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Sober Yoga Girl Podcast - Sober in Central Park with Rachel Hechtman


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. Welcome back to another episode of Sober Yoga Girl Podcast. I am so excited to be sitting with Rachel Hechman today. And Rachel is... I've been following Rachel on Instagram for I don't even know how long and watching her journey in New York, living in New York. And she is sober in Central Park on Instagram. And she's a sober community leader in New York. And I just love watching your journey and seeing all of the different work that you're doing over there. And I'm really excited to sit down and hear your story today. So welcome.

How are you? Thanks so much for having me. I'm so excited to be here. Yeah. No, it's crazy to be part of this amazing community and get to talk to people like you and get to meet all these interesting people through social media. You're in Bali right now, and I'm in New York.

That's so cool.

Right? I feel like I'm living my dream. You're living your dream. And we get to have these sober journeys, and then we get to talk about it.

It's amazing and pretty unbelievable when you think about my life, pre-sobriety, I don't think I could ever imagine just being on Zoom calls with strangers. And now I love it. I love it.

The same. Pre-sobriety, I couldn't even do things alone. I was so co-dependent. Thinking back to that person and how far I've come, it's really mind-blowing. I have to take a minute every day to appreciate the journey instead of just constantly trying to push forward.

Yeah, it's amazing. And so you grew up in New York originally. Is that where you're from?

So everyone asks me that. And okay, if you are a born and raised New Yorker, I cannot say yes. I have to say no because I was not born here. And I didn't start really living in the city until I was about 15 when my dad moved here. And I would come on the weekends to skateboarding school and all the rigid rules. But we moved around a lot when I was little. I was born in Boston, and then we lived in New Jersey for a few years in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Connecticut. My dad's a doctor, so we were constantly on the move. And I think even that led up to some of the things that happened later on because there wasn't a constant in my life. I was always the new kid. I was always getting a new room, new friends, trying to find that thing that grounded me. So I think about that a lot, actually. What if we had just stayed in one place where my life had looked the same? But I really identify with being a New Yorker because it's been 20 years of me basically calling New York home. So I'm going to say I'm a New Yorker.

I have to say I can relate to that on some levels. Not that I moved around a lot because I lived in the same house I grew up in the city of Toronto, but just relate to in terms of... For me, I lived in the Middle East for a long time. I lived in the Middle East for six years, and it was where I got sober. And that is what I think of as home. And so when people ask me where I'm from, it's like I identify with home as being Abu Dhabi, which seems ridiculous and people that are from there would be like, that's not your home. But just identifying with a place and what does home mean for you and it's different for everyone.

Exactly. And I love the simple questions where you should be able to answer easily. I always have a long winded response. People are like, What do you do for work? I'm like, Do you have five minutes? Yes.

I just asked you before we started the show, I was like, So what do you want your title to be? And it was just this long winded of all these random things.

I love it. I know I need to work on my elevator pitch a little bit, but I also think that's part of the journey. It's heaps evolving. Totally. It's been six months of me doing Sober and Central Park full-time. And I think when you're trying to figure it out as you're going, things are going to keep changing. And you just have to be open to that flow and that process. And I try to trust the process. I used to be a control freak, so it's a work in progress every day.

And what did you do before you were doing Sober and Central.

Park full-time? So I always worked in the nonprofit world. I was specifically in nonprofit fundraising, so philanthropy and really doing big gifts from donors and big events, fundraising events like big galas where we'd raise two million dollars. And so I liked that because I did feel like I was making an impact to my community, at least getting money from the rich New Yorkers and giving it to people who needed it. And that was a lot of networking and events and a lot of skills that I was able to take into Sober and Central Park. But I'll say I never thought in a million years that that Instagram account would become what it's become. It really was just like, I was eight and a half months sober. I had no friends really anymore. I had broken up with my now ex. And I was sitting around being like, how do I hold myself accountable? And I need friends. So that's where Sober and Central Park came. And then I started getting DMs eventually that were like, I found your account a year ago, and now I'm six months sober. So as someone who worked in the nonprofit world, I was always looking for that direct impact.

