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Sober Powered with Gillian Tietz


Gill is sober and works as a biochemist in the Boston Area. She is a podcast host, Youtuber, and course creator, and is passionate about providing education to help others free themselves from the drink, hate yourself, drink cycle. Learning about how alcohol influences the brain, both chemically and psychologically, to cause addiction has helped free her from blaming and shaming herself for her problem with alcohol. Tune into this episode to hear Gillian's story with her relationship with alcohol.



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You can find Gillian at www.soberpowered.com. Follow me on Instagram @alexmcrobs and check out my offerings in yoga, meditation and coaching at http://themindfullifepractice.com/.


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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. Hello, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of "Sober Yoga Girl". I am so excited to have Gill with me here today from "Sober Powered" podcasts. So welcome, Gill. How are you?


Gill

I'm good. Thank you so much for having me.


Alex

I'm so excited to meet you and chat with you and hear more about your story.


Gill

Yeah. Thank you.


Alex

So why don't we get straight into it? Maybe you can tell me a bit about yourself, who you are, and where you're from?


Gill

Yeah. So I'm Gill. I am from the Boston area, so I grew up here and never left. I work at a biotech company. So I'm a biochemist. Yeah, and very, very average, like, simple life, nothing special. I didn't really travel very much as a kid. I just kind of like, played a lot of video games. I was really bullied for all of middle and high school. So I really kept to myself and just studied and hang out with my brother, went to bed early. So I think that protected me, too, because I was never invited to parties and I didn't even like, know about parties. So, yeah, just bullying and then went to college, went to graduate school. And now I work at one of the companies that you guys probably hear about a lot in the news. We made one of the vaccines, actually.


Alex

Oh wow!


Gill

Yes.


Alex

Oh my goodness. What company is it?


Gill

I don't know if I can say the company because we got this, like, social media, like, lecture about what we can and can't say. So I just say one of the companies. But, yeah, it has been so cool to work at one of the companies and like, be involved in that work. And like, it's just a really exciting time. Like, I'll have that forever. Like, 50 years from now, I'll remember that like, I worked at one of the companies, you know.


Alex

That's amazing. That's so cool. And so tell me a bit about your drinking. So how did you start drinking?


Gill

Yeah. So like I said, about the bullying, so I didn't drink at all in high school, not even once. I had my first drink when I was 18 and I was on a cruise with my parents. So we were in Bermuda. And the legal drinking age is 18, and I was 18. And I had my parent's permission. It was legal. It was okay. I got the glass of wine myself. And then I was just, like, hanging out with my brother. And when I got the buzz on for the first time, I felt this intense wave of shame. And I felt like I was bad. I did something wrong. And I had connected like the buzz and like getting drunk to being bad. So like drinking is okay if you don't get drunk, then you're a bad person. And I didn't realize like the buzz that I had on half a glass of wine. Like I wasn't even close to drunk. But after that, like I didn't drink at all for a while. And I went to college after that vacation. And in college, I got really obsessed with being thin. And that was like my life's dream was to be thin. And like I would research how to be thin, like, what kind of diets were the best to do. Like I was on this forum. So this was about ten years ago, a little more. And back then, there were these Pro-Ana forums, for women that had eating disorders, that wanted to like encourage each other and like, share our wins and like, so I would be on the forums all the time, and we would be giving each other like very unhealthy diet advice. So, yeah, I obsessed about thinness for all of college and being thin and drinking alcohol, I knew that didn't mix. Because I had this belief that like when you drink alcohol, you got the drenches and you just like ate all this food. And, you know, alcohol has all these calories, so I didn't drink. And then when I went to graduate school after college, that was when I started drinking. And that was because, so when you're in graduate school for science, it's like a full-time job. So you go to your classes and then you work in a lab, you know, with whatever professor you decided to work with. And you do that the whole day. So we would work, like, nine to five. And then we would go to the bars afterwards. And I was the only one not drinking. And I kept thinking, like, they're not going to like me. Nobody likes me growing up. Like there's obviously like, something about me that makes people not like me. And I was so stressed, and I decided, like, if I drink too, they'll like me. I'll be one of them. And that will help. So I just started, like, ordering, like, when the server would go around the table and ask, like, what do you want? What do you want? I'd be like, oh, yeah, I'll have what they're having. Because I didn't even know like, what to drink at that point. Like, I associated wine with shame. So I didn't order wine again. And then it took maybe, like, a couple of weeks of doing this. And then I got my first like, real buzz. And then I was like, okay, this is fantastic. I understand why people do this instead of wanting to get very thin. And I'm like, I get why people do this every day. And like, now I understand. And then I was like, there. I was in. So I just started drinking every single day. We would actually have parties at the school with the professors. Like it's very normal in science culture to just like, drink at work. So we would like, have these big parties and drink with the professors. And I remember once they got that, like, ice shoot that they, like, pour a shot down and you like drink it. So, yeah, very elaborate drinking parties. And I immediately had like, no control of myself. And I was drinking and I was blacking out. And I started to get like, sick a lot. And I would get sick out on dates with guys. So embarrassing. And, yeah, that was the beginning. And then I met my husband, like, a month into drinking. So then he started seeing like all of that. And, yeah, I just didn't understand, like, having one or two and stopping. And I didn't understand like, how drunk I would get if I had, like, one more. So if I had already had five and like then I had six. I wouldn't understand like, well, you're going to be like, really, really drunk if you have another one. And yeah, all of this just came together to be a huge, big mess. Yeah, and that was my first drinking year.


