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Leigh's Sober Journey

Updated: Aug 23, 2021


I'm super happy to have Leigh Saulnier on the show today! Leigh and I met over a year ago and Leigh has had a very active role in the Mindful Life Practice Community. Leigh started practicing daily yoga with the MLPC during the Coronavirus pandemic. Leigh had practiced off and on for many years before, but got more inspired to practice daily when she had to stop running due to arthritis. She has competed in the Ironman triathlon as well as many marathons in the past and felt a big void in my life when she was no longer marathon training.


Leigh recently retired from her job as an occupational therapist working with children with sensory processing disorders. She is currently doing the 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training with the MLPC and hope to be able to start teaching yoga in the fall of 2021. Leigh enjoys all types of yoga practice and has especially enjoyed learning pranayama and meditation practices recently. Leigh is alcohol free and has greatly benefitted from participating in the sober circles and connecting with the other folks in the community. It gives Leigh joy to build friendships with people all over the world. Her interests are ever changing but right now she loves knitting, gardening, cooking (and eating) vegan food, and reading books about antiracism and the environmental movement.



Tune into this episode to hear more about Leigh's sober journey, how yoga has played a role, and where she sees her sober yoga journey going! Leigh hopes to start teaching yoga for The Mindful Life Practice in the fall. Catch her for classes at www.themindfullifepractice.com.


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Follow me on Instagram @alexmcrobs and check out my offerings in yoga, meditation and coaching at http://themindfullifepractice.com/live-schedule.


Full episode


TRANSCRIPT


Intro: Welcome to the Sober Yoga Girl podcast with Alex McRobs, international yoga teacher and sober coach. I broke up with booze for good in 2019 and now I'm here to help others do the same. You're not alone and a sober life can be fun and fulfilling. Let me show you how.


Alex: All right. Welcome back to another episode of Sober Yoga Girl. I am really excited to have Leigh Saulnier here on today's episode. So Leigh and I have known each other for over a year now which is pretty incredible. And Leigh has been a huge part of the Mindful Life Practice and the Sober Curious Yoga community over this time. So if you've been to many of our yoga classes, you've probably met Leigh. And Leigh is now running sober curious yoga school and she's also one of our students in the yoga teacher training. So welcome Leigh. I'm so happy to have you here.


Leigh: Thanks Alex. I'm happy to be here.


Alex: So let's get into-- we're gonna get started. And I was wondering if you could just give me a little bit of background information on you. You know, who you are, where you're from. Kind of what your interests and your career was.


Leigh: I am-- I don't know if I need to tell my age or not I'm 58 years old. I have three children and I'm married. My kids are grown and out of the house now all independently. They're all graduated from college at this point. I used to be really into running and doing triathlons. I did a lot of marathons and like over I think I was approaching 20. I did full ironman in Mont-Tremblant and a few half ironmans and shorter distance triathlons. So I was really into like big working out for a number of years and I'm an occupational therapist. It's my profession. I worked with children with sensory processing disorders and just recently retired from doing that. And I had been working for somewhere around 20 to 25 years in the field. I'm originally from Philadelphia. Just recent-- well not recently, I moved to Cincinnati about 19 years ago. From my husband's job and we raised our kids in the schools here. I've been doing yoga for a really long time. I remember starting yoga when I was in high school or even junior high. I would watch on PBS Lilias’ Yoga and You, I think it was called and Lilias' actually lives in Cincinnati and I would do that yoga. It's a hatha yoga practice after school on TV. And I went to a couple different classes. And then when I was running and stuff, I used yoga as sort of a cross-training, stretching, flexibility type of a thing. And there are a few different studios that I would go to here but I really started during the pandemic doing yoga every day. I had only before done it just here and there. So I was doing yoga every day during the pandemic which really hit like changed my life.

