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Sober Yoga Girl Podcast - Amy Willis, The Holistic Sober Coach


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 to the Middle East at age 23, and I never went back. I got sober in 2019, and I now live full-time in Bali, Indonesia. I've made it my mission to help other women around the world stop drinking, start yoga and change their lives through my online Sober Girls Yoga community. You're not alone and a sober life can be fun and fulfilling. Let me show you how.

Hello, everyone. Good morning or afternoon or evening or whatever time of day you're listening to this at. We are jumping in for another episode of Sober Yoga Girl Podcast. And I am really excited to be sitting with Amy Willis today. She is the holistic sober coach. And we got connected in a funny way on Facebook. I posted saying that I was in Toronto for a couple of weeks with my family and I posted on Facebook wondering who was in Toronto and someone tagged Amy. It was one of these things of we did not live that far from each other and we got together for coffee and it honestly felt like an old friend. I was like, I feel like you could be in my group of friends. It was just such a fun hangout and we've been connected since. I was like, Oh, I wish I was like, I lived in Toronto or I'd be here longer so we could hang out more. But here we are hanging out on my podcast. I'm happy to see you again, even if it's virtually. And how are you doing today?

I am good. I'm good. Yeah, I'm so glad we got connected also. I feel like as soon as you popped into my orbit, I was like, this feels like somebody I should be friends with because we have so many overlaps and so many mutual friends and interests and all of that thing. So it was lovely and divinely inspired.

Yeah, agreed. And so funny too, because I think it was the person who connected us said that we had been on all the same podcasts. And then as soon as you said that and I started seeing things, I would see your name come up on shows that I've been on. I'm like, How have I not encountered this name before? I don't understand.

Yeah, I'm glad. It worked out really well. And also, while that we were in the same proximity to each other in the city, which is huge. So yeah, and that place, the cute little place we went to, I've been back once because I enjoyed it so much to do some work last week. So thanks for the introduction to that.

Crosstown coffee shop. I love it there. We went every day when I was visiting Toronto. I'm like, I should get some kickbacks promoting them to everyone.

Yes, totally agreed. They're very sweet there.

So I'm excited to hear more about your journey today. And I was wondering if you could start us off and just tell me a bit about yourself, your childhood, and your life-free sobriety.

Yeah. I'm from London, Ontario, and I grew up in a pretty, I think, normal-seeming family. Like my parents were married, I have a sister. I grew up playing sports and doing all that stuff. I also grew up in a home with a father who my dad had a pretty severe alcohol addiction. And more generally, there were just mental health issues that weren't really addressed. I didn't really have a frame of reference for that because that's what I grew up in. I didn't really start to see that not everybody's parents drink like that until later on in my life. So all of that just felt very normal. I had been growing up and in my childhood, and I actually didn't start drinking until I was 16, which feels late in some ways, but also very on track and on par with what my peers were doing. I think initially what drew me to it was just curiosity and the social aspects of it and experimentation. And that's what, again, what was happening around me, what was going on with my friends and my peers. And coincidentally, at the same time that I started exploring alcohol, was when my parents were going through a really tumultuous and traumatic separation.

I think when your parents separate as a teen, that's a lot to process. And there were a lot of extra elements of it that I think went above and beyond the average separation. And if I'm being honest, no one in my family had healthy copingstrategies. And before I even go further, I just want to acknowledge that my parents were doing the best they could with what they had. This is not meant to drag them in any way. It was a really challenging situation. It was very what was going on. There were a lot of elements at play. I can hold a lot of compassion for my parents in trying to navigate through with two teenagers at the time. Yeah, so all of this chaos was happening in my family life and in our home. I was also then experimenting with drinking. What I found in that was that I could have these little pockets of relief from what was happening in the rest of my life. I couldn't really get away from it. The rest of the time, home life was really challenging and unpredictable and stressful and upsetting. I actually ended up staying with friends for a lot of that time because it was just too much to be at home.

