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No Matter How Far You Go, You're Still the Same Distance from the Ditch with Ellen from Sobriety Sis


In this episode, I sit down with Ellen Woods from Sobriety Sisterhood. Ellen and I have been connected on Instagram for quite a long time and Ellen has attended lots of my online yoga classes with The Mindful Life Practice! Ellen and I are collaborating in 2022 to bring you a Sobriety Sisterhood Yoga Retreat in November in Bali! In this episode, hear Ellen's story of her sober journey and learn about the work she does now in sobriety.



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Ellen can be found on instagram @sobrietysisterhood. Follow me on Instagram @alexmcrobs and check out my offerings in yoga, meditation and coaching at http://themindfullifepractice.com/.


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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

Hello, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of "Sober Yoga Girl". I am very excited to have Ellen sitting with me here today. And Ellen is the creator of "Sobriety Sisterhood" in France, and she is a sobriety and wellness coach. And we've actually been connected on Instagram for a long time. Ellen comes to some of my yoga workshops, yoga classes, and we've been friends for a while. But I don't think I've ever actually sat down with you and sort of heard your sober story. So I'm really, really excited for this opportunity to talk to you today. So welcome, Ellen. How are you?


Ellen

Thank you very much. I'm good, thank you. I'm excited, too. It's so nice to be here.


Alex

It's nice to have you. So why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself, kind of where you are in the world?


Ellen

Okay. Well, I'm English originally, but I've been in France since 2007, so 15 years, which has gotten in a heartbeat. I am married with three children who were all born in France. I grew up in the UK, but I knew very, very early on I didn't want to stay in the UK. In fact, I always wanted to go to Canada, which is where you're from. But we ended up in France. I still kind of dream of moving to Canada, but love France as well. Yeah. I was 28 when we moved here, which is quite unusual for ex-pats because lots of people are retired who move over here. So it's been quite a journey. We just moved house, and I do love it here, but it's a strange place to be sober. I hate the word sober, but to be alcohol-free is really strange because, in France, alcohol is their heritage. You know, wine is their heritage. So it's quite unusual to be alcohol-free here.


Alex

Yeah. And I love seeing your house renovations, by the way. I was thinking today about how, you know, there are some people who keep all of their content just sobriety-focused, and then there are some people that show other parts of their life. And I was thinking a little bit like when I was making my TikTok videos, I was like, oh, I wonder if my followers are, like, bored of this. Because it's just like me dancing. And then I was thinking it's actually really nice like, you know, for you-- post these home renovations, and I love seeing this little glimpse into your life other than sobriety. I think it's amazing.


Ellen

Yeah. Thank you. When I started my Instagram account, it was kind of like an accountability for me. I think about a year sober, and it felt really strange of coming out to the rest of the world of being sober because I was known as a big drinker, but it was just who I was. I loved it. I didn't have a problem with alcohol as such. I just love drinking. My family are big drinkers. It was something that I'd always done and I was really kind of driven with it, of being quite, I'm the best drinker, and I can drink everyone under the table. So when I started my Instagram account, I was very nervous about it, and I didn't know which direction to take it either. But, yeah, I like putting bits and pieces of real-life and as well, it's a bit of a shit show. But I like the fact that people can kind of relate and say, well, you can still be alcohol-free. You can still deal with the renovations. My husband is back in the hospital. He's got mental health problems. It's real life.


Alex

I'm so sorry.


Ellen

There's still so much to be grateful for, and we still have fun, and we still, you know, enjoy all the things there are to be grateful for.


Alex

Yeah. Wow. That must be so hard.


Ellen

It is. But, God, there's strength in sobriety. I think I am someone different from who I was 10, 15 years ago. It is difficult, but I'm so much more self-aware of okay, what do I need? What do I need to do to look after myself and to be strong so that I can look after everybody else? And people have stuff going on. It's real life. Like, it's not Instagram life. Life is not perfect, but I can do it all alcohol-free. And I like sharing that with people. I think it's much more relatable. I certainly am drawn to people on Instagram that share their real-life rather than this perfect life. It's something that I can relate to. You know, I'm a mum of three. The house is messy. The renovations are kind of stopped. But, yes, it's real life.


Alex

Yeah. And it's so admirable when people can be, like, authentically themselves.


Ellen

Yes. And something that I've learned in sobriety. I'm sure you've done this as well. I kind of, looking back at my drinking career as such, I was all searching to fit in with people and please other people and be that person that was the life and soul of the party. They used to call me party girl, and now I just feel so much more comfortable in my own skin and showing my authentic self. I still don't quite know what that means. I'm searching for who the authentic self is, but I know that I'm much more comfortable in my own skin, for sure.


Alex

Yeah. It's beautiful. So tell me a bit about-- you mentioned that you're much stronger than you were 10, 15 years ago. What were you like 10, 15 years ago? Tell us about your journey and what your drinking days were like?