I have had to stop running and well running mainly recently because of arthritis issues. That was, I guess right before the pandemic, I started to have issues with my knees and I couldn't really run very much anymore. So I was trying but I was walking and doing a lot of PT and stuff. So yoga really saved me during that time because it was just nice to have that mind-body influence. So and then, I also like to ski. I've recently gotten into knitting also this year which has been really fun. My family loves to go backpacking together and hiking. We've done a few longer backed packing trips recently. And I love doing anything with my kids, so they're really fun to hang out with. So that's kind of me.


Alex: Awesome. Cool. So let's dive into your your drinking. When did you start drinking and what influenced your drinking habits.


Leigh: Well I told you already my age, so it was a long time ago when I started drinking. I think I was thinking about it before I came on here and I think the first time I got drunk, I was nine years old. Which is crazy to think like I was that young. I was over at my friend's, a family friend's house. My best friend, I think I was in like third grade. I think it was over the holidays and her father, it was either Thanksgiving or Christmas. I'm not sure which, but I think it might have been Christmas time. And her father let us taste these cocktails that he made and I thought-- they were really delicious. So then, I spent that New Year's eve at her house overnight. And we wanted to have some of those drinks and we had no idea what we were doing. So we raided her parents’ alcohol cabinet and drank just straight. I don't know what, like whiskey and vodka and who knows what. And I got really-- we both got pretty drunk I think. But-- and I threw up all over. She had this paper that she had to write for school. It was like a bibliography and I threw up all over it. And her parents were good friends with my parents and they never told them about it. Which is crazy to me. But anyway, I think they might have been sorry that it happened to me. You know because, but anyway if that was then I didn't drink for a long time after that. That kind of turned me off to alcohol. It was really traumatic for me. And then, I guess when I was probably in junior high, I had friends that were drinking and getting high. And so I was doing going to gatherings and well I was actually, I think I started drinking beer at like a friend's house. I remember sneaking like genesee cream ale or something from her parents. And she also intro the same friend of mine introduced me to weed and going to like, I remember going to a park somewhere where there were like a group of kids and smoking weed and getting high. And I probably preferred getting high through High School. I don't know but then I didn't really like it either.Like it made me really paranoid and not good for my mental health. But I was drinking and doing smoking weed during that time. And then, I think I smoked, stopped smoking weed. I don't know there were periods on and off when I would stop. Like I had a car accident at one point and then I stopped drinking for like a year after that. And then, I'd start again and stop and there were also other drugs mixed in there. And then, I think when I started working after college, I kind of like reigned it in and I stopped doing drugs but I continued to drink. And I remember going to-- I had a therapist that I was going to at the time. And she told me, I was like-- “Do am I an alcoholic?”. I don't know if I need to stop drinking or not. And she said, well if you just drink two drink, try just drinking two drinks limiting two drinks a day. For I was seeing her like once a week. And try and limit it to just two drinks a day for a week. And then, when I went back a week later I was like ,okay I did it! I only had two drinks a day. You know, like I made it through the week. And she was like okay. And I was like now what do I do. I'm not an alcoholic right. And she's like “No now you just do that for the rest of your life”. Like you limit to two a day.So I did that for a long time. Like I limited the amount of drinks I would have to two. And I think, there were maybe some times when like it got a little looser like when we would go out with friends on weekends or whatever. But, I think that was pretty I stayed with that pretty long and had kids and then after I had kids, I started I think as a weight loss tool. I started drinking wine every night at that point I probably wasn't drinking every day but then it's at one point like I decided I'm not gonna eat dessert or ice cream after dinner I'm just gonna have a glass of wine. And that was my weight management tool. So unfortunately, so I did that for a long time and that got me into a daily habit of drinking. And then on the weekends, we would go out with friends and drink more. My husband and I have babysitters or whatever. And it just I think it just ramped up through the years. And then when my kids got old enough that they could drink, I was really excited. But they were all close to being 21. They got two 21 yards, anyway they, when the two kids were in college I remember being really excited that I could drink with them. And I thought that was really fun. And we would go for like the parent weekends, mother-daughter weekends or parent weekends to their universities and day drink. That was a big thing like dartying is what my daughter called it at her school.


Alex: What was that? Dirtying?


Leigh: Day partying.


Alex: Oh dartying.