But when you're in the nonprofit fundraising scene, you're just getting the money. You don't really see that impact. So when I started getting those DMs, I was like, this is what I'm supposed to be doing. I was always lost. I knew nonprofit philanthropy wasn't my thing, but I liked it. It was okay. And so I was searching for my purpose. And when I started recovering out loud, that's when I was like, oh, my gosh, this is it. And it helped also think about all of the past and it gave a little bit of sense to some of the stuff that happened to me. I think if that stuff hadn't happened in the past, I wouldn't be so appreciative of the now. And I wouldn't have my story, and I wouldn't have all of these crazy things to say, but it shaped who I am. And I have to just be appreciative of that past version of myself. So yeah, I mean- Totally.

So tell me a bit about... We started the call and you told me a little bit about your childhood, like moving around. Tell me a bit about more about your journey before sobriety. What was your childhood.

Your life like? It's funny. So I was talking to my mom about this yesterday, and I felt really misunderstood always growing up. I was always getting into trouble or the teachers would always be like, She talks too much in class, or, She doesn't pay attention. But I had really good grades. I was always a high achiever. But now look, and I had ADHD, but I wasn't diagnosed till I was 14. So looking back on a lot of my behaviors, it makes sense why I acted that way. But as a kid, I didn't know. I felt different than everyone else. And that was a lonely feeling. I let myself become that stereotype of I get into trouble in school. I'm always causing a scene. And that went my whole teenage years. My parents got divorced when I was 14, and I just started drinking. I started trying different things to numb, and I started partying. And I just stopped caring at a very young age. And it's scary to think back to. But my mom sent me to boarding school when I was 15 because I almost failed out of public school. I had an older boyfriend.

I had older friends, and I just wanted to party. And that was so young. So I repeated my sophomore year at boarding school, got diagnosed with ADHD, only because one teacher one day thought I forgot to take my meds. She was like, Oh, did you skip the med woman this morning? I was like, What meds? And she's like, That explains a lot. And I got diagnosed and got put on medication and my whole life changed for the good for a while. But no one really sat me down and it explained what having ADHD meant. No one said you produce less dopamine in your brain naturally than the average person. Anything that you take or that causes that dopamine to release, you can become addicted to. And so I just went through high school, and I was okay. And then I got to college and that's when everything went crazy. I just started. I was already doing lots of party drugs, and I just went all in. And I didn't care if I really lived or died. I just wanted to party, and I wanted to quote-unquote, have fun. And I ended up leaving college twice, both for mental health reasons.

One of the times it was really scary. And I'm still surprised that I made it out of there alive and who I am today. But yeah, it was really touching go. And it was also depression, a lot of depression, a lot of anxiety. And I got misdiagnosed a few times with different things because of all the different things I was putting into my system. And I would cry every day. And I remember just being so hopeless and so lost. And I didn't recognize myself in the mirror by the end. I would literally look at myself and just cry. And my therapist asked me to start saying affirmations. And it was during COVID. I would sit there in the mirror and I couldn't do it. And she said, just pretend. Pretend. Just make it up. Even if you don't believe it now, just say five nice things to yourself. I just remember standing there and like, you're strong. I'm like crying. And I laughed because it's just so sad. But that's when things started changing, when I started saying those affirmations. And that's when I realized this all comes down to how we talk to ourselves and what we say to ourselves and how we feel about who we are.

And it took me five years of knowing I had a drinking problem to really stop. To stop. And I really think it was the fear of dying at the end. I got this pain in my side. And for some reason, that pushed me over the edge. I was like, I'm going to die. This pain in my side. And it's crazy because even though alcohol is bad for you that whole time, you're working up to the breaking point. It wasn't until I felt that pain, that physical pain that I was like, okay, I really have to stop now or something bad is going to happen. Yeah, and I was like, a hundred pounds heavier. I think my body was starting to shut down. It wasn't processing any food. It was hard to walk. It was everything was just different. If you would have told me then, my life would be what it is now, I don't know. I would never have believed you, ever. And I think that's the beauty of sobriety, right? You just never know where your life is going to go after you stop drinking. It just opens up so many doors. And I still don't know.

The story is still being written, right?

Yeah, it's so incredible. And how long have you been alcohol free.

Now for? A little over two and a half years. I just celebrated that milestone.

I think I saw that Instagram post, actually.

Yeah, I went alone to Jamaica by myself for five nights.

I love that. Just to celebrate your two and a.

