)

Two months sober, Annie Zimmerman decided to make cookies. Now, her hobby turned passion yields fulfillment, connection and delicious soberversary cakes. Read the interview!

Post by Annie Zimmerman March 6, 2024
Annie Zimmerman's soberversary cake

Time and energy are two great gifts of sobriety. But like many unexpected gifts, they can be a little bewildering at first: What am I supposed to do with this? It can be hard to come up with an answer, and that can be frustrating. No one gets sober to feel bored and aimless.

All Sober contributor Annie Zimmerman wrote in her most recent column that when she first got sober, “I didn’t have many established interests outside of going to vineyards and pretending to know facts about wine.” It made us curious, so we asked what she’s gotten into, three-plus years on.

Quite a lot, it turns out: Annie runs marathons, writes the Starting Again Sober blog, shoots photos, vigorously decorates her new home, and much more. But one of her greatest rediscovered loves is baking. She bakes cakes and cookies for holidays, for sober milestones and soberversaries, and for everyday edification. Starting essentially from scratch in recovery, she’s now considering opening a mobile bakery as a business.

All Sober editor Ben O’Donnell recently spoke with Annie about how she embarked on her hobby in early sobriety, the importance of striking the balance between momentum and patience in sober life, and how baking has helped guide her toward finding purpose, establishing stability and strengthening bonds with her loved ones.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

All Sober:

It is always inspiring to talk to people about things they might have once sat at the bar saying they would get around to doing but never did — and then actually followed through on once they got sober. Or people who found, or rediscovered, passions and projects.

When you first got sober, you kind of looked around and realized you didn’t have that many hobbies or pursuits left. Can we talk a little bit about what that felt like, and what came into your mind that you said, “All right. Well, something has to change, and I’m going to start being proactive about looking into things that are fulfilling for me”?

Annie Zimmerman:

I would say that in the very early days, it was extremely touch and go. It was not about “how do I pass the time?” or doing interesting things. It was much more about survival and just taking it one thing at a time and doing the next right thing. And those “next right things” eventually added up. There did come a time when I started thinking about, “I’m feeling better, and now what do I want to fill my life with?” And that is kind of the point at which baking came into the equation.

Annie Zimmerman's 100-day soberversary cake
The first soberversary cake

I do remember my very first baking project. It would have been December 2020, so I would have only been about two months sober at that point. And my dad was visiting me from Germany since I was not able to go there for the holidays. He really loves M&M’s. So my very first baking project was so simple. It was M&M’s cookies.

And it kind of went from there. I didn’t wake up the following day and just start baking nonstop, but it was a passion similar to running that I had rediscovered. I actually was talking to my mom about it over the holidays this year, and she reminded me that she and I used to bake together all the time. We would go to orchards growing up, in the fall, to pick apples. We’d make apple crisp for my dad so that when he came home, there was a nice dessert for us to all enjoy.

It’s so interesting when I think about these hobbies that I have rediscovered and fallen back into love with, they were there all along. It’s amazing to have that second chance to do these things that you love and are good at.

And now I think about baking all the time. If I’m out running errands, I’m thinking about what sprinkles I should be looking for. And I’m always thinking about my next baking project.

So I would say it was basically starting from scratch, again. That part of your brain that wakes up when the anhedonia is dissipating and you are starting to feel human again [in early sobriety] — that little part of your brain reminds you of these things.

All Sober:

When you’re doing these things like baking and running, and you’re in these early months of what is, or certainly was for me, a very unfamiliar lifestyle — what need is that filling? What kind of fulfillment or satisfaction or even distraction are these things providing for you?

Annie Zimmerman:

I think it was a lot about filling the time once I felt better physically, and it was also about being goal-oriented because I really like the idea of completing a project.

For me, there’s a correlation with the running and the baking. As you finish your run, you can sync your data from your Garmin and look at it, and you have this tangible output of the however-many-mile run that you accomplished. I think that I really needed that, and I continue to get a really healthy high from that. It makes me happy. It gives me a sense of fulfillment. I’m very, very goal-oriented and a very efficient person. It’s the German in me.