Ellen

My drinking day started so early. Both my parents, they were both in the army but came out before I was born. But I grew up with alcohol around me just all the time. And from very, very young, like age four, five, I was having watered down versions of what my parents drank, and it was all good fun, you know. I got two brothers who are eight and nine years older than me. So I saw them going into their, like, their drinking career. And I was always keeping up with the lads. And I went to college, actually, and I was the only girl in college. I went and did an engineering course and I was the only girl in the whole engineering block. And so it was a big thing about keeping up with the men all the time in everything that I did. And I would say this, I think I've got quite a masculine energy that I'm driven and I'm focused and quite kind of ego-driven in everything that I do. I can be the best in everything. I'm very competitive. And that came down to drinking as well.


Alex

Yeah.


Ellen

I loved drinking and I was a good drunk person. You know, I was always happy. I was never aggressive, but I was always unhappy in myself. I went into fitness coaching when I was about 19. I'd always struggled with my weights. From about 13, I always felt very unhappy in myself. And before we moved to France, I was managing two gyms. I was big into the fitness kind of industry, had started to explore the yoga, had started in my teaching course, but, yeah, still just so uncomfortable with how I was. I really hated how I looked. Looking back, I have no photos of me, really. I have no photos of me when I was pregnant. No photos of me after I had the babies. I just hated that whole thing. And I found the "Whole30". Melissa Urban "Whole30". And I've done lots of reading. My husband's got an autoimmune disease and so I've done a lot of reading around the Autoimmune Paleo Diet, which, of course, cuts out alcohol. And I had experimented with that and done it for weight loss. And I wanted to feel better about myself. And I would do periods of alcohol-free and then I would always go back to it because as far as I was concerned, I never had a problem, although that's not true. When I was about 20, I said to my husband, I think I've got a problem with alcohol. And he laughed and said, don't be so silly. You're not hiding you're drinking and you're not drinking during the days. I said, I know, but it has this control over me that I hate. And I would be drinking every night and I hated it. I was just stuck in this cycle of, yeah, it was three bottles for £10 in England. And we would get three bottles nearly every night and drink it.


Alex

Wow.


Ellen

And it never occurred to me that was really the root cause of why I was holding too much weight, why I looked bloated, why I was tired, why I couldn't work out consistently, why my eating was inconsistent. And then when I started to kind of take a break from alcohol, it just became clearer and clearer all the benefits of sobriety. I was sleeping better, I was more motivated, I was more focused. And it took me a good five years to suddenly go, hang on a minute. If I want to treat myself, it's to completely stop. And that's what I did. I was setting out for 30 days, and then I was going to treat myself at the end of it. And I was like, that's not a treat. It's not a way to treat myself. I'm so conscious of everything that I eat and exercise and doing yoga and being mindful, and yet I'm quite happy to poison myself every night. It just doesn't make sense to me anymore. And when I rationalized it like that, I was just like, no, I'm going to stop and see where this takes me. And it completely changed my life.


Alex

Wow. Yeah. And so did you quit fully on your own or did you have any support in the early days?


Ellen

No. Quit completely on my own.


Alex

Wow.


Ellen

I just was like, right, I'm going to see where this takes me. I was 38. I had been to the doctor. I had blood pressure problems. She wants to put me on medication. I'm qualified in all of this. I've done all the sports, science and psychology. I knew what my problem was. I knew that I needed to change my lifestyle. I didn't want to go onto medication. My father had died from heart disease when I was 19. My Auntie had, my grandmother had. And I knew the path that he was going to take me down. I was like, no, something's got to change. And that change has got to come within. And I've done that years ago with smoking as well. When I rationalized it to myself what I was doing, it just didn't make sense to continue doing it. And so I carried on. I got about five months alcohol-free. And actually, I reconnected with my friend Simon Chapple, who has "Be Sober". And he had kind of come out as alcohol-free. And I was like, hey, Simon, so am I. And I've known him for, like 20 years. He used to come into the gym that I ran.


Alex

Wow.


Ellen

And he was like, oh, that's amazing. Join my Facebook group. And I didn't know that there was a whole sober community. And I didn't know what sober coach was. You know, it just was all alien to me. And when I saw that, I was like, that's what I want to do. I want other people to feel how I feel about myself. And I reconnected with Simon and found this whole community.


Alex

Amazing. And now Simon is the co-host of your podcast, right? You guys host a podcast together?


Ellen

Yeah.


Alex

That's amazing.


Ellen

It is. It's nice. We've got history together. And I went to his wedding when I saw just-- he always says he was an enthusiastic drinker and he was for sure. And see him become so much more self-aware and start to do work. It is great. And how great he is with his son and his wife, how their relationships changed. It's just so inspiring. And the group that he has is brilliant. Connecting with people on there.


Alex

That's so amazing. So you joined that community, and then how long ago was that? How many years have you been sober now?


Ellen

Just over three years. So, yeah, I joined his community, and then he said to me, like, you should get an Instagram profile. I knew that I wanted to stay alcohol-free, and I knew that I wanted to continue being consistent with my workout and my yoga. And I knew I needed an accountability. So for me, the Instagram is kind of like, okay, so this is what I'm going to do. I want to be a coach, and I want to stay accountable to someone because although I know I love this lifestyle, I know if I don't keep on connecting with people who are thriving in it, then there's a chance I'll go back to my old lifestyle and I don't want that.