Half years. Well, it was also my 34th birthday. And I had burned myself out a little bit because I'm so ADHD. I'm very all or nothing. That's why I don't drink anymore. There was never a happy medium. It was always like a million drinks. There was never like a one drink. Let me just drink as much until I fall asleep. I was one of those people that fell asleep when I got really drunk anywhere. I would fall asleep at a club, at a bar, in the back of a cab, not safe. It's called the Rachel Passout. But yeah, it's been two and a half years, and I've never felt so strong or confident or... Really, the biggest thing is the anxiety. And there was always like a tightness in my chest for as long as I can remember where it's hard to breathe. And it made me have seriously bad social anxiety. Everywhere I went, I thought people were looking at me or judging me or listening to me. It was almost like a paranoia. And so when I stopped drinking and that started going away, and I was able to go and do things on my own a little bit more, and I wasn't scared of looking stupid or what people were thinking, that was the most freeing part of this whole journey.

I realized how many things that I hadn't been doing in the past because I was scared of what other people thought. I was like, Why do I care what that person thinks? And then, of course, the all or nothing in me. I had to become the sober girl on Instagram. I wouldn't be the party girl. Let me be the sober girl now and really not care what people think. I had to really lean into that. But it was a journey.

I love that. There is so much in your story that I can relate to. It's mind-blowing. This idea of... I used to have this, too, being so afraid of doing anything for people judging me for doing anything, saying anything. I would have these like, panic attacks about the most things that now seem so small. And there was just this ongoing, this layer of anxiety that never went away at all times.

Yeah. No, I mean, that's my why. And what I've come to realize, at least for myself, is I was the one judging myself, right? I was the one being judgmental of other people as well. I was the one that was... And so when you're doing that, you think other people are doing that to you. And that was a weird little mind. I don't know. And once I was able to release that, and I was like, okay, even if they think what I'm doing is cringeworthy or cringe or whatever, I don't care. But it took me so long to get there. I wish it was as simple as just like, just don't care what people think.

Iyeah, it's a journey, for sure. That's so empowering.

It's crazy how just drinking alcohol, though, can do that to you. And even things like I had horrendous cramps to the point where I would call out of work at least a few days a month. I thought I had something wrong. Is like, I thought it was endometriosis. I was going to specialists. When someone told me I had a cyst, I had horrendous stomach issues. I thought I was allergic to all these different things. So when I stopped drinking, it was only supposed to be 30 days. It was just going to be dry January. And my mom was like, Let's do it together. Come on. I'm doing it with you. And after the 30 days, I was like, Okay, I'm just going to see how long I can go. I'm not going to ruin how good I feel with a drink. And I remember it was like, Day 45 days in maybe. My mom's like, Why aren't you complaining about your cramps? And I was like, Wait, why am I not complaining about my cramps?

Wow. So alcohol was playing a role in having cramps?

So much so. I don't even really know anymore. I have a little bit of cramps for a day now, and then it's fine. It was so bad before I was getting physically ill and couldn't move. So it really messes with your hormones. And what was crazy to me is none of my doctors ever even suggested that could be something. They never even said, Maybe it's all the alcohol you're drinking. Maybe it's your diet. Maybe it's whatever. They just kept sending me to specialists and no one had any answers. And all I had to do was stop drinking.

That is so fascinating to me. And there are so many stories like this of people who have this thing or that thing and things that would be seemingly so unrelated. I'm thinking of my uncle right now. My uncle used to have sleep apnea and would sleep with a machine and had a whole bunch of pills he would take. And then he got sober and now his sleep is completely normal. He doesn't take any medication. And no doctor ever said to him during that time that it was alcohol. It was just something that gradually in his sobriety had corrected itself. And it's just so.

Mind-blowing to me. It is. And I think about that a lot because my dad's a doctor. He's a pediatric surgeon, and so my grandfather was a surgeon. And the alcoholism in my family comes from my dad's side. And I'm not saying my dad is an alcoholic at all, but there is that from my dad's side. And looking at these two doctors who are amazing in their field and the alcohol that they consume, I think it's prevalent in the field of medicine. I think a lot of doctors drink, and at least the doctors that I know to not just them. And I think that because of that, they don't think to tell their patients that it's going to be the alcohol because of that weirdness with alcohol. How you tell someone you don't drink and the first thing they respond is about their drinking issue. They're drinking, Oh, I don't drink a lot. I can have a few drinks here and there. I didn't ask you about your drinking. I'm telling you about mine. So I almost think that happens in medicine where the doctors don't want to... They want to pretend alcohol isn't as bad as it is, maybe for their own self, or maybe they just don't know how bad it is.