Alex

Wow. And, you know, you have an unusual story and that most people that I've spoken to, start drinking pretty young. And so you're a little bit of a later bloomer. But it sounds like it was, like, almost like immediate, like, almost like catching up for all those miss years, like, you just kind of like dove into it.


Gill

Yeah. I didn't waste any time. Yeah. Everybody had been drinking for many years before me and I was like, worse than them right away. Like, I didn't waste any time.


Alex

And so, how did your drinking, like, how long were you drinking? And did your drinking accelerate over time?


Gill

Yeah. So after that first year, I decided to leave graduate school. So I was in a PhD program, and I just decided it wasn't like, the best fit for me. And I changed my career to be a teacher. And what I learned in graduate school is like, work is very stressful. And you drink to unwind after work. And drinking helps you with stress. And teaching is even more high stress. And so I just started drinking every day. And I had all this stress. And I didn't think it was, like, a problem or a big deal. I was like, I'm very stressed out. So if I have a drink, now I won't be. And then I'll be good. So after like, the first year of my drinking, I was a daily drinker. And then I stayed a daily drinker for the whole time. Yeah. And I remember, I think the second year of my drinking, I had a very high-stress teaching job, which encouraged me, actually, to go back to school and get my Masters and change careers. But I would come home from work and I would make these Cosmos in a pint glass. And it would be like, basically, all Vodka and then like a lot of Triple sec. And then, like, a splash of diet cream, because you got to, you know, got to get the diet. We don't want the sugar and the juice. And, yeah, this was in a pint glass. So it was a huge amount of alcohol. And then halfway through that school year, I started having two. And it was that second one that made me think. And I was like, that's a lot of alcohol, man. Like, maybe you should try to moderate. Maybe you should try to drink less. And then that started the whole journey. So I was 24 at the time, and I tried to moderate for five more years. And, yeah, I never succeeded. It just got worse and worse and worse. But it was that like initial tolerance increase, that really made me realize, that there's like something going on here that's probably not normal.


Alex

Right. Wow. And, you know, I used to be a teacher, too. I actually was a teacher for six years and I quit my teaching job at the end of last year, actually, to be doing my business full time. But I can like so relate to what you're saying of like, I believe it was the stress of teaching that I needed to numb out. I was just constantly in this chronic stress and alcohol was like a coping mechanism when I didn't know how else to cope with it.


