Updated: Jun 8, 2021
24 Feb 2021
Matt Ellis is one of my yoga students and sober coaching clients. Prior to quitting alcohol he'd never practiced yoga before - but after going alcohol free ended up making the huge lifestyle change. As of February 2021, at the time of the interview, he's practiced yoga every day for over 200 days and been alcohol free for 266 days.
In this episode Matt talks about the history/culture of drinking alcohol growing up in the UK and his experience around it as an expat. He shares his decision to stop and how yoga plays a huge role in his sobriety.
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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: Hello everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Sober Yoga Girl. Thank you so much for tuning in. Today, I am super excited because I have a guest with me, Matt, who is one of my sober coaching clients and my yoga students in the UK. And I think Matt is one of the most committed people to yoga that I've met this year. I think Matt has done like, you've done every day of yoga for what, seven months? Something like that?
Matt: Yeah. I think I'm trying to go for a whole year. I think I've missed the odd day, but in the other days I've always done two sessions.
Alex: It's amazing. And I love it because I feel like there is this kind of stereotype or conception that yoga is not like a man's thing. And so, I really love seeing you kind of take it on and share it with others. It's brilliant.
Matt: Yeah. I love it. I mean, yoga is like everything to me, so I'm very happy to talk about it.
Alex: Yeah. Awesome. So, Matt is based in the UK and he's also a school teacher. And I know you've also had a bit of a history as an expat living abroad, so maybe Matt you can just kind of give us a little overview of like who you are and where you're from, how you got where you are today.
Matt: Yeah. I'm from the UK. I'm from the North of England but I'm based in London. Have been in London for, gosh, a long time over 20 years now. Saw my family here. I'm married. I've got three children. And I went into teaching a little bit later on in life, so I'm into my ninth year of teaching now and I'm currently teaching the young children. So, I'm teaching four and five-year olds. I'm also a computing lead, so I've been quite busy this past year helping people navigate computing at home and trying to stay connected online. But I've been really lucky, I've been got used to traveling quite a lot in my previous job. I worked for computing companies and got to travel around the world, work for airlines quite a lot. So, I got to live abroad, I lived in Hong Kong before. I've lived in Mexico for a year at a time. So, yeah, I've had an adventurous life living away. Now I'm quite settled in London. So, yeah.
Alex: Cool. And tell me a bit about when you started drinking and what kind of influenced your drinking habits?
Matt: Yeah. I mean, I've been thinking about this a lot actually lately, and I'm currently going through a whole year of not drinking, and possibly forever to be honest with you. But, you know, I'm 45 years old now and I remember starting drinking when I was 16. When I was younger, I was always quite short, so I probably would have gone to the pub sooner if I could have got in, I'll be honest with you. I remember vividly times trying to go out and trying to get in bars and clubs and being turned away because I was too short. I didn't look old enough, and it was just something you got into. I mean, I grew up playing football. That was everything to me. I played football until I left home at 18, and it's just a cultural thing that you just end up going out to the pub and having a drink. That's what your mates started talking about. I remember going to watch a football game at Wembley stadium which is the most, one of the most famous stadiums in the world. A school trip, and we all met up around a friend's house first, have some cans of beer. That's just what you did, and you thought you did it to have fun. I remember eventually when I did get to go out, I remember like hiding being out from my mum. I didn't have a dad growing up, I just had my mom, and sort of sneaking back in the house and how ridiculous that seems now because she obviously would have known I was sneaking in like drunk. I also remember like going to work. I had a Saturday job in a supermarket going to work and feeling hungover for the first time, and what that felt like, and actually being sick on the bus going to work. And it was just so normal. It was normalized, it's just what you ended up doing as a kid, as a boy or a girl actually. Yeah. So, I've got some quite vivid memories of it, and that's going back 30 years.
Alex: Yeah. You know, that's the most interesting thing. I remember when I moved to the Middle East just finding it so fascinating that there are like other cultures around the world where it's that's not normal. Like it's not normal for local people here in the Middle East to be raised around drinking the way that we were, or to be, you know, it's my uncle said yesterday, it's like a rite of passage going to the pub when you're a teenager in Canada or probably in the UK. And it's just so fascinating because prior to that I just found it so weird when I got to Kuwait. And so, it's just really interesting when you pinpoint, you know, that's a cultural thing that we were raised in.
Matt: Yeah, and it is, and you fight to do it. That's the weird thing. I mean, I remember this, I got my driver's license when I was 17. And I got it really quickly when I was 17, so you could, in the UK, everyone can drive on the 17, and I passed really quickly. And the driving licenses then, this was '93, there were no photos on them. They were like old typed licenses, and I remember trying to fake that license. It was so funny. I remember like, we had a typewriter, right? We didn't have computers in the house then. We had these little WordPress things, but my sister had a typewriter, and I remember typing up my history project at school. And I tried to use that typewriter to fake my own ID and it's so laughable, it sounds ridiculous. And I remember getting Tip X, and trying and I was like, This is ridiculous. But actually in the UK, you could drink really easily if you looked old enough. I mean, there was a pub in Lincoln where I'm from where you could just go there, and most of the drinkers were underage. And actually, on my 18th birthday, I went to a pub that I'd finally got served in and they asked me for ID on my 18th birthday. It's absolutely true. The first time I got iced idea in the pub I'd ended up going to, they didn't ask me until my birthday which just made me laugh.
