Podcast EP87 Transcript – Addiction, Recovery, and The Human Condition with Guest Mary Tilson

This transcript has not been formatted or edited other than to add names.

Heather

Hi, everybody. Our guest today, Mary Tilson, is a certified professional recovery coach, trauma informed yoga and meditation teacher and the founder of Sun and Moon Sober Living. Having experienced profound shifts as a result of her decision to get sober in 2013, she is passionate about helping others find freedom from addiction so they can live fulfilling lives substance free. She’s a strong believer in the power of community. and enjoys bringing like-minded people together through her online membership community and wellness retreats. Mary recently settled back in the mountains of Colorado after nearly a decade traveling and teaching internationally while living in Southeast Asia. In her free time, she loves reading and learning, hiking, scuba diving, and spending time with her family. And one of the reasons that I wanted to have Mary on the podcast was because I could see a lot of myself and her story when I heard her on other podcasts. And I really love being able to make that connection, where we can see ourselves and our kids and see more of our similarities and our differences. So I wanted to share that with the audience. And thank you so much for coming on today.

Mary

Well, thank you so much for having me. And as you know, I have so much respect for the work that you’re doing. And so. I’m just really grateful to be able to share this conversation with you.

Heather

 So let’s start with you just giving a little bit of your background and how you got into this work. Sure, yeah. So what led me into this work was my own addiction with substances.

Mary

So I started experimenting with drugs and alcohol when I was about 13 years old, so pretty young. And it’s definitely caused a lot of tension with my parents at certain times. And I had some trouble that I got into, but it wasn’t until later in life, until I went away to college that things started to really become problematic when I started getting introduced to cocaine and ecstasy and I was using Adderall to continue to function at school and maintain my grades. And that was when I started to see some real consequences of my substance use. I started blacking out, of course, because I was using those other substances that were allowing me to stay out later and be more alert. I was consuming a lot more alcohol. And so I was blacking out. I was really, my behavior was so out of alignment with who I knew myself to be and my values. When I would wake up with vague memories of the night before, I would hear stories. I just couldn’t believe the person I was becoming. And so it was my junior year of college that I went down a pretty rapid downward spiral and had my first bottom. And I’ll make a long story short with my recovery because I could go into so much detail here. But what happened was I called my mom for help one morning, I woke up and I could not face what I had gotten myself into the night before. It just felt too much for me. I couldn’t even imagine how I was going to get through that day. So I called her up in a panic and I said, please get me out of here. Get me out of I was in Boulder away in school. And the next thing you know, I’m on a plane home and I’m also finding myself enrolled in rehab and treatment, which I was not ready for. I wanted my mom to help me. It was like, no, come rescue me. Get me out of trouble, but don’t tell me I’m going to get sober. Like that’s not what the goal is here. And so I thought I could outsmart everything that I was learning. I really was filtering what I was saying because I needed to be strategic to make sure that I could get back to school with my friends. And I had to learn the lessons for another three years. I went back to using drugs and alcohol through the rest of my college experience. And after I graduated, when I was working and found myself in a pretty bad place with cocaine in particular, I was using cocaine a lot in secrecy and hiding and. hit another bottom, which was enough for me to make the decision for myself to get sober. And so ultimately, I went to treatment in 2013, and I’ve been sober since April 27, 2013.

Heather

Wow. I appreciate you sharing your journey and what that experience was like for you, especially calling your mom, and asking for help. And it sounds like she set. treatment up for you and that you still went ahead and went even though you weren’t ready. Even though you weren’t necessarily ready, planted some seeds of change.

Mary

Definitely. I think one of the things that’s been the most important lesson, especially looking back, is that recovery begins before the day you get sober. And there were so many seeds planted. Even though I was really stubborn and from the outside, I probably seemed very resistant and like I knew better. It was definitely seeping in and the seeds were planted. So that was my first exposure to 12-step recovery. I gained a lot of really valuable tools. It was the first time that I really… I had been to therapy before. Again, it was something that my parents insisted on. It was the first time I really engaged, even though it was limited. And my mom also started taking me to yoga with her at that time, which became a really, really important part of my recovery journey. And even when I went back to school and I started using substances again, I was going to yoga classes and that was like my place where I could just feel a little bit more okay with myself. I could feel like I was going to be okay. Most of the time after I got out of treatment and went back to school and was using substances again, there was so much shame and anxiety that came with that. It just got worse and worse. But on my yoga mat, I felt like I had the tools to feel a little bit more okay. And that made a huge difference for me. So Absolutely. I think there was so much value in going to that program. I felt guilty because I went to that treatment and my parents paid for it and I started using again, but I definitely don’t think it was time or money or energy wasted by any means.