Leigh: Dartying.


Alex: We called it day drinking before.


Leigh: I know. So I remember going to like a dinner with her friends, one night and they were like the parents all it was all moms and daughters. And the moms were like “what are you gonna do tomorrow?” and somewhere like “oh we're gonna go shopping”. We're gonna--I was like I'm dartying with it.Like I'm not gonna-- I'm not going shopping. That doesn't sound like fun to me. I'm gonna-- we're gonna be day drinking and we would drink all day and then all night. Oh my gosh. And then, I remember like after one of those weekends like that Sunday morning. Sitting at breakfast and having kind of the shakes, my hands were shaking. And I was like oh my gosh I feel horrible. The only thing that would be better is make me feel better is to have a bloody Mary. So that and so I think like over the last couple years before I stopped drinking it had gotten like pretty wild. The holidays from like Thanksgiving through Christmas was just wild parties. One after another and drinking like wildly with the kids too over the holidays. That was the year before I stopped drinking.So that's kind of how it escalated.


Alex: Yeah.


Leigh: What influenced me.


Alex: You know I love when I have these podcast guests from around the world. I think it's so interesting how in different parts of the world, we have different names for things but it's like the same thing. Right? Like we called it day drinking at my school. We called it brunching in the UAE. You called it dartying, it's like liquid courage. Sarah Williamson called it dutch courage and I was like wow I've never heard that before. But it's so interesting how it's like the same concept exists around the world just in different forms.


Leigh: Just with different names.


Alex: Yeah


Leigh: Yeah.


Alex: So you mentioned kind of how your drinking escalates. And you know, I think most people go through that, right. Like we start out never planning on being a day drinker and then it just kind of escalates and happens over time. Tell me about like, what was it that made you decide to quit drinking and become sober?


Leigh: So my son, he's the middle child. He came home for Christmas and he-- we were at a wedding. Met-- we met at a wedding before Christmas and he told me that he had stopped drinking. And I was really upset about it. I was like that this Christmas I was thinking this Christmas won't be as much fun if he's not drinking. I can't believe he stopped and I was trying to think of ways to get him to drink. We were at this wedding, I was like watching him the whole wedding thinking is he gonna drink. At one point I saw him holding a beer bottle, and I was like oh good he had a beer. You know, he's gonna come around. He didn't. He was just holding someone else's beer but. I was hoping that he was drinking. Anyway, he did not. And then he told me about the-- he had listened to the “Rich Roll Andy Ramage” podcast or it was a ritual podcast that Andy Ramage was the guest. And so I listened to it and I was like wow, this really resonates with me. It's like people who are pretty functional. Doing athletic endeavors like I was doing marathons,the ironman training. I did all of that, but on the days when I didn't have like a big long run or something usually on Sundays. I would just have like a shorter workout to do. Then that was the night before that was when I could get drunk. But otherwise I really was trying every night to like moderate and own and have a lot of rules around my drinking. And have like two or three max three glasses of wine. And I would still end up with a headache in the middle of the night. So I listened to that podcast and I was like this really makes sense to me I'm just going to try it. I was going to be training for Boston marathon that year which is in April. So I thought well I'll just try and go sober while I'm training for the marathon January, February, March, April. So that would be like 90 days or a little bit. And so I stopped drinking that January. But I was just doing it by myself like, I listened to the podcast and I was like I can do this I'm just going to do it while I'm training. So I stopped drinking in January. And then I was having a lot of knee trouble then. That was the beginning of my arthritis problems with running. I was frustrated about that and I went on a ski trip. And I brought like-- this was the first trip that I was on like, when I was trying to be sober with a bunch of my friends who were all drinking. There were like 12 of us staying in a house in Colorado and they were all drinking and I had bought like non-alcoholic beer and all this stuff that I could have and I started out pretty well in the weekend like the first two days not drinking and then I had a fall and twisted my leg somehow. I don't know what happened but I couldn't ski and I was pissed off about it. And I went into the, to the ski lodge and everybody in there is crowded around drinking. I was like, “Screw it. I'm just gonna have a bloody Mary”. So then, I so that was February I tried to moderate during February and I could just see like rules around. Like I was just getting really fixated on the rules around drinking again. Like, I would be coming home from work and thinking “Am I allowed to drink?”. Am I not-- like, “How much can I drink tonight?” without “Oh. it's Thursday. Is it okay to drink on Thursday”, maybe I could drink wait till tomorrow. I don't know. It's just like thinking about all that stuff. So anyway, that was kind of how I got started was listening that podcast. And then I joined one year no beer after I was March first. I was like this is just not working. I can see it's like a slippery slope, I'm just getting back into my old habits. And so I joined one year no beer and then it was the beginning of the pandemic.


