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An Expat's Sober Story with Kate

Updated: Feb 4, 2022


Meet Kate Gugerli, from @soberfitnesswithkate! Kate is an American mom of three living in Switzerland. We recorded this episode on her 700th day Alcohol Free! Kate says, "Uncovering why I drank like I did was the game changer for my sobriety but it's fitness that now keeps me sober. I have a growing list of athletic accomplishments that never would have been achieved had I not quit drinking." Tune into this episode to hear more about her expat story, how culture shock influenced her drinking, and her inspiring sober story now.



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Transcripts


Intro

Hi friend, this is Alex McRobs, founder of "The Mindful Life Practice" and you're listening to the "Sober Yoga Girl" podcast. I'm a Canadian who moved across the world at age 23 and I never went back. I got sober in 2019 and I realized that there was no one talking about sobriety in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, so I started doing it. I now live in Bali, Indonesia, and full-time run my community, "The Mindful Life Practice". I host online sober yoga challenges, yoga teacher trainings, and I work one on one with others, helping them break up with booze for good. In this podcast, I sit down with others in the sobriety and mental health space from all walks of life and hear their stories so that I can help you on your journey. You're not alone and a sober life can be fun and fulfilling. Let me show you how.


Alex

Alright. Hello, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of "Sober Yoga Girl". I'm really happy to have Kate with me here today on the show. And Kate is an American mom living in Switzerland, and she is also in the Instagram sober fitness world. And that's actually how we originally connected. So we did an Instagram Live a couple of months back, and I'm really excited to this time hear Kate's story. So welcome, Kate.


Kate

Hi. Thank you.


Alex

How are you doing?


Kate

I'm good, and it's been really enjoyable knowing you, I think. I love the posts, the perspective that you share on Instagram. I find the sober Instagram community to be really supportive and positive, and it's like a little burst of positivity in my day when I see that you shared something.


Alex

Thank you. So why don't we start out by you telling us a little bit about yourself?