Heather

Yeah. I really appreciate you sharing that because I think it’s so easy to think that it should just be one and done. And if it’s not that time was wasted and I liked you sharing that about even just the yoga practice. So that helped you. You were at least adding something grounding into your life after that. You were adding in a healthy practice, at least, to help create the maybe foundation for you to build on.

Mary

Absolutely. I think it’s really easy the day that someone gets sober to see that as the moment that the flip switched and things changed and we forget or we just don’t recognize the value of all the little steps along the way. And I think that is so important for family and friends to recognize, because it can feel so discouraging when you have this person that keeps continuing and returning to use, and you’re thinking, I’m doing all the things and nothing is working. And both of my parents, I mean, my family, they were doing all the things and it was working. It didn’t look like it from the outside. It was probably very frustrating, but it was definitely working. It was slowly chipping away. And when I was finally ready, it was like, there was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak, but there was a lot that led up to it.

Heather

Yeah, yeah. And it is really hard. And when you’re in the middle of your journey, like now when I look back and I see the changes that Helena was making and that things were, she was making progress all the time and changing, but yet when I was in the middle of it and I just was so desperate for it to just be over with. It felt like you said nothing was working, which I think is one of the most painful thoughts that we can have. But it was. And it was just like, that’s why I think we have to have a lot more measurements for success than just abstinence. And what are some of the things that you think were part of you building that success for yourself?

Mary

Yeah, I really like how you say that, that the importance of having different measures of success. Because for me, it’s like, I’m going back to school and starting to go to yoga classes regularly was so different than my lifestyle before. Like I never exercised when I was at school. I mean, the extent of it was walking to class. I went on one hike during the four years that I lived in Boulder in the mountains, and it was the biggest deal ever. And so for me to be going to a yoga class and having a membership at the local studio, and carving out that amount of time, even though so much of the rest of my time was spent drinking and being hung over and everything else, that was a huge measure of success. And that also gave me a lot of confidence. That was showing to myself that I could actually follow through on things. And I wasn’t just building strength in my physical body. I was building a lot of strength in my mind and mental fortitude. And so I would definitely say that was a really big thing for me, was having that as a daily habit. That carried over to so many different areas of my life.

Heather

Yeah. I like that. I guess just looking at it that way and seeing how much that was a part of your change process, that it was a process rather than an event. Because that’s the other thing we expect. Oh, this one event’s going to happen, like you said, the flip of the switch. So in your Sun and Moon Sober Living community, you’ve been able to do a lot of work. have sober and sober curious people, which I know some people have draw a hard line, you can only be a part of this if you’re sober. What made you include both?

Mary

Yeah, that’s a great question. And I think it’s important to clarify that within the Sun and Moon sober loving community, I’m not teaching moderation or promoting a message of come learn how to moderate. I think some people confuse that with sober curious. I just want it to be an inclusive environment where people feel like if they’re not ready to come and make a decision for the rest of their life today, or take on a certain label, but they still have this inner feeling like something needs to change, and they want to reevaluate their substances, that they feel included in this conversation, and they can come and have those conversations and gather those tools. And what I found in that process is a lot of people who have a curiosity towards it. And the reason that that’s important to me is because that’s where I was at. That morning that I called my mom in 2010, And I was like, get me out of here. I knew that there was something seriously wrong with my substance use. But I didn’t want to call myself an alcoholic or an addict. And I definitely didn’t want to say at that age that I was going to be sober for the rest of my life. So I just want people to feel like you can still come and you can still participate in these conversations. And you can reevaluate what relationship you want to have with this substance. And so I just, the aim is really to remove the barrier that people might have. And the beautiful thing about that I found is people come from a curious place. And then by nature of being around all these sober people, they make a decision that actually I do want to be sober and I don’t have a problem with saying that this is who I am and I want to stay this way. And so yeah, it’s just really to remove the barrier. Yeah, I really love that idea because it is important to remove barriers and then connection and community and like. a sense of belonging and acceptance just as you are. And I like the way you phrased it that if you don’t want to make a decision for the rest of your life today, right, you don’t want to decide for the rest of your life, you’re never going to touch another substance. And to me, that gives it a lot of perspective. I think that would be hard for anybody with anything.