Alex: And here you are now and it's like, What are you? You're we must be close to a year and a half. Are you a year and a half?


Leigh: Yeah close to it. I'm 500 days. I always have to look at the-- I'm one year four months 20 days.


Alex: It's amazing!


Leigh: Today 507 days.


Alex: It's amazing!


Leigh: Yeah.


Alex: It's huge.


Leigh: Yeah. I feel good about it.


Alex: Yeah and it seems at the beginning, like you know, when you're first getting started and you look at these people that are 500 days you're like, “oh my god how do they do that”. And then you just get momentum over time. Right? One foot in front of another one day in front of another and all of a sudden you're here, a year and a half later.


Leigh: Yeah it's crazy. It does get easier with time definitely.


Alex: Yeah. Tell me about, like that journey. What was the hardest part about it?


Leigh: I think that habit change after work was hard for me. Coming home from work and they call it the wine witch, which i didn't know that have that name for it at the time. But that was hard for me thinking like oh you, you know you've had a hard day at work. A glass of wine would help you relax kind of that, kind of thought process that was happening. So that daily habit change was hard for me. And the other thing that was hard definitely was vacationing with friends who were all drinking and seeing them like having fun. I mean even just this past weekend when I was away with friends and sitting on the beach. It was hard being on the beach and seeing everyone drinking on the beach. That was another thing like during that when I was getting the escalation. We were living in Miami, Florida for a year and a half and we were at the beach a lot during that time. And I would always drink like probably four beers on the beach through the day. And I thought that was nothing. And then come home have cocktails and then go out at night like if we were entertaining friends. Then go out at night with more drinks and I you know, just thought that was kind of normal.


Alex: Yeah and that's the thing, it's like it becomes normal over time. And you know you're around people drinking and so it you don't even think for myself it was like, I had to be in scenarios where I was able to compare and be like this actually isn't that normal you know, to realize.


Leigh: Yeah and I think too like people used to be really surprised at me because I'm a pretty small person and I had a huge tolerance for alcohol. Like I could--people would be like how does she drink so much. And I was always trying to, I mean I don't, I wasn't trying to drink more than other people, but I could drink-- I think my tolerance just had gone so high because I had was so used to drinking every day.


Alex: Right. And that was the same for me too actually. I think I had a really high tolerance towards the end.


Leigh: Yeah. The other thing that was happening for me, around the time when I went sober. I was actually working with a running program. That was a recovery program for people with addictions. And I was mentoring a woman who was in recovery with alcohol issues and pretty serious alcohol problems. And I would go out to dinner with her and be not drink during dinner and I couldn't wait to get home and have a glass of wine. And I thought there was a disconnect and I wasn't being authentic and true to her or to myself. Like here I am trying to help someone with recovery and I'm drinking. And, but I didn't think I had a problem with drinking like her. My problem wasn't as bad as hers but it wasn't. I just feel like I wasn't being a true authentic person to be in that role.


Alex: What are the best parts of being sober? What do you like the most about it?