Matt: You know, they're funny stories really. You know, I sort of look back on them fondly in a way but it's quite sad really that there wasn't an alternative.
Alex: Yeah. You know, I had a fake ID too, actually. And I remember having it and getting it before I even started drinking. It was an ID that someone gave to me and I didn't even really know what the point of it was. I just thought it was cool that I had it.
Alex: And then when I did realize, Oh, this can get me alcohol. And it really just made me really cool, like people wanted to invite me to parties because I had a way to get alcohol. And I kind of started seeing it as like almost like a currency.
Matt: Yeah. I mean, I don't know what the age limit is in Canada. I mean I remember going to the us when I was 20, is it 21 in Canada?
Alex: It's 19 in Ontario.
Matt: Okay. So, in the US, it used to be different states. And I remember when I lived in Mexico, and I was 20 by then, you know, I thought I knew everything by the time I was 20. I was living in Mexico and I did this amazing trip where I went all the way from the Eastern Coast of Mexico all the way through America across the border. I got like a visa, I had my passport, and I got to America. And in most states, I couldn't drink I found it hilarious. You know, they were so tight on it.
Matt: And then like, finally, I got to, I went all the way up to Michigan. And I came all the way back down and I got to Louisiana, and I thought you were able to drink there. I was excited about it because it used to be 18 and it wasn't, it was 21. So, I was like on Bourbon Street and I couldn't drink. It was so frustrating. You know, I just, I was like, I've been drinking years, you know, so it was strange, you know? But that's a bad thing, actually. To make the age limit higher, I think it's a good thing because everyone was drinking in the States when they're a kid. Everyone had fake IDs. My friend in Michigan gave me his driving license. He thought I looked enough like him and I used it to get involved in Michigan.
Alex: Yeah. It's so interesting because, you know, you see it done in different ways, like in the UK, the age is 16 and in the States it's 21, and, you know, Canada was 19. And I don't know whether or not, you know, we all still ended up with this drinking culture, so maybe it's like a cultural shift that needs to happen more so than like an actual kind of legal rule.
Matt: The age limit in England is 18, but it's interesting, when you think you're 16 you 15-16, that's when it starts.
Matt: That would be kind of agreed age. I mean, 18 is the legal age.
Alex: Yeah. There you go. I thought it was much younger because I always associated, like when I was 16, I went to Italy, and I was drinking at that age. Is the age 16 in Italy, or was I just?
Matt: I think in Europe. In certain parts of Europe. I think it's just accepted, you know, but then--
Matt: There's not such a problem, you know, because they just drink in their families and it's kind of a sort of a, more of an allowed thing.
Matt: It's complicated in each European country I would say. In Spain it's different, you know, and to France where, you know, there's like a wine culture in France where people will drink with their families and it's more sort of acceptable. And maybe the problem in the UK is people go out to get blind drunk to have fun. That's what I think.
Alex: Yeah. Absolutely. Okay. So, how did your drinking escalate over time from when you began until the time you stopped?
Matt: Yeah. I mean, I sort of break my life from sort of my 20s, 30s and 40s. I mean, in my 20s I was single. I was traveling the world, you know, I would go out a lot. It was work hard, play harder. You know, and probably, if I think about the times in my life it was when I was lived abroad, I was in Hong Kong, and I was working very hard in computing I got to travel around Asia. I was in japan, I was in India, I went to New Zealand, Taiwan, and we got to travel a lot and, you know, we were all young men working in computing. We were going out a lot. You know, I remember going out in Hong Kong. I probably weighed about another stone less than I do now, and I've lost a lot of weight not drinking in the last sort of year but I would go out every night in Hong Kong, at least go to the hotel bar. We were away from the center and some nights we'd go out into town, and not get back home till three, four in the morning, then go to work at eight in the morning, and I was still probably drunk at work. But you got through it, you know, people would have hangovers at sort of lunchtime and it was just so normal. All these guys working abroad. That was when I hit a sort of a peak of going out, but not not sort of as a necessity just as in I needed alcohol or sort of alcoholic. I don't really know what that means, you know, but we were just doing it a lot. And then, I came back home. Get into my late 20s, early 30s. Meet my wife. Start having children. And then, alcohol is more of a sort of a regular thing, you know, I was still working in computing at that time. I would have a drink most nights. I like wine. I used to like wine. It just became something sort of numb things a bit, you know, it's hard having young children, so my 30s, you know, my daughters are all quite young. Then I went into teaching mid 30s, late 30s, and met a great bunch of people at work. I work at a brilliant school, made some great friends, and it sort of shifted to knowing women more, in teaching I would say, you know, as with the guys in computing, I was actually brought up by women not having a dad growing up. I had two sisters, my mom, then being surrounded by girls at home, girls at school, but there was still this culture of going out to the pub on a Friday night. But what changed was I'd be going out to the pub about five after school, and by eight, I'd be drunk. I'd like really gone for it. Gone home where my family just got back from gymnastics, because all my girls do gymnastics. That's the story over the last five or six years. And I'd be like, the drunk dad at home and they'd all been out to gymnastics, even my wife and, you know, having a takeaway just sort of setting that routine, trying not to drink during the week but sort of succumbing to a couple of glasses of wine every now and again. Well, most days, and then more at the weekend. You know, a few beers, some wine, feeling groggy, the cycle repeats. And that's what it was like until last May, really when sort of Covid struck. And that was kind of the cycle I was in. So, different periods of time really.