Heather

Yes, exactly. Exactly.

Mary

Imagine if you were to make any big life decision and say, I want you to decide today that… this is where you’re going to live for the rest of your life and you’re never going to move this state or you’re going to eat this specific diet plan or do this specific workout every day for the rest of your life. Any decision would be so overwhelming. And we don’t have to make decisions about the rest of our life today. But if we can get really honest about where we’re at right now in this moment, then sobriety feels a lot more manageable and we can actually experience the benefits. It’s not this daunting thing where I’ve got to figure out how I’m going to. do this wedding sober in six months, or the New Year’s Eve party, or whatever it is that might be causing fear for people.

Heather

Yeah. And the support of community, knowing that you’re going to have people to turn to when you do try to make this big life change, I think that’s huge. I mean, we need it as well as parents. We all need community. It’s just part of who we are. But another thing I’ve heard you say that I really liked was that how substance use. isn’t necessarily just about addiction. It’s like part of the human condition and how far it goes back and how we all have a tendency to numb and distract. So can you share a little bit about that?

Mary

Absolutely. That’s one of the things that I love about that behavior of change model, that concept that behaviors make sense. I think that is so, so important for us to recognize. Yeah, first of all, there’s a book, The History of Addiction. I can’t remember the author now off the top of my head, Looking back, I mean, how long humans have been turning to substances is pretty incredible. But just in general, when we are dysregulated in our nervous system and we feel stressed or we’re up against some really difficult emotions, it’s a very natural response to want to seek some form of relief from that. And I think that’s the thing that a lot of people get wrong when they make it about the individual. They make it about themselves or they make it about the person is that we fail to recognize. It’s not about that person. It’s about what function is this substance serving for them. And I think for me, that even in itself caused a lot of confusion because I thought, when I went to treatment the first time, I thought, I have no reason to be an alcoholic or an addict or struggle with addiction. I come from a supportive family. I have a privileged background. This doesn’t make any sense. So to me, I wouldn’t even allow it to make sense. But I think just even looking at it, on a very, very human level of when we feel stressed, when we feel insecure, when we feel socially anxious, and we have something that’s going to make that more manageable, it’s incredibly natural for us to want to reach for that substance that’s going to make us have a temporary sense of relief. So I think that’s a really good starting point so we can be a little bit more compassionate towards ourselves. Because when we make it about me, like a me thing, or a them thing, then if that’s just, person, then that doesn’t really give you much hope for healing and recovery, right? But if you can recognize, oh, this is a very human response, what you’re engaging in, how can we strategize to find a new pathway to get you that same reward? That’s when I think recovery starts to happen.

Heather

Yeah. You said so much there. I’m not sure which part I want to talk about more. But I do love the behaviors make sense as part of the invitation to change model. And then one of the things we talk about in there is what you mentioned. Like, okay, if you know why what it’s helping with the substance, then you can start looking for healthier replacement behaviors like you did with yoga. And I’m even think about myself and like, how I had to learn to live without like, I use drinking for… shy and socially awkward and like learning to just be myself and be okay with and have fun without drinking or all of those. It’s like relearning how to live and how to be in the world and just be okay without any of that help that makes it really instantly so much easier until you start having a lot of problems with it. So just thinking of it from that perspective of How much reliving or relearning how to live there is involved in the recovery process too?