Then I also could drink. That just gave me these moments where I was able to press pause on what was happening where I didn't have to deal with it. It didn't have to be so present in my life. I think that that's also a really normal response. As humans, we need relief from the intensity of whatever situation that we might be in. So it's normal to want to create a pocket of relief for yourself, but I was doing it in a way that wasn't super healthy, obviously. I had also grown up where I saw my dad drink all the time, so that felt very normal and it didn't really occur to me that this might be an issue later. Honestly, I mean, I was 16. I had no idea really what I was getting myself into. I also didn't know, and this is something I didn't really learn until I got sober, but looking at childhood trauma and instances that would increase your likelihood of developing an addiction later on. So like the Aces test, for example, I took that later on in life and I had a six out of 10. And so I was already set up to have issues with addiction later on, but I didn't really know any of that going into it.

And yeah, so I think over the years, things just progressed as they do with alcohol. I mean, for I think a lot of people, it's more of a slow burn. Most people don't have their first drink and then immediately develop a really severe problem with it, or their lives don't start to crumble the next month. So it was very slow and it was very progressive for me. And over time, I had just built alcohol into pretty much everything that I was doing. And it got to a point where if alcohol wasn't involved or couldn't be involved, I just didn't want to do it. And things just really started to revolve around alcohol. And yeah, there were various moments later on in my drinking years where I started to recognize that my relationship to it was much different than other people's. I would be out to dinner with a group of friends, and they would split a bottle of wine, and I would have two to myself. And that would just be normal in what it was. Or in the last couple of years of my drinking, I went to a couple of yoga festivals, which you would think would be calm and present and serene experiences.

I was drunk for both of them, tip to tail. And it didn't even occur to me that that was weird or maybe something that I might want to look at. Yeah, so it definitely became more progressive as I went along. And my life externally looked fine to people. And It also didn't have any external indicators. People weren't coming to me saying, Oh, this is something you might want to look at, because I went to university, I went to grad school, I did really cool things. I interned at the UN and lived in New York City, and I traveled a lot, and I kept it together. Yet, I was dealing with the internal turmoil of drinking and having it start to really impact my mood and really impact my mental health. And it got to a point where I was pretty indifferent about whether I wanted to continue living, which is scary now, in hindsight, to think about it. And yeah, so that's how it started and where it ended up towards the end.

Thanks for sharing. And there's so many things that resonate with me in your story. I had, I think, had a similar situation with tumultuous things happening in my house with my parents separating and divorcing and how that impacted me as a young person. And also I love what you shared there. The last thing you shared about just not having these external signs of anything being wrong. And this past week I've been exposed to people outside of the sober world, which is a little bit rare for me nowadays. I mostly just hang out with people in the sober world and run sober events and visit sober events and whatever. Anyway, I'm teaching on a yoga teacher training that's not sober. And someone asked me this question. She asked me if I had a job while I had a drinking problem. Yes, I was a very high functioning teacher. And that's the biggest stereotype I feel about drinking problems is that people hear drinking problem and they think that you're drinking out of a paper bag in a park at seven in the morning. And in reality, most people with drinking, I mean, there are people who suffer to that degree, but then there's a lot of people that are just living their normal lives, drinking every night.


And suffering in silence because they don't fit the perceived image. And I think there's so much shame around that. Totally. And it is really hard, I think, even internally, to make sense of how your life can look like this, and how you can be high functioning and successful and all of that while also having this thing that is brick by brick taking your life apart. And it really does, I think, require a lot of mental gymnastics to make sense of it.

Yeah, totally. So at what point? What was the pivotal moment when you decided to quit drinking? And well, I guess that's the first question. I'll ask one question. What was the pivotal moment?