Gill

Yeah, exactly. Teaching is, it's so rewarding and I love doing it. I wish that I could go do it. But the stress and like all of the hours, it was so much. And, yeah, there's alcohol and there's food. And what else helps you when you're feeling that overwhelmed. Like, some of my coworkers were working, like, seven days a week and they were still behind. And, yeah, so you must be feeling better now. Now that you have more time in your day.


Alex

Oh my God. It is like night and day. And the thing is, everyone's going back to school this week. Like so, I have a lot of teacher friends that are coming to my yoga classes and I can feel their stress. I can hear their stress because it was just, it was stressful to begin with, and then you throw on a pandemic. It's uncontrollable. Like, so I'm super happy that I'm no longer doing it. But I definitely think, I think this is the first time ever kind of made that connection of like the stress of my teaching job definitely contributed to the increase in my drinking, for sure.


Gill

Yeah.


Alex

Okay, so. Go ahead.


Gill

So then I tried, like, the I don't know what you would call it, but I know there's the geographical care where you like, move to try to not drink as much. I did that like, with my career so I got my Master's. And then I switched to lab jobs and I blamed my drinking on teaching. I was like, I wouldn't have to drink so much if my job wasn't this stressful. And I truly believed it. I thought it was, like, all teaching's fault. And if only I could have a different job, then I wouldn't have to drink as much. And like, it helped a little bit. But I still drink every single day. And then it started to like creep back up and it just continued to get worse. So like, even though it did help a little bit, it didn't really do much. And that was when because now I had time to like have a lunch break or like go home at a normal time. I started going to therapy and I actually went to therapy with the goal of finding out if I was an alcoholic or not. So I went and I asked this therapist, like, how do I know if I'm an alcoholic or not? Like, how do you know? And I was looking for her to like, give me these criteria. And she was like, yeah, I don't really think you're an alcoholic. But why don't you not drink for a week? And then we'll just see how that is. And I had never skipped a day at that point. And so I did the week because she had challenged me. I knew I had to go look at her in person next week and tell her if I drink. And I know, like, if I did drink, then that meant I was an alcoholic. And I really wanted to avoid that. So I didn't drink. And then when I went back to therapy, she was like, yeah, you know, you're probably not an alcoholic. And then I was like, okay, cool. And then I just kept, you know, I'm not an alcoholic. So I'm good. I can just drink this way. And that's what everybody does. And, yeah, so I started questioning it again very heavily, like, when I left teaching. But it would take a few more years before like, I really embraced that it was a problem for me.


Alex

And so that was the question I was going to ask you next. Like, what was the turning point for you when you really were like, okay, this is the problem?