Mary

100%. And I think that’s the really beautiful thing about recovery is that it starts with the substance. Maybe it’s the alcohol or drugs that are really calling our attention and making it obvious. We need to do some work here and start to bring in some new tools. But if it wasn’t alcohol, it can be something else. And there are so many normalized addictions in our society. from social media to work to numbing out with Netflix. And a lot of them are really encouraged and rewarded. And yeah, like I said, they’re normalized. And so a lot of people are engaging in addictive behavior that are maybe a little bit more easily masked as not so problematic because they don’t show up the same way as a drug and alcohol addiction would. But if you can get to the root of that, if your drug and alcohol addiction is allowing you to open up your mind, better understand yourself on that level, it really does improve all areas of your life. Because again, it’s going back to that thing, this is totally normal behavior. When so much of my drinking and drug use started with feeling really insecure and just not really feeling that comfortable in my own skin and in my body and always having this inner dialogue, second guessing everything I said, which just made it so difficult to just be present and engage with people. And I just had this quick solution that allowed me to shut that off. And so, of course, I leaned into it fully. I leaned into it to the extent that I literally couldn’t get enough of it. And so, yeah, I think it’s important to understand that.

Heather

Yeah. And I think that process for me, trying to understand more what my daughter was going through and then really looking at myself to see, like, how we were alike and then having that realization that. well, I was doing a lot of the same things. They were just all socially acceptable, like with work and food and drinking, whatever else it was. And that there was just this, such a small difference in us. And the small difference was that my brain said, stop sometimes. And I had some fear of going into the harder drugs. I was scared of that. And that was the only thing that stopped. That was the only difference in us that I really saw. She just didn’t have that fear that I had. And that I also had the realization that it could happen to me still, right? Like I could cross some threshold at some point if I continued down that road or maybe a traumatic experience in my life or something else could happen. And that’s the only thing standing between me and her and the way that I was judging her so much. It just really gave me this. bringing it down to that humanness and helped me have a whole new level of compassion to see they’re really just a tiny, tiny difference and I’d be in the same situation.

Mary

Yeah, and I love that was something that really struck me about your work when I was listening to your podcast before we connected live even was that it takes a lot of humility and courage and honesty to be able to turn the attention inward in that situation. And From the perspective of someone who struggled with addiction, it really does feel like everyone around you seems to have it under control. And they’re just looking at you like, what’s wrong with you? Why do you always have to take things too far? And it doesn’t really feel like many people are actually willing to take a pause and look inward and say, how can I relate to this? How does this show up in my life? And I think that is so disarming for someone when somebody approaches you from a place like that. It opens up such an important doorway for connection that can make… I think about I am endlessly grateful for the unconditional love that I got from my parents, despite the fact that I wasn’t listening to them. I was putting myself in really dangerous positions. I kind of felt like it was a slap in the face after I went to treatment. And then went back to drinking right in front of them. And I knew that doorway was always open. I knew there was always going to be unconditional love there. When I hear the way that you speak about that, it reminds me of what I felt. And I can’t imagine how different it would have ended up if that wasn’t there. And it just turned into this shame and just basically assuming I just must be messed up. I would have thought I should just keep going because there’s no hope for me and nobody seems to see any possibility in recovery.

Mary

Yeah. Yeah, I think that we under. estimate how much value there can be just in showing somebody unconditional love and value and, and holding that space until they can see it for themselves.

Mary

Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Cause I think even though I can only speak for myself, but I was really fighting to put out this image, like I’ve got this and I’m fine. And I was in such denial myself. So I was not showing the amount of like pain and vulnerability that I was feeling on the inside. I really, really needed help and support. I couldn’t do it by myself. I had to go to treatment twice. I had to go to meetings. I needed to have therapy and support. But I was presenting as in, I’m fine, kind of really pushing people away. And in the same conversation, I was trying to convince myself of. And so I think it’s so hard to be on the other side of that and really just try to connect to that person on a deeper level beyond what they’re showing on the outside.

Heather

Yeah. I heard you also talk about creating space between impulse and action, which was… I love looking at it that way because it was just another window into how we’re the same because I think as parents, we struggle a lot with like, we really want to support our kids. We want to have a better response instead of a reaction. We don’t want to turn everything on ourselves. Just all these different ways that we struggle with that. impulse control as well. And so that creating space between impulse and action really resonated with me as well. Like how were you able to do that for yourself?