So even though this wasn't the moment that immediately prompted me to quit drinking, it was the moment where everything changed for me. So I was at a conference in Montreal in 2014, and I had arrived a couple of days early just because I love Montreal and just shop and chill and walk about and all of that. And I got a phone call from my mother. And for context, I was estrange from both of my parents at this time, so it was very atypical for my mother to call me. So she called me and she told me that my dad had passed away. And the news was, I mean, shocking, is a massive understatement. But yeah, so I learned very suddenly and very abruptly that my dad, who had not been sick, had passed away. And we learned later that his drinking was a huge part of that. He continued to really struggle with alcohol over the years. And so that really cut his life short. Like, he was in his 60s when he died. And yeah, so the death of my dad related to drinking was really the thing that changed everything for me. And at the time, I didn't know that.

I didn't realize that. In fact, my drinking got a lot worse after that because I still had not managed to develop any coping strategies, any healthy coping strategies over the years. And so I just continued to lean into what I knew and what I perceived to be working for me, even though it wasn't working for me. And so my addiction and my drinking got a lot worse after that. And I also really leveraged the fact that my dad had died because now I was drinking even more. And who was going to challenge that? Because my dad had just died and I was grieving and sad and all of the things you experience when somebody passes away. And so that happened in 2014, and probably a year or so later, so I had moved out of the acute phase of grief and sadness, and I was still drinking really heavily. And I can't even really pinpoint when it happened or where it happened, but the question, Is this it? Just started popping into my brain. Like, Is this it? Is this all there is for me? Am I just here to drink excessively, blackout, get super sick, be really hungover, be consumed mentally with thoughts of drinking and planning drinking and all of it, and then do that cycle over and over and over until I die.

I didn't know what there was out there that was for me, but I knew that there had to be something beyond how I was existing in the world. And I just couldn't believe that my whole reason for being here was just to do this. And I also had, and I hadn't really even thought about it before, even though it now feels incredibly obvious, my dad's experience with addiction and drinking, my experience with addiction and drinking. He literally laid out the path for my life if I continued doing what I was doing. And it ended miserable and alone and with a shortened lifespan. And I knew I didn't want that and I knew I didn't want to die early and I didn't want to keep doing what I was doing. And I had no idea what I would be doing otherwise. And the thought of not drinking terrified me. I thought, ironically, that my life would be over because I had built alcohol into so many aspects of my life that I couldn't even imagine what it would look like without it. I knew that it was getting in the way and ruining things. And so really, it was over the course of that next year that I started to just… I didn't even have the goal of sobriety in mind.

I was just like, What would happen if I didn't drink for a little bit? What would happen? Like a weekend? What would happen if I went for a couple of weeks? Or let's see how long I can go without it. Admittedly, I had a lot of revisits, we'll say. I would go a couple of weeks without it, and then I would be like, Wow, this is not a problem. Good job. And then I would reward myself by binge drinking. And yeah, it then got to a point probably after about a year of that stuff where I had a moment of clarity. I went to a party the night before and it was very normal. I drank a lot. I probably blacked out a little bit. I woke up hungover, but that was regular for me at the time. I just woke up and I was like, I can't do this anymore. I actually can't keep going like this. I decided in that moment to commit to six months of not drinking. So that would have been the longest period of time that I went without drinking. I could not stomach the idea of never drinking ever again.

I gave myself this window, this six-month period of trying it and seeing how it went. And when the six-month mark was approaching, I was terrified of the idea of drinking again because I felt pretty confident that I would go back to exactly what it was. It would become this huge thing in my life that got in the way and was slowing me down. And so at the six-month mark, I decided that that was it. That was it for me and alcohol. This coming August will be seven years of sobriety. And honestly, the best decision I've ever made, even though I went into it kicking and screaming and not sure about it. And definitely, I wasn't confident. I wasn't excited. I was like, I don't know, but I know I can't keep doing what I was doing. And thank goodness I made that decision because I look at my life now and holy shit. I now feel like anything is possible and I can create anything that I want and I can do anything I want and I can be anything I want. And all of that stems from the decision to quit drinking.