Leigh: Oh my gosh. Everything, I love it so much. I feel good. I'm always, I just read something recently about I think we're reading the “Unexpected Joy of Being Sober” right now. I'm rereading it. I had read it before but I'm rereading it. And they talk about split screening where there's you can be in a situation where you're sober and then you kind of play forward the tape of what would be happening if you were drinking. And it helps you maintain your sobriety I think. And I do-- I find myself doing that a lot. So I'll-- I'm always like oh I'd like, if I'm out with my kids I'd be like, oh we're sitting on the beach like this past weekend and thinking to myself well if I was here normally drinking, then I wouldn't want to get up and go have dinner or go get change. I would just want to sit here and sit here and sit here and never get anything done and then it would be like I would never eat. And so I play forward those things. So I just think like that's one of my favorite things is just not having when I compare where I would be to where I am now. And I'm not there. I'm not in bed with a hangover in the middle of the night having headaches in the middle of the night every night. I don't have the anxiety that I used to have worrying about what I said to someone. How I embarrassed myself the day before waking up in the morning with my husband mad at me about something. And I was I'm like “What did I do? why did-- why are you mad at me?” and not even remembering. I remember everything now. I love the community that I'm in with the MLPC and the yoga. I think I'm a much more trustworthy person and honest with myself and with other people. My relationship with my husband is better. I feel like my sex life is better. I don't have to set an alarm anymore to wake up in the morning. I just wake up and I feel pretty good every day. I'm more present with the people that I love. That's a huge thing and just more present in my life. Like I can enjoy my day-to-day things that happen and see what's going on. And I can feel emotions that even if they're negative emotions, it's like I can handle it. I can handle negative and positive emotions better. And just feel the feelings that I'm feeling.


Alex: Yeah. Oh it's amazing! Such a good answer. And you really kind of express how like it's such a holistic thing. Right? It's not just stopping drinking. It impacts us in like you pretty much touched on like every part of your life. And yeah it's amazing!


Leigh: Yeah. I didn't even talk about the health issues. Like I feel like there-- I read the book about “Habit Change” and Duhigg, Charles Duhigg. Anyway he talks about keystone habits. And I think like partly like my journey started with running. And that was like a really positive impact on my life and then I became whole food plant-based eating for my health and that was a really big part of my journey. That made me feel much better but part the part that was missing in the whole food plant base was I was still drinking alcohol and having really bad hangovers. And I kept worrying my parents both had strokes and I was always worried about my health and having a stroke. Still worry about that. And I feel like that the health part has been a huge part for when I stopped drinking was like the kind of like brought it all into full spectrum. And then I'm able to like now concentrate on all these other areas of my life with mental health and creativity and relationships and so many different things.


Alex: Yeah. Amazing. So let's talk about yoga being part of your sober journey. So what role has yoga played there.


Leigh: No, it's like totally integral to the whole journey. I feel like because I started doing yoga at the same time as like around march 1st was when I was my sober date. And then the pandemic happened and I think I was starting to do anyway during the pandemic I started doing yoga every day. I started with yoga with Adrian and then I found you in June. And it that was a really great progression for me because the videos with Adrian were like maybe 20 or 30 minutes, so I was doing like shorter practices. And then, when I started doing yoga with you it was more like hour practices every day. So, I felt like I had a better strength and flexibility at that point. But I feel like yoga not just for the physical, it's that mind, body, spiritual connection that's so huge for how it's impacted my life and my sober journey. Living yoga on and off the mat and the yoga philosophy and it just helps me live as a better person. I mean all the different philosophies like the hymns and non-harming to other people and to myself and having compassion for myself. Being like, I was talking about being authentic and truthful. I think that is huge as part of the yoga philosophy. The feeling away from other people's time.


Alex: It's amazing and I just got shivers when you're talking about it because I just feel like you've like really embraced all aspects of it. Like not just the Asana practice. And it's just so, it's really nice I was thinking to myself you know, for so long I felt like I like didn't have my people and I just feel like I found my people. And you-- and you know, the other people in our yoga teacher training and so it's amazing.