Mary

Yeah, I think this is so important too. And it’s it really speaks to the power of practices like yoga and mindfulness based practices and things that will allow you to slow down and ground and really calm your system. And For me, when I was still in active addiction, I just felt like I was operating on autopilot. Like in my mind, I knew that I wanted to stop drinking and I would set this goal of, okay, on Monday, I’m not gonna drink after work. And then it was like, there was no break in between like the deciding I was gonna drink and starting to drink. It just was like that immediate like impulse followed by the action. And so what I learned through practices like yoga, which were having me really connect with my breath, it was like that feeling of inner spaciousness. was literally separating and creating distance between impulse and action. And suddenly I could access that space where there was actually the ability to choose. And that space started like teeny, teeny tiny. And over time it grows. And I think that is so incredibly important because most of us live incredibly busy lives and we have so much going on and we’re really encouraged to like keep going and fill the space and not slow down or you’re lazy and not rest because you don’t deserve it. And… And especially whether you’re in a position of addiction or you’re in the position of trying to help someone and the fire alarms are going off all the time, to find ways to regulate your nervous system is so important. Because when we’re in that sympathetic state, that sympathetic activation, like our fight or flight mode is on, it’s really, really hard to gain access to that moment of choice. Because we’re just in survival mode and we’re trying to get relief. And so… I think sometimes when you are in a place of stress and panic and overwhelm, it’s really hard to create that space for yourself. But that’s why I’m so passionate about having small daily habits and things that are part of your day every day, whether that’s going outside in nature without your phone, just to take a few minutes to breathe in fresh air or feel the sunshine on your face, connect with the ground beneath you, having a meditation practice. taking time for yoga nidra, which is like a very deep restorative restful practice you can do lying down, whatever that’s going to look like for you. I think recognizing sometimes we have to reprogram in our mind how we see these things because we aren’t really trained to value rest in our society or to really place value on those things, but to recognize how essential those are for your recovery and your ability to actually make conscious choices in your life. I mean, that was huge for me.

Heather

Yeah. Yeah, I love your idea of the small daily practices too, because that is really what’s just saved me through all of this going through everything with Helena, with her substance use and then me having breast cancer and her passing away. Like those small daily practices that I had been working on for years were just what I do no matter what’s happening in my life. I mean, there’s of course times that I miss it. But if it’s more than a day or two, I’m like, this is just what I have to go do. Because I know that this is part of my resilience. This is what’s going to keep me going. And I think I find myself talking to people a lot lately about resting versus replenishing. Because people, you take time to sleep or watch Netflix, but that doesn’t restore your spirit. that doesn’t make you feel like ready to face everything and just fill you up. And to me, that’s an important part of it, too, is that restoration. And I think that’s what you were just talking about. That’s what you get out of that.

Mary

Absolutely. I love that you say that because there’s a woman, Dr. Sandra Dalton-Smith. She wrote a book called Sacred Rest and has a TED Talk on this. But she talks about the seven types of rest we all need. and how we often equate rest as just physical rest, like just laying down and taking a nap or putting our feet up. But like you said, I love how you speak about replenishing, because there’s rest, like spiritual rest and creative rest and social rest that involves putting ourselves out in nature and experiencing our connecting with people in a deep and meaningful way. And that to me is so important, because I think, too, when we’re doing all this self-care and recovery, you can feel like, We’re doing all this work and we’re fixing all these defective parts of ourselves and trying to like change. And really like, I think some of the greatest self care is just experiencing joy and real connection and creativity and things that you love and replenish you, like you said. So I think that’s so important. I love that you bring that up because it’s like, we’re not just putting our feet up, you know, it’s like, how can we replenish ourselves and actually experience the good things in life too? Yeah. And it’s not work. it sounds like you do these things because you love them and I do these things because I love them too. And I think that’s an important part of it too, that finding what you really connect with, that what feels good to do. You don’t want to do it just be, I can’t stand how I’m feeling. I can’t feel this way anymore. You don’t want to do it from that. You want to be moving towards what feels good. Definitely. Yeah. I think about that a lot with exercise because my feelings towards exercise used to be like, I have to go to the gym to fix myself. And I was like, It was so much like self-loathing involved and it was like this torturous experience. And now I’m like, I never thought I would be someone that looked forward to going out on a hike. And that would be something that I genuinely enjoy and that I’m looking forward to. But I think when we explore like, what kind of, how can I move my body in a way that I actually like and look forward to? And what if I were to make it small enough, like those tiny habits? Like if a 30 minute hike or walk seems overwhelming, like what if it was enough to just do five? and I could just put on a song that I love or, and that was great and I could celebrate that. I think that like reframing my relationship with self-care has been really, really important.