It's incredible. Congratulations on coming up on seven years. That's huge.

Yeah, thank you. It's an exciting time.

What was it like in those early days? I was just brought back to the early days. I got a Facebook memory the other day that was like, four years ago today you were like 90 days sober. And I was thinking back, someone commented saying back then it was a really big deal to be 90 days sober. And I just remember stringing together moment by moment, day by day. And I'm just wondering what was that like? Did you have a support group? What resources did you.

Turn to? Yeah. So to avoid sounding like very old and very back in the day, but seven years ago, it was a very different climate in terms of sober community, offerings that are available. There wasn't nearly as much then as there is now. And thank goodness, right? Because we need more resources, we need more options for people, we need more diverse options for people. So at the time, I really only knew about AA. And I went to a few meetings and it was very not for me. Like very not for me. And to be honest, the first six months of being sober, I didn't really tell a lot of people what I was doing because I had so much shame, not only for the things that I said and did that impacted other people, but I think largely the shame that I was carrying and felt for how badly I treated myself when I was in addiction. I abandoned myself over and over and over again, and I treated myself so terribly. When I think about the things that I used to put myself through or the things I used to put in my body or the unsafe situations that I was in, and I think now that I can see that I didn't, maybe I don't know, maybe I didn't feel like I deserved better than what I was doing or that I was worth the effort of treating myself better and actually taking care of myself.

I wasn't honest with myself, I think, about how hurt I was and how in pain I was. And I never really gave myself the opportunity to heal or address what was going on for me. And it was really hard to hold that I couldn't show up for myself or love myself the way I needed to be loved and the way I deserved to be loved. That weighed heavily on me. I think I was worried about being judged by people. Again, because externally, things looked fine, but it was very not fine and what was happening for me internally. I think that's largely what kept me quiet. I wasn't seeking resources. I wasn't really talking to people. I think I shared with maybe three people what I was doing. I largely went at it alone. And I did what I could do that didn't attract attention. So I looked on Instagram and I looked for other sober women who had maybe lived similar experiences to me and somehow figured out how to be fine or thrive in sobriety, and that was really helpful. So I think what I was looking for was community, but I was scared to identify myself as somebody who had a problem.

I had a problem with drinking. I also do what I always do when I don't know a lot about a topic, which is I read about it. I really started to dig into other people's stories and learn more about what is addiction and how does it actually function in your body and what happens when you put alcohol or other drugs into your body. And that information was really helpful for me as well. I think the part about reading memoirs, it really... And I think same for following other sober women, but it really made me feel less alone in my experiences because it felt very lonely. I didn't know a lot of sober people in my life. I didn't know a lot of people who talked about substance use and addiction openly. And so I wasn't talking to people in my life about what was happening. And so I looked to these other outlets that I found really helpful. And then ultimately, I ended up becoming a sobercoach and building an option for people that I think I really would have wanted when I was going through that.

It's amazing. We become the person that we needed or the help we needed or whatever that.

Quote is. Yeah, absolutely.

How can people work with you now? What do you do? You do one-on-one work? Do you do group work? Tell us about your offering. Yeah.

I do both of those things. I run a group coaching program four times a year. The next round of it is coming up in October, and people can check out my website for that. I work one-on-one as well with people. I'm actually currently developing a self-development program with a friend of mine. We've collaborated on a couple of things that we're launching this fall, so stay tuned for that. But yes, predominantly one-on-one and group coaching. And yeah, it really just depends on the type of support and experience that you want. I like to provide a couple of different options for people because people's needs vary. Sometimes people can't fathom the idea of sharing some of their most intimate experiences in a group setting. And other people really love the community and really love the shared experiences and connection. I really like to encourage people to think about how they want to be supported. I think that that's really important. There is no one size fits all for everybody. And so I like to provide a few different options for people so that needs of all kinds of people are met. And for my group coaching, it's folks who identify as women.