Alex

Right.


Ellen

You've said that recently in a post about not connecting with the sober community and how you kind of feel yourself. It could be okay. And that really resonated with me.


Alex

Yeah. I actually remember in October, I remember putting it out there, saying, I'm stepping aside from sober coaching. This person is taking it over. I'm now doing business work, and I had done, like, a bunch of podcast episodes before I left Abu Dhabi. And so I was like, I wasn't intentionally stepping away from sobriety. And then I realized I'm here alone, kind of navigating a new life here. And this is probably one of the biggest times that people get back into drinking. And actually, one of my friends who I had as a guest on the show, she went through something similar. She just repatriated back to the UK from Abu Dhabi and started drinking again. And it really shows how you need your sober community more than ever. And you can't-- that's why they keep saying in AA, like, keep coming back and, you know, provide service to others just to stay connected, because otherwise, you forget what it was like.


Ellen

You do. I think the first year there's always changes. This is amazing. This is so fantastic. Why didn't I-- you want to preach to everyone. I was the joke about, how do you know if someone's vegan? Don't worry. They'll tell you. I was the same with sobriety. It was like, oh, this is the future. But that kind of shine on it starts to disappear slightly because you're just like, okay, so this is the new me. I am more focused. I kind of lost a bit of weight. I look different. I feel different. But you forget that's all down to giving up alcohol.


Alex

Yeah.


Ellen

And my favorite saying is, "no matter how far down the road you are, you're only at the same distance from the ditch". And whilst I wasn't, like, rock bottom or what people would consider rock bottom that still was my rock bottom. I don't want to go back to that person. I want to stay focused on this road.


Alex

I just got shivers. No matter how far down the road you are, you're always the same distance from the ditch. Wow. I'm going to remember that. It's so true.


Ellen

Every time I have a group, I just go back to that quote. I heard it on the Huberman Lab, and he was talking about somebody who had been in recovery for I think 40 years. And that was what he said to him. And he was like, yeah, that is so true.


Alex

It's so true. Because you just have one drink and you're like, It's just one, and then it's just two, and then it's just three, and then all of a sudden you're just exactly where you came from.


Ellen

You're like, I've given up for three years. I can do it. I can just have one drink and I can give up three years again. But I know my personality. I know that I am all or nothing. And whilst it might take me a month or 12 months to go back to that who I was, it would start. So it's much easier to not have that first drink.


Alex

It's so true. Yeah. So much easier to just be fully sober.


Ellen

Yeah. I think once alcohol is off the table, it's just much easier, much, much clearer in your head. It's a lighter place to be.


Alex

So tell me about the work that you do now in the sober world. I know Ellen and I were actually, we're meant to be collaborating on a Bali retreat that has been postponed until the world reopens.


Ellen

Yeah. Hopefully until November. And hopefully, we'll still be doing that. The world is a funny place at the moment. So in the future, definitely there's going to be retreats. Hopefully, Bali, France, the UK, and maybe Canada.


Alex

Amazing.


Ellen

I really kind of manifested this. I want to be able to work online, I want to be able to travel, I want to be able to keep connected with people. So the retreats for me really hit the spot with all of those. I do the sobriety coaching. I coach my free group on a Saturday, which is like just this. It's a conversation people seem a little kind of scared about or not sure what to expect. And it is literally a checking with everybody, sharing their struggles, their successes, things that they're proud of, things that they're grateful for, and getting inspiration from others. They're on the same journey. And I think it doesn't matter whether you're like, on day one for the 20th time or your three years sober, you have something to share and to motivate and inspire other people. So I love that community. I do some work for Simon, and I think we'll be doing quite a bit more work together in the future as well, hopefully. Yeah, in a podcast. So, it is. I love it. I get a real buzz. It was very outside my comfort zone. Before I gave up alcohol, I had never, ever spoken in front of people. Anytime in school or in college, I would call in sick because it would just cause me so much anxiety to put myself out there to be judged and to be criticized. And now I thrive on it. I thrive on wanting people to feel the same way that I do. So it's great to kind of facilitate that.


Alex

That's so incredible. And what a transition.


Ellen

Yeah, it really is.


Alex

Would you attribute that transition to-- what part of the alcohol-free journey do you think gave you that confidence or that shift?


Ellen

I think that alcohol has this hold over all of us, and we don't realize it. And it is so difficult to give up. And even when people say, oh, I don't have a problem with alcohol, you know, they don't think of themselves as an alcoholic. I certainly didn't. But it has its hold over you. And when you break free from it and you do something that not many other people do, and you realize that you can do that and that you're strong and you can take control, it boosted my confidence. I'm like, I'm strong. I can do anything. I can take on the world now if I want to. And I do. My confidence in everything. I would never, ever be the one to want to try a sport where I was like, paddleboardi