Heather

Yeah, it is. That the change for me was I heard somebody say that like she worked out to feel good and to have more energy not to lose weight. And that had been my whole, it was either to keep my weight where it was or it was all about my weight. So it wasn’t fun, but that. reframe like you were just describing of I want to just move my body and I want to do this because it feels good and I like to be strong and I have stamina whatever else it is and energy then it wasn’t work anymore it was just a part of what I wanted to do every day.

Mary

Yeah exactly was that something that you had to work hard to reframe in your mind that was like through this process related to recovery

Heather

yeah because that’s when I really started like getting into a lot of personal development and really like listening to podcasts and learning from other people. So I was doing a lot of things, a lot of exploring, trying to learn about myself at the same time. And so reframing really just my whole outlook on life and how I approached everything and learning to do things because they felt good rather than running away from feeling bad and how… different that energy shift is. And so, and I end up working with people on that a lot, too. I’m sure that you do as well, like that it actually takes effort and energy to find the things that you like if you’ve been living your life on autopilot and doing what just feels right or what taking care of your family.

Mary

Absolutely. And it makes me really sad, actually, to think about that. I think a lot of us are conditioned to see exercise as a way to change ourselves. And we’re given that message for so long, that exercise is like purely physical and it’s about looking a certain way or getting ready for spring break. I mean, that was my whole view towards it. And at the same time, if we had a healthier relationship towards it for the beginning, we might not need to actually be looking towards these substances or what insert addictive behavior here, like the food or the endless scrolling or whatever it is. I think if… if we were able from early on to see that there is very much this mind-body connection with movement, for example. And that can actually be an incredible tool for mental health. And it doesn’t matter if you get the biggest biceps out of it or whatever you’re going for, that actually that can spare you from so much suffering down the line. I think there’s like, I think again, it’s like. being compassionate towards ourselves because we were fed these messages. And so we do have to do a lot of unlearning around it, unfortunately.

Heather

Yeah. Unlearning was a huge part of the process for me, too. So I wanted to ask you about what makes you feel supported in recovery. And I’m guessing it might be a little bit different now than it was in the very beginning. And I’m wondering if you could speak to both of those.

Mary

Sure. Yeah. In the beginning, being in treatment was essential for me. So I was, the greatest supports in my life at that time were being in treatment. So I was in group therapy and some one-on-one and also regularly going to 12 step meetings. I also have always had the support of my family, which has been incredibly helpful for me. And I confided in a couple really close friends at that time, but I was really, really secret private about my recovery early on. So having people in the recovery community was huge for me. And then, my yoga practice made me feel really supported. So I did my first teacher training right after I got out of treatment. And at that time, it was just so I had something to fill my time and I could have a better understanding of the philosophy and some of the principles. And so that became an essential practice. And I just kind of built on that. And so I ended up living and working at a retreat center for a while. I had to create a lot of physical boundaries around myself in early sobriety because My whole social life, my career, everything in my life was really surrounded by and saturated with alcohol. And so I realized that was putting a lot of stress on my sobriety. It was making me feel really insecure and disconnected and isolated. So I actually chose to live in an environment for a year retreat center where I was working and, and I just felt like I could. rediscover who I was during that time and build confidence with the lifestyle that I was living without that temptation all around me or the social pressure. And as my recovery has progressed now, I feel supported by a lot of different communities that I engage with that aren’t necessarily centered around recovery. So I connect with people who are just have a lot of shared interests and are interested in well-being and some of the things that I like. Like since I moved back to Colorado, I found this ice bath and breath work community and like to go to group. And I feel really supported by being surrounded by other people. And now it doesn’t have to just be related to recovery. And I do think it’s essential for me to have connections with people in recovery who really understand my struggle and aren’t wondering why 10 years later, can you have a drink now? Or you know, people who get me and can show up. for me through all the different things that come up in life.