Gill

Yeah. So after that, my mental health started getting really bad. So I've always struggled with depression and I developed anxiety. So I would drink all night, pass out, and then I would jolt awake at, like, two or three in the morning. And then I would have this really bad anxiety and it would keep me up, and like, the room would zoom out. It was really scary. And then my depression started to evolve, too. Like I really hated myself for not being able to control my drinking. And I like thought it was because I'm a loser. I'm weak. There's something wrong with me, like, everybody else can control it. And I used to just beat the crap out of myself at night, like, one in the next morning. So I would wake up and I would think like you are literally the worst person that's ever existed. You're a loser. Everybody hates you, like, all of these bad things. And I would threaten myself like, if you can't figure out how to moderate, then you're an alcoholic and you have to get sober. And like everyone's going to call you an alcoholic. So I was just really abusing myself. I would like, the next morning, after a heavy night of drinking, I would be doing my makeup for work, and I'd be looking myself in the mirror and just repeating, I hate you. I hate you. I hate you. Like over and over and over again. And I would like make myself cry. And that would be the start to my day. I was like, making myself cry because I hated myself so much. And then by lunchtime, the hangover starts to fade. And I'm like, oh, well, you know, you don't really want to never drink again. And if, you know, if you don't drink today, like that's good at all. But your goal is to moderate. So you should practice drinking and stopping and like, not drinking wouldn't help you at all. And I would talk myself back into it which wasn't very challenging. But I really believed if I could practice stopping enough, I could make it like something that I did naturally. And, I mean, spoiler like, you can't. But, yeah, so then like, I continued that way, and then I got really suicidal. So like all of that self-hatred just kept getting worse because I kept failing at moderation. And then I got really, really suicidal. And I would think like on top of, like, you're the worst. You're a loser. Why do you act this way? Then I would think, like, really scary things. My husband doesn't deserve this. You should set him free. Like, all this stuff. And one day, I think I suffered with suicidal thoughts for, like, probably close to a year. Actually, it was a long time. I didn't drink for 90 days to try to like, cure myself so that I could moderate. And then once those suicidal thoughts came back, I got really scared. And I acknowledge that, like, alcohol makes you suicidal. That's it. And it doesn't make your husband suicidal. It doesn't make other people suicidal. But for some reason, it makes you really suicidal. And I accepted that like, I just can't drink. And I was so scared that I could do something like, really bad to myself. And even in like, all of that craziness, I knew like, I didn't actually want something bad to happen to me. And that motivated me to stop because it, like, my husband will go on motorcycle trips or like trips for work sometimes. So I would be alone. And those were the nights that I, like, really went crazy. And I would imagine going crazy alone and then waking up really suicidal. So, it was the fear of like, what I could do that made me stop? And then, day two, I didn't feel suicidal anymore. And I haven't since. It was 100% alcohol. Like, it wasn't actually me that felt that way.


Alex

Wow. Thank you for sharing that. I know it's like a really vulnerable, a really vulnerable thing to share and--


Gill

Thank you.


Alex

I can so relate. Like, the reason why I stopped drinking was totally for my mental health. I had a mood disorder that I was on medication for, but the medication obviously wasn't working because I was drinking. But the interesting thing for me when I hear you say that is for me, it was like, when I went sober, at the beginning my mood got worse. Like, my depression got worse in the withdrawal. I probably, it was about 11 days where I was feeling really, really low, like wanting to, you know, not exist anymore. And then it took me, I had to get maybe two weeks through it. And then there was like, a flip switch. And I was like, okay, this is good. So that's really interesting to me, that for you, it was so quick.


Gill

Yeah, it was basically immediate. The anxiety also went away because I don't actually have anxiety. That was all from alcohol. And, yeah, like I had the physical symptoms of withdrawal and everything. But my mental health snapped back really quickly. I also had like, a huge pink cloud. A giant pink cloud. And that helped a lot, too. And that was because, like I didn't feel suicidal. And I was like, oh, my gosh, this is the best. I don't have to hate myself anymore. And, yeah, so big pink cloud that made a difference, too.


Alex

But for me, as well, the pink cloud came a bit later. Like I think it's just interesting to hear how everyone's, like, journey is a little different. But, because I definitely hit that pink cloud. But it took me, it was like solid days of me just having to like, believe that it would get better, because it, for me, it definitely got worse before I got better. But no, I can so relate to like the, just like the mental health struggles in general related to drinking.


Gill

Yeah. When I started sharing about it, it took some time because I believed that no one would ever understand. And no one has suffered the way that I have suffered. And when I started sharing, people were like messaging me. I started sharing in Facebook groups and they would message me and be like, oh, my God, I felt really suicidal too or, yeah, I felt really suicidal and I tried to do something about it. Unfortunately, it didn't work. And just realizing, like, a lot of people felt that way, was so empowering. Like, my struggles are not unique, and I think that's really, really cool.


Alex

Yeah. And once you start talking about it and sharing about it, it just makes you realize, like, you're less alone than you believe you are.


Gill

Yeah. Exactly.


Alex

So tell me about, okay, so it got better for you by, like, day two, and then, was that kind of like, was that it? Like, you were like, okay, I definitely want to be sober. Or was there, like, what was your journey like after that?