Kate

Sure. Yeah. So like you said, I'm an American mom. I live in Switzerland. I have three kids. They're all really close in age. I sort of got started having kids a little bit later. I guess I was in my mid-30s and in a rush, which I think is very typical of me. I'm always, like, in a rush to the finish line. Right? Choose my goals. But yeah, before I settled down with my husband, I worked in sales for about 20 years, corporate sales, and had always pushed for a career for financial independence. Having gone through therapy a few different times, most recently with getting sober. I learned a lot about myself, and there's definitely some trauma from my childhood connected to financial instability. So, you know, I grew up on a dairy farm, and while my basic needs were met, there was always this stress, overpaying bills, or, you know, the crops or the animals. There was this environmental stress, and that affected me, I think, to the point where I always had to get the best grades when I was in high school and be the best athlete so I could get a scholarship and go to school. Then when I was in college, it was all about being the best student so I could graduate at the top of my class and get a really good job. Then when I was working, it was the same thing like keep pushing your career, pushing your career so you can advance yourself because the further along you go professionally, the more money you make and the less instability you'll feel. Right. So this kind of force propelled me a lot through my life and was kind of how I defined myself. And then when I got married and had kids and had become reliant on another person, it just was a real struggle for me. And I think as each child came along, I lost a little more of my independence. We had my oldest two in the US, then we moved overseas, and my third came along pretty quickly after that. And so all of a sudden here I am in Poland with three little children, no friends, no sense of self for who I was. And the drinking definitely took on a whole new dynamic there. When I look back at the drinking in my life, it was something that I used alcohol to cope with anxiety. But I consider it something that had been managed because I was working and I was progressing my career, and I had a wonderful husband and healthy children. I mean, on the outside, everything looked like it was all wrapped up in a pretty bow, right. And then when I was in Poland, you know, drinking just, I think, was probably an issue, but not as evident. And then not having access to English-speaking mental health care and suffering from postpartum depression, I think I just really turned into alcohol. And it just was one of these things that, going back to always wanting you to be the best. I was going to treat the most alcohol, right. We really struggled our last year in Poland, and I went to a treatment center in Scotland for four weeks. I tried a lot of times to quit drinking because at some point I realized that my relationship with alcohol was unhealthy, you know. I tried on various occasions to quit. My husband wanted me to go for treatment. And so I just, in an effort to kind of get him off my back, went to this facility in Scotland, became highly recommended by our insurance company. And, you know, there was an element of me doing it for somebody else, which I think when you're trying to get sober is never the right approach. Like, if you're going to quit drinking alcohol, you need to be doing it for yourself, not for other people. And then the way the treatment center approached sobriety was using AA and going through the steps, and I just had a really bad experience with AA, but whatever. I was always a good student. So I did what I was supposed to do those four weeks there. And then I got back home and never really resolved my issues with alcohol. And then the first kind of conflict that I had with my husband or the first kind of sense of feeling overwhelmed again by being a mom of three young kids, I turned right to alcohol. So we left Poland and settled here in Switzerland, which is where my husband's from. And I swore that I would never be like the drunk foreign mom in this small little village because I figured, oh, I'm already up against a lot, you know, being a non-German Speaker. And pretty quickly, I just was like, you know, I don't even care, right? Like, let me stumble down to the gas station and buy some alcohol because I'm hungover and I've got the shakes. Right. I mean, it's just amazing, I think, how quickly the drinking, how quickly I grew to rely on it, and how unhealthy I became as a result of it, you know. And I don't know, the thing about the drinking that bothered me was that I became this person. I don't even know. I'm getting upset. It's been, like, two years since I stopped almost. But the drinking made me this person that I didn't even like. She was really dishonest. She was nasty. Like, God, I said the worst things to my husband, and I was just a real crappy mom. I think, like, turn on the TV all the time because I hungover to deal with parenting. So, yeah, we moved here in September of 2019. And in a very short amount of time, my drinking really escalated. The last time I drank, I was on, like, a five-day bender. I don't even know how I got alcohol, but I got it somehow. I managed to stay, you know, blacked out for five days straight. And on January 30th, so 23 months ago today, looks like somebody kicked me in the ass and woke me up. All of a sudden, I'm alert, I'm awake, and I've just had enough with this life, you know. At that point, my husband wasn't even sleeping in the same room with me. Our relationship was, like, one drink away from being over. So I went down to the guest room where he was sleeping, and I was like, you know, I need help. Like, please, I can't do this anymore. And so this is at, like, 03:00 A.M., so he's like, okay, why don't you go back to bed and we'll deal with this in the morning? I said, okay. So we got in touch with-- here in Switzerland, I think there's a lot of resources available to people who struggle with addiction and dependence of people struggling with addiction. So my husband got in touch with this organization that supports people with addiction or families going through that. And they recommended a clinic here in Switzerland. And the clinic is a German-speaking facility. Obviously, you know, we're here in Switzerland, and we're trying to find something close to home. So I just said, okay, that's where they recommend me going. Let's just sign me up, because when I woke up, when I say, like, I got kicked in the butt awake, jolted awake, however, you want to describe it, I was ready to do whatever I had to do to get that monkey off my back, you know. So I went into this clinic, and my German was, like, a high-end beginner. I'd say, like, somewhere between being a beginner. I mean, I could talk about housework all day long, but coming up with medical jargon in German, forget it. But like I said, I wanted to end this battle, right? So I went there on January 31st. I spent the night in the hospital on the 30th detoxing, continuing my detox and treatment at this facility. Before they even address the drinking, they said, okay, you are just a giant ball of nerves. Like, mentally, I was shot. And so they start me on an antidepressant and gave me some herbs, if you will, for my anxiety. Which I'm not into holistic medicine at all. But for whatever reason, this coction of like passionflower and Valerian root. Just call me right down. And I spent a week detoxing, I think, not only from alcohol but also from everything that had been piling up on me in my life since I became a mom, because this is like the first time I spent away from my kids since the first was born six years ago. This week was necessary in me starting my, let's say, like rehabilitation. And so after I detoxed and you know, when you go into treatment and you have to go through alcohol detox, you know, they check your vitals, you know, they give you medication to manage your withdrawal symptoms. Because if you-- depending on how severe your alcoholism is, you try to withdraw from alcohol completely on your own. You could have life-threatening reactions. Right. So I did a week of, like I said, detoxing from stress and alcohol in life and started to look into the different options available to me in terms of therapy. And so the thing that kind of stuck out to me was movement therapy, because going back to high school and being younger and growing up on a farm, I was always very active. And I sort of embraced that therapy. Got to the sessions as many times as I could, added in some other forms of therapy, art therapy, craft therapy, basically, whatever they wanted me to do, I was like, I'll do it, you know. Give it to me. If it means leaving this place in six weeks, sober, I am all for it. And I started therapy again and continued the therapy when I got home and looked into the things that caused the development of this unhealthy relationship with alcohol and did a lot of work on myself internally, I think. And yeah, here I am. Today is my 700th-day alcohol-free.