Heather

Yeah. Well, I appreciate you sharing that it’s changed over time because I think that that’s scary for people to watch. You see somebody doing practices in the beginning and then that worked, and there’s this fear if they change in any way that means things are going to get worse. But I think it’s also a part of just growing and evolving like change is natural, I think is a natural part of growth. And that’s what I was hearing in your story, like as you’ve grown and gotten more in touch with what matters to you and who you connect with, like that your recovery process has changed as well.

Mary

Absolutely. And I think what it comes down to is from the beginning, it wouldn’t have been safe or a smart idea for me to be in social situations where alcohol was present, but I started to build that confidence. And I think the most important thing is When your recovery starts to change in the sense that you’re losing touch with some of these core principles, and people describe emotional sobriety, which is the practices that you do in recovery that are beyond just removing the physical substance, I think that’s when the red flag goes up. I think some people, they’ve been in recovery for a year or two, and then they start to get really confident, and they don’t do their daily practices anymore that were supporting them and staying sober. And that’s when I think that there’s reason for concern. When you can feel really solid in these practices and your recovery and you’re working a daily program, I think you start to build the confidence to do things that maybe you couldn’t do early on in recovery. I hope that makes sense that I’ve just said.

Heather

Yeah, it does. I’m thinking everybody can understand dieting. And I think about when you’re trying to change your eating habits, just staying at home, instead of going out into a restaurant or to a party where you’re going to be more tempted. until you have confidence that, okay, like this, I’m doing this, I can do it. So I’ll try going out to eat and trust myself to order something healthy.

Mary

Yeah, exactly. Cause I mean, you’re developing new habits and we’re really easily gonna slip back into our old patterns. We’re in high pressure situations and something is new. Like our brain is always trying to bring us back to what’s familiar and comfortable, even if that thing has caused us a lot of suffering. But when you start to program yourself with new patterns of behavior that are related to your recovery or related to eating healthy in that example, then the stronger that you get, then the easier it is to really stay committed to those practices. But I do think we need to create a safe container around ourselves, in a sense, in order to solidify those habits and make it our new default setting. To me, sobriety is my default setting now. The thought never crosses my mind. when I’m out in a social situation, do I want to drink? The craving isn’t even there. It’s completely gone away. So to me, I feel totally comfortable being in that situation where if it was a few months in, I could easily tap right back into that same narrative. You need this to be social. You need this to be fun. And all of that could have pulled me back a lot more easily than now where I feel very grounded in where I’m at with it.

Heather

Yeah. So when you’re working with somebody and they experience a reoccurrence of use, how do you work through that with them and support them through that? Because I know, and I’m asking that question because parents just worry about it so much. And there’s like all this, like everything is lost. And it just means all these horrible things if it happens. So what’s your approach to working through that with somebody?

Mary

Yeah, I had to break away from that all or nothing mentality because I used to really think that way. And that’s what happened to me is I thought I blew it. I might as well go all in. And I think that it’s incredibly important to recognize that the person is already going to have a lot of shame in that moment and a lot of self-criticism and really start coming down on themselves. And that can be a huge trigger to drink. That’s a really shame can be a huge trigger to want to drink. To be able to be compassionate with that person and be kind and be supportive and try to understand them better can be really helpful. Because what I like to do with people is to see it as an opportunity to learn. So I’ve heard people refer to slip ups as data points and data collection. And I think a lot of times if we look at, OK, there was a slip up, there was a return to use. What happened in the hours or the days or the weeks leading up to this? we can start to better understand, oh, I stopped going to yoga class, or I stopped going to meetings, or I was so overwhelmed, I had four deadlines to do. It starts to become a little bit more clear that, again, like that idea of the behaviors make sense. And so rather than it being like, all right, you’ve messed up, you can’t do this, this is all, this isn’t even worth it. It’s sort of like, let’s problem solve this so this doesn’t happen again. Because when I think about that all or nothing mentality, if you were to decide, oh, I blew it, I’m back to day one, I might as well go all out. Well, you’re failing to recognize that you’ve built up these sober muscles. So say you’ve been sober for three months leading up to that, you are in the strongest place you will be at to get back on to sobriety and to return to your practices the next day. If you go drink for three months after that, you’re gonna be in a way worse off position. So I think seeing it in that way can be really helpful. And I know some people find that when they are in that pattern of slip ups, that counting days can create a lot of shame and put them in that cycle. And so they choose to look at it more as a percentage of saying, OK, well, I did drink on this one day. But if I look at the bigger month, then I haven’t drank for 30 out of 31 days. So that’s almost 100% of the month, which is pretty good if you’re used to being someone who is drinking every single day.