The baking, though, is a little bit different than the running, because as I was starting out with it and as my brain was healing, I found that, “Oh my goodness, this is one of my love languages.” Because I was baking goodies and needing to share them with people, because I can’t eat them all myself. So then it morphed into bringing baked goods to work. And then, you know, when my family was in town, making them lots of treats.

Annie Zimmerman's cookie jar
Cookies wearing green for March


All Sober:

The way you describe it, it’s almost like it’s somewhat a part of your routine. Like there’s some days that you say, “I’m going to bake something,” and then the rest of it will fall into place.

Annie Zimmerman:

It is definitely — I really hate to use the word craving just because that has a negative connotation, probably for all of us. But it’s like an urge. You know, I need to be in the kitchen with the apron and the mixing bowls, and I need to have that finished product. And sometimes it’s also nice to have a chocolate chip cookie to eat with your banana. Got to have the potassium as a runner!

So I think it’s a lot of different things. It’s rewarding. It’s fulfilling. It’s continuing to grow into the person that we’re meant to be. And there is definitely a piece of it that can get a bit out of control, so I think it’s also a reminder to moderate. You don’t have to run a marathon every month. You don’t have to bake every day. You just have to find the things that bring you joy, find the time to do them and continue to reap the blessings that they give you.

Annie Zimmerman's Christmas cupcakes
Christmas cookies

All Sober:

In the past, my hobbies were largely based around, “What am I doing tonight?” It can be helpful to have activities that engage all of these different elements of planning, of outcomes, of creativity, and of teaching yourself to slow down, be patient, and understand when the result is right. Instead of just, “Here’s a thing I can do, and it’ll make me feel good in a small way, and then I’ll do another thing tomorrow.”

Annie Zimmerman:

It’s interesting that you say that because I actually wrote a blog post recently about the concept of how we spend our whole lives waiting. There is so much preparation and planning and waiting involved in many of our hobbies. You don’t just wake up one day and go out and run a marathon, for example. And so this post, the concept was about what we do while we’re waiting. We become more patient people. We become more resilient people.

With baking, it’s not just about waiting for the cake to be done, because then you have to also maybe put the other half of the cake in. And then you have to wait for them to cool. And then you have to wait until the following day to frost them. Before we got sober, it was much more about instant gratification. And a lot of these hobbies are not that.

Yes, they bring us joy as we’re doing them, but you know it’s not going to just be, snap your fingers and it’s done. So I think there is a lot to that, finding those new types of euphoria that give you the dopamine rush or that bring you joy over an extended period of time.

A lot of it also ties back to having the energy to pursue these things. Of course, we’re still tired and we struggle with various health issues, but it’s nothing compared to when you’re actively addicted and you’re caught in that vicious cycle; you’re tired on the weekends and then you’re tired on Monday.

Annie Zimmerman's 700-day soberversary cake
A celebration for 700 days of sobriety


All Sober:

Let’s talk about the idea for soberversary cakes, how you came up with them, what you do with them and all that good stuff.

Annie Zimmerman:

Well, I love this topic. Somewhere around when I was approaching the 100-day mark, I was reading through the comments on this app called I Am Sober, and this guy was talking about baking a cake to celebrate one of his sober anniversaries. This idea of a cake to celebrate a soberversary was just life-changing. And thus began my soberversary cake obsession-slash-celebrations.

The first one I made was very simple. It was just one layer. It used M&M’s instead of sprinkles. So I spelled out “100” with M&M’s. And it was just the first little, you know, “selfie with the tripod solo photoshoot” I had with the cake. But I just remember being so proud. And in the photos, I just looked better. I looked healthier. I felt better. And it was game over from there, but in the best way possible.

Especially in the early days, I made one for all the big numbers, anything that I considered a major milestone. One hundred days was huge, 500 days. Having this project was something to look forward to.

No matter how many challenges we have and things that we face and we think that we fail, it doesn’t matter because it is one of the hardest things to do, I think, to pick yourself up and to get sober. On your own, with help, it doesn’t matter — it’s very difficult. And so to be able to celebrate it with a delicious cake is, I just think, very fitting.

author avatar
Annie Zimmerman
Annie is a daily runner and avid baker with a penchant for organizing and decorating her new home. She chronicles the joys — and misadventures — of early sobriety on her blog, Starting Again Sober, through which she hopes to inspire and encourage others.

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