Alex

Congratulations. And wow, you've been through so much. And I can so relate to I think we've talked about this before, but that feeling of definitely being an ex-pat influenced my drinking a lot. That feeling of being uprooted. And I can only imagine like, you know when I got to Kuwait or in Abu Dhabi, I at least kind of had a job and a way to connect with people and you know, make friends. And I've always thought, like, to go along as a partner must be so hard because it's like, you know, how do you find your people? How do you connect?


Kate

Yeah.


Alex

Really hard.


Kate

Yeah. That was a big thing for me. It's funny because when my husband and I, when we met, he was living here in Switzerland and I was in the US, and so he uprooted himself to go to the US so we could kind of see if our relationship had staying power, you know. And he went through an ex-pat orientation. And the woman said to him, that looks like most of these ex-pat assignments are great the first nine months. But after the newness of it all wears off and you start thinking about your family or thinking about your life, what it used to be like that month, like nine to whatever, until you establish a new life for yourself. I guess those are really challenging times. And so it's funny because when we went to Poland, that's exactly what happened is like those first nine months there where being in Poland and living abroad with my family was so new to me, it was like, wow, it's so exciting. Let's go out and explore. Let's get the house set up. And right around that nine-month mark was when I had gotten pregnant again, which just you know, we wanted three kids, but I wanted a bit of a break before the third one came along because I had two. My girls were only nine months apart. No, sorry, 18 months apart. Nine-month apart, that's crazy. But anyway, here I am. So I found out that I was pregnant again, and I was dealing with now these feelings of missing home and not having any friends. And now I'm going to have another baby soon and what the heck. So that was definitely like a rough time. And I definitely went through this morning period of my friendships and my country and all of this stuff. And then pretty much as soon as my son was born because I hadn't dealt with those feelings, you know, I hadn't processed that. As soon as he was born and the nice bout of postpartum depression was sprinkled on this situation. I was like a hot mess in a dumpster fire. But yeah, you know, the nice thing, if you will, having gone through all that, I think, is that you know, these friendships that I was so sad about losing, I realized you know, those friendships were all in some way connected to alcohol. We're going to the local art show. Let's drink. Or there's a movie coming out. Let's go to the theater that serves alcohol, right. Those relationships that I thought were so great only had one thing in common, and that was alcohol, you know. And so when I look back at this period of time, I think all of this stuff was necessary for me to kind of reevaluate what's important to me in my life, who my friends are, and the things that I need to be the best version of myself. I don't think I would ever go back and want to magic all that stuff away you know, because I don't think I'd be where I am today if I hadn't gone through all that stuff, you know.


Alex

Yeah, it's so true. That stuff makes us who we are.


Kate

Yeah, absolutely. The nice thing, I think, of kind of addressing this issue with my kids being so young, I think, is that the younger ones don't really remember that time when I was sick, as my oldest calls it. But she remembers my oldest. And so we're working through that right now with her. Like, she has anxiety like me. And sometimes when she sees me really stressed out, like she crosses her mind like, oh, boy, you know. So I may go buy some alcohol and lock herself in her room. But we talk through these challenges, you know, and I think that's really one thing I'm thankful for in giving up alcohol is that I have the kind of mental capacity or presence of mind to address her anxiety with her, which is something that never really was addressed with me when I was younger, you know. I think that when you peel the layers back on your issues with alcohol you know, there's a lot that goes into it. It's not that you woke up one day you know, and decided to fall into a bottle of vodka. There was a lot going into that. Right. And one of the things besides loss of identity was anxiety. Anxiety to the point where it feels like someone's sitting on my chest and I can't breathe. And I see that with my oldest. And we work through that. We talk about it. And I'm not a perfect mom, even sober by any means at all. But I know that they get the best part of me, the best that I'm able to give. And it's better than anything they would have gotten for me if I had still been drinking.


Alex

Yeah. And that's amazing that you now are able to be present and be able to show up for your daughter in that way. Like, it's huge.


Kate

Yeah, definitely. I think I really am grateful. Looking back at the last almost two years, things have just really blossomed for me, I think, and friendships, doing stuff that I never thought I would ever do, like talk to you here on the podcast or be on Instagram and talking about fitness and making these silly Reels, which I like dancing in front of a camera or going on, like, doing these Instagram lives, like, all those things before would have given me massive doses of anxiety and would have been all I need to go, like, you know, get a drink of something. But I think it's really amazing like when you think alcohol really holds you back from being the best version of yourself or achieving your dreams or I know that sounds really corny, but I've become, like, really, really corny and punny as I was, like, I'm living my best life.