Heather

I love that. Yeah, because I can remember trying reframe it for Helena and I would just be like, in the last 18 months, even though you have had a couple of instances of use, you couldn’t have imagined going 18 hours without using in the past. And you are living your life completely different than you had in the years leading up to that. And I love that, like that high percentage of you haven’t drank. 30 out of 31 days. And that’s huge. That’s just like a totally different outlook and feeling. And I think that having a sense of success is important to continue working on something that really takes a lot of work.

Mary

Definitely. And I know it’s been studied, too, one of the most significant parts of behavior change is like celebration and being able to recognize your successes. And I love that what you mentioned earlier about what are some of the other measures of success. I see this happen with people where they’re making these incredible changes in their life. They’re starting to commit to these daily practices. They’re waking up early. They’re doing the journaling, doing the meditation, doing all the things. And then a slip up happens. And all of a sudden, it’s like the entire focus goes on the fact that I drank and I can’t do this. And we miss the bigger picture of like, look at everything you’ve done. Look at all of these other successes. Like these are incredible transformations you’re making in your life. And… If this one slip up happened, maybe there’s really good reason for it. Maybe something really significant is going on here that we need to address so that this won’t happen again. But I love that you say that because that’s not what I was exposed to the first time I went into treatment. It didn’t feel like that to me at all. It felt like, how many days do you have? And you’re starting back at square one if you have a slip up or a relapse. And there’s a lot of shame that can come along with that. And a lot of kind of fear of being the one walking back in with your tail between your legs. Like I relapsed. It can be hard.

Heather

Yeah, yeah, it’s so hard. And I think we do have to have a lot of compassion for that. This went by way too fast because I have so much more I wanna talk to you about, but. Let’s end with you just sharing a little bit about what you offer for your community and how you work with people so that anybody who’s interested can at least have a little bit of an understanding of that.

Mary

Sure, yeah. So I have an online membership community, which is a monthly subscription. And so as a member, people can take part in a whole library of on-demand classes and trainings. We do regular workshops. There’s always replays of the whole. history of workshops that we’ve done in there. We have a book club and we have live weekly meetings, which I really think is the heart of the membership. It’s an opportunity to connect with people. And so every month we have a new theme that we explore. This month, for example, we’re talking about boundaries. We’ve talked about nervous system regulation, all different types of really important topics for recovery. And it’s just a space for people to connect and really work through these practices and have vulnerable conversations. And so… That is something I feel really passionate about. I also do one-on-one coaching, and I have a podcast, the Sun and Moon So We’re Living podcast, and have recently been doing some in-person retreats too.

Heather

Wow. Well, that sounds amazing. I’ll put your website in the show notes for anybody that wants to reach out to you. And I just want to thank you for sharing. this everything so openly today. And I always really just appreciate our conversations because I learned so much. Just gives me a better understanding of humans in general and more of that realization of how much we’re just all the same. So thank you so much for everything you do.

Mary

I completely agree. And thank you so much for all that you do. Whenever we’re talking, it makes me realize no matter what side you fall on this. And I think we all engage in addiction in different ways, in our own personal lives and with our loved ones. And we all need recovery. We all need community and support. So thank you so much for the work that you do. And I’m just really grateful to have been on and chatted with you again.