I definitely think it's probably a bit of both. I was thinking the same thing because I don't think there's that many studies that have really come to the surface. And I know big alcohol is really in control of that message that they want to prevent it getting out there of how harmful it can be. And so I think there's definitely limited awareness around all of those connections.

Exactly. And even if you think about tobacco, doctors were telling pregnant women to smoke cigarettes back in the 50s, I think. They were like, Yeah, just have a cigarette. It's fine. And now we know how bad that is. And I think it was Holly Whitaker in her book, but she says that alcohol is going to become the new cigarettes.

And it already is. Do you feel that this movement is happening? And I feel like it's happening faster than I ever thought it would. I think COVID kickstarted this thing, and now there's this really cool, sober movement happening around the world. And I feel like we're getting to.

That point. I totally agree. I think it's special being here in New York because there's so many different kinds of people here, and there's so much diversity. And so a lot of stuff starts here and then spreads out. And all of these beverage companies that are popping up every day, like the amount of non-alcoholic beverages you can see from behind me, like this is my big stash, that is also just a testament to the demand for these products. And the sober movement, I really think it's happening on Instagram and on TikTok and on social media. I don't think it would have grown so quickly without the sober community on there. And it's making people feel less alone. And it's showing people there is a life without alcohol that's beautiful and fun and fulfilling and you can find friends and you can do it and you're not alone. I think that's a big piece. People feel alone and they feel ashamed to admit that alcohol is not serving them. And if we can just make it feel a little bit more normal and a little bit more cool to not drink, that is a huge win to me.

Yeah, I.

Love that. And so tell me about in your journey. So you said that you were doing Dry January and then you were extending it. What supports do you use during that time? Were you part of any communities or listening to any podcast or books or anything like that?

So it was still lockdown. It was January 2021. And I think if there had been in-person AA meetings, I would have gone and tried to see that avenue, but there weren't in-person meetings. I didn't feel comfortable really doing a virtual meeting. I also didn't really want to think that I was doing this forever. So the first 30 days, I just quite knuckled it. And I read, quit like a woman. And I remember drinking so much tea. Every time I wanted to drink, I would make a cup of tea. And I had never been a tea drinker, ever. I was like, okay, I need something to get into because I know my ADHD self. I bought every flavor I found at the store, every single tea flavor. And every time I wanted to drink, I would go make a cup of tea by the time the water got hot and I picked the flavor. And I can't drink tea hot. I don't know how people do that. I watched them. I'm like, Aren't you burning your mouth? By the time it cooled down and I drank the cup of tea, I didn't want the drink anymore.

And I also, my little sister was supposed to get married in COVID, during COVID, before COVID happened. And so she had to move her wedding twice. And the final wedding was going to be October 2021. And I was literally 100 pounds heavier than I am now. And I looked at myself and I was like, I can't go to her wedding looking like this. I just didn't feel comfortable. I felt upset. It made me upset. So I was like, okay, that's my goal. I want to try to get as healthy as I can for her wedding. So the day I stopped drinking, I also started Weight Watchers www. Because I didn't even know where to start with the eating. And every time I had tried it before, I drank all my points. So I was like, Okay, if I don't drink the points this time, maybe it will work. And it did. And I couldn't believe it. And I started... It wasn't just about the weight. It was about feeling good in my skin and not feeling like crap all the time. I was always tired. I always felt like crap. So I started walking with my dog as far as we could go.

And I had never really... I didn't know my way around Central Park at all, zero. I knew a few little loops in there, but I would just drink in the park and leave with my friends. So we would go to the park. We would do the one little loop I knew and turn around. And as I got further into the sober journey, my dog, his name is George, George the Explorer, Curious George, he kept pulling me further into the park trying to keep exploring. And at first, I didn't want to look like an idiot. I didn't know where I was going. I didn't want to get lost. I was scared. Part of the unknown. But then I started doing one path at a time with him. We started adding on to our little loop. And then it became a six-mile walk that we did every single morning: rain, shine, sleep, snow. It was almost unhealthy. I convinced myself if I didn't do it, I would relapse. So that's where Sober and Central Park came from, because I was literally sober in Central Park spending all my time there. I became friends with everyone in the park.