And I work with anybody who it's a good fit for in terms of one-on-one coaching. And I will say most of my clients are women or folks within the queer community because I am queer and obviously and I have lived experiences with both of those things. And how women are targeted and experience substance use and addiction issues is unique and different. And same goes for queer folks. Obviously, the umbrella of queer is very diverse in and of itself. But I think having somebody who can understand where you're coming from, where you don't have to explain your queer experience to or what it looks like to struggle with this as a woman or as a mom even, which I am not, but a lot of my clients are, I think really changes the experience and allows you to go further and deeper in the work.

And as you say, it's so needed and the experience is so unique. And that's what I've found in my work as I've jumped back and forth between working with women and working with everyone. And what I've found is that there really is needed a safe space for women to support each other. And that's why I've leaned in towards that area. And so I can understand why that would be an area of resonance for you.

Yeah, absolutely.

So wow, this has been so inspiring. And I really enjoyed hearing your story from start to finish or as much as you can fit in in 45 minutes. But I'm just wondering if you had any advice to give to someone who is thinking about starting their alcohol-free journey, not sure how to start or where to start or what to do, what would that wisdom be?

Yeah, a few things. Because I remember what it was like when it felt just so dark and so hopeless and you're just in this whole or this cycle that it feels like won't change or can't change or you'll never get out of. So I think even just getting on board with the idea that change is possible, I think is a really great initial entry point into this that another version of your life is possible. And regardless of what's already happened, the choices that you've made, you can create something entirely different moving forward. So even just getting on board with that notion that anything, well, not anything, actually anything is possible. But I get that that can be a leap for people in the beginning, so change is possible. And also reminding people that they already have within them what they need to create the change that they want. Because again, I remember just feeling so lost and so confused, but also knowing that if I want something different, I'm going to have to be the one to do it. Just remembering that I have that in me. And it doesn't happen overnight, and it doesn't...

Overhauling your life or changing your life is not a quick journey, but you can choose to not have that drink. You can choose to go for a walk. You can choose to go to bed a little bit earlier. And all of these little things add up to be this foundation of a different life and a different version of you. I would also say try to connect with other people, right? This addiction can be incredibly lonely, sobriety can be incredibly lonely. And while I believe that people do have the capacity to do this on their own, you don't have to. You don't have to be alone. And there is so much strength and compassion, and care to be found in community, and it is really beneficial to connect with others who understand you, who are not judging you, who can provide you with that compassion, and really just help you feel less alone in your experiences and also inspiration for something else being possible.

Yeah. Wow. Such a powerful nugget there. And it's so true. The Johan Harrie, I think, says connection is the opposite of addiction. Yes.

Yeah. And he's exactly right. And we see that, right? We see instances of disconnection and isolation that lead to turning in on ourselves and looking externally to substances to cope. And we are community-oriented in nature. We are not meant to be alone. And so why, in a really challenging moment, would you want to be by yourself? Community gives you so much, it really fills your cup. And so there are all kinds of communities out there as well. So go look and find them. And you'll know with how you feel when you found the people that are your community.

So true. Well, Amy, I just want to thank you so much. This was an amazing episode, so inspiring and so many things that I resonate with and connect with. And I'm just so grateful that we're connected now and we're friends. And I feel like we will cross paths again.

Yes, absolutely. Thank you for having me. I'm so glad we got to have this chat. And I hope it feels helpful for folks. And yeah, so glad that we're connected. Like you said earlier, it does feel like just sitting down with an old friend, which I love that. So I'm grateful for you and thank you again for having me.

Welcome. All right.

Take care. Bye.

Hi, friend. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Sober Yoga Girl podcast. This community wouldn't exist without you here, so thank you. It would be massively helpful if you could subscribe, leave a review, and share this podcast so it can reach more people. If we haven't met yet in real life, please come get your one week trial of the Sober Girls Yoga membership and see what we're all about. Sending you love and light wherever you are in the world.