Leigh: Yeah. The yoga teacher training has been so great for learning about that. And then the other thing I started doing as part of my sobriety, was like my self-care daily routine was, I was journaling every day and read-- and I started reading poetry every day. And then I started reading “Meditations From The Mat” the Rolf Gates book every day. So I have like five, I have this whole stack of books that I read.Like just a little part of each day like Cleo Wade, Rolf Gates, different you know Yung Pueblo or whatever like just all different poetry. But it really-- I feel like you can read those. That poetry and it speaks. You could read the same book over and over again and it speaks to you in a different way depending how your mental health is that day and what your experiences are that you're going through. So I feel like that's been really powerful for me and in my journey.


Alex: Yeah it's kind of like you know, it reminds me “Meditations From The Mat”. I've read it for so many years and I found it 10 years ago before I even was aware that I had an alcohol issue and so all that-- all the passages about alcoholism just kind of went over my head or in one ear out the next. Right? And then when I was getting sober 10 years later I was like I should really read that book again and I picked it up and these passages that meant nothing to me 10 years ago have become like some of the ones that I know by heart now. And so it's totally it's the same thing it's like you can read a book and I'm sure you're finding that with the unexpected joy of being sober. Right? Different things are landing with you a year in and then they would have at the beginning


Leigh: True. Very true.


Alex: So let's talk about your ACL surgery, because I think you're superwoman by the way, because it's like incredible to see you showing up for your yoga practice through that. I'm wondering like what was it like keeping up with your yoga practice with this injury. What was challenging about it.How has yoga supported that rehabilitation.

Leigh: It was really hard at first. But I when I first had the surgery I was just watching a lot. Well actually when I had the injury I like in those in the trauma days I was just watching a lot of practices and I was doing yoga teacher training and I would just watch. And but I felt like it during that it was huge for me just to stay connected to the community and also to distract me from the pain and whatever that I was going through. And then I started to do the prac--, I started to watch practices and just do my PT during it because PT and in the beginning right after the surgery was so painful for me. That it was really nice to have distraction. And to listen to like, I love your classes because you always talk about like some kind of philosophy thing or some kind of thing going on in your life or some kind of motivational thing that's really helpful. So I was able to get some motivation and insight that way so that was really nice and then definitely as I've gone through like I'm six weeks out from surgery yesterday, was six weeks. And I went to my PT yesterday and she's like “Leigh I can't believe how good you're doing. I don't have any ACL patients that are able to like do jumping jack”. I was doing jumping jacks and skiers yesterday. And she was like “I never have anybody that can do this kind of stuff after surgery this soon”. And I think the movement and doing yoga, and the PT and I've been riding my bike a little bit, have helped me like it just brings more blood flow to the injury area to help with healing it helps with reducing scar tissue and builds strength and range of motion. So I have gotten back pretty much all my flexions back. Like I can bend my knee fully now. The extension is missing like one or two degrees and that's because they took part of my hamstrings to graft on for the ACL surgery. So but it's get-- I mean I can feel it's healing like so much every day and I said to her I feel like because I do I'm pretty religious about doing the PT or yoga I can disperse them but I usually do yoga probably twice a day a lot now or and the PT or sometimes one I don't know but anyway I feel like just like I said the increased blood flow to the area really helps and balance has like my balance on that leg and strength. And yeah it's been great.

Alex: It's amazing and you're such a great example of like, I think there's a lot of people that will be injured and then they'll just be out of yoga for a long time and I think it's a beautiful example of like yoga is not just the physical poses. Right? It's exactly what you said like being in the moment, being in the space, the philosophy, all of that community. Everything that you were still able to draw from it even if you weren't physically doing the poses.


Leigh: Yeah. I forgot to during that time I was doing a lot of Pranayama in the beginning.


Alex: Right.


Leigh: Like the Pranayama classes and Puja was teaching the mantra classes and I was doing those and I feel like that was really good for-- I do a meditation practice pretty much every day. And so either meditation or mantras and I feel like that is really huge in helping with the mindfulness of staying away from the booze.


Alex: Awesome. Yeah. Absolutely. All right, I want to talk about your sober wedding this weekend because that came up and I was thinking about my first sober wedding and it's like a huge daunting occasion and I don't think we've ever, I've ever talked about it on the podcast. So like what was that like and do you have advice for anyone who's experienced that.