Alex

But I'm exactly the same. It's so true.


Kate

Yeah. So I feel like it's the end of the year, and you kind of, like, are reflecting on stuff that you've gone through in the last year. And now, again, being close to hitting two years, I'm just feeling very, very grateful and excited to see kind of what else is in store for me, you know.


Alex

Yeah. And as we were saying before, like, the third year is really when it starts to blossom. So I can't wait to follow along with you, too, and see what happens next.


Kate

Yeah. Thank you. Thank you so much.


Alex

So I have one more question for you. I'm wondering if you had any advice or wisdom to give someone who wants to start an alcohol-free journey, what would you suggest?


Kate

I think surrounding yourself with positive influences is really important, and it doesn't have to be like your spouse. For example, when I stopped drinking, you know my husband, who never really drank a lot, as it were, just like, you know what? We're not going to have any more alcohol in the house. I'm going to go along this journey with you. And that was great. You know, for those first few months, I needed that. I don't think that everybody does, though. I think having positive role models or positive connections to sobriety is really, really important. And I'll tell you why. When I first got sober and came home from treatment, it was the first Covid lockdown and there was no place for me to go. Right? So I just did my thing at home. My husband, you know, took care of the groceries, and I could be in my little protective bubble. But after a while there, you know, after nine months, it was enough, right? I wanted to start creeping out into the world. And I didn't have any role models in that sense like to look to people who could go to bars and order a nonalcoholic drink. I didn't even think about mocktails. Right. I wasn't too connected to the world of Quit Lit, and I just didn't have a connection to life without alcohol. And so for some reason, I was on Instagram and I don't even know how I stumbled upon so were Instagram, but I did. And I feel like my connection to sobriety or my perspective on it you know, being a death sentence to a degree, shifted. Look at all these amazing women, like writing about sobriety or kicking ass dating without alcohol or socializing without alcohol, parenting without alcohol. Once I connected to this positive, alcohol-free movement, I think it really changed my outlook on what a life without alcohol looks like. And I think that I would definitely suggest to people to, if they don't have an Instagram account, go ahead and create one and find sober Instagram, because it's just such a lovely positive. This is what your life can be like without alcohol. And I'm not saying that life without alcohol is perfect. I have my ups and downs here. Parenting is difficult with or without alcohol. Life, you know, you never know what life is going to throw up at you. Right? But I know that being fully present allows me to deal with the conflict that comes my way. Much better than having alcohol in my life would. Right. So the connection is really key. I don't know where I read this, but it's I think a popular sober quote and it's "the opposite of addiction is connection". I think that's really important for someone who wants to get rid of alcohol is to connect to others who are doing that. And I think that will be a great boost to your sober journey. And then also, I think to give yourself some grace because you know, unlike me who woke up in a treatment center and was able to spend six weeks focusing on myself and my sobriety. A lot of people get sober in the real world and the real world is a lot more challenging than a sterile hospital where you're randomly tested for alcohol. Right. So giving yourself some grace and just you know, figuring out what sobriety looks like for you I think is really important too.


Alex

Yeah. Absolutely. Oh, amazing. Well, Kate, thank you so much for coming on the show, it was honestly so inspiring to just hear how much you've overcome and how far you've come from you know, 700 days ago and so it's a lot to be, super proud of.


Kate

Going to do some Burpees now. 700 Burpees for sobriety.


Alex

Amazing and I'm going to share on the episode description Kate's information so you can find her on Instagram, follow her amazing content and if you're looking for any sober fitness, Kate is the person to look to. So I'll put the link in there.


Kate

Thank you, Alex. Thank you so much.


Alex

Thank you for coming on the show and I'll speak to you soon.


Kate

Okay. Cool. Happy New Year. Thank you.


Alex

Happy New Year. Bye.


Kate

Bye.


Outro

Hi friend, thank you so much for listening to this episode of "Sober Yoga Girl" podcast. This community would not exist without you, so thank you for being here. It would be massively helpful if you subscribe to this show and leave a review so that we can reach more people. And if we haven't met yet in real life, please come hop on Zoom at "The Mindful Life Practice" because the opposite of addiction is connection. Sending you love and light wherever you are in the world.



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