Matt: That makes sense?
Alex: Yeah, absolutely. I have a question for you. You mentioned the kind of the expat drinking culture and I, myself, I've been an expat for six years and I find that the drinking amongst expats is like so, it's such an integral part of the culture and I was wondering why do you think it's such a big part of expat life?
Matt: Yeah. I mean, I suppose I knew a diff-- I did see people who'd moved out to places, Hong Kong's a good example of that, and I knew a group more that was sort of we were based somewhere for a long time, but it's a similar thing. These are people are away from home getting together and sort of reliving what their life is at home, you know, and thinking that it's drinking, and that to have fun, you need to drink. And, you know, just an excess really and maybe to make you happier because you're away from what you know. I don't know.
Matt: It has something to do with it. Yeah, it's a tricky one. I would say when I lived in Mexico, I knew people who had moved out there and they've gone out there for various reasons. I think you have to look the reasons why people are out there. I'm kind of pledging this answer a bit because I'm not 100% sure about it, I just know that we felt like we had to drink.
Matt: To survive, to have fun. That's what you did. That’s how you socialized with people.
Alex: Yeah. I completely agree. I wonder too if it's like, in the expat situations it's like, you don't know anyone, you're trying to make friends, and a lot of bonding as an adult revolves around drinking, you know?
Matt: It's a confidence thing. It's, you know, it's like meeting people. It's like, I'll buy you a beer, where are you from? Oh no, I'm from there, you know, I'm from, I come from that part of the country, you know, and, yeah, it gives you confidence, we think, we thought, you know, but does it really? And I think when you're younger, it feels like it's something you should do and what I found when I worked abroad is everyone seemed to be older than me.
Matt: So, just sort of fit in. That's what you did. You know, the guys who are already married, already had kids, you know, and you sort of kept up with them.
Matt: You know, and I trained myself to be a good drinker. That's the sad thing living abroad. You know, I got better at it, you know, I'm somebody who can handle their drink, you know, I was, you know, it's kind of like a badge, isn't it, of honor, almost.
Alex: Yeah. So, what was it like when you finally decided to to stop? What made you wanna stop?
Matt: I mean, I'm quite a decisive person, Alex, so when I decided to do it, I was pretty determined. It's like when I decided to become a teacher, I sort of think about that. I just thought I'm gonna do it. And I decided to stop drinking, and it was last May, the day was May the 25th, and I was watching a couple of programs on TV and one of them was about former England football players, and these are like old school footballers who played for the soccer team, and their lifestyle in the 80s was you played but you drank, and it's not like that now. Professional sport is not like that but professional sport, and these guys were quite well paid, was like that. You had a lot of time on your hands and you went out and you drunk, and there was some of these footballers got together on this TV program, it's called "Harry's Heroes", there was a team, an old team of 40 and 50-year olds who got together and went on tour to rekindle past glories and have a laugh and, you know, a lot of them still drank. And one particular player is called Neil Ruddock. He was a very well known footballer, big defender, good player, not the best but he got to a high level. He looked awful, he weighed over 20 stone, he was only like 50 to 53 and looked terrible, and he had obviously had a real problem, and his wife came out on the tour with them and she was like, Oh yeah, he's got a terrible problem. Then she was drinking with him. And then there was another former football player called Paul Merson who had given up drinking, and he was into gambling and all sorts and he was totally sober and he just broke down in tears at his mate who he knew and how awful he'd let his life get. And so, that struck accordingly, and then the same day I'd watched another program about a comedian called "Tony Slattery" who was a very well-known comedian in the UK in the 80s and early 90s. He was very funny. He was on TV programs. He was an actor. And there was a newspaper article written about him because everyone's like, What happened to this guy? And he totally disappeared in 1995 and no one knew where he was, and this program was about finding him again. And what had happened was he just suffered massively with mental illness, and the program was about finding out whether he had bipolar or not and, you know, what was his mental illness. And all through the program it became quite obvious that he drank quite heavily, and eventually they couldn't diagnose his mental health issues because he couldn't stop drinking. And they said to him, When was the last time you didn't have a drink? And the camera just sat on this guy and he just couldn't answer it because it was so long ago. We were talking years and years and years, there wasn't a day when he hadn't not had a drink. And so, I just it really struck me and I thought, I'm just gonna not drink for a bit. I'm just gonna stop there and then. So, I went on my phone, this is where I sat actually. This exact place on my sofa. And I started looking at my phone going "How to stop drinking?", and I found this book to stop drinking 28 days. Sorry I'm rabbling on here.
Alex: No. Go ahead, it's so interesting.