Gill

Yeah. So I know that alcohol for me equals, like, death. That I'm risking my life if I ever drink again. And I know that moderation is like, maybe I could do it temporarily because it's been so long since I had a drink. But I would go back to drinking normally for me eventually, and I wouldn't be able to stop if I started. So, I don't have like, feelings that I have to fight off. I've had big emotional triggers, that my first thought is like, I want to get drunk. But that's kind of different. Then I know, like, no, you can't do that anymore. But, when I fell off the pink cloud, that was really hard, because then I had to accept it again. And like grieve drinking. Because life was good. I didn't hate myself and all this and I still couldn't drink. Being social was also really, really hard. I used to go to parties at work, so I quit drinking I think, like four months before the pandemic started and everything shut down. And I quit in November, right when the holiday season was starting. So there were a lot of company parties and I used to go to these parties and like, come home and cry because it was so exhausting. So I think that was really hard, like, being around, like, observing people drink, and I couldn't do it too. And, yeah, it was a whole like, a grieving process that lasted a while. And it pops up like every now and again. Like, when the weather got nice again, and I started seeing people drinking Rose outside. Like, I had to grieve that a little bit and just like realize, they can have a glass of Rose on the porch and then go inside and move on with their lives and I can't. I won't move on with my life. I'll just like, blow up my life and be like alcohol, alcohol, alcohol. And it will like, activate this obsession. So, yeah, I had to do like a lot of perspective work in the beginning and I still do.


Alex

And so, what tools do you use when you're going through all that? Like, what helps you get through it?


Gill

I like to share, I like to tell people what I've gone through, how I'm feeling, because they usually have felt the same way or have gone through something very similar. And like, being able to laugh about it with other people who understand, like, really helps me. I go to therapy every week. I love my therapist. I started when quarantine started. And, we've worked through, like, the grieving process, and when I stopped drinking, like, all of this anger just appeared in me, all of a sudden. I would get like, overcome with rage and I didn't know why. And I didn't know how to make it go away. And we worked through that. And like, I kind of made connections on, like, why I was so angry and how I can deal with it better? So, I think therapy has been huge. I'm also kind of dabbling a little bit and meetings and seeing like, what kind of meetings do I like and getting to know like, the different types of recovery groups. So I'm more willing to, like, try different things in the beginning. Were more like that won't work for me. But now, like the longer I'm sober, it's like, well, if it sucks, you don't have to go back. But, you know, just try it. Maybe you'll like it.


Alex

And so was there any groups in particular that you, like, did you do the AA, the 12 step or--


Gill

Yeah. So I attend a virtual AA meeting, on Sundays and that I just listened to with my camera off for now. I'm not working the steps and I don't have a sponsor. But I'm also interested in trying, like the other groups online. I know there's the "Luckiest Club" that's very popular.


Alex

Yeah. I heard a lot about it.


Gill

Yeah. Everyone's talking about that. And I actually went to a meeting of theirs, where Cathy from "BAC2zero" was sharing.


Alex

Oh, that's amazing.


Gill

Yeah. She shared her story and she invited me to come to the meeting, and it was so empowering. Everyone was so, like, just kind to her. Afterwards, I was really proud of her. So, yeah, meetings like that, I think I'm really interested in. But, yeah, I think just trying new things has helped me a lot and not being like, static in my recovery.


Alex

Yeah. I have been really into like, obviously, I have my own little sober community, and it's the only one I've ever known. Because I was never part of, I mean, I joined "One Year No Beer" to quit, but I never did any of the live Zoom or anything. And so, anyway, I have been trying to be open to these new things, too. So like, I had Alex and Lisa from "Bee Sober" on the show and they invited me to come try one of their lounges. And it was nice to just kind of like, get into a different community and see how they do things and how they approach things. And, yeah, there's so much out there. There are so many resources. I should really try to explore more of them.


Gill

Yeah, it's scary to try it, but you can go with a friend. That's how I started going to AA, even though it's virtual. I asked a friend who I know goes to AA. Can you take me like, virtually? And, yeah, just like going with a buddy can be r