George started doing off-leash. So Central Park lets you take your dogs off-leash before 9:00 AM. And so it's like this magical little wonderland of dogs just running freely around Central Park. It's amazing. And that became my meditation every day. It became my way to center myself and be in nature and appreciate the beauty around me. And I would have never, ever done that if I was still drinking. I would have been hung up. I woke up with a hangover every day. So when I started waking up feeling great, my body almost was expecting the hangover for a really long time. So I'd wake up like, Here we go again. That was me every day. But then I was like, I feel amazing. I feel great. I started like singing to myself like, What are we going to do today? And that's when I became like a morning person. I had never, ever been a morning person. And things just... I tell people at 100 days, the magic enters your life. It starts. It's so true. And for me, 100 days, my now ex went out drinking, and he never was a drinker, really, ever. He went out and he got drunk on my 100 days.

And that pushed me over the edge. I was like, This is a sign from the universe. I had already been wanting to break up with him. I was like, We just have to end this. And I was scared to be alone. That's why we were still together. I didn't want to be alone. And at 100 days, I'd rather be alone and had temporary discomfort than long term unhappiness. And it took a while. He moved out a few months later. And then I was really on my own. I had never lived alone before. It was just me and George. And that's where I was like, okay, now I really need this community. I'm alone. And I trust myself, but I know I need support. I can't just keep white knuckling my journey. So that's when I went to Instagram. Then I really quickly met Alex, she's sober in Seattle. She reached out to me and she said, Hey, I want to form this group of women or people around the world where you can have a meetup. You can find people in your city to have friends. And I was like, Wait, is the universe listening to me?

Because I need friends. Now I have friends. And that got me through a lot of it because we were in a group chat, like a bunch of us. And I remember the first trip I went on with a Bachelorette, I was the only sober person. And I spent most of that trip chatting in the group chat. So I realized then the power and the importance of community and people understanding what you're going through and being able to rely on other people. So it's incredible.

It's incredible. I love that story, and I love that connection to why your Instagram handle is sober in Central Park. That's amazing. And I can visualize where you describing that because I visited New York in December and I was like, Man, I wish we had met up then. But I was walking around Central Park with my mom and it was a full day. We walked so much when we were in New York. The most I've ever walked in my life probably not four days, but I can visualize that and really see how that could be so healing for you. And that's amazing the way that also community has become so pivotal in your journey. And now that's what you're doing now for others.

Yeah. And I have to really stress, though, it was such a slow process. It didn't happen overnight, and I didn't have the plan. And it wasn't like I had a plan in my head. I'm going to stop drinking. And then at eight months, I'm going to start an Instagram account. It all was just so... We just happened, right? And I remember before I started Sober in Central Park, I had my personal Instagram account, just my name. And I was always putting stuff on my stories there from when I was drinking, too. It wasn't like I just stopped drinking and was like, I love social media now. I loved Snapchat back then. I used to go on vacation and Snapchat my whole vacation, but I was always drunk and doing dumb stuff. So I felt weird when I got sober, putting all the sober stuff I wanted to post on my old Instagram account because that was where I put all my drunk stuff, and that's where all my old friends watched stuff. And it felt weird. And I wanted to start fresh. That wasn't me anymore. It was this messy middle as someone I work with recently said, where I wasn't that old Rachel that was drinking, but I wasn't the new Rachel yet.

And I felt like, Who am I? And when I made Sober and Central Park, I didn't even know if I was going to show my face. I was like, We can just put pictures of the park and my dog. But the third picture, I did a side by side. So I don't know. I changed my mind quickly. But yeah, I mean, yeah, it's wild to think about. And I think having that accountability piece, for some reason, just felt more real, putting it on social media. I posted about my 100 days, and right after I posted about it, it was my old Instagram, and I put it on Facebook. And I almost threw up after. I was like, Why am I telling everybody that I'm a hundred days sober? Why am I doing that? But the right after I posted it, I started getting messages from people who in my orbit that related. And then I didn't even know they were sober. And they were like, or people saying, I thought you were going to die. I'm so happy you're sober. And I'm like, Oh, great. Wonderful. But also people saying they had no idea I had a problem.

It was that big spectrum. And I just thought it was really interesting. And I was like, okay, I'm not going to delete this. Just keep going. But it held me